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Army opens new abuse probe

Soldier says Iraq inmates targeted

WASHINGTON -- The Army has opened an investigation into a Fort Bragg soldier's allegations that he witnessed and heard about widespread prisoner abuse, including torture and a beating with a baseball bat, while serving at a base in Iraq.

The announcement was made yesterday as Human Rights Watch prepared to release a report on three 82d Airborne Division soldiers' accounts of prisoners being beaten, forced to hold 5-gallon jugs of water in their outstretched arms, and denied sleep, food, and water.

The abuse, one of the sergeants said, was like a game and a way for soldiers to work out their frustrations. The soldiers said there was a great deal of confusion about what types of treatment were allowed under the Geneva Conventions, and senior officers provided little guidance.

Human Rights Watch compiled the report from interviews with a captain and two sergeants who were stationed at a military base called Mercury, near Fallujah. The captain said his complaints were ignored for 17 months and that he was denied a pass to leave his base after planning to meet with Senate staff members, the report said.

Army officials said they began their investigation as soon as the matter came to their attention. Army spokesman Paul Boyce said the soldier, whose name was not released, told superiors about the allegations and was referred to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. The probe began at least two weeks ago, he said.

The Human Rights Watch report detailed severe, routine beatings of detainees by the 82d Airborne Division.

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