Senators to question top generals on abuse

Panel seeks to determine source of responsibility

some Republicans worry

May 19, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - With Republicans feuding over how actively to investigate the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, senators plan to question three top generals today about how far up the military chain of command responsibility for the detainee mistreatment goes.

House Republican leaders and some Republican senators said Congress should step back from its investigation, even as the Senate Armed Services Committee prepares to hear today from Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East; Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top U.S. general in Iraq; and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commander of U.S. detention facilities there.

The three have traveled from Iraq to appear on Capitol Hill, amid new reports that surfaced last weekend that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed off last year on a policy to use harsh and aggressive tactics to interrogate Iraqi prisoners.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said the allegation "raises serious questions" that he wants the generals to answer.

Some say they wonder whether the administration's plans for gathering information from prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, might have encouraged the kind of sexual humiliation and other abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

"The practices were a million miles away from the policy - how did that happen?" said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. "Did some of this `get-'em-at-all-costs' mentality seep over? That's what we're having to look at."

Miller, who commanded the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, later recommended that military police guards help military intelligence prepare prisoners for interrogation. That suggestion was severely criticized in the Army report written by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba that detailed abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, faulted the Senate and the news media yesterday for continuing to shine a spotlight on the scandal, saying the attention was hurting the war effort and distracting top military leaders who should be focusing on military strategy in Iraq.

House Republican leaders and Hunter's panel have taken a different path from the Senate's in dealing with the prison abuse scandal. The House committee has held closed-door briefings rather than public hearings. The Senate has been more aggressive - scheduling public sessions and pushing for testimony from the highest-ranking military and civilian officials.

In a sign that they are tiring of that approach, some Republican senators echoed Hunter.

"These continued hearings in Congress at the most critical time of the war effort is, I fear, distracting," said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, said political considerations have led some Republicans to be less open about the abuse inquiry than they should be.

"This is a tough call for our people, because they think that the more hearings you have on this, the more harm it does to Republicans and the less chance the president has of being re-elected," said Bartlett, whose district includes the 372nd Military Police Company, the unit of the seven low-ranking soldiers who have been criminally charged in the abuse scandal.

"My personal feeling is that it needs to be out there, that the people have a right to know. We should just deal with it and move on."

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