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The Court-Martial Of Willie Brand

Tells Scott Pelley "I Am Not A Violent Person"

(Page 1 of 3)
March 5, 2006
Willie Brand (CBS)

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"This is what we were trained to do, and this is what we did. I was not the only one; there were many others hitting them."

Willie Brand

(CBS) You wouldn't figure Willie Brand for a killer. He's a quiet young soldier from Cincinnati who volunteered to be a guard at a U.S. military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. But when 60 Minutes met him, Brand was facing a court-martial in the deaths of two prisoners. The prisoners were found hanging from chains in their isolation cells. They had been beaten; one of them was "pulpified," according to the medical examiner.

Brand told correspondent Scott Pelley what he did wasn’t torture, it was his training, authorized and supervised by his superiors. So how is it he was charged with assault, maiming and manslaughter?

"I didn’t understand how they could do this after they had trained you to do this stuff and they turn around and say you’ve been bad you shouldn’t have done this stuff now they’re going to charge you with assault, maiming and 'unvoluntary' manslaughter, how can this be when they trained you to do it and they condoned it while you were doing it," says Brand.

"[The] Army says you are a violent man," Pelley said.

"They do say that, but I’m not a violent person," Brand replied.

But there was violence in the prison. A man named Habibullah and a cab driver called Dilawar died only days after they had been brought in on suspicion of being Taliban fighters.

"They brought death upon themselves as far as I'm concerned," says Capt. Christopher Beiring, who was Brand's commanding officer as head of the prison guards. Beiring was charged with dereliction of duty, but the charge was later dropped.

Asked whether compared to other detainees Habibullah was more or less aggressive, Beiring says, "Yes, absolutely more. He was probably the worst we had."

What kind of prisoner was Dilawar?

"I wouldn’t categorize him as the worst but he, but he definitely, several of my soldiers would say that he would test them, fight with them kick, trip, try to bite, spit. That’s typically what a fighter does," Beiring recalls.

Dilawar was picked up outside a U.S. base that had been hit by a rocket. Habibullah was brought in by the CIA, rumored to be a high-ranking Taliban. Both of them were locked in isolation cells with hoods over their heads and their arms shackled to the ceiling.

Their shackled hands, according to Brand, were at about eye level. The point of chaining them to the ceiling, Brand says, was to keep the detainees awake by not letting them lie down and sleep.

Interrogators wanted the prisoners softened up.

Asked what the longest period of time Brand saw a detainee chained like that, Brand says, "Probably about two days."

"Two days? Without a break?" Pelley asked.

"Without a break," Brand replied.

Capt. Beiring says he doesn’t know of prisoners chained that long. But in general, he had no problem with the procedure.

"They weren’t in pain. They weren’t, as far as I’m concerned they weren’t being abused. It seemed OK to me. If I was a prisoner, I would think that would probably be acceptable," says Beiring.

Brand says something else was thought to be acceptable in the prison: a brutal way of controlling prisoners – a knee to the common peroneal nerve in the leg, a strike with so much force behind it that the prisoner would lose muscle control and collapse in pain.

Brand says he vaguely remembers giving knee strikes to Habibullah.

How did the detainee react to that?

"The same way everybody else did. I mean he would scream out 'Allah, Allah, Allah'; sometimes his legs would buckle and sometimes it wouldn’t," Brand explained.

It wasn't only Willie Brand. A confidential report by the Army’s criminal investigation division accuses dozens of soldiers of abuse, including "slamming [a prisoner] into walls [and a] table," "forcing water into his mouth until he could not breathe," giving "kicks to the groin" and once, according to the report, a soldier "threatened to rape a male detainee." Soldiers even earned nicknames including "King of Torture" and "Knee of Death."

Habibullah and Dilawar were found dead in their cells, hanging from their chains. The military medical examiner says Dilawar’s legs were pulpified. Both autopsy reports were marked "homicide." But the Army spokesman in Afghanistan told the media that both men had died of natural causes. With two deaths in a week, the Army decided to investigate. But the facts only began to become public months later in an article in The New York Times.

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By Shawn Efran ©MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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