Information Warfare: March 21, 2005


: Not all prisoner deaths are the same, but you'd never know this from what you read in the news. Recent reports on deaths of prisoners in U.S. custody will give people the wrong impression about the number of suspected terrorists being killed without justification. The figure often quoted (at least 108), however, is deceptively high. It includes a number of prisoners who were killed in an insurgent attack (mortar shells hit the prison, killing 22 inmates) and prisoners who died of natural causes or in accidents (one notable death from natural causes was Abu Abbas, the mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking). These two subsets account for 51 of the fatalities in U.S. custody. This reduces the total of violent deaths to 57. Out of these, only 26 are being investigated as possible crimes. The remainder were investigated, and the deaths were ruled justifiable homicide (a total of 31, if one accepts the total of 108).

The United States has taken abuse of prisoners very seriously. In one recent case, a Marine officer is being investigated over the shooting deaths of two prisoners. In another incident, an Army platoon leader has made a deal with military prosecutors he will cooperate in investigating a company commander who allegedly ordered some murders during a raid in response to mortar attacks that killed another officer. That officer and several others have already been punished for attempting to cover up an incident where two prisoners were forced off a ledge at gunpoint. The Abu Ghraib incident, that was huge news last year, was already under investigation when details were leaked to the press. Another fact to be noted is that these abuses have often been reported by fellow soldiers. The Abu Ghraib case is a prime example one of the members of the unit delivered the evidence to people up the chain of command.

For comparison, prisons in the United States have a much higher rate of deaths. In 2002, federal prisons had 335 prisoners in custody die from all causes. State prisons had 3,105 deaths in that same timeframe. This is a total of 3,440 deaths in custody. It should be noted that eight states in 2002 had higher totals of deaths in custody than the U.S. military had has in Iraq and Afghanistan over the entire war on terrorism. Removing the 22 killed in the insurgent mortar attack, the number of states with higher death rates increases to ten. Other countries have had problems with deaths in prisons in 2003, the United Kingdom recorded 171 deaths in custody (94 suicides, one prison homicide, and 76 of natural causes). France had 118 suicides in prison in 1999.

Clearly, this is a case where the figures are accurate, but are being used to paint a false picture of the situation. This will not stop new efforts to wage lawfare against the military. This will be a huge hassle for the United States as the war on terror continues. Harold C. Hutchison (


Article Archive

Information Warfare: Current 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close