Blowing Off Steam

Detainee deaths.


The man with graying hair had "blunt force injuries complicated by compromised respiration," the result of a synthetic hood placed over his head during interrogation by Navy Seals and an unidentified "Other Government Agency," which typically means the CIA. The obese 56-year-old man died of "asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression"; the circumstances surrounding his death are classified. A 47-year-old died gagged and shackled to a door frame; his autopsy revealed numerous rib fractures and lung contusions.

In late October, while Washington debated a proposal to prohibit "inhumane and degrading treatment of persons in the detention of the US government," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released its analysis of 44 autopsies and death reports on detainees who died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Of the 44 deaths that were followed by autopsies, 21 were classed as homicides. Those included deaths in custody from battlefield injuries. But the ACLU concluded that eight appeared to have resulted from abusive interrogation tactics, with strangulation, asphyxiation, and blunt force injuries listed as causes of death. That covers only the documents released and analyzed so far: The ACLU's FOIA litigation is ongoing, and new batches of documents are released several times each month.

"Bush has been repeatedly asserting that the United States doesn't practice or condone torture," says ACLU attorney Laura Rotolo. "But it's clear from the government documents that they know that this is going on, that people are dying during interrogation. We have Navy Seals, CIA, and military intelligence using these tactics. And it's a policy that goes against what all civilized societies believe."?