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15 Marines disciplined for mistreating Iraqi detainees, record shows

MIAMI—More than a dozen U.S. Marines have been punished for sadistic behavior against detainees in Iraq in the first year of the U.S. invasion, a Pentagon document released Tuesday shows.

Among the cases: A Marine held a pistol to the back of a prisoner's head and posed for a photograph in May 2003; Marines shocked a prisoner with electricity; one set a detainee on fire; and another staged a mock execution.

The cases appear in a chart the Pentagon created in June of Marine abuse investigations. The American Civil Liberties Union released the document and others Tuesday.

Of 24 suspects in 10 substantiated cases, 15 Marines were punished, six were cleared and three had cases pending.

The ACLU filed suit for the documents earlier this year in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, to expose Pentagon abuse cases that were kept out of the public eye.

"Day after day, new stories of torture are coming to light, and we need to know how these abuses were allowed to happen," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement accompanying the release. "This kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order."

But Marine Maj. Nat Fahy, a Pentagon spokesman, said the documents illustrate that the Corps punishes troops who break the rules. "They demonstrate our commitment to thoroughly investigate all allegations of detainee abuse and hold those people accountable," he said.

Punishments were demotions, loss of pay, several months of confinement or hard labor and, in two instances, dishonorable discharges.

Tuesday's documents, particularly the June 16 chart tracking Marine detainee abuses cases since Sept. 11, 2001, describe several cases of extreme cruelty.

On Aug. 3, 2003, a Marine guard caused a prisoner's hands to be burned, leaving large blisters. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and was demoted to private first class.

"Detainee requested to use hand sanitizer" after a visit to the bathroom, the chart noted. "As the detainee squatted down, resting his thighs on his heels, a Marine guard squirted some of the alcohol-based hand sanitizer into the detainee's hands" causing some to puddle on the floor.

"As the Marine guard turned to dispose of the empty bottle," he "lit a match and threw it onto the puddle," causing a fire that burned the captive's hands.

In June 2003, a Marine staged a "mock execution" by ordering four young Iraqi looters to kneel near a pit and then fired his pistol. The Marine was demoted to lance corporal, docked $6,336 in pay and sentenced to 30 days hard labor, Fahy said.

In the electric shock case, four Marines were demoted to private and received sentences ranging from 60 days to 15 months of confinement for the assault in a holding area in April 2003, just days after Baghdad fell.

The case document cited witnesses as saying that some Marines watched while one ran the transformer and another "held the wires against the shoulder area of the detainee and the detainee `danced' as he was shocked."

Another document released by the ACLU on Tuesday showed the number of Marine abuse investigations surging earlier this year after the disclosure of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

"Case load is exploding, high visibility cases are on the rise," a special Navy investigator wrote in a June 14 e-mail. The e-mail described the dispatch of special agents to the restive town of Fallujah and to the al Assad air base in Iraq to bolster swamped investigators.


(The documents are posted on the ACLU's Web site at


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