Latest News

FBI has yet to probe civilian prisoner-abuse cases

WASHINGTON—Although several cases of prisoner abuse by civilians in Iraq have been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, the FBI has not yet been asked to investigate any of them, Director Robert Mueller said Thursday.

Mueller's comments before the Senate Judiciary Committee seemed to indicate that the probe into whether independent contractors or CIA officers killed prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan is moving more slowly than on the military front, where one soldier has already been court-martialed and others have been charged.

While the faces of military police have been splashed all over the news, the names of almost all civilians involved—employees of other government agencies and civilian contractors—were deleted from Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's report on the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Mueller said he believed that the FBI, which has agents in Iraq, is "the appropriate investigating body" when cases are referred to the Justice Department. But he said lawyers there had not passed any cases their way.

"My understanding is the investigations have been conducted to date by the (CIA) inspector general's office," Mueller said.

Mueller, a former U.S. Marine and federal prosecutor, also said lawyers for the Justice Department and Defense Department are wrestling with jurisdictional issues. Any crimes at the prison would have been committed on foreign soil against foreign citizens, creating complicated legal questions.

The CIA inspector general is investigating three prisoner deaths—two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan—and whether there was any CIA involvement in the prisoner abuse depicted in photos taken at Abu Ghraib.

Among the cases that have been referred to the Justice Department is an Iraqi who died at the Abu Ghraib prison while under CIA interrogation. His bruised corpse, packed in ice, was photographed. Nearby were two American soldiers—Sgt. Charles Graner and Spc. Sabrina Harman—posing with thumbs up. Both have already been charged in the prison-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib.

Also Thursday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for a Justice Department probe into two members of a U.S. group sent in May 2003 to Iraq to help with the reconstruction of Abu Ghraib. Lane McCotter, a former corrections chief in Utah, and John Armstrong, who led the prison system in Connecticut, were part of a team picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft and others in the Bush administration.

McCotter resigned from the top spot in Utah when a schizophrenic inmate died after being strapped naked to a chair for 16 hours. McCotter went on to serve as head of a private prison system under investigation for denying prisoners access to medical treatment, Schumer said.

Armstrong shipped a variety of Connecticut inmates, even low-level offenders, to a super-max prison in Virginia known for its use of excessive force. Schumer said that when Armstrong resigned he was facing allegations that he sexually harassed female subordinates.

"Why would we send officials with such disturbing records to handle such a sensitive mission? That's beyond me. It cries out for an explanation," Schumer said.

Neither McCotter nor Armstrong could be reached for comment. But in a statement sent to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper earlier this week, McCotter condemned the abuses in Iraq and said he had nothing to do with training guards there.


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