Report blames senior military for ‘inattention’ at Iraqi prison
August 24, 2004
WASHINGTON (AP) – Inattention to prisoner issues by senior U.S. military leaders in Iraq and at the Pentagon was a key factor in the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, but there is no evidence they ordered any mistreatment, an independent panel concluded.
The panel’s report, the first of two expected this week looking at prisoner abuse, directly blamed the events at Abu Ghraib on the soldiers there and their immediate commanders.
It also said senior commanders and top-level Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, can be faulted for failed leadership and oversight.
“We found fundamental failures throughout all levels of command, from the soldiers on the ground to (U.S.) Central Command and to the Pentagon,” said Tillie Fowler, a former Republican congresswoman from Florida who served on the four-member commission appointed by Rumsfeld and headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger.
“These failures of leadership helped to set the conditions which allowed the abusive practices to take place,” Fowler said.
Details of a second investigation, which focused on the military intelligence unit at Abu Ghraib prison during the abuses, were expected to be released Wednesday. That Army investigation, initially headed by Maj. Gen. George Fay, is expected to blame the intelligence unit and its commanders for some of the abuses at the Iraqi prison.
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The Schlesinger report is one of several that have examined various aspects of the prisoner abuse scandal, which rocked the Bush administration and triggered calls by some in Congress for Rumsfeld to resign.
No senior officials deserve to lose their jobs, the Schlesinger commission members told reporters Tuesday while releasing their findings. They said they believed the Pentagon was on a path to remedying the underlying causes of the abuse.
Schlesinger’s review criticizes senior leaders for not focusing on issues stemming from the detention of large numbers of prisoners in Iraq. This lack of attention and resources contributed to the chaotic conditions at Abu Ghraib, the report said.
In particular, war planners at the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not expect a widespread anti-U.S. insurgency or the breakdown of civil order in postwar Iraq, so they did not plan or provide resources for the operation of a large American-run prison system, commissioners said.
Nor did senior leaders fully clarify what interrogation methods were permissible at Abu Ghraib. In some cases, harsher techniques approved for use against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters were employed against Iraqi prisoners.
The Schlesinger report assigned significant blame to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, saying he should have ensured that his staff dealt with the command and resource problems at Abu Ghraib when they first came to light in November 2003. Still, it acknowledges that Sanchez was focused on combatting a mounting Iraqi insurgency at the time.
Schlesinger said soldiers who stacked naked Iraqi prisoners in pyramids, forced them into positions of sexual humiliation and confronted them with snarling guard dogs were renegades.
The abuse depicted in the Abu Ghraib photographs made public was “a kind of ‘Animal House’ on the night shift,” Schlesinger said – in other words, acts of sadism committed by low-ranking guards for their own entertainment.
The report described the abuse as “acts of brutality and purposeless sadism,” and said – as have others who reviewed the case – that the soldiers involved were not acting on approved orders or policies.
On the other hand, the report contradicts the Bush administration’s assertion that the problem was limited to a few soldiers acting on their own. So far, seven military police soldiers have faced criminal charges; two dozen or more military intelligence soldiers may also be charged, but it appears increasingly unlikely that top-level commanders will be disciplined.
The White House had no immediate comment on the Schlesinger report.
Rand Beers, national security adviser to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, said, “This report makes clear that the failures at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere start at the top – beginning with a failure to plan for the peace in Iraq, a failure to adequately train the troops and a failure to provide clear orders for interrogation.”
About a third of 66 substantiated cases of abuse were committed during interrogations, presumably by military intelligence personnel or people working with them, the Schlesinger report said. At least five prisoners died as a result of abuses committed during questioning.
At Abu Ghraib, “Some individuals seized the opportunity provided by this environment to give vent to latent sadistic urges,” the report said. Trying to balance the need to obtain information that could save lives against treating prisoners humanely, some people involved stepped over the line accidentally, some knowingly, it said.
But the report did not cast blame solely on military interrogators, police and their chain of command at prisoner abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Others who may have played a role included CIA officers, special operations forces, contract interrogators and military dog handlers.
The Schlesinger panel said disciplinary action “may be forthcoming” against Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade at Abu Ghraib; and Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which was assigned to Abu Ghraib last year.
Karpinski has maintained that she was not alerted to abuses at Abu Ghraib until they were brought to the attention of Sanchez, her commander, in January 2004.
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