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Tuesday, April 1

Search on for clues of war crimes against Fort Bliss soldiers

By Sergio Bustos | GNS

An elite team of military investigators was dispatched to southern Iraq this week to determine if Iraqi soldiers tortured or executed members of the 507th Maintenance Company that were ambushed March 23, officials said Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, speaking to reporters at the war command in Qatar, said military authorities sent "a mobile exploitation team" to investigate possible war crimes involving dead or captured American soldiers, including those in the 507th unit, based at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Pentagon officials have confirmed that two unit members are dead. Eight others are listed as missing and five are being held as prisoners of war.

The 507th company members, part of a noncombat unit, were captured after Iraqi soldiers ambushed them March 23, near the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. The unit reportedly had made a wrong turn.

The goal of the investigative unit, which includes several teams, is to interview witnesses and collect evidence to potentially prosecute Iraqi military forces, including paramilitary groups, who may have committed war crimes. Part of the unit is also searching for chemical or biological weapons.

"Their results have not come in yet," Brooks said. "We do know that there is some confusion in the reports (about mistreatments of POWs), and we have to be patient to find out what that final word is.''

What happened exactly to the 507th remains a mystery, but several media organizations reported last week that U.S. forces had come across a large hospital that was reportedly used as a base by Iraqi paramilitary forces, known as the Fedayeen. U.S. military officials have not confirmed if evidence found at the hospital was connected to the 507th unit.

But Marines inspecting the hospital found two bloody uniforms, possibly from female soldiers, with their names and U.S. flag patches removed. They also discovered a battery, possibly used as a torture device, inside a room next to a metal cot.

Marines found a cache of weapons and a Soviet T-55 tank parked on the hospital grounds, but the biggest discovery was that of a supply of 3,000 unused chemical suits.

The hospital was reportedly the site where Iraqi soldiers interrogated the five POWs. Video of the POWs was broadcast throughout much of the world on several TV networks. The bodies of at least four U.S. soldiers with apparent bullet wounds could be seen in the broadcast footage.