The intelligence question

May 12, 2004

THE PHOTOGRAPHS have captured our attention - almost exclusively: Images of Iraqi detainees, naked and bound, stacked in a human pyramid, simulating sex acts, cowering before snarling guard dogs.

But disturbing as those photos may be, it is critically important now to focus on the interrogation practices at the Abu Ghraib prison, trace those practices to their source and determine whether they were used at other U.S. detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The policies on interrogations deserve rigorous scrutiny because they underlie the scandal of mistreatment at Abu Ghraib. We expect the Army's investigators to follow the thread of inquiry up the chain of command, beyond the lowly enlisted personnel who have been charged in the scandal.

Someone told the military police charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal to "soften up" detainees for the military intelligence officers who would interrogate them. Was it a rogue intelligence officer, an aggressive private contractor or the result of an overzealous policy to identify terrorists? Knowing that answer would help determine the culpability of officials in the chain of command.

The idea of including MPs in intelligence work apparently was suggested by Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller and a team of intelligence experts who arrived in Iraq last fall. General Miller also recommended that military intelligence officers assume a greater role in security operations, according to the report on the abuses by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. Merging the functions of these two groups appears now to have been inappropriate at the very least, especially in the absence of clear lines of authority and oversight.

The Taguba report supports that conclusion by noting that an earlier Army review of operations at Abu Ghraib opposed joining security with intelligence work because it violated Army regulations.

Clearly, how General Miller's recommendations were implemented - and by whom - remains in dispute. That's why a question asked of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a congressional hearing so resonated last week. Arizona Sen. John McCain wanted to know simply this: Who had authority over the guards and what were the instructions to the guards?

Apparently no order, "written or otherwise," was found instructing the military police to participate in the interrogations. That alone suggests a disturbing degree of dysfunctionality, as does the confusion about who had ultimate control over the prison. When asked that question yesterday at a congressional hearing, General Taguba and Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, gave conflicting answers.

As more photographs of abused Iraqi prisoners emerge, and they will, Americans cannot lose sight of the question that lies at the heart of the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees: Who was in charge?

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.