Late Friday the Army tells us it will look the other way when its soldiers commit war crimes. But there is no statute of limitations on war crimes, so perhaps the next administration will hold Americans responsible for their heinous acts.
Despite recommendations by Army investigators, commanders have decided not to prosecute 17 American soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, according to a new accounting released Friday by the Army.
Investigators had recommended that all 17 soldiers be charged in the cases, according to the accounting by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The charges included murder, conspiracy and negligent homicide. While none of the 17 will face any prosecution, one received a letter of reprimand and another was discharged after the investigations.
To date, the military has taken steps toward prosecuting some three dozen soldiers in connection with a total of 28 confirmed or suspected homicides of detainees. The total number of such deaths is believed to be between 28 and 31.
In one of the three cases in which no charges are to be filed, the commanders determined the death to be “a result of a series of lawful applications of force.” In the second, the commanders decided not to prosecute because of a lack of evidence. In the third, they determined the soldier involved had not been well informed of the rules of engagement.
Of the 28 deaths investigated, 13 occurred in American detention centers in those countries and 15 occurred at the point where prisoners were captured. Only one occurred in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which has been known until now as the site of the most extensive abuses by American military personnel.
The Army said one of the three deaths for which soldiers would not be prosecuted was that of a former Iraqi lieutenant colonel determined by investigators to have died of “blunt force injuries and asphyxia” at an American Forward Operating Base in Al Asad, Iraq, in January 2004.
In that case, Army investigators had recommended that 11 soldiers from the Fifth Special Forces Group and the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment face charges. The decision not to prosecute in that case, as well as one other, was made by the Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., the Army said.
A senior Army legal official acknowledged that the Iraqi colonel had at one point been lifted to his feet by a baton held to his throat, and that that action had caused a throat injury that contributed to his death.
The Army accounting said the Special Forces Command had determined that the use of force had been lawful “in response to repeated aggression and misconduct by the detainee.”