Amid abuse charges, soldiers of 205th go into shell

Prison scandal in Iraq scares intelligence unit based in Germany

Crisis In Iraq

May 06, 2004|By Todd Richissin and Tom Bowman | Todd Richissin and Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF WRITERS

WIESBADEN, Germany - The U.S. military intelligence brigade based here has a history stretching back to World War II, when its members risked all to gather information in northern France and Central Europe, and its members were cited for bravery in helping end the war.

But members of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade are now among those implicated in the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. And the action taken against the brigade's commander - and the reaction of the brigade itself - underscore the breadth of the scandal in Iraq and the long-lasting damage it could cause the Army.

"People here are scared," said Maj. William Thurmond, spokesman for the 205th, part of the Army's 5th Corps. "These are sensitive times and nobody wants to talk. At least publicly, they're going into a shell. I think some of them are overwhelmed and just feel all the good work they've done has been overshadowed."

A Pentagon official confirmed yesterday that Col. Thomas Pappas, the 205th's commander, received a severe letter of reprimand, which is likely to end his military career. Other members of the 900-member brigade are under investigation.

The unease here was evident yesterday in the actions of the brigade's top officers who first agreed, and then declined, to be interviewed on the contributions their soldiers made during the war in Iraq and the training they underwent before it. Officers directed soldiers not to speak to the news media if approached off the base, and reporters were not allowed on it.

The reprimand for Pappas and the investigations under way stem from a report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, which was released after CBS aired photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib prison, the same prison where dictator Saddam Hussein tortured Iraqis before executing thousands.

In his report, Taguba faulted the brigade and others for not following military doctrine in handling prisoners, from their arrival at detention centers to treatment during custody to how they were interrogated.

Taguba recommended a separate investigation, now under way, to determine the "extent of culpability" in the abuse by soldiers of the 205th. He said he suspected that Pappas and others assigned to the brigade "are either directly or indirectly responsible for abuses."

Several telephone messages and an e-mail message left for Pappas seeking comment were not answered.

Pappas, a career military man once stationed at Fort Meade, was highly regarded by some fellow officers. "He worked for me," Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, head of Army intelligence, said yesterday at the Pentagon. "He was a great officer."

But Alexander said he has not seen anything approaching the current scandal in 30 years in Army intelligence.

"Every statement we have says, `Treat prisoners humanely,'" he said. "What we've seen on television is reprehensible, and it's not what we tell our soldiers to do. We train all our interrogators in the law and the Geneva Conventions, and they're held to that standard."

The formal investigation of the 205th is expected to begin within two weeks. The investigator, Maj. Gen. George Fay, arrived in Iraq last week and is due here next, Alexander said.

The investigation will determine "who said what to who and why," Alexander said.

Investigators are not likely to stop with the 205th. Among the findings in Taguba's report were that Pappas had been ordered to take charge of Abu Ghraib prison. Taguba found that assignment incompatible with the duties of an intelligence brigade and said it should have been left to military police.

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