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Context of 'March 16, 2003: Afghan Teenager Dies in US Custody, Allegedly from Torture'

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Jan Mohammed re-enacts the alleged murder of his brother, Wakil.Jan Mohammed re-enacts the alleged murder of his brother, Wakil. [Source: Crimes of War Project]Wakil Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, is shot to death by a US Special Forces soldier while being questioned about his possible role in a firefight. He was protesting that he and his brother—an eyewitness to the shooting—were merely returning home from afternoon prayers and had nothing to do with the fighting. (His brother will later tell the reporters that he and several others were detained and tortured, including having their heads held underwater in a form of waterboarding, and having their toenails torn out.) Mohammed’s death is not reported at all in the initial reports of the firefight. The death is later listed by the Army as a murder, but no charges have ever been filed in relation to the shooting. The team’s battalion commander will later claim that Mohammed’s death was never reported to him. One member of the Special Forces team involved in the murder will tell the Los Angeles Times that his unit held a meeting after the teen’s death in order to coordinate their stories should an investigation arise. “Everybody on the team had knowledge of it,” says the soldier. “You just don’t talk about that stuff in the Special Forces community. What happens downrange stays downrange… Nobody wants to get anybody in trouble. Just sit back, and hope it will go away.” The Times learns that the Special Forces unit in Gardez already is under heavy scrutiny by superior officers. One officer reported that the Gardez unit was “the most troubled” field team among nearly a dozen in Afghanistan. Another senior officer wrote that the team was gaining a reputation as “a rogue unit,” and a battalion commander characterizes the unit’s performance as “a Guard unit operating unprofessionally in a combat zone.” The Times will later report, “What distinguishes these two fatalities from scores of other questionable deaths in US custody (referring to the murder of both Mohammed and another detainee, Jamal Naseer—see March 16, 2003) is that they were successfully concealed—not just from the American public but from the military’s chain of command and legal authorities.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006]

Entity Tags: US Special Forces, US Department of the Army, Wakil Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Jamal Naseer, an 18-year old newly recruited Afghan soldier, dies in US custody, apparently as a result of beating and torture. Naseer dies after several days in detention at a US Special Forces “firebase,” a small, outlying military base set up to support advancing troops, at Gardez, Afghanistan. [CBS News, 9/21/2004] Naseer and seven other detainees were taken into custody about a week before by Special Forces troops attempting to secure the area from the depredations of a local warlord, Pacha (or Bacha) Khan. Naseer’s brother Ahmad insists that he, his brother, and the other detainees are allies of the Americans, and never participated in Taliban- or al-Qaeda-led attacks against American forces. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] It is unclear why the men were detained in the first place, but Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti report that according to an Afghan intelligence report. “the action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Naseer’s death will be officially recorded as resulting from “natural causes,” but fellow detainees will say that Naseer’s death was caused by abuse suffered at the hands of US Army Special Forces soldiers near Gardez. Ahmad Naseer will later describe how he and his brother were beaten and abused while in custody, subjected to electric shocks, immersed in cold water, forced to assume stress positions, thrashed with cables, suffered the forcible tearing off of their toenails, and made to lie for hours in the snow. The last time he spoke with his brother, he says Jamal was “moaning about the pain in his kidneys and back” from being repeatedly beaten. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Jamal died shortly thereafter while being helped outside to relieve himself by two Afghan kitchen workers. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] After Naseer’s death, the unit holds a meeting to discuss the incident. The team is told that Naseer died of a sex-related infection that shut down his kidneys. According to one soldier in the meeting, the point of discussion is “to make sure everybody’s on the same sheet of paper—this is what happened to the man”—in case there’s ever an investigation. Captain Craig Mallak, medical examiner for the US armed forces, says that Naseer’s death is never reported to his office (any death of a detainee is required to be reported unless the detainee is determined to have died of natural causes). Naseer’s body is transferred to a civilian hospital where no autopsy is performed. One hospital worker who prepares the body for burial will later tell the Times that Naseer’s body was “completely black” from bruising and injuries, and was “completely swollen, as were his palms, and the soles of his feet were swollen double in size.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Asked about such injuries, Dr. Michael Baden, a prominent forensic pathologist who works for the New York State Police, says the descriptions are inconsistent with death by organ failure. “You can’t confuse those. It sounds very much like blunt trauma.” A local physician who examined the survivors later confirmed that all of the men were suffering from similar trauma, with extensive bruising and seeping, and unbandaged wounds. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Eventually, Ahmad Naseer and his comrades are secretly transferred to a civilian prison in Kabul, still without any formal charges. Afghan military prosecutors immediately launch an investigation into their unexplained detention. That inquiry eventually produces a 117-page report asserting that the detainees had been tortured and that there is a “strong probability” that one of the men had been “murdered.” The report speculates that the prolonged imprisonment was intended to give the detainees’ wounds time to heal. Fifty-eight days later, all of the prisoners are released; no charges are ever filed. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Taliban, US Special Forces, Michael Baden, Pacha Khan, Al-Qaeda, Jamal Naseer, Ahmad Naseer, Craig Mallak

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) opens a probe into the deaths of two Afghan detainees, allegedly at the hands of US Special Forces soldiers. The two men, Wakil Mohammed and Jamal Naseer, died on March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003, respectively (see March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003). Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, was being interrogated about his role in a recent firefight. While he was protesting his innocence, he was shot in the face by an American soldier. Naseer, taken into custody with seven other Afghans for interrogation about their supposed involvement with local Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters, died about a week after his capture, allegedly from repeated torture and abuse. Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti write, “Motivation for those arrests remains cloaked in Afghan political intrigue. The action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders, an Afghan intelligence report says.” While the Army apparently looked into the circumstances of the deaths shortly after they occurred, no official investigation was ever mounted until the Crimes of War Project began its own investigation into the deaths. When the organization released its findings to two Los Angeles Times reporters, Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, and the reporters filed a series of articles on the deaths in September 2004, the CID opened its own probe. Former Attorney General for the Armed Forces Yar Mohammed Tamkin, who directs the Afghan investigation into the death of Naseer, concludes in his own report that there was a “strong possibility” that Naseer was “murdered as the result of torture” at the hands of his US captors. Under Afghan law, he writes, “it is necessary for our legal system to investigate the torture of the seven individuals and the murder of Jamal, son of Ghazi, and other similar acts committed by foreign nationals.” CID investigators say that the Army’s original inquiry into the deaths was stymied by a lack of information made available by the Gardez unit’s commanders. “We’re trying to figure out who was running the base,” says Army detective Christopher Coffey. “We don’t know what unit was there. There are no records. The reporting system is broke across the board. Units are transferred in and out. There are no SOPs [standard operating procedures]… and each unit acts differently.” Coffey does acknowledge that “Gardez is the worst facility—it is three or four times as bad as any other base in Afghanistan.” Naseer’s death was officially attributed to “natural causes” stemming from an apparent sexually-contracted urinary tract infection, and his death was never reported, as is standard Army procedure. Shortly after Naseer’s death, the other seven detainees were transferred to the custody of local Afghan police, who mounted their own investigation. The seven were released without charge six weeks later. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Two special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in Naseer and Mohammed’s deaths will be given administrative reprimands by the Army in 2007 (see January 26, 2007).

Entity Tags: Yar Mohammed Tamkin, Jamal Naseer, Al-Qaeda, Christopher Coffey, Wakil Mohammed, Taliban, US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Two unnamed US Special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in the March 2003 deaths of Afghan soldier Jamal Naseer and Afghan peasant Wakil Mohammed are given administrative reprimands by the US Army. Naseer was reportedly tortured to death by Special Forces soldiers (see March 16, 2003) and the unarmed Mohammed was shot after a firefight near the Special Forces base of Gardez (see March 1, 2003). But a statement released by the Special Forces Command indicates that the reprimands only fault the soldiers for assault relating to the “slapping of detainees.” It states that the soldier who shot Wakil Muhammed was acting in self-defense. As for Naseer, “all other allegations, to include voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault of detainee Jamal Naseer, were found to be unsubstantiated.” A reprimand is not a formal punishment, rather it has the effect of reducing the recipient’s prospects for a promotion and can end a military career. A military investigation began in 2004 after media reports about their deaths (see September 21, 2004). [Crimes of War Project, 1/31/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Wakil Mohammed, Jamal Naseer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Nieman Reports, a quarterly magazine about journalism, publishes an article by investigative journalist Craig Pyes describing how the US Army attempted to undermine a Los Angeles Times investigation looking into the March 2003 deaths of two Afghan detainees (see March 16, 2003). It is believed that members of a Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan murdered the two men, identified as Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed, and then covered up the circumstances surrounding their deaths. An official investigation into the two deaths by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) found insufficient probable cause to bring charges for either of the two deaths. As a result of the CID investigation, two soldiers were given noncriminal administrative letters of reprimand (see January 26, 2007) for “slapping” prisoners at the Gardez facility and for failing to report the death of Naseer. In his article, Pyes recounts the resistance he and his colleague Kevin Sack encountered from the military as they sought information about the two deaths. The military refused to disclose basic information about the circumstances surrounding the two deaths, including the two men’s identities, the circumstances of their detention, the charges against them, court papers, and investigative findings. The journalists also learned that soldiers had been told by their superiors that it was important that everyone be “on the same page in case there was an investigation.” During their investigation, they also discovered that “military examiners had made some significant errors, including their initial failure to identify the victims. They also grossly misidentified dates of crucial events and persistently failed to interview key people and locate supporting documents.” [Nieman Watchdog, 3/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Wakil Mohammed, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, US Special Forces, Jamal Naseer, Los Angeles Times, Criminal Investigation Command

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that confirm the military’s use of illegal interrogation methods on detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, are from an Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) probe. The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “These documents make it clear that the military was using unlawful interrogation techniques in Afghanistan. Rather than putting a stop to these systemic abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” In the CID reports, Special Operations officers in Gardez, Afghanistan, admitted to using what are known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques, which for decades American service members experienced as training to prepare for the brutal treatment they might face if captured (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). At least eight prisoners in custody at Gardez were beaten, burned, and doused with cold water before being placed into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in US custody (see March 16, 2003). Subsequent investigations ignored numerous witness statements describing torture; Naseer was eventually declared dead due to a “stomach ailment.” The documents also provide evidence showing that prisoners were sodomized. “These documents raise serious questions about the adequacy of the military’s investigations into prisoner abuse,” says Singh. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, Criminal Investigation Division, Jamal Naseer, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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