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US military ups possible number of detainee homicides to 26

[JURIST] According to a report in Wednesday's New York Times, military officials have said that at least 26 prisoner deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have been concluded to be or are suspected of being the result of acts of criminal homicide. The number is much higher than indicated in a Pentagon report to Congress last week that cited only six prisoner deaths caused by abuse. Of the 26 suspicious deaths, 18 cases have been concluded and recommended for prosecution, with eight under investigation as confirmed or suspected homicides. An Army spokesman told the New York Times that "detainee abuse is not tolerated, and the Army will hold soldiers accountable. We are taking action to prosecute those suspected of abuse while taking steps now to train soldiers how to avoid such situations in the future." AFP has more. JURIST's Paper Chase has ongoing coverage of allegations of abuse by US forces.

In a related story, a new UK government report has revealed that British intelligence officials warned the US about possible detainee abuse in 2002 after the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) [BBC profile] was given access to US-held detainees in Afghanistan. Reacting to reports of coercive interrogations, MI6 released a memo then which said that the UK's stated commitment to human rights makes it important that the Americans understand that we cannot be party to such ill treatment nor can we be seen to condone it. In no case should [detainees] be coerced during or in conjunction with an [MI6] interview of them." MI6 leadership also suggested that the abuses should be drawn to the attention of senior local US officials. MI6 told its personnel: "As a representative of a U.K. public authority, you are obliged to act in accordance with the Human Rights Act 2000 which prohibits torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment. ... [Y]our actions incur criminal liability in the same way as if you were carrying out those acts in the U.K." The MI6 memo was cited last week in a report from the British government's Intelligence and Security Committee [official website]. The report, The Handling of Detainees by UK Intelligence Personnel in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq [PDF text; committee press release] concluded that British intelligence did not brief ministers about reports of abuse until 2004, after allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison were made public. UPI has more.

3:54 PM ET - At least 108 people have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to government data as reported by AP. That figure includes the 26 deaths being investigated as possibly resulting from US abuse, as well as deaths attributed to natural causes. Responding to the new numbers, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said "Despite the military's own reports of deaths and abuses of detainees in U.S. custody, it is astonishing that our government can still pretend that what is happening is the work of a few rogue soldiers. No one at the highest levels of our government has yet been held accountable for the torture and abuse, and that is unacceptable." A Defense Department spokesperson has said that each death merits an investigation but that there is not a single military policy at fault for the deaths and that military investigations have not revealed any policies that condone abuse. Spokesperson Lt. Col. John Skinner said that "The military has dramatically improved detention operations, everything from increased oversight and improved facilities to expanded training and the availability of state-of-the-art medical care." AP has more.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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