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U.S. military officials offer few details in prisoner-abuse scandal

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Short on details, senior U.S. military officials continued to shield soldiers embroiled in a prisoner-abuse scandal at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, saying Sunday only that none of the 20 or so abused prisoners required medical treatment.

U.S. commanders on Saturday charged six U.S. Army Military Police and have 11 others under suspension in the abuse case. Those charged face allegations of cruelty and maltreatment, indecent acts with another person, assault, conspiracy and dereliction of duty.

The abuses allegedly occurred in November and December at Abu Ghraib, which served as a torture center during Saddam Hussein's rule and today houses about 1,500 Iraqis being detained by the U.S.-led coalition. The investigation started two months ago after U.S. troops squealed on the alleged abusers, senior officers said.

In Washington, CNN quoted Pentagon sources as saying that some soldiers took photos of prisoners who were partially nude, and some portrayed inappropriate physical contact between soldiers and detainees. Commanders here would neither confirm nor deny the report.

By Baghdad standards, Sunday was a fairly quiet day—insurgents lobbed a rare daytime volley of rockets toward the Green Zone, where U.S. and other officials are managing the occupation, and one fell short, killing two Iraqi motorists near the posh Mansour district.

Most rocket attacks have rattled the capital at night, averting wider casualties, because many Baghdadis stay home after dark.

U.S. officials also announced four U.S. military casualties Sunday: Two soldiers were killed Saturday in a five-rocket attack on a coalition post near Fallujah, a hotbed of anti-Americanism west of Baghdad; a U.S. soldier was shot and killed early Sunday in a non-combat incident near Samarra, north of the capital; and another died Sunday evening when a roadside bomb exploded, killing the soldier and a translator.

At coalition headquarters, an incoming rocket roared past a Sunday morning briefing by senior officials on the abuse scandal and slammed into an empty field used for sporting events. Inside, Defense briefers didn't miss a beat in their efforts to assure that the abuse investigation is fair, although so far shielded from public scrutiny.

Military lawyers refuse to name the soldiers, reportedly from the 800 Military Police Brigade, who were charged, or to release their charge sheets or describe the nature of the alleged abuse. In response to a question, they said none of the prisoners was given medical treatment, and would not say if any of the mistreated prisoners were women.

Coalition troops today have about 9,500 detainees in detention centers across the nation; briefers said last week that only 20 are women.

Other soldiers here have been charged with assaulting prisoners, and have left the service. Saturday's charges were unusual in part because the "indecent acts" accusation, according to the military's court-martial manual, refers to "grossly vulgar, obscene, repugnant" behavior "to excite lust and deprave the morals with respect to sexual relations."

Commanders here say they are shielding the soldiers' identities and ranks, as well as details of the alleged abuses, because they are innocent until found guilty. Other military-abuse cases here have been made public at the time of charges however, and resulted in internal plea-style agreements before they reached trial.


(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald.)


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.