Pentagon correspondent answers readers' questions about Abu Ghraib scandal

May 11, 2004|By Tom Bowman

Sun Q&A: Tom Bowman on Iraqi prisoner abuse

Jace Woods, Baltimore: Why are these soldiers being made out to be the scapegoats in this mess? Their lives will be ruined, and yet there will be some who will benefit greatly from this.

Bowman: It's too early to say that these soldiers will be scapegoats. The investigation is continuing and is now focusing on at least one military intelligence unit, the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which controlled Abu Ghraib. It's commander, Col. Thomas Pappas, has received a career-ending letter of reprimand. Other criminal charges may be filed. What's still unknown is how high up the chain this scandal will go.

Charlotte Farber, Hampstead: Why does Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld feel he can do what he wants? Why didn't he listen to the Red Cross people? I am ashamed for our country.

Bowman: Secretary Rumsfeld is an extremely confident person, who, some say, does not listen to advice. It is rare for him to admit a mistake or apologize, as he did before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He has a small coterie of advisers he is close to that are bright, ambitious and convinced what they are doing is right on almost any subject. A still-unanswered question is how seriously the concerns of the Red Cross and others were taken. Were these concerns passed on? Who handled them?

Megan Brown: How will the scandal impact the war in Iraq?

Bowman: Many officers I talk with are concerned that the prison scandal will make Iraq an even more dangerous place for soldiers, since the pictures are whipping up even more anger toward Americans. And the officers are bitter that a small number of soldiers have poisoned the well and destroyed the good work that has been accomplished by other soldiers, such as building schools and clinics and working with village elders.

Billie, Columbia, S.C.: What is likely to happen to the actual people who abused the prisoners? It upset[s] me when I read the article about Fort Bragg, which stated that Pvt. Lynndie England is apparently working there and not detained, brought back because "she was pregnant." I fear that the soldiers who committed abuse will get off because of the excuse, "I was given orders to do it."

Bowman: It's a bit early to say, and some may agree to plead guilty and cooperate. Those accused will at least get a reduction in rank, and a less-than-honorable discharge. Some may get prison terms of one to several years.

John, Bel Air: Why aren't the politicians like U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrats in as much of an uproar over the brutal killings of the four Americans a couple weeks back?

Bowman: Only they can answer that question. The difference here, of course, is that the United States has certain standards, even when it comes to warfare. And the stated policy of the United States was to oust Saddam Hussein and pave the way for democracy. High standards are not held by every soldier, obviously. And many fighters, terrorists or others around the world clearly are barbaric.

Lawrence L. Bennett, Gambrills: When will Secretary Rumsfeld resign?

Bowman: President Bush said publicly that Rumsfeld is doing a good job and will remain in the Cabinet, although opinion is divided in Washington on whether Rumsfeld can survive. Keep an eye on where the "get tough" policy at Abu Ghraib was approved. So far, a military intelligence colonel has been implicated, although he has higher-ups he has to answer to. Will the chain of command stop in Iraq or the Pentagon?

KMartin, Baltimore: Has anyone looked into the possibility that these photos are faked? I haven't seen them all, but the ones I've seen just don't look real to me. I have a very hard time believing that our troops would act that way, let alone that we would apologize for the behavior before we in fact found out whether the photos were real and undoctored or just an attempt to discredit the U.S. The U.S. is in the midst of a very tough job and we need to support our government and troops 100 percent, not encourage discrediting them.

Bowman: The Army's criminal investigators authenticated the pictures and seized them directly from the cameras and computers of the soldiers.

Lois Halbert, Mission Viejo, Calif.: Does our government have a Web site [where] we can directly send our comments?

Bowman: I would suggest writing directly to your congressman or your two U.S. senators.

Joe Smigel, Manchester: Shouldn't Congress also be questioning [Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz? Wolfowitz is to Rumsfeld what Karl Rove is to President Bush.

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