Five US Army Rangers sentenced

Punishments will vary from 30 days to six months in confinement, with two of the men to receive bad conduct discharges.

The five were alleged to have mistreated three Iraqi detainees on September 7 as they were waiting to be moved to a prison facility.

On November 5, the US military said the five Rangers, from the 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Benning in Georgia, were accused of punching and kicking the Iraqi detainees and hitting them with a broomstick.

The US military has been under a spotlight over detainee abuses since April 2004 when photos came to light of degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners held at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.

Since the war began in Iraq in March 2003, the Pentagon has investigated more than 400 cases of detainee mistreatment involving at least 230 soldiers, according to a report by the USA Today news service.

In a bid to stamp out further instances of abuse, the US House of Representatives has passed final legislation banning the torture of detainees.

Amid allegations of secret CIA-run prisons abroad, harsh interrogation of prisoners at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, on top of the Abu Ghraib scandal, Republican Senator John Cain has pushed for inclusion of the torture ban.

US President George W Bush held out against the move for months, but finally backed down after winning important concessions.

Key among the concessions were the curbing of Guantanamo Bay inmates’ ability to challenge their detention in federal court, and a provision to allow information gleaned by coercion to be used in Guantanamo military commissions.

In an interview with America’s ABC News Nightline programme, US Vice President Dick Cheney reluctantly welcomed the bill, but criticised what he described as a diminishing commitment by some to ensure American security is protected.

“One of the things I’m concerned about is that as we get farther and farther away from 9/11, and there have been no further attacks against the United Staters, there seems to be less and less concern about doing what’s necessary in order to defend the country,” Mr Cheney said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has announced that charges against two Guantanamo detainees, a Saudi and an Algerian, have been referred to a US military commission.

Jabran Said Bin al Qahtani, of Saudi Arabia, and Algerian Sufyian Barhoumi, have been referred as non-capital cases to a commission comprised of six military officers and two alternate panel members.

Navy captain Daniel O’Toole, an officer with 21 years military experience, will preside over the proceedings.

Qahtani and Barhoumi have both been accused of conspiring to attack civilians and of involvement with the al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan.

The US military has alleged that the pair helped make bombs destined to be used against US forces and other targets when they were captured in Pakistan in early 2002.

A total of nine Guantanamo Bay detainees, including Australian David Hicks, have so far been charged with terrorist activities.

Their trials are expected to begin in the near future, however, Hicks has recently been successful in applying for British citizenship in a bid to challenge his detention.

That effort, though, may be thwarted as the British Home Office considers an appeal.