Sgt. James Boland, an Army reservist in the 377th Military Police Company, was on Wednesday charged with assault, maltreatment and dereliction of duty in the deaths at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, according to US Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Georgia.

   

The case marks the latest legal action by the US military against soldiers involved in the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

   

Army criminal investigators could recommend charges ranging from negligent homicide to dereliction of duty and failure to report an offence against perhaps dozens of US soldiers in Boland's Cincinnati-based unit as well as the 519th Military

Intelligence Battalion based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a senior Army official said on condition of anonymity.

 

An Afghan prison: Abuse
occurred before Iraq invasion

More in the dock

   

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that 26 soldiers could face charges.

 

The two men died on 4 and 10 December 2002 after blunt force injuries, the Army said.

   

Boland has been ordered to Fort Knox, Kentucky, while his case is pending.

 

The Army official said the military's investigation should be finished in September. "It's an extremely complex investigation and extremely comprehensive," the official said.

   

Focus

 

Seven Army military police soldiers have been charged in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail on the outskirts of Baghdad. Army investigators last week recommended criminal charges against dozens more military intelligence and

military police soldiers as well as private contractors.

   

"It's an extremely complex investigation and extremely comprehensive"

Unnamed US Army official

The current investigation focusses on cases of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan that took place more than three months before the US invasion of Iraq and even longer before the physical abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqis and Abu Ghraib in the fall and winter of 2003.

   

The 519th Military Intelligence Battalion was posted in 2002 at Bagram, the large base where US forces held many prisoners in Afghanistan. Some soldiers from the unit later were sent to Iraq and served at Abu Ghraib, where they were linked to abuse of prisoners there.

   

The Army said in May military medical examiners classified the deaths of the two Bagram prisoners as homicides.

   

Autopsies said a 30-year-old prisoner died of a blood clot in the lung triggered by blunt-force injuries to the legs, and a 22-year-old prisoner died because of blunt-force injuries to his lower extremities that exacerbated existing coronary artery disease.