Skipped autopsies in Iraq revealed.

Autopsies were not performed on at least five Iraqi prisoners who died of mysterious causes at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention camps, according to Pentagon records.

And the lack of forensic investigations may conflict with international standards, including the Geneva Conventions, for the handling of war-detainee deaths.

Among the cases is a prisoner who died, the records show, after "gasping for air." Another detainee who had "prior head injuries" fell out of a hospital bed and struck his head on the floor. One prisoner began having "chest pains and collapsed."

Synopses of the death investigations, which do not disclose whether the prisoners were interrogated, are enclosed in documents obtained by The Denver Post from a high-level Pentagon source this week.

The deaths, all characterized as having "undetermined" causes, raise more serious questions about the treatment of detainees in the custody of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib and other combat-zone facilities, say U.S. lawmakers and human-rights organizations.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the cases.

The Post reported Wednesday that harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. soldiers are being investigated in the deaths of five other prisoners.

Autopsies were done on those deaths; three of the prisoners died after being suffocated, the autopsies show.

One case involved the November killing of an Iraqi general who was smothered in a sleeping bag after a military-intelligence officer sat on his chest, records show.

In the wake of the newspaper's article, members of Congress are calling on the Pentagon to provide more information about the handling of prisoner deaths - and whether the accused will ever face criminal proceedings.

Top military officials might be pressed for responses as early as today in a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee.

"These are horrendous allegations," said Rep. Vic Snyder of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the committee. "These are different issues than what have been the focus so far of public discussion."

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., another committee member, is seeking hearings while rounding up signatures for a letter to the Pentagon, she said, requesting more answers about "these awful issues" involving detainee deaths.

And Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he will be demanding answers from the Pentagon: "I want to get to the bottom of this issue or the top of it. If autopsies were waived or not considered, it raises further questions about how high this goes."

The five deaths in which autopsies were not performed are among at least 27 detainee fatalities under internal Pentagon review, records show.

Four of the prisoners died last year - two at Abu Ghraib. The fifth death occurred this year at the Camp Cropper detention facility near Baghdad, records show.

The earliest known death involving no forensic investigation occurred Aug. 3 at Camp Cropper, but no details were provided. "Since no forensic examination of the body was conducted, no greater clarity as to the cause of death is expected," the report notes.

On Aug. 20 at Abu Ghraib, a prisoner was taken to medical personnel, "gasping for air," a document shows. Emergency medical treatment was administered, according to the document, but medics could not save the prisoner: "The investigation was closed."

A November case involved a detainee who was rushed to medical personnel after complaining of chest pain and then went into cardiac arrest: "No autopsy was conducted."

In December at a detention facility in Mosul, an inmate was found "unresponsive by guards conducting routine marking wake-up calls. The body did not exhibit any signs of abuse or foul play," according to the document. "Investigation was closed."

In January at Camp Cropper, an Iraqi being treated for chest pains "fell out of his bed, struck his head on the floor and lapsed into a coma. A CT scan and surgery revealed intra-cranial bleeding and signs of prior head injuries."

Six prisoner deaths that did undergo autopsies were classified as involving "natural causes." Most were listed as heart attacks.

One of the cases mentioned the cause of death as "inflammation of the abdomen."

A veteran military lawyer said the incidents without autopsies raise many issues.

"What were the exigencies this organization was operating under that prevented them from conducting autopsies?" said Pat Gallaher, a retired Marine prosecutor who said military law-enforcement personnel typically order forensic examinations in such cases.

"What law-enforcement and medical personnel were available?"

United Nations and Geneva Convention standards for handling war prisoners call for official inquiries into prisoner deaths. United Nations rules mandate that autopsies be performed in suspicious deaths.

"That would seem to be covered under international law," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

"The investigative files (published by The Post) reveal deeply disturbing practices, which we hope the Pentagon will explain promptly and criminally pursue those responsible," he said.

Amnesty International released a statement Thursday, saying: "We have written to the U.S. government on numerous cases of deaths of detainees held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The official response has been inadequate, and the evidence now uncovered by The Denver Post has greatly heightened our concern."

[Source: By Miles Moffeit, Denver Post Staff Writer, The Denver Post, Us, 21may04]

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