Pentagon Won’t Reopen Probe into Possible Abuse of Iraqi Reporters

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(Reuters) The Pentagon has refused to reopen an investigation into allegations by three Iraqis working for Reuters that they were abused and mistreated by U.S. forces, saying it stood by an initial probe exonerating American troops.

Reuters says the investigation, during which none of the three was interviewed, was inadequate and should be reopened.

Lawrence Di Rita, special assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said Central Command and Pentagon lawyers had reviewed the military’s initial investigation.

“The investigation was found to be sufficient, and no basis was found to reopen it,” Di Rita said in a letter dated March 7 and received by Reuters this week.

“It is unfortunate that Reuters remains dissatisfied with the action taken in regard to the incident,” Di Rita said.

“I’m very disappointed that the Department of Defense has chosen not to reopen a clearly flawed investigation into a very troubling incident,” Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger said on Tuesday.

The three Iraqis, along with another Iraqi freelancer working for NBC, were detained by soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division on Jan. 2, 2004, while covering the aftermath of the shooting down of a helicopter near Fallujah.

When they were released without charge three days later the Iraqis said that during their detention in Forward Operating Base Volturno near Fallujah they were subjected to repeated beatings, torture, and sexual humiliation, similar to the abuse later uncovered at Abu Ghraib prison.

A U.S. military investigation said soldiers had sworn under oath that they were not involved in any abuse.

Following U.S. investigations of the Abu Ghraib scandal, which criticized the leadership of Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq at the time, the Pentagon said it was reviewing the Reuters case to decide whether it should be reopened.

The Pentagon says abuse of prisoners in Iraq was only carried out by a few rogue soldiers, and that all accusations of abuse are thoroughly and promptly investigated. The U.S. government says it has never authorized the use of torture.

U.S. military documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that scores of accusations of abuse have been investigated in Iraq and Afghanistan. There have also been accusations of torture at the U.S. jail at Guantanamo Bay.

Di Rita concluded his letter by again urging journalists to embed with U.S. forces. “Of course, I reiterate my recommendation that you consider embedding your reporters with U.S. units. It is an excellent opportunity to cover U.S. military activities in Iraq,” he said.

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