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Testimony links CIA to Iraq deaths

Herald Sun | April 5 2005

CIA interrogations may have played a role in the deaths of several detainees in Iraq, according to sworn military statements obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

US officials have formally disclosed the death of only one person interrogated by the CIA in Iraq - Manadel al-Jamadi, an unregistered "ghost" prisoner at Abu Ghraib who died on November 4 2003, while handcuffed in a prison shower room.

But sworn statements provided to Army investigators by military intelligence and police at Abu Ghraib contain at least four references to CIA detainees dying during interrogations that do not correspond with the al-Jamadi case.

The documents were collected for an Army investigation that first disclosed the presence of unregistered CIA detainees at Abu Ghraib last September.

They were posted on the ACLU's website at www.aclu.org last month.

The Army used the acronym "OGA" for "other government agency" to refer almost exclusively to the CIA.

One document refers to an "OGA" detainee dying under interrogation in September 2003, two months before Mr al-Jamadi.

Another suggests a death occurred in October, while a third said a detainee died while chained in the prison shower. A fourth document refers to a detainee dying from heart problems during interrogation.

The allegations are based on what soldiers say they heard and offer no substantiation. They provide few details and have been redacted to delete the names of the witnesses, their colleagues and superiors.

Intelligence officials have dismissed the statements as unsubstantiated hearsay or garbled references to Mr al-Jamadi, who the Government says died from wounds received during capture by a Navy SEAL unit.

But it acknowledged that the CIA may have played a role in the case of an Iraqi military official who died during military interrogation in western Iraq in November 2003.

Major General George Fay, who helped lead the Army investigation at Abu Ghraib, said Mr al-Jamadi was the only interrogation-related death confirmed at the prison.

But his team turned up reports of at least three other deaths elsewhere in Iraq that may have involved the CIA.

"There were allegations of at least three," Maj-Gen Fay, an assistant deputy chief of staff for Army intelligence, said.

"There may have been more. OGA may or may not have been involved - yet to be determined."

Deaths in interrogation outside Abu Ghraib were beyond the scope of his mission, so he passed the information on to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, then the US commander in Iraq.

Ultimately, the allegations were left to an investigation led by Army Brigadier General Richard Formica, whose findings remain classified.

The CIA, whose inspector general is reviewing about a half-dozen allegations of detainee abuse, said Mr al-Jamadi's death was the only one at Abu Ghraib with possible CIA involvement.

The inspector general has forwarded two cases involving CIA detainee deaths in Afghanistan to the Justice Department. One case is headed for trial in a US District Court in North Carolina.

ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh, who recently won a federal court order requiring the CIA to disclose detainee information, said the Army documents could indicate the number of deaths in CIA custody was understated.

"These documents suggest the CIA was routinely torturing detainees with utter impunity," said Mr Singh, who believes the Bush administration permitted the CIA to use harsher interrogation methods than the military in a series of classified documents.

CIA Director Porter Goss assured the Senate Committee on Armed Services last month that existing agency practices conformed to US law on torture.

He could not say the same of past techniques. The CIA later issued a statement declaring that interrogation techniques, past and present, conformed to US law.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, is resisting Democratic demands that the committee investigate reports of CIA torture of detainees and says a CIA probe now under way is sufficient.

"They are not torturing any detainee," he said last month.

Former intelligence officers believe abuse allegations stem from a policy change that allowed aggressive new interrogation methods in the wake of the September 11 2001, attacks.

"All the CIA does is follow direction from the National Security Council and the White House. It doesn't invent these things," said one former intelligence officer.

A legal opinion prepared by the Justice Department in August 2002 presented a narrow definition of torture that critics say led to the use of coercive tactics.

The White House publicly rejected that policy after revelations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and replaced it with a broader definition of torture in December.