The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has just released thousands of pages of documents related to Navy investigations of civilians killed by Coalition Forces in Iraq, including the cousin of the Iraqi ambassador to the United States.
Released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the ACLU filed in June 2006, these records provide a vivid snapshot of the circumstances surrounding civilian deaths in Iraq.
‘At every step of the way, the Bush administration and Defense Department have gone to unprecedented lengths to control and suppress information about the human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,’ said Nasrina Bargzie, an attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.
She continued: ‘Our democracy depends on an informed public and that is why it is so important that the American people see these documents.
‘These documents will help to fill the information void around the issue of civilian casualties in Iraq and will lead to a more complete understanding of the prosecution of the war.’
The ACLU obtained documents from eight Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigations.
One of the files documents the investigation of the death of Mohammed al-Sumaidaie, a cousin of the Iraqi ambassador to the US, Samir al-Sumaidaie.
In 2006, the ambassador accused Marines of ‘intentionally’ killing his cousin and the disclosed records shed light on al-Sumaidaie’s NCIS investigation for the first time.
ACLU says: ‘Among the findings uncovered in this file are conflicting accounts of events, questions of credibility, possible command influence issues and cover-ups.’
‘As these files remind us, many charges of war crimes in Iraq have not seen the light of day,’ said Michael Pheneger, a retired Army intelligence colonel who is also a board member of the ACLU.
He added: ‘There are many discoveries here that should bring pause to any American who cares about this country and hopes to restore the United States’ respected role in the world.
‘It is time to bring the facts about this war into the sunlight and end practices that go against our laws and national values.’
Through its FOIA project, the ACLU has made public information on Defense Department policies designed to control information about the human costs of war.
These practices include:
• Banning photographers on US military bases from covering the arrival of caskets containing the remains of US soldiers killed overseas;
• Paying Iraqi journalists to write positive accounts of the US war effort;
• Inviting US journalists to ‘embed’ with military units but requiring them to submit their stories for pre-publication review;
• Erasing journalists’ footage of civilian deaths in Afghanistan; and
• Refusing to disclose statistics on civilian casualties.
Typical of the files is Navy NCIS document 18155-19097.
Dated 26 April 06 Hamdania, Iraq, it states: ‘ “Here I am, locked in a room with a guard, for what is said to be my own protection. Been here three days now. I don’t know what you know or if I can even tell you but I’ve failed to do what I’ve always been about and what you have taught me . . . standing up for what is right. Had I done that, this mess would be non-existent.” – Letter from a US Marine involved in the death of Hashim Awad to his family.
‘This Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) file involves the death, by US Marines, of Hashim Awad, a 54-year-old disabled Iraqi male national.
‘In the early morning hours of April 26, 2006, Marines arrived at Awad’s home, pulled him from his home, shot him by the side of the road, planted an AK-47 and shovel on him next to a partially dug hole to make it appear as though he was an insurgent caught burying an Improvised Explosive Devise, and then left.
‘The Marines initially tried to cover up the incident.
‘However, after an investigation the story was revealed.
‘At a series General Courts Martial the following convictions were returned: one Marine was found guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping and Kidnapping; three Marines were found guilty of Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice and Assault; one Marine was convicted of Conspiracy to Kidnap and Murder to include Willfully and Wrongfully Seize and Carry Away Awad Against his Will; one Marine was convicted of Conspiracy to Kidnap, Larceny, and Housebreaking; and one Marine was convicted of Conspiracy to Kidnap, False Official Statement, Premeditated Murder, and Larceny.’
File Navy NCIS 19101-19173, 4-Jan-06 Forward Operating Base Camp Korean Village, Iraq, states: ‘ “[REDACTED] remember when he was struggling on the floor he had a sick white colour to his skin.
“I also remember we had our interpreter [REDACTED] try to [REDACTED] talk to him because Abbass [sic] was jabbering while kneeling in the front room.” – US Marine describing taking Adnan Eid Abbass into custody less than an hour before he was found dead in the back of the military truck he was transported in to Camp Korean Village Army Base in Iraq.
‘This Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) file involves the death in US custody of Adnan Eid Abbass, an approximately 50-year-old Iraqi male national.
‘Marines were conducting night-time raids in the early morning hours of January 4, 2006.
‘The last home they went to was Abbass’ located in Ar Rutbah, Iraq. Upon entering the home the Marines separated the military-aged-men from the woman and children.
‘According to several Marine statements Abbass was uncooperative and force was used to subdue him.
‘One Marine noted that Abbass was “struggling on the floor [and] he had a sick white colour to his skin.”
‘According to a translator Abbass was upset that his home was being raided and was yelling that there were no insurgents in his home. Abbass, along with two other detainees, was taken from the home and placed in the cargo area of a Highly Mobile Multi-Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
‘The Marines then made their way toward Forward Operating Base Camp Korean Village, Iraq.
‘The ride from Abbass’s home to the base was from 2.05 am to 3.30 am.
‘The weather outside was cold – it was between 32F and 55F.
‘According to Marine statements Abbass and the other detainees had blankets placed over them in the HMMWV. The Marine gunners sat in sleeping bags.
‘Upon arrival at Camp Korean Village it was discovered that Abbass was dead.
‘After interviewing the Marines and others involved, and conducting an autopsy, NCIS determined that the cause of Abbass’s death was from Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease complicated by Hypothermia and that the manner of death was accidental.
The investigation was closed.’
Navy NCIS file 19174-19198 October 28 through 30, 2005 Nori Ismail Rowais Farm, Zaidon, Al Anbar Province, Iraq, states: ‘ “The following Thursday, [REDACTED] of the victim, came to the FLT [Fallujah Liaison Team] and did not have his lawyer with him. [REDACTED] was angry and his eyes were red.
“He remained angry as he told the story, but calmed down once he was paid [REDACTED]. He was upset that [REDACTED] had many children and he did not know how they were going to be fed.
“Once he was paid, he was not angry at all and he shook my hand and kissed me.” – Interpreter for US Marines describing paying a claim to the family member of Kahar Fuzah Awad.
‘This Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) file involves the death, allegedly by US Marines, of Kahar Fuzah Awad, an Iraqi male national.
‘At approximately 5pm on or about October 28 through 30, 2005, it is alleged that American military members entered Awad’s home, instructed other members of the family to wait outside the home, and then left the home 30 to 60 minutes later.
‘Allegedly screams and prayers in Arabic were heard coming from the home.
‘Upon re-entering their home Awad’s family members found Awad dead; his throat was slit and his legs were bound together with an extension cord.
‘Awad’s body was taken to a local Mosque where he was buried.
‘US forces became aware of the incident because in March 2006 a lawyer for one of the family members went to the Fallujah Liaison Team with a claims card (claims cards are given to families of civilians that may have suffered death to a person or damage to property by US forces).
‘This claims card was given to the Awad family by a Staff Judge Advocate. Apparently a Staff Judge Advocate was in the vicinity of Awad’s home on February 10, 2006, investigating another unrelated incident, when family members told the JAG about the Awad death.
‘The JAG gave the Awad family a claims card. This claims card along with an alleged picture of Awad with his throat cut was presented to the Foreign Claims Commission at Fallujah.
‘The claims personnel advised the lawyer that a family member should come in to discuss the incident. A family member came the following week without the lawyer.
‘The claim was paid. The photograph was forwarded to the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner where the examiner indicated that the wound was most consistent with a cutting of the neck and inconsistent with a gunshot wound, but that an autopsy would have to be performed to make a definitive determination.
‘Attempts to reach the family through the phone number the lawyer provided were unsuccessful. NCIS determined that the area of Iraq – Zaidon, Al Anbar – was too dangerous to send an investigative team to. The investigation was closed.’