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Two years ago, revelations about the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked people across the world. In response, U.S. government officials condemned the conduct as illegal and assured the world that perpetrators would be held accountable.

Two years later, it has become clear that the problem of torture and other abuse by U.S. personnel abroad was far more pervasive than the Abu Ghraib photos revealed—extending to numerous U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at Guantánamo Bay, and including hundreds of incidents of abuse. Yet an analysis of alleged abuse cases shows that promises of transparency, investigation, and appropriate punishment for those responsible remain unfulfilled. U.S. authorities have failed to investigate many allegations, or have investigated them inadequately. And numerous personnel implicated in abuses have not been prosecuted or punished.

In order to collect and analyze allegations of abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, and to assess what actions, if any, the U.S. government has taken in response to credible allegations, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First have jointly undertaken a Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA Project). The Project tracks abuse allegations and records investigations, disciplinary measures, or criminal prosecutions that are linked to them. (This briefing paper does not discuss allegations of torture or abuse at secret U.S. detention facilities in other countries, or allegations of torture following illegal rendition or other informal transfer to other countries.1)

This briefing paper presents the Project’s preliminary conclusions based on data collected as of April 10, 2006. It also highlights a number of individual cases that illustrate the following key findings:

  • Detainee abuse has been widespread. The DAA Project has documented over 330 cases in which U.S. military and civilian personnel are credibly alleged to have abused or killed detainees. These cases involve more than 600 U.S. personnel and over 460 detainees. Allegations have come from U.S. facilities throughout Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay. (These numbers are conservative and likely lower than the actual number of credible allegations of abuse. See box, “Methodology and Sources of Information,” opposite.)

  • Only fifty-four military personnel—a fraction of the more than 600 U.S. personnel implicated in detainee abuse cases—are known to have been convicted by court-martial; forty of these individuals have been sentenced to prison time.

  • Available evidence indicates that U.S. military and civilian agencies do not appear to have adequately investigated numerous cases of alleged torture and other mistreatment. Of the hundreds of allegations of abuse collected by the DAA Project, only about half appear to have been properly investigated. In numerous cases, military investigators appear to have closed investigations prematurely or to have delayed their resolution. In many cases, the military has simply failed to open investigations, even in cases where credible allegations have been made.

  • DAA Project researchers found over 400 personnel have been implicated in cases investigated by military or civilian authorities, but only about a third of them have faced any kind of disciplinary or criminal action. And even in cases where U.S. military investigations have substantiated abuse, military commanders have often chosen to proceed with weaker non-judicial forms of disciplinary action instead of criminal prosecution.

  • In cases where courts-martial have convened, only a small number of convictions have resulted in significant prison time. Many sentences have been for less than a year, even in cases involving serious abuse. Of the hundreds of personnel implicated in detainee abuse, only ten people have been sentenced to a year or more in prison.

  • No U.S. military officer has been held accountable for criminal acts committed by subordinates under the doctrine of command responsibility. That doctrine provides that a superior is responsible for the criminal acts of subordinates if the superior knew or should have known that the crimes were being committed and failed to take steps to prevent them or to punish the perpetrators. Only three officers have been convicted by court-martial for detainee abuse; in all three instances, they were convicted for abuses in which they directly participated, not for their responsibility as commanders.

  • The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has investigated several cases of abuse involving its personnel, and reportedly referred some individuals to the Department of Justice for prosecution. But few cases have been robustly investigated.

  • The Department of Justice appears to have taken little action in regard to the approximately twenty civilians, including CIA agents, referred for criminal prosecution for detainee abuse by the military and the CIA, and has shown minimal initiative in conducting its own investigations into abuse cases. The Department of Justice has not indicted a single CIA agent for abusing detainees; it has indicted only one civilian contractor.

    Methodology and Sources of Information

    The DAA Project collects data on alleged detainee abuses in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay, occurring in the context of U.S. military and intelligence operations. The data are based primarily on documents released by the U.S. government itself, including tens of thousands of pages of internal government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the American Civil Liberties Union and other non-governmental groups. Additional sources include: Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First interviews with witnesses and victims of abuse; the U.S. military’s reports of investigations conducted into alleged abuse;2 legal documents relating to abuse investigations and prosecutions (including court filings and transcripts from proceedings conducted at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility); detainee accounts recorded by other organizations or by the detainees’ attorneys; reports from credible media sources; official U.S. military statements; and responses from the U.S. military and Department of Justice to questions from Project researchers.

    The numbers presented in this report are likely an undercount. There are two reasons for this: First, U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a high level of secrecy with respect to detainee operations, allegations of abuse and ensuing investigations. Too often, accounts of abuse come to light or are fully investigated only after media attention is focused on them.3 In many cases, despite repeated requests, DAA Project researchers were not able to obtain more than the most basic information about alleged abuses from government agencies.4 Second, the Project has taken a conservative approach, and included accounts of alleged abuses from nongovernmental sources only if they are specific, detailed, and coherent. The Project has not included allegations about systemic detainee abuse—for instance, allegations that a particular military unit or set of soldiers systematically committed abuses, no matter how well supported—if these allegations did not include allegations about specific incidents, personnel, or detainees.


    Definitions and Explanations

    For the purposes of the DAA Project, a “case” is defined as a set of events that took place at a particular time and location, involving a particular set of alleged perpetrators and victims. A case may involve a single perpetrator abusing a single detainee or multiple perpetrators, victims, and acts of abuse.

    A specific act allegedly committed by a particular person against an individual detainee (for instance, a military guard beating a detainee) is an “act of abuse” for the purposes of this Project. Separate acts by different personnel against detainees are considered separate acts of abuse (for instance, two military guards beating up a detainee is two acts of abuse). Project researchers deemed conduct an act of abuse only if the alleged conduct would violate provisions of the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), applicable to U.S. service men and women, or federal criminal statutes, applicable to both civilians and military personnel.5 Relevant violations of the UCMJ include homicide, assault, cruelty and maltreatment, and maiming;6 relevant violations of U.S. federal law include homicide, assault, sexual abuse, and torture.7 (Note: “Acts of abuse” are not equivalent to the individual criminal charges that prosecutors could seek under these provisions. Charges in criminal cases are decided by prosecutors on a case-by-case basis and can include several counts stemming from a single act.) Project researchers excluded from the count instances in which military investigations found evidence that justified or excused physical force, e.g., instances in which guards used arguably justified levels of force to subdue allegedly violent or unruly detainees.

    A “detainee” is defined here as it is by the Army’s criminal investigation command, as “any person captured or otherwise detained by an armed force.”8

    [1] For information about secret detention facilities and allegations of torture occurring in them, see Human Rights First, “Ending Secret Detentions,” June 2004, retrieved April 17, 2006, at; Human Rights First, “Behind the Wire,” March 2005, retrieved April 17, 2006, at; Human Rights Watch “The United States’ ‘Disappeared’: The CIA’s Long-Term ‘Ghost Detainees,” October 2004, retrieved April 17, 2006, at; see also Human Rights Watch, “List of Ghost Prisoners Possibly in CIA Custody,” November 30, 2005, retrieved April 17, 2006, at; and NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, “Fate and Whereabouts Unknown: Detainees in the ‘War on Terror,’” December 2005, retrieved April 17, 2006, at For an analysis of the practice and legality of rendition, see NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice & New York City Bar Association, “Torture by Proxy: International and Domestic Law Applicable to ‘Extraordinary Rendition,’” October 2004, at; NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, “Beyond Guantánamo: Transfers to Torture One Year After Rasul v. Bush,” June 2005, at See also Human Rights Watch, “Still at Risk: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard Against Torture,” April 2005, at; Human Rights Watch, “Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” May 2005, at

    [2] For a description of some of the official military investigations conducted and discussion of their shortcomings, see Human Rights First, “Getting to Ground Truth: Investigating U.S. Abuses in the War on Terror,” September 2004, at

    [3] See Human Rights First, “Command’s Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan,” February 2006, p. 31, at [hereinafter Human Rights First, Command’s Responsibility] (discussing the impact of public attention on military investigations of detainee deaths in U.S. custody). See also “New Detainee Deaths Uncovered in Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch press release and letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, December 13, 2004, at (information about deaths was updated after media attention to the letter).

    [4] Project researchers made numerous letter, telephone, and e-mail inquiries to military and Department of Justice officials requesting information. In a few instances, military public affairs officers provided additional information about specific cases or general information about the military’s record of investigating and prosecuting abuse. In most other cases, however, Project researchers were told that information requested is unavailable, or that it can only be obtained under FOIA.  DAA Project Members have filed FOIA requests connected to several cases reviewed in this report; almost all of these requests are still pending.

    [5] The Uniform Code of Military Justice is codified at Title 10, Chapter 47 of the U.S. Code (10 U.S.C. § 801 et seq.) [hereinafter UCMJ]. Crimes punishable under the UCMJ are found in articles 77–134 of the UCMJ (10 U.S.C. §§ 877-934). Federal crimes, applicable to both civilians and military personnel, are codified in Title 18 of the U.S. Code (“Crimes and Criminal Procedure”).

    [6] UCMJ arts. 118-119 (homicide), art. 128 (assault), art. 93 (cruelty and maltreatment), and art. 124 (maiming).

    [7] 18 U.S.C. § 1111-1112 (homicide), 18 U.S.C. § 113 (assault), 18 U.S.C. § 109A (sexual abuse), and 18 U.S.C. § 2340A (torture).

    [8] Department of the Army, Criminal Investigative Command (CID), CID Report of Investigation – Initial/Final SSI – 0037-04-CID201-54050 (November 16, 2004), pp. 68-69, retrieved April 17, 2006, at

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