Information Warfare: March 21, 2005

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: 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 (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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