Criminal Charge Dropped Over Afghan Beating Deaths

In December, 2002, Mullah Habibullah and a man named Dilawar died while being held for interrogation at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. Their deaths were ruled homicides, caused by blunt force trauma. In other words, they were beaten to death.

An investigation ensued but the military would not release the details. Subsequently it was revealed that both died while shackled to the ceiling of their cells, after repeatedly being kneed in the legs. (More details of their beatings and deaths are below.)

Capt. Christopher M. Beiring, then the leader of the military police company guarding the prisoners, was charged with lying to investigators and being derelict in his duties. He was the only officer charged in the deaths.

Friday, the military announced that charges against Beiring have been dropped.

"The collapse of the case is the latest and most embarrassing of several setbacks for the team of Army prosecutors that has been working for more than a year on the deaths, which occurred at the military detention center in Bagram, 40 miles north of Kabul." "Captain Beiring is the third member of the 377th Military Police Company, based in Cincinnati and Bloomington, Ind., to have had charges dismissed before trial. Four enlisted soldiers in the unit have been acquitted, two others pleaded guilty to assault and one was convicted of assault, maiming and other charges."

How did Dilawar, the 22 year-old father of two, die? The New York Times reported, having reviewed the FOIA documents obtained by the ACLU:

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face. "Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen.

It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

28 U.S. soldiers faced charges over the deaths, but only three have been held accountable. One is James P. Boland, charged with assault and dereliction in the deaths. Another, Pfc. Willie V. Brand, was charged with striking Dilawar 37 times and maiming him. He was convicted, after which his rank was reduced to private. (This NYT article reports that even if Dilawar had lived, both his legs would have had to have been amputated.)

As to Captain Beiring, the same New York Times article reported:

An Army report dated June 1, 2004, about Mr. Habibullah's death identifies Capt. Christopher Beiring of the 377th Military Police Company as having been "culpably inefficient in the performance of his duties, which allowed a number of his soldiers to mistreat detainees, ultimately leading to Habibullah's death, thus constituting negligent homicide."

At Captain Beiring's Article 32 hearing in December, this was some of the testimony:

Maj. Jeff Bovarnick said that after a detainee known as Habibullah died in December 2002 he ordered Beiring to make sure his MPs stopped chaining detainees with their hands above their heads, a common practice that he said was not illegal. He did not think his order was followed, Bovarnick said. "I had 0.0 percent confidence that Captain Beiring had done anything or told anyone about this, so I went over his head," Bovarnick said, referring to a conversation he had with a higher-ranking commander after a second detainee, a man known as Dilawar, died at the Bagram detention center.

Why were charges dropped against Captain Beiring? The Washington Times has this quote from the Article 32 hearing findings of Lt. Col. Thomas S. Berg, who made the recommendation:

I see no evidence ... that Capt. Beiring failed to perform his duty to the best of his ability. As a newly classified MP, newly assigned to command MP guard company that was going off to war to do an ill-defined mission for which it was not designed for or even notionally trained, in a crud-hold like the [Bagram Collection Point] in 2002 with [military intelligence] calling the shots, Capt. Beiring was sorely challenged at every step."

Bagram was a torture facility. The New York Times had more horrific details here.

Still, President Bush tells us, the U.S. does not torture. And thanks to Sen. Lindsay Graham and Carl Levin who effectively gutted the McCain torture amendment, detainees can no longer bring cases involving conditions of confinement, including torture, to federal court.

This is beyond shameful. Dilawar and Habibullah and who knows how many others deserved better. So do Americans, in whose name these disgraceful acts have been committed.

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    Re: Criminal Charge Dropped Over Afghan Beating D (none / 0) (#1)
    by Johnny on Sat Jan 07, 2006 at 11:22:56 PM EST
    Silly frat pranks, thats all... I mean, come on!

    Re: Criminal Charge Dropped Over Afghan Beating D (none / 0) (#2)
    by mjvpi on Sun Jan 08, 2006 at 08:21:32 AM EST
    I remember when the "one nation, under God" part was the only thing that I had trouble with!

    Re: Criminal Charge Dropped Over Afghan Beating D (none / 0) (#3)
    by oldtree on Sun Jan 08, 2006 at 10:44:11 AM EST
    this is one of the worst examples of abuse, and the one that seems most can't understand. It doesn't relate what the "prisoners" were suspected of, which is not likely to ever be released by our gubment. But if they were attached to the ceiling, and we know of certain torture, and the man apparently responsible was relieved of charges? this is not right. there is clearly no law the hierarchy of the military is not willing to violate. where are any instances of terrorism on our soil? why does our imperial leader trot out statistics without any fact when discussing this? why do the military TV Heads never tell us anything, but off the record they tell the truth about things they should be required to tell us? Pace tells Murtha we can't win, and then tells the public that Murtha is harming our chances to win? Maybe we could vote on making it a crime not to tell the truth? sorry, tried that.

    Re: Criminal Charge Dropped Over Afghan Beating D (none / 0) (#4)
    by john horse on Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 07:26:18 PM EST
    So Captain Beiring was innocent because he went "off to war to do an ill-defined mission for which it was not designed for or even notionally trained." If that is the case, then don't Captain Beiring's higher-ups bear responsibility? If you are sent on an "ill-defined mission for which it was not designed or even notionally trained" then shouldn't the people who sent you on that mission be held responsible?