A joint investigation by The Nation Institute Investigative Fund and reporter Joshua Phillips, Need to Know exposes the limits of a US military task force charged with examining cases of detainee torture, death and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a story about the failure to live up to international standards and a complete lack of accountability.
The film focuses on Iraq, but the longer article looks at Afghanistan.
Inside the Detainee Abuse Task Force
"Birt, who retired as a chief warrant officer in 2007, was most deeply troubled by the lack of accountability for cases involving detainee deaths. She was the primary investigator on a case that has stayed with her, involving incidents in Afghanistan in 2002 in which US military police working in the Bagram detention facility beat two Afghan detainees until they died. The victims were Mullah Habibullah, the brother of a Taliban commander, and a 22-year-old taxi driver simply named Dilawar, who was later found to be innocent of any insurgent activity.
"I'd never seen just regular old soldiers chain a guy to a ceiling and beat him until his legs look like he was run over by a bus," said Birt, referring to Dilawar. She and other CID agents thoroughly investigated the allegations, producing a case file thousands of pages long, and the MPs and interrogators involved were court-martialed. The final outcome of the case "had a profound effect on my trust of the justice system," Birt recalled.
"We had eighteen people who confessed to complicity in two homicides, and no one served over six months in jail," she said. "People were convicted and given a slap on the wrist." Of the twenty-seven Army personnel charged in the Afghans' deaths and related abuses, only four troops were sentenced to jail time.
Birt had wanted to be a police officer ever since she was 8 and passionately believed in accountability through sober law enforcement. Yet the minimal punishment for the Bagram beating deaths rattled her.
"The outcome of that investigation and the lack of justice was my primary reason for leaving the military," she said. "We tell people all the time that we're going to be exempt from the Geneva and Hague war crimes tribunal because we're going to police our own. But we didn't police our own."
Religious Leaders Oppose Indefinite Detention (NRCAT)
Letter to members of the House Armed Services Committee
Bagram Prison: A Profile