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Context of 'March 2003: Bagram Commander Denies Detainees are Chained to Ceilings'

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Habibullah.Habibullah. [Source: CBS]Mullah Habibullah, a 30-year-old Afghan from the southern province of Oruzgan, dies of complications related to “blunt force trauma” while in detention at the US base at Bagram. [Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004] Habibullah was captured by an Afghan warlord on November 28, 2002, and delivered to Bagram by the CIA on November 30. Habibullah is identified as the brother of a former Taliban commander, and later described as portly, well-groomed, and, in the words of American military police officer Major Bobby Atwell, “very confident.” [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Injured When Delivered into US Custody - When Habibullah arrived at the US air base, he was reportedly already severely hurt. Despite his condition, according to one account, he was isolated “in a ‘safety’ position [stress position], with his arms shackled and tied to a beam in the ceiling.” He was left in that position for days, but regularly checked on. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004]
Targeted for Abuse - Though battered and ill, Habibullah’s defiance makes him a target for physical abuse, with the MPs and guards repeatedly attacking his legs. (Some guards will later claim Habibullah’s injuries were received when he tried to escape.) Most of the Americans will later describe Habibullah as insubordinate; one will recall being kneed in the groin by Habibullah after subjecting the prisoner to a rectal examination. Habibullah’s interrogations produce little of worth, in part because the MPs who interrogate him usually have no interpreters available. Sometimes the MPs demand that another prisoner translate for them; usually the interrogation sessions contain no more than physical restraints or beatings. [New York Times, 5/20/2005] At some point, Sgt. James P. Boland, a guard from the Army Reserve’s 377th MP Company from Cincinnati, allegedly watches as a subordinate beats Habibullah. [New York Times, 9/17/2004] The beating of Habibullah was likely witnessed by British detainee Moazzam Begg, who will later say he witnessed the death of “two fellow detainees at the hands of US military personnel” while at Bagram (see July 12, 2004). [Guardian, 10/1/2004; New York Times, 10/15/2004]
Complaints of Chest Pains Mocked - During his last interrogation session, on December 2, Habibullah spends the entirety of the session coughing and complaining of chest pains. His right leg is stiff and his right leg swollen. The interpreter for the session, Ebrahim Baerde, later recalls the interrogators “laughing and making fun of” Habibullah “because he was spitting up a lot of phlegm.” Habibullah is still defiant; when one interrogator asks if he wants to spend the rest of his life in handcuffs, Baerde will recall the prisoner retorting, “Yes, don’t they look good on me?” [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Found Dead, Hanging from Shackles - On December 3, Habibullah is found dead, still hanging in his shackles. [Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004] Boland sees Habibullah hanging from the ceiling of his cell, suspended by two sets of handcuffs and a chain around his waist. His body is slumped forward and his tongue is protruding. Boland, along with Specialists Anthony Morden and Brian Cammack, enters the cell. Cammack puts a piece of bread in Habibullah’s mouth; another soldier puts an apple in Habibullah’s hand, and it falls to the floor. According to Cammack, Habibullah’s spit gets on Cammack’s chest. Later, Cammack will acknowledge, “I’m not sure he spit at me,” but now he screams, “Don’t ever spit on me again!” and knees Habibullah in the thigh “maybe a couple” of times. Habibullah makes no response; his body swings limply from the chains. Twenty minutes later, the guards unchain Habibullah and lay him on the floor. He has no pulse. Cammack, according to another guard, “appeared very distraught” and “was running about the room hysterically.” An MP is sent to wake a medic, who refuses to respond, telling the MP to call an ambulance instead. By the time a second medic arrives at the cell, Habibullah is laid spreadeagled on the floor, eyes and mouth open. “It looked like he had been dead for a while, and it looked like nobody cared,” the medic, Staff Sergeant Rodney Glass, will later recall. Atwell will later recall that Habibullah’s death “did not cause an enormous amount of concern ‘cause it appeared natural.” The autopsy, completed five days later, will show bruises and abrasions on Habibullah’s chest, arms, and head. The body has severe contusions on the calves, knees, and thighs, and the sole print of a boot is on his left calf. The death will be attributed to a blood clot, probably caused by the severe injuries to his legs, which traveled to his heart and blocked the blood flow to his lungs. [New York Times, 5/20/2005] His legs have been struck so forcefully, according to one death certificate, it complicated his coronary artery disease. Another certificate will say the beating led to a pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage of an artery in the lungs, often caused by a blood clot. [USA Today, 5/31/2004]
Commanding Officer Able to Hear Screams, Moans of Detainees - In charge of the military intelligence interrogators at Bagram at this time is Capt. Carolyn A. Wood. According to an anonymous intelligence officer, Wood should be aware of what is happening to prisoners at Bagram since interrogations take place close to her office. The intelligence officer will recall hearing screams and moans coming out from the interrogation and isolation rooms. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Carolyn A. Wood, Anthony Morden, Bobby Atwell, Brian Cammack, James P. Boland, Rodney Glass, Ebrahim Baerde, Mullah Habibullah, Moazzam Begg, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

A sketch by MP Sergeant Thomas Curtis showing how Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell. A sketch by MP Sergeant Thomas Curtis showing how Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell. [Source: New York Times]Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghan farmer and part-time taxi driver from the small village of Yakubi in eastern Afghanistan, is picked up by local authorities and turned over to US soldiers. Dilawar is described as a shy, uneducated man with a slight frame, rarely leaving the stone farmhouse he shares with his wife and family. He is captured while driving a used Toyota sedan that his family bought him to use as a taxi. He has three fares, men headed back towards his village, and is stopped by Afghan militiamen loyal to the guerrilla commander Jan Baz Khan. (Khan will later be taken into custody himself for allegedly attacking US targets and then turning over innocent villagers to US forces, accusing them of carrying out the attacks.) The militia confiscates a broken walkie-talkie from one of the passengers, and an electric stabilizer used to regulate current from a generator in the trunk of the Toyota (Dilawar’s family later says the stabilizer is not theirs; they have no electricity). All four men are turned over to American soldiers at Bagram Air Force Base as suspects in a recent rocket attack on the US base at Khost. They spend the first night handcuffed to the fence to deprive them of sleep. Dilawar is then examined by the base doctor, who pronounces him healthy.
Passengers Shipped to Guantanamo, Say Bagram Treatment Far Worse - Dilawar’s three passengers are eventually shipped to Guantanamo for a year, before being released without charge. The three will describe their ordeal at Bagram as far worse than their treatment at Guantanamo. All will claim to have been beaten, stripped in front of female guards, and subjected to repeated and harsh rectal exams. Abdul Rahim, a baker from Khost, will recall: “They did lots and lots of bad things to me [at Bagram]. I was shouting and crying, and no one was listening. When I was shouting, the soldiers were slamming my head against the desk.” Another of Dilawar’s passengers, Parkhudin, later recalls that Dilawar “could not breathe” in the black cloth hood pulled over his head.
Running Joke - Though Dilawar is shy and frail, he is quickly labeled “noncompliant.” One US military policeman, Specialist Corey Jones, reports that Dilawar spat on him and tried to kick him. Jones retaliated by giving him a number of “peroneal knee strikes” (see May 20, 2005). As Jones will later recall: “He screamed out, ‘Allah! Allah! Allah!’ and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god. Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny. It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out ‘Allah.’ It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes.” Several other guards will later admit to striking Dilawar. While most MPs deny any knowledge of Dilawar being injured by the physical assaults, Jones will remember seeing Dilawar’s legs when his orange drawstring pants fell off of him while he was shackled. “I saw the bruise because his pants kept falling down while he was in standing restraints,” Jones will later recall. “Over a certain time period, I noticed it was the size of a fist.” Dilawar’s repeated cries and pleas for his release do little besides annoy his captors.
Fourth Interrogation Marked by Beatings - Dilawar’s fourth interrogation, on December 8, turns sour. Lead interrogator Specialist Glendale Walls will contend that Dilawar is hostile and evasive. Sergeant Selena Salcedo, another interrogator, will say that Dilawar smiled, refused to answer questions, and refused to stay kneeling on the ground or in his ordered “chair-sitting” posture against the wall. But the interpreter present, Ahmad Ahmadzai, has a different recollection. According to Ahmadzai, Dilawar denies launching any rockets at the Americans. He is unable to hold his cuffed hands above him while kneeling, and Salcedo slaps them back up whenever they begin to droop. “Selena berated him for being weak and questioned him about being a man, which was very insulting because of his heritage,” Ahmadzai will tell investigators. Both Salcedo and Walls repeatedly slam Dilawar against the wall: “This went on for 10 or 15 minutes,” Ahmadzei will say. “He was so tired he couldn’t get up.” Salcedo begins stamping his foot, yanking his head by grabbing his beard, and kicking him in the groin. Ahmadzai will state: “About the first 10 minutes, I think, they were actually questioning him, after that it was pushing, shoving, kicking and shouting at him. There was no interrogation going on.” Salcedo orders the MPs to keep him chained to the ceiling of his cell until the next shift comes on. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004; New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Chained to the Ceiling - The next morning, Dilawar is still chained to his ceiling. He begins shouting during the morning, and is ignored until around noon, when MPs ask another interpreter, Ebrahim Baerde, to see if he can calm Dilawar. Baerde will tell investigators: “I told him, ‘Look, please, if you want to be able to sit down and be released from shackles, you just need to be quiet for one more hour.’ He told me that if he was in shackles another hour, he would die.” A half-hour later, Baerde returns to the cell to find Dilawar slumped in his chains. “He wanted me to get a doctor, and said that he needed ‘a shot,’” Baerde will recall. “He said that he didn’t feel good. He said that his legs were hurting.” Baerde tells a guard, who checks Dilawar’s circulation by pressing down on his fingernails. According to Baerde, the guard says: “He’s okay. He’s just trying to get out of his restraints.” [New York Times, 3/4/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004; New York Times, 9/17/2004; New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Dead Days Later - Dilawar will be found dead in his cell days later (see December 10, 2002).

Entity Tags: Ebrahim Baerde, Glendale Walls, Jan Baz Khan, Dilawar, Abdul Rahim, Ahmad Ahmadzai, Corey Jones, Selena Salcedo, Parkhudin

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Dilawar.Dilawar. [Source: CBS]Dilawar, an Afghan farmer turned taxi driver who was detained by US troops on December 5 (see December 5-9, 2002), is found dead in his cell at Bagram. Earlier that day, he was taken to the interrogation room for what will be his last interrogation. An interpreter will later describes him with legs uncontrollably jumping and numbed hands; Dilawar had been chained by his wrists to the top of his cell for four days and suffered repeated beatings from guards. He is agitated and confused, crying that his wife is dead and complaining of being beaten by his guards. Interpreter Ali Baryalai will later tell investigators, “We didn’t pursue that.”
Making Sure the Prisoner is Hydrated - Dilawar is interrogated by two MPs, Specialists Glendale Walls and Joshua Claus. Though Walls is the lead interrogator, the more aggressive Claus quickly takes control of the proceedings. “Josh had a rule that the detainee had to look at him, not me,” the interpreter will tell investigators. “He gave him three chances, and then he grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him towards him, across the table, slamming his chest into the table front.” Both Walls and Claus slam Dilawar against the wall when he tries and fails to kneel; he begins to either fall asleep or pass out. Baryalai will later state, “It looked to me like Dilawar was trying to cooperate, but he couldn’t physically perform the tasks.” As Baryalai will later tell investigators, Claus grabs Dilawar, shakes him, and tells him that if he does not cooperate, he will be shipped to a prison in the United States, where he would be “treated like a woman, by the other men” and face the wrath of criminals who “would be very angry with anyone involved in the 9/11 attacks.” Dilawar asks for a drink of water, and Claus responds by taking a large plastic water bottle and, instead of giving Dilawar the water, punching a hole in the bottom of the bottle. As Dilawar fumbles with the bottle, the water pours over his orange prison garb. Claus then snatches the bottle back and begins spraying the water into Dilawar’s face. As Dilawar gags on the spray, Claus shouts: “Come on, drink! Drink!” A third interrogator, Staff Sergeant Christopher Yonushonis, enters the room and, as he will recall, finds a large puddle of water, a soaking wet Dilawar, and Claus standing behind Dilawar, twisting up the back of the hood that covers the prisoner’s head. “I had the impression that Josh was actually holding the detainee upright by pulling on the hood,” Yonushonis will recall. “I was furious at this point because I had seen Josh tighten the hood of another detainee the week before. This behavior seemed completely gratuitous and unrelated to intelligence collection.” When Yonushonis demands an explanation, Claus responds, “We had to make sure he stayed hydrated.”
Dies While Chained to the Ceiling - An interrogator, presumably Yonushonis, promises Dilawar that he can see a doctor after the interrogation session concludes, but Claus tells the guards not to take him to a doctor. Instead, Claus tell the guards to chain him to the ceiling again. “Leave him up,” one of the guards will later quote Claus as saying. Dilawar dies while chained up; hours later, an emergency room doctor sees Dilawar’s body already dead and stiffening. Yonushonis reports the abusive interrogation to his superior officer, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, but Dilawar is already dead.
Autopsy Report: Legs 'Pulpified' - An autopsy will find Dilawar’s death caused by “blunt force injuries to the lower extremities.” At a pre-trial hearing for one of the guards involved in Dilawar’s abuse, a coroner will say the tissue in the prisoner’s legs “had basically been pulpified.” Major Elizabeth Rouse, another coroner and the one who termed Dilawar’s cause of death to be “homicide,” will add, “I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus.” Walls and Claus will both be charged with assault and maltreatment of a prisoner. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Changes Implemented - After Dilawar’s death, the second in a matter of days (see November 30-December 3, 2002), some changes are implemented at Bagram. A medic is assigned to work the night shift. Interrogators are prohibited from physical contact with the detainees. Chaining prisoners to fixed objects is banned, and the use of stress positions is curtailed. Yonushonis will not be interviewed until August 2004, when he contacts an agent of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command on his own initiative to discuss his knowledge of Dilawar’s death. “I expected to be contacted at some point by investigators in this case,” he will say. “I was living a few doors down from the interrogation room, and I had been one of the last to see this detainee alive.” Of the last interrogation, Yonushonis will tell investigators, “I remember being so mad that I had trouble speaking.” He also adds one extra detail: by the time Dilawar was interrogated the final time, “most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent.” [New York Times, 3/4/2003; Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004; New York Times, 5/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Joshua Claus, Dilawar, Steven Loring, Glendale Walls, Criminal Investigation Command, Elizabeth A. Rouse, Ali Baryalai, Christopher Yonushonis

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Lt. Gen. Daniel McNeill, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan (Commander of Joint Task Force 180), announces an investigation into the deaths of Bagram prisoners Dilawar (see December 10, 2002) and Mullah Habibullah (see November 30-December 3, 2002). Nevertheless, he claims both prisoners died of natural causes. Dilawar, according to McNeill had an advanced heart condition with his coronary arteries 85 percent blocked. “We haven’t found anything that requires us to take extraordinary action,” McNeill says. “We are going to let this investigation run its course.” But military pathologists have already determined both deaths were caused by beatings. Dilawar’s death certificate, signed by Maj. Elizabeth A. Rouse, a pathologist with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, stated that Dilawar’s cause of death was “blunt-force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.” [Guardian, 6/23/2004] When McNeill is asked whether the dead prisoners suffered injuries during detention, he denies this. “Presently, I have no indication of that,” he says. Later, McNeill claims that the prisoners had already suffered injuries before arriving at Bagram. When asked about the use of chains, he replies: “We are not chaining people to the ceilings. I think you asked me that question before.” [New York Times, 9/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Elizabeth A. Rouse, Dilawar, Daniel K. McNeill

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Lt. Gen. Daniel McNeill, US troop commander in Afghanistan, tells the New York Times that prisoners are forced to stand for long periods at the US prison in Bagram, but denies that they have been chained to the ceilings. “Our interrogation techniques are adapted,” he says. “They are in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques, and if incidental to the due course of this investigation [of Dilawar’s death (see December 10, 2002)], we find things that need to be changed, we will certainly change them.” [New York Times, 3/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Dilawar, Daniel K. McNeill

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

When an Associated Press reporter asks the US military to comment on the accounts of two former Afghan detainees (see December 10, 2002) (see November 30-December 3, 2002), spokesman Roger King claims their accounts are mostly untrue. “Some of the stuff they are saying sounds like partial truths, some of it’s completely bogus,” he says. “They were stripped naked probably to prevent them from sneaking weapons into the facility. That’s why someone may be stripped…. We do force people to stand for an extended period of time…. Disruption of sleep has been reported as an effective way of reducing people’s inhibition about talking or their resistance to questioning….They are not allowed to speak to one another. If they do, they can plan together or rely on the comfort of one another. If they’re caught speaking out of turn, they can be forced to do things—like stand for a period of time—as payment for speaking out.” [Associated Press, 3/14/2003; Amnesty International, 8/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Roger King

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

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