Afghan Detainee's Leg Was 'Pulpified,' Witness Says

Lianne Hart for the L.A. times, 3/24/2005
Published Wednesday 23 March 2005

Ft. Bliss, Texas - An Afghan detainee in U.S. custody was so brutalized before his death that his thigh tissue was "pulpified," a forensic pathologist testified Tuesday at a preliminary hearing for a military police officer charged in the 2002 assault.

"It was similar to injuries of a person run over by a bus," said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, who performed an autopsy on the detainee, identified only as Dilawar.

Rouse's telephone testimony came on the second day of an Article 32 hearing - the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding - to determine whether Army Pfc. Willie V. Brand, 26, should be court-martialed.

In addition to facing an involuntary manslaughter charge in the Dilawar case, Brand also is charged with assault for allegedly striking a second detainee, Mullah Habibullah, who also died in U.S. custody.

Brand is one of two soldiers charged so far in the assaults that took place at the Bagram Control Point, a temporary holding center for detainees in Afghanistan, about 40 miles north of Kabul. A hearing for the other soldier, Sgt. James P. Boland, is pending. Both soldiers are members of the 377th Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Cincinnati.

Army investigators testified that Brand acknowledged that he delivered more than 30 consecutive knee strikes to Dilawar as he stood in shackles, his arms chained to a ceiling. But Brand defended his actions, telling investigators that his superiors were aware that the blows were routinely delivered to force detainees to comply with the guards' orders.

"I did what everybody else did. It was not according to doctrine, but that was standard practice. That was how things were done," Brand said in a statement.

Investigators described the Afghan holding center as a two story, hangar-style building of interview rooms and isolation cells fitted with ceilings of concertina wire. The night before Dilawar's death, Brand said in a Jan. 24, 2004, statement, he went to Dilawar's isolation cell to help another guard give the man water. The guards then attempted to place a hood on Dilawar's head, a practice reserved for unruly detainees or those being escorted from a cell to an interrogation room. Dilawar - in chains, his wrists shackled above his head - resisted, and Brand said he struck him twice with his bent knee.

In a Feb. 3, 2004, statement, Brand acknowledged that at another time, he delivered more than 30 knee strikes to Dilawar. Asked what provoked the punishment, Brand told investigators he couldn't remember.

Brand also admitted striking Habibullah in the thighs when he resisted efforts to put a hood on his head. "Allah, Allah, Allah," Brand recalled Habibullah crying.

Dilawar died from "blunt force trauma to the lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease," Rouse said. Habibullah died of a pulmonary embolism apparently formed in his legs from the beatings.

Army investigator Angela Birt said that delivering knee strikes was so routine for Brand that "the two [detainees] didn't stick out in his mind because he couldn't remember how many he had struck."

Brand's lawyer, John Galligan, said outside the courtroom that "everything that was done was done in order to perform his mission.. I'm greatly disturbed a young soldier like Brand who, responding to his country's call, does what he thinks is right and we turn around and place him on the criminal docket."

Brand, the father of four, sat expressionless at the defense table as autopsy photographs of Dilawar were entered into evidence.

When investigators had asked him during a 2004 interview if the knee blows were wrong, he replied: "No, not wrong wrong but necessary to achieve what you wanted them to do."