| Iraqi Sunni clerics talk with US Marines about the situation of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Washington, May 5: At least 25 prisoners have died in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, including two that army officials believe were killed by American captors.
That revelation by the Pentagon yesterday came as Congressional officials warned that the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq is deeper than already disclosed.
The CIA confirmed that the agency’s inspector general had “several investigations” under way of alleged abuses of Iraqi prisoners by its own personnel. One of the CIA’s investigations, said a US official, involved the death of an Iraqi Republican Guard general who was being questioned by the CIA last November.
Nearly a week after the photos of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and sexually abused were made public, the Bush administration yesterday faced a raft of new questions about how the incidents occurred, why top officials didn’t respond more quickly and why Congress wasn’t notified as investigations pointed up serious problems in the Iraqi detention system.
The graphic photos — and a classified Army report that called the abuses “systemic and illegal” — have created the most serious crisis for US officials in Iraq since the war, and it comes less than 60 days before they are scheduled to hand over power to an Iraqi interim government.
Army officials confirmed 20 criminal investigations are on.
In Iraq, the outcry continued. Iraq’s US-appointed human rights minister said he had resigned this week to protest abuses of Iraqi detainees by American guards. Abdul-Basat al-Turki said he feared the abuses were not an isolated incident, as American officials say, but “the violations are a common act.”
Abu Ghraib was one of Saddam Hussein’s most notorious prisons and torture centres — exactly the kind of place that US officials have said was put out of business when they deposed Saddam. But now it has become a symbol of what many Iraqi perceive as American abuses — so much so that defence secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was forced to draw a distinction between American practices there and Saddam’s, calling the abuses in the photos an isolated incident.
The army also disclosed for the first time the extent of its own criminal investigations in the region, saying it has investigated 25 deaths and 10 prisoner assault cases since December 2002, mainly in Iraq. The army supervised more than 40,000 detainees at the post-war peak, and now oversees about 10,000.
Lawyers for 12 Iraqi families who allege their relatives were unlawfully killed by British troops in post-war Iraq took their case to London’s High Court today.
The ministry of defence refuses to accept responsibility for the deaths but the families’ lawyers are demanding a judicial review to examine if the killings were a violation of the victims’ right to life under European law.