Newly released documents regarding crimes committed by United States soldiers against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan detail a pattern of troops failing to understand and follow the rules that govern interrogations and deadly actions.
The documents, released today by the American Civil Liberties Union ahead of a lawsuit, total nearly 10,000 pages of courts-martial summaries, transcripts and military investigative reports about 22 cases. They show repeated examples of troops believing they were within the law when they killed local citizens.
The killings include the drowning of a man soldiers pushed from a bridge into the Tigris River as punishment for breaking curfew, and the suffocation during interrogation of a former Iraqi general believed to be helping insurgents.
In the suffocation, soldiers covered the man?s head with a sleeping bag, then wrapped his neck with an electrical cord for a ?stress position? they said was an approved technique.
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer was convicted of negligent homicide in the death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush after a January 2006 court-martial that received wide attention because of possible C.I.A. involvement in the interrogation.
But even after his conviction, Mr. Welshofer insisted his actions were appropriate and standard, documents show.
?The simple fact of the matter is, interrogation is supposed to be stressful or you will get no information,? he wrote in a letter to the court asking for clemency. ?To put it another way, an interrogation without stress is not an interrogation ? it is a conversation.?
The documents were obtained through a federal Freedom of Information Act request the A.C.L.U. filed with the military more than a year ago asking for all documents relevant to American military involvement in the deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only the Army responded.
Nasrina Bargzie, an attorney with the A.C.L.U.?s National Security Project, said the documents show that ?the government has gone out of its way to hide the human cost of this war.?
The lawsuit seeks to compel the military to produce all documents related to all civilian deaths since January 2005. The A.C.L.U. contends that the materials may be released under federal law.
The Defense Department declined to comment on the lawsuit until it could review its claims.
Among the files released were the court-martial records for two soldiers convicted of assault in the drowning and three soldiers convicted in the ?mercy killing? of an injured teenager in Sadr City.
The boy had been severely injured; one soldier explained that he shot and killed him ?to take him out of his misery.?
In two previously unreported cases, Pfc. James Combs was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting an Iraqi woman from a guard tower in what he said was an accident, and Sgt. Ricky Burke was charged with murder for killing a wounded man alongside the road after a firefight.