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Profile: Mullah Habibullah

Mullah Habibullah was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Side profiles of Habibullah (left) and Dilawar (right).Side profiles of Habibullah (left) and Dilawar (right). [Source: CBS]More than one-and-a-half years after the deaths of the Afghan detainees Mullah Habibullah (see November 30-December 3, 2002) and Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), the US Army Criminal Investigation Command completes its investigation of the two cases. It finds that 28 military personnel, including two captains, were involved in the incident. The perpetrators could be charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault, and conspiracy. A Pentagon official says five or six of the soldiers will likely be charged with the most serious offenses. The investigation concludes that “multiple soldiers” beat Dilawar and Habibullah, using mostly their knees. It is likely, according to Pentagon officials, that the beatings were concentrated on the legs of the detainees, so that wounds would be less visible. Amnesty International severely criticizes the long duration of the investigation. “The failure to promptly account for the prisoners’ deaths indicates a chilling disregard for the value of human life and may have laid the groundwork for further abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere,” says Jumana Musa of Amnesty International USA. [New York Times, 10/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Jumana Musa, Mullah Habibullah, Dilawar, Patrick J. Brown

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

The New York Times obtains a copy of a classified file of the Army criminal investigation into a number of detainee deaths at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The report focuses on two Afghan detainees, Mullah Habibullah (see October 2004 and November 30-December 3, 2002) and a taxi driver known as Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), both of whom were in essence tortured to death; other detainees are also covered in the report. The Army report follows up on the official inquiry conducted in late 2004 (see October 2004).
Torture to Extract Information, Punish Detainees, and Alleviate Boredom - The Times writes: “Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths. In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.” One female interrogator has what a colleague in a sworn statement calls a taste for humiliation; that interrogator is described as having stood on the neck of one prostrate detainee, and having kicked another detainee in the genitals. Another statement tells of a shackled prisoner being forced to kiss the boots of his interrogators. A third tells of a detainee forced to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water. Overall, the Army report concludes that many of the tactics used by interrogators and guards amounts to criminal assault. Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita says: “What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone’s standard for humane treatment. We’re finding some cases that were not close calls.” Seven soldiers, all interrogators and guards of low rank, have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter; two others received reprimands, and 15 others named in the original report were cited as bearing probable criminal responsibility in the deaths. One of the interrogators charged with assaulting Dilawar, Sergeant Selena Salcedo, says: “The whole situation is unfair. It’s all going to come out when everything is said and done.”
Many Interrogators Redeployed to Iraq; Bagram Tactics Used at Abu Ghraib - The Army criminal investigation was conducted slowly. During the course of the investigation, many of the Bagram interrogators, including their operations officer, Captain Carolyn Wood, were redeployed to Iraq (see Mid-March 2003). Wood took charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison and, according to Army inquiries, began using tactics “remarkably similar” to those employed at Bagram (see July 15, 2003 and (Early August 2003)). She received the Bronze Star for her actions (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003).
Serious Disparities between Investigative Results and Personnel Statements - In the aftermaths of the deaths, military officials made a number of unsupported claims. The deaths of both Dilawar and Habibullah were originally listed as due to natural causes even as military coroners ruled the deaths homicides. The American commander in Afghanistan at the time, Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, said that he had no indication that the deaths were caused by abuses carried out by US soldiers; the methods used in the detainees’ interrogations were, McNeill said, “in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques.”
Poorly Trained Interrogators - The report focuses on one group of poorly trained interrogators from the Army’s 519th Military Intelligence Brigade (see July 2002). After Bush’s decree that terror suspects have no rights under Geneva, the interrogators began pushing the envelope of acceptable interrogation techniques. They began employing “stress positions” that cause pain and suffering but not, presumably, actual injury. They began experimenting with longer and longer periods of sleep deprivation. One of the more popular methods is called in military jargon “Fear Up Harsh,” or as one soldier called it, “the screaming technique.” The technique is based on verbally and physically intimidating detainees, and often degenerates into screaming and throwing furniture. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, sometimes tried to curb his interrogators’ excesses, but, contradictorily, often refused to countenance “soft” interrogation techniques, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. Sergeant James Leahy recalled, “We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren’t our friends and could not be trusted.” One of Loring’s favorites was Specialist Damien Corsetti, nicknamed “Monster,” a tall, bearded interrogator Loring jokingly nicknamed “the King of Torture.” One Saudi detainee told Army investigators that during one session, Corsetti pulled out his penis, shoved it in the Saudi’s face, and threatened to rape him. (The earlier investigation found cause to charge Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner, and indecent acts; no charges were filed. Corsetti was fined and demoted for brutalizing a female prisoner at Abu Ghraib.) By August 2002, the 519th interrogators, joined by a group of reservists from a military police company, were routinely beating their prisoners, and particularly favored the “common peroneal strike,” a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg just above the knee. The MPs later said that they never knew such physical brutality was not part of Army interrogation practices. “That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg,” one of the MPs, Sergeant Thomas Curtis, later told investigators.
'Timmy' - Specialist Jeremy Callaway told investigators of one Afghan prisoner with apparently severe emotional and mental problems. The detainee would eat his own feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. He quickly became a favorite target for some of the MPs, who would repeatedly knee him in the legs and, at least once, chained him with his arms straight up in the air. The MPs nicknamed him “Timmy” after an emotionally disturbed child in the “South Park” animated television show. According to Callaway, one of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character. Eventually, “Timmy” was sent home. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Jeremy Callaway, James Leahy, Dilawar, Daniel K. McNeill, Damien Corsetti, Carolyn A. Wood, Lawrence Di Rita, Mullah Habibullah, New York Times, Steven Loring, US Department of Defense, Selena Salcedo, Thomas Curtis

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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