Joint Chiefs chairman denies widespread abuse of prisoners

Myers says military team found no evidence, but probe `ongoing'

May 03, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The nation's top military officer said yesterday that Army Reserve troops from a Maryland-based unit who allegedly abused Iraqi detainees at a prison near Baghdad had muddied the name of their fellow soldiers who have served in Iraq.

But Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also asserted that a military investigative team has found no evidence so far of widespread problems at other detention facilities.

"It's really a shame that just a handful can besmirch maybe the reputations of hundreds of thousands of our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines who've been over there," Myers said on ABC's This Week.

"As soon as we found out about those allegations, we sent a team over to look ... just to make sure it wasn't systematic," he said. "And the report back is that it is not systematic, but that work is still ongoing."

Myers said he has yet to read a scathing 53-page report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba about the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib prison from October through December.

That report - originally classified "Secret/No Foreign Dissemination," a clear sign of the sensitivity of its disclosure - was released yesterday, after excerpts appeared Saturday on the Web site of the New Yorker magazine.

The report included new details about a widening scandal that has led to criminal charges against six Army Reserve soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company based in Cresaptown, near Cumberland, and less severe administrative charges against the senior sergeants and officers who oversaw them.

Spc. Joseph M. Darby was credited with sparking the investigation in January when he turned over pictures of fellow 372nd soldiers standing next to naked Iraqi prisoners, who were ordered to create human pyramids and forced to simulate sex acts. Pictures of the soldiers, smiling and giving thumbs-up signs, were shown last week on CBS' 60 Minutes II.

But Taguba's report shows the abuse was even more disturbing, painting a portrait of a prison where the inadequately trained and understaffed guard force preyed on the detainees. Moreover, it says that a civilian contractor is a "suspect" in the wrongdoing and that two other civilians are largely responsible for the abuses occurring.

Taguba said he found that the "intentional abuse" by military police personnel included a guard having sex with a female detainee and another threatening detainees with a 9 mm pistol.

Investigation road map

The report provides a road map for the investigation being led by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the former deputy commander of the Army Intelligence and Security Command, who is looking into the interrogation practices of military and civilian personnel at the prison.

Taguba singles out two Army intelligence officers and two civilian contractors, saying they were "directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib" and recommends disciplinary action.

The most senior officer is Col. Thomas Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, who, according to the report, failed to ensure that his soldiers were properly trained and understood the protections afforded to detainees under the Geneva Conventions. Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, former director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center and a liaison officer to the 205th, made "material misrepresentations" to investigators and failed to ensure that soldiers under his authority were properly trained, the report said.

Taguba said that military interrogators and personnel of "other government agencies" - a standard reference to the CIA and other intelligence organizations - "actively requested" that the MPs soften up detainees for subsequent questioning.

The two civilian contractors cited are Steven Stephanowicz, described as an "interrogator" from CACI International, a company based in Arlington, Va., that boasts of its expertise in combating terrorism; and John Israel, a CACI interpreter.

The whereabouts of Pappas, Jordan, Stephanowicz and Israel could not be determined.

Several defense analysts said it would be highly unusual - and perhaps unprecedented - for the military to entrust interrogations to civilians

`Same kind of discipline'

"Civilians cannot be subject to the same kind of discipline that comes from being a government person," said Patrick Lang, a former top official with the Defense Intelligence Agency. "It contributes to a situation where crimes and abuse can be committed. You want people who are oath-bound."

Taguba alleged that Stephanowicz made false statements to investigators about the location and activities of his interrogations, and in denying knowledge of any abuse. The general also said that Stephanowicz instructed MPs untrained in interrogation. "He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse," Taguba said.

He recommended that Israel be reprimanded for denying having seen interrogations that violated the rules, despite several witnesses testifying otherwise.

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