Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Brigade -- the same military unit whose troops fired on the car carrying freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena -- were under investigation last year for raping Iraqi women, U.S. Army documents reveal. Four soldiers were alleged to have raped two women while on guard duty in a Baghdad shopping precinct. A U.S. Army investigator interviewed several soldiers from the military unit, the 1-15th battalion of the 3rd Infantry Brigade, but did not locate or interview the Iraqi women involved before shutting down the inquiry for lack of evidence.
Transcripts of the investigation, obtained by the Guardian from the American Civil Liberties Union, show only the most cursory attempts by the investigator to establish whether the women were raped. The soldiers claimed the women were prostitutes, or denied any knowledge of anyone in their unit having sex while deployed in Iraq. The statements went largely unchallenged. "I know the women were Iraqi. I however don't know if they were raped, or were prostitutes, or just wanted sex," one soldier told investigators.
Jameel Jaffar, an attorney for the ACLU, which has led a long legal struggle to get the Pentagon to release documents of its investigations, argues that the failure to conduct a thorough investigation on such serious charges as rape was part of a disturbing pattern. "There are always questions in these files about whether the investigator was sufficiently aggressive in pursuing leads and tracking down evidence," he said.
The allegations of rape were contained in 1,200 pages of documents released Monday by the ACLU. Together, the documents cover investigations into 13 cases of suspected abuse. However, no action was taken against any soldier as a result. The documents also provide further evidence that U.S. troops have destroyed evidence of abuse in order to avoid a repetition of last year's Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.
In the latest such episode, an officer is believed to have destroyed a homemade DVD showing members of the Florida National Guard abusing Iraqi detainees, and manipulating the hand of a dead Iraqi to wave at the camera. Another scene shows a soldier hitting a bound prisoner on the head with a rifle butt.
At least one of the soldiers -- a sergeant -- was identified from the DVD. However, no criminal charges were brought in that investigation after military lawyers concluded that the DVD showed "inappropriate rather than criminal behavior."
The DVD, which the soldiers called "Ramadi Madness," was discovered by a civilian public affairs employee at the unit's headquarters in West Palm Beach, Fla. The DVD was later destroyed by an officer who had learned the case was under investigation.
Jaffer said: "We have to start to ask the question of whether there is a whole layer of abuse out there that we are not seeing because the evidence of abuse has been covered up."
The investigation into the allegations of rape was launched last April after a report appeared in Playboy magazine alleging that the unit had engaged in various war crimes from rape to hogtying and beating up an Iraqi detainee. By July 26, 2004, the inquiry was over. "Investigation established there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations," the report concluded.