BAGHDAD, Iraq—The U.S. military charged six American soldiers Saturday with indecency and assaulting Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, the former Iraqi torture center now used as an allied military detention facility.
The assaults allegedly occurred in November and December, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of coalition operations. "Less than 20" Arab prisoners were abused, the general said, adding that the investigation continues.
"Even though it was a very small number, that's the kind of cancer you have to cut out completely," he said.
Commanders were short on details, promising more Sunday, but charges included indecent acts with another person, assault, cruelty and maltreatment, as well as conspiracy and dereliction of duty. It was not clear what punishment they would face, if convicted.
The military's manual for courts martial says that "'indecent' signifies that form of immorality relating to sexual impurity which is not only grossly vulgar, obscene, and repugnant to common propriety, but tends to excite lust and deprave the morals with respect to sexual relations."
Conviction on that charge can carry a maximum of five years in prison.
The general refused to characterize what the military policemen allegedly did to their captives. He also would not identify the accused soldiers, their units, or their ranks, saying "they are still innocent until proven guilty."
Although the charges suggest something sexual in nature, The Uniformed Code of Military Justice has specific articles alleging rape and sodomy, and they were not among the five UCMJ violations filed against the MPs Saturday.
Word of the charges did not immediately reach Iraqis, but they are sure to cause a stir. During Saddam Hussein's day, the Abu Ghraib prison on Baghdad's western outskirts was notorious for torture and killings of political prisoners, who were sometimes buried in unmarked graves.
Abu Ghraib was abandoned, and looted, by the time allied forces secured it in the early days of the year-old U.S.-led invasion. U.S. troops now hold about 15 percent of the coalition's 9,500 prisoners there.
Amnesty International has been critical of the coalition's treatment of detainees. International Red Cross delegates inspect the prison regularly, said Kimmitt, defending a policy of preventing reporters from visiting prisoners because, although they are detainees, the military is treating them like enemy prisoners of war and shielding them from "public curiosity and humiliation."
Saturday's charges were the first public disclosure of results from parallel criminal and internal prisoner-abuse investigations that began on Jan. 14 by order of Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commanding general of ground troops in Iraq.
In the course of the investigation, 17 soldiers, including a battalion commander and a company commander, were suspended but are still in Iraq for the investigation. None were released from the investigation as of Saturday, Kimmitt said.
Investigators have already completed their internal investigation of procedures and commanders' policies at Abu Ghraib, the general said. But he declined to outline the results, saying "the findings and recommendations have not been approved."
While this case may produce the first abuse-related court martial of the Iraq invasion, the military has dealt with several other episodes administratively. In January, three Army reservists from the 320th Military Police Battalion based in Ashley, Pa., were discharged for kicking and dragging prisoners at Camp Bucca, a detention center near Basra, in southern Iraq.
Last year, Lt. Col. Allen B. West, an infantry battalion commander, was allowed to resign from the Army because he fired a pistol near a prisoner during an interrogation. The colonel said he fired the shot to frighten the Iraqi into spilling secret plans to attack coalition soldiers.
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.