Bagram Revisited

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

In March, Mother Jones published Emily Bazelon’s article “From Bagram to Abu Ghraib”, which laid out how Bagram, a military base in Afghanistan where prisoners are screened for possible shipment to Guantanamo, was yet another piece of the detainee abuse puzzle. From Guantanamo, to Bagram, to Abu Ghraib, Bazelon showed how those responsible for pushing the limits of already hazy interrogation rules were circulated from one facility to another despite detainee deaths occurring under their command.

One of the most egregious examples of detainee abuse that Bazelon focused on was the case of two prisoners—Dilawar and Habibullah—who were brutally tortured to death. Today, the New York Times released more details on the incident from a 2,000 page confidential Army criminal investigation report on the two deaths. A roundup of some notable findings that reinforce what we already knew:

Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar’s death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army’s criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and…took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison.

This makes it immediately clear that higher-ups were well aware that the actions of the interrogators, military police, and guards, were resulting in deaths. There was no mistaking the detainees died of natural causes. And yet, the Army apparently sanctioned this behavior by sending those responsible on to another detainee facility. Also note:

Mr. Habibullah’s autopsy…showed bruises or abrasions on his chest, arms and head. There were deep contusions on his calves, knees and thighs. His left calf was marked by what appeared to have been the sole of a boot….one of the coroners later translated the assessment…saying the tissue in the young man’s legs ‘had basically been pulpified.’ ‘I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus.’

The Army criminal investigation concluded that “there was probably cause to charge 27 officers and enlisted personnel with criminal offenses.” But only seven soldiers have been charged thus far. The investigation doesn’t even seem to have probed very deep into the deaths. Note that one of the intelligence specialists who had been interrogating Dilawar—and who had complained about the gratuitous abusive treatment the detainee was receiving—was never contacted. According to Staff Sgt. W. Christopher Yonushonis, who was quoted in the piece, “I expected to be contacted at some point by investigators in this case. I was living a few doors down from the interrogation room, and I had been one of the last to see this detainee alive.” Oh, and Yonushonis also added one other detail: “most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post implied that Yonushonis had spoken to the Times, when in fact the paper merely quoted statements he had made to the Army.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend