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At least 18 killed in U.S. custody

WASHINGTON – An Afghan captive froze to death in a CIA-run lockup in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2002 after he was doused with water and shackled overnight to a wall. The prisoner died, U.S. intelligence sources said, after Afghan guards apparently sought to punish him for being unruly.

At Iraq’s Camp Bucca, a detainee was shot through the chest last year while throwing rocks at a guard tower. The Army ruled the killing a “justifiable shooting,” but a Red Cross team that witnessed the incident at the facility in southern Iraq concluded that “at no point” did the prisoner pose a serious threat to guards.

At Camp Cropper, near Baghdad, detainee 7166 was shot and killed last June as he tried to crawl under a barbed-wire fence in an escape attempt commanders had known about a day earlier.

All were deaths in U.S. custody, incidents and individuals largely ignored by outsiders at the time. Now they have emerged from the thicket of military, criminal and congressional investigations into abuse of U.S. captives overseas triggered by mistreatment of detainees at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

The Los Angeles Times has been able to identify at least 18 cases of deaths of detainees in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 from apparent mistreatment or shootings during prison unrest and other incidents. At least 14 have occurred in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. The CIA has been connected by investigators, witnesses or other sources to as many as five of the deaths. Independent human rights groups insist that more have died than the military has disclosed. They say the military has refused to release sufficient information, and that the investigations so far have provided too little accountability. Apparently, only one low-ranking soldier has been tried and convicted for shooting an unarmed prisoner; he was demoted to private and discharged from the Army.

The U.S. military on Saturday announced its second investigation in a week into allegations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

Until the prison abuse scandal erupted two weeks ago, the Pentagon had refused to say who was being held, where or for how long, or on what charges, if any. Defense officials had mostly barred reporters, lawyers and human rights groups except for the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting America’s growing network of foreign detention camps and prisons.

But faced with the prison uproar, Army Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder told a Senate hearing earlier this month that the military has investigated 25 deaths in custody over the last 18 months. He attributed 12 deaths to natural causes, such as heart attack or illness, or to undetermined factors because relatives had removed the bodies for burial.

Ryder said investigations into 10 other deaths were ongoing, and three more deaths – including two in Iraq and one involving civilian contractors – had been classified as homicides.

Pentagon officials declined to provide specifics about deaths in U.S. prison camps Friday, so some confusion remains about precisely which cases are included on Ryder’s list.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups insist the military’s list is incomplete. At a minimum, they say, the three homicides cited by Ryder do not include an Afghan named Mullah Habibullah and a taxi driver named Dilawar who died after they were interrogated at the Bagram air base and detention camp north of Kabul, the Afghan capital, in December 2002.

Army pathologists ruled both cases homicides due to “blunt force injuries” to the legs, military spokesmen previously have said. Amnesty International alleged that both men were abused in a second-floor interrogation area of the Bagram detention facility. So far, no one has been publicly charged or reprimanded, and a Pentagon spokesman said Friday that both cases remain under investigation.

“There’s been no public accounting of these two cases,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “That sends the signal that the Bush administration is not terribly serious about upholding international law.”

The previously undisclosed death of the Afghan who died of hypothermia predates Ryder’s list.

U.S. intelligence sources said he died after he was soaked with water and left in an exposed cell on a night when temperatures had plummeted. The Afghan guards “hosed him down and chained him to a wall and it was cold in there and dank and when they came back in the morning he had died,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The sources said it wasn’t clear if CIA personnel or contract employees had directed, encouraged or were aware of the mistreatment. But a U.S. official said Friday that the CIA had referred the case to the Justice Department, which decided not to prosecute.

The CIA’s inspector general is investigating three other deaths and has referred them to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. Only one of the three is known to be among the homicide cases cited by Ryder.

In the first case, U.S. intelligence officials said a former Afghan local military commander named Abdul Wali died during interrogation by a CIA retiree who had been rehired as a private contractor. Wali died at a U.S. facility near Asadabad in Kunar province three days after his capture last June 18, officials said.

The second CIA case concerns Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abid Hamad Mahalawi, who collapsed and died after alleged mistreatment during interrogation near the western Iraqi city of Qaim last Nov. 26. A U.S. intelligence official said CIA operatives had questioned Mahalawi but were not present when he died.

U.S. intelligence officials suspect that Mahalawi, a former Republican Guard commander, played a role in financing the insurgency in Iraq.

Another Iraqi, identified as Manadal Jamaidi, died last November during interrogation by a CIA officer and a contracted translator at Abu Ghraib prison. Sources said Jamaidi slumped over and died during questioning, and that an autopsy indicated internal injuries were the cause of death. Officials said the case was among the three homicides Ryder cited.

A Justice Department spokesman, Bryan Sierra, said the department had received formal referrals from the CIA requesting criminal investigations into the treatment of detainees by “CIA-associated personnel.” But Sierra declined to say how many cases had been referred, or how many involved CIA employees as opposed to private contractors.