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Army investigating claim Huntsville Green Berets tortured, killed Afghan civilians

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. military said Monday it was investigating the deaths of two Afghan civilians in U.S. custody in 2003, following a newspaper's report that Army Green Berets from an Alabama-based unit tortured some prisoners.

The Los Angeles Times said in a two-part series published Sunday and Monday that prisoner abuse by Special Forces units was more common in Afghanistan than previously reported.

The two deaths have been under Army criminal investigation but no charges have been filed, said Ken McGraw, spokesman for U.S. Special Forces Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. U.S. military officials in Afghanistan referred all calls to McGraw.

Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigations Division, said only that allegations against an unspecified number of soldiers were being investigated.

The Times said the case involves a 10-man National Guard Green Beret unit from Alabama that is alleged to have been involved in questionable killings of two Afghan men.

In 2002, the Times said, Red Cross officials reported to U.S. commanders a rash of detainee abuse at Special Forces bases in Afghanistan, mainly those under the control of National Guardsmen with the Alabama-based 20th Special Forces Group.

Prisoners held in the Green Beret compound at Gardez alleged they were beaten, kicked, immersed in icy water and deprived of sleep for days, the Times said.

The 20th, with about 1,600 soldiers, is one of the Army's seven active Special Forces groups, and one of two consisting of National Guard troops. The Times said the Green Beret unit under investigation belongs to the group's 1st Battalion, based in Huntsville.

It identified the two victims who died as Wakil Mohammed, allegedly shot in the mouth at close range during questioning about an ambush, and Jamal Naseer, who died after a brutal interrogation at the base in Gardez, 30 miles south of Kabul.

Multiple witnesses said the body of Naseer, an 18-year-old Afghan army recruit, bore signs of severe beatings and other abuse, the Times said.

A hospital worker who prepared the body for burial told the newspaper that "it was completely black" and looked burned, with the soles of the feet swollen double.

Naseer's brother and six others also held at Gardez said they were tortured, the Times said.

Army investigators determined Mohammed's shooting death could not be classified as a battlefield casualty, the paper said.

An unidentified member of the National Guard unit was quoted by the Times as saying the Green Berets held a meeting after Naseer's death to coordinate their stories.

The two men were among eight Afghans who have been killed in U.S. custody, according to Amnesty International.

The Times described the Alabama unit as operating under its own rules in a tough part of eastern Afghanistan. The Green Berets were part of a crackdown on a former U.S. ally-turned-renegade warlord, Pacha Khan Zadran, who later was elected to the Afghan parliament.

Deaths concealed

Dozens of deaths of people in U.S. military hands have become public. But those of Naseer and Mohammed were concealed from the public and the U.S. military chain of command until being uncovered in military records obtained by the Times and a nonprofit educational organization, the Crimes of War Project.

The investigation led authorities to order a criminal inquiry, the newspaper said.

Correspondence from a high-ranking Special Operations official in 2002 found "an extremely high level of physical abuse" of detainees transferred from Special Forces bases to a prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, the Times said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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