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TIME Sunday: Inquiries into CIA killing of detainee suggest coverup

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TIME OBTAINS RECORDS OF THREE OFFICIAL INQUIRIES INTO PRISONER'S DEATH IN CIA INTERROGATION AT ABU GHRAIB / Blood-Stained Hood at Death Scene Removed, Then Discarded, According to Documents / Prisoner's Blood Cleaned Off Interrogation Room Floor Prior to Investigation, Documents Say / Interrogator of Dead Prisoner Initially Failed to Disclose Photos of Corpse, According to Documents / Documents Raise Doubts About Legal Oversight of the Agency

New York - Hundreds of pages of documents, obtained by TIME, shed new light on how a CIA prisoner died at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

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Military police at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison dubbed him the Iceman; others used the nickname Mr. Frosty, TIME's Adam Zagorin reports. The prisoner is listed as Manadel al-Jamadi in three official investigations of his death while in U.S. custody, a death that was ruled a homicide in a Defense Department autopsy. Photographs of his battered corpse-iced to keep it from decomposing in order to hide the true circumstances of his dying-were among the many made public in the spring of 2004, raising stark questions about America's treatment of enemy detainees, TIME reports.

Some clues as to how al-Jamadi died are contained in hundreds of pages of records of three inquiries into al-Jamadi's death conducted by the CIA, Army and Navy. While the documents, obtained by TIME, suggest a story more of recklessness than of outright savagery, the way al-Jamadi's death was handled after the fact raises questions about whether the CIA is under adequate legal oversight. This comes at a time when the government is hotly debating what restrictions to place on how U.S. security forces treat enemy detainees. Republican Senator John McCain has pushed through the Senate an amendment that would ban “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” by any U.S. personnel, a measure President Bush has threatened to veto. Vice President Dick Cheney is lobbying to exempt the CIA from the amendment, TIME reports.

How it Began: Al-Jamadi's story begins on the night of Nov. 4, 2003, when Navy Seals abducted him from his family's tiny apartment in a rundown Baghdad suburb. The CIA wanted to interrogate him because he was suspected of harboring two tons of high explosives and being involved in the bombing of a Red Cross center in Baghdad that killed 12 people. By the time the Seals overcame his violent resistance and dropped him off at Abu Ghraib as a “ghost detainee”-an unregistered prisoner-al-Jamadi had suffered damage to his left eye and facial cuts. He had also been roughed up in a way that may account for the fact that the autopsy revealed six broken ribs. His injuries, which the autopsy concluded could not have caused his death, did not prevent him from walking into the prison handcuffed and shackled, answering questions in English and Arabic, TIME reports.

Autopsy - Prisoner Died from 'Blunt Force Injuries' and 'Asphyxiation': The prisoner was then taken to a shower room, where his arms were pulled behind his back and shackled to window bars, forcing him to stand erect. Wearing an empty sandbag over his head, he was interrogated by a CIA officer identified in last week's issue of the New Yorker as Mark Swanner, who is not a covert operative. Roughly 90 minutes later, al-Jamadi was dead. One of the MPs who unshackled al-Jamadi's body from the window testified that blood gushed from his mouth and nose like “a faucet had turned on,” flowing onto the floor where his hood now lay. The autopsy ruled that al-Jamadi's death was brought on by “blunt-force injuries” and “asphyxiation.” Cyril Wecht, coroner of Allegheny County, Pa., and past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, examined the autopsy report and other records of the investigations and says, “The most likely cause of death was suffocation, which would have occurred when the sandbag was placed over Jamadi's head, as his arms were secured up and behind his back, constricting breathing.” Swanner told investigators he did not harm the prisoner, TIME reports.

Absence of Key Piece of Evidence: Investigators for the military and CIA were meticulous in probing al-Jamadi's death, conducting lengthy interviews with CIA operatives, prison guards and medical staff. One of the obstacles they ran into, however, was the absence of a key piece of evidence, the green, bloodstained nylon sandbag that hung over al-Jamadi's head. It was removed from the scene of his death and later disposed of by a CIA unit chief who supervised interrogators. CIA investigators wrote that in interviews months later, the unit chief maintained that “he did not think there was anything of importance on the hood,” despite a “pancake-size” patch of blood that stained it. The investigators wrote that the officer said that “normally at the end of a mission he would throw used hood[s] out ... he thinks he just threw the hood in the trash” and that he might have said, “We don't want people picking it up and making jokes about it.” The unit chief said in a military legal proceeding that he had undergone training in forensic science, TIME reports.

Possible Improprieties in Handling Death Scene: There were possible improprieties in the way the death scene was handled at Abu Ghraib. After al-Jamadi died, according to the documents, the blood that gushed from his mouth was mopped up and the floor cleaned with a chlorine-based solution by an MP on orders from a superior before the scene could be examined by any investigator. “You've got a real problem if anything on or near the body at death cannot be identified, photographed and examined for what it explains about the cause and who, if anyone, might be responsible,” says Wecht, referring to the blood and the missing hood. The spokesman of a federal law-enforcement agency involved in the inquiries says, “If evidence is missing, there's no question that you would have to consider obstruction, tampering or charging someone as an accessory after the fact.”

Two sources, including a U.S. government official, told TIME that when the CIA first interviewed Swanner, he withheld the fact that he had taken pictures of the corpse. It was only after another witness disclosed that fact that the pictures were obtained as evidence.

Originally published on Sunday November 13, 2005

 


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