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Rights group reports 98 deaths of detainees in US custody

[JURIST] [JURIST Europe] Nearly 100 detainees have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, according to findings of the US rights group Human Rights First [advocacy website] initially reported Tuesday evening on BBC television's Newsnight program [video of broadcast available through 5 PM ET Wednesday]. The program claimed that at least 98 prisoners have died as a result of detainment or interrogation with 34 being reported as victims of suspected or confirmed homicide caused by the use of "intentional or reckless behavior." Between eight and 12 of the prisoners were tortured to death while 11 deaths are considered to be suspicious. Charges against low-ranking US soldiers in connection with the deaths have been rare and sentences have generally been light. The HRF survey did not include deaths from fighting, mortar attacks or violence amongst detainees and was based on documents obtained from the government, army investigative reports and via Freedom of Information Act requests. BBC News has more. HRF is scheduled to release the full text of the report at 11 AM ET Wednesday.

12:30 PM ET - Read the full text of Command's Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in US Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan [PDF]. Human Rights First summarizes its key findings as follows:

  • Commanders have failed to report deaths of detainees in the custody of their command, reported the deaths only after a period of days and sometimes weeks, or actively interfered in efforts to pursue investigations;

  • Investigators have failed to interview key witnesses, collect useable evidence, or maintain evidence that could be used for any subsequent prosecution;

  • Record keeping has been inadequate, further undermining chances for effective investigation or appropriate prosecution;

  • Overlapping criminal and administrative investigations have compromised chances for accountability;

  • Overly broad classification of information and other investigation restrictions have left CIA and Special Forces essentially immune from accountability;

  • Agencies have failed to disclose critical information, including the cause or circumstance of death, in close to half the cases examined;

  • Effective punishment has often been too little and too late.

Read the full HRF press release on the report.

Angela Onikepe is an Associate Editor for JURIST Europe, reporting European legal news from a European perspective. She is based in the UK.

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