RALEIGH, N.C. – Army paratroopers accused of beating, taunting and humiliating journalists detained in Iraq have been given a refresher course on proper handling of detainees, even though an investigation cleared them of abuse, a spokesman said Thursday.
Reuters said three Iraqis working for the news agency were physically abused and forced to put shoes in their mouths during their Jan. 2-5 detention at a military camp near Fallujah. The agency decided to make the incident public when the U.S. military said there was no evidence of abuse, and after news broke about the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison (search) near Baghdad.
NBC News said a camerman who speaks no English also was abused, including being hit with a gun barrel when he tried to complain.
In a telephone interview, NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley said the network interviewed the freelance employee and sent "a detailed complaint" to the Defense Department, but never received a response.
82nd Airborne Division (search) spokesman Maj. Jimmie Cummings said the network never furnished any information to the 82nd, even though the division asked for details.
Cummings said said division commanders "reinforced to the soldiers the proper handling of prisoners."
"Our investigation found no abuse of any kind," Cummings said Thursday. "This is a closed case."
The Fort Bragg-based paratroopers have returned to their North Carolina post.
In its investigative report, the Army said the 1st Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (search) was returning to its base camp after a Jan. 2 raid on a Fallujah arms market when an Army helicopter was shot down west of the city, killing the pilot.
Soldiers were fired on from an area near where journalists had gathered, and paratroopers saw Iraqis carrying an AK-47 rifle and a rocket-propelled grenade get into a car, according to the report. The soldiers unsuccessfully chased several cars that sped from the scene.
About 30 minutes later, soldiers stopped a car that appeared to be one of those involved and detained four journalists — three from Reuters and one from NBC. No weapons were found in the car.
Two of the journalists got on the ground as ordered, but one in a "Press" vest tried to make a cell phone call. The report said a sergeant took the phone and turned it off, "not knowing if the phone would activate an IED (roadside bomb) or not." A fourth occupant was forced to the ground after he tried to open the car's trunk.
The report said the paratroopers knew that detaining journalists would draw media scrutiny, but "the soldiers clearly believed that these same Iraqis had attacked them previously."
Cummings said all detainees, including the journalists, were given a routine medical screening, which included being undressed and having all body cavities examined.
The Army report said two Reuters workers alleged "they were continuously hit, and that during their interrogation they had a shoe stuck in their mouth and were told to stick a finger in their anus and then lick it or smell it. Their allegations on these points are not credible."
In the Arab world, taking shoes to a person's face is a particular slam, and pointing the soles of one's feet at someone is a grave insult.
A memo from NBC's Baghdad office to its foreign news director detailed abuse allegedly endured by the cameraman, Ali Muhammed Hussein Ali al-Badrani.
According to the account, the cameraman was held after his arrest with about 50 other prisoners. On the third day, he was put in solitary confinement.
During questioning, the network said, he "was subjected to a battery of abusive tactics that can only be called torture." Soldiers allegedly shined bright lights in his eyes, shouted in his ears, kicked and threw him to the ground.
Reuters quoted its three journalists as saying they were beaten and forced to make demeaning gestures as soldiers laughed, taunted them and took photographs. Reuters has said it wants the Pentagon to review the incident in light of allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners held at Abu Ghraib.