The Mix

Detainee homicides and FOIA

ACLU documents explore some unnatural deaths.
The ACLU has long been compiling the military documents related to U.S. use of violent interrogation techniques and treatment of detainees. It's latest set of FOIA documents are autopsy reports of detainees who died in U.S. custody.

Of the 44 recorded deaths, 21 were deemed "homicides" by military pathologists. The ACLU notes, "According to the documents, 21 of the 44 deaths were homicides.   Eight of the homicides appear to have resulted from abusive techniques used on detainees, in some instances, by the CIA, Navy Seals and Military Intelligence personnel.  The autopsy reports list deaths by 'strangulation,' 'asphyxiation' and 'blunt force injuries.'"

What was interesting to see when reading through the causes of death, was the the number of those who died of "arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease." All the cases of those who were determined to have died from this disease were considered "natural deaths." But it makes you wonder. Why are all these folks dying of heart failure? Does it just so happen that terrorist suspects are just a really unhealthy bunch of folks? The ages weren't noted in many of the autopsy reports, so maybe we're holding a bunch of old people?

It's suspect to say the least. Especially since the few detainee deaths that have been publicized have frequently been due to heart failure -- but the heart failure was a result of forced immobility and abuses involving detainees being hung from the ceiling by their arms and savagely beaten. Not so natural a death.

FOIA documents are one of the few ways that journalists can obtain access to such military records. The clever trick of the administration is to classify everything so that, if a document is ever released, by the time it is, it's out of date, and therefore less newsworthy.

But in critical issues, such as detainee abuse and military investigations into other violence, it's all we've got. Blogger Michael Petrelis (through a FOIA request) recently obtained the the log of how many FOIA requests major news outlets have filed. Editor and Publisher has a run-down of the results which are pretty disheartening. The good news is that anyone can file a FOIA request. So do it. Click here to learn how.

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Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an editorial intern at AlterNet.