WASHINGTON - Three human rights groups said Wednesday that they had found credible evidence that U.S. troops and government civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had abused, tortured or killed at least 460 detainees.
The researchers said they had found 330 cases of abuse and that only about half of them had been fully investigated, and one-third never were investigated or remained unresolved. The findings are in a report by New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch.
At least 600 U.S. service members or civilians have been implicated in the cases of abuse. About 400 of them have been investigated, and only one-third of those who have been investigated have faced punishment of any kind, researchers said.
Also Wednesday, Army officials confirmed that criminal charges were being considered against Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan for his role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Col. Joe Curtin, an Army spokesman, said no decision had been made.
Jordan is the former head of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib. If he's charged, he would be the highest-ranking officer charged in a case of detainee abuse.
The report by the human rights groups is the first full independent accounting of credible allegations of torture and abuse at American detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, according to the researchers.
It shows that detainee abuse has been more widespread that government officials have admitted and the American military and other government agencies have made only limited attempts to investigate and punish those responsible, the rights groups charged.
"Our findings show that the abuses and torture revealed in the Abu Ghraib photos were not the isolated acts of individual soldiers," said Meg Satterwhite, the faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.
The Pentagon wouldn't address specific findings in the report. A spokesman said the Defense Department had investigated more than 600 allegations of abuse and had held more than 250 service members responsible.
Of the 12 major reviews of U.S. military detention operations that have been conducted, "none of them found that the department directed, sanctioned, encouraged or condoned abuse," said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a Pentagon spokesman.
"When there have been allegations of wrongdoing, they are taken seriously, investigated thoroughly and individuals are held accountable when appropriate," he said.
Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said recent interviews with troops suggested that detainee abuse was less widespread than it was two years ago. But he and other researchers said civilian and military leaders needed to send a strong message that abuse wouldn't be tolerated and would be punished.
The 27-page report was based primarily on government documents, interviews with witnesses and victims, military investigation reports, court documents, detainee accounts provided by attorneys, official military statements and news accounts.
It said the alleged abuses included assault, humiliation, sexual assault or abuse, and stress techniques.
According to the report:
-Fifty-four military service members have been convicted by courts-martial in prisoner abuse cases. Of these, 40 were sentenced to prison time. The average sentence was four months. Ten of those sentenced received terms of more than a year.
More important, according to the researchers, only three officers have been convicted by courts-martial for detainee abuse. The highest-ranking was a major. No officers have been held accountable for any criminal acts committed by troops under their command.
-Of the 20 civilians referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution in cases of abuse, only one - a contractor - has been indicted.
-Most of the punishments meted out have been administrative, such as reduction of rank, fines or temporary confinement to base.
The researchers charged that their findings illustrated a lack of accountability over detainee abuse throughout the military and the civilian chain of command.
View the report online at http://www.hrw.org/
© 2006 KR Washington Bureau and wire service sources