General faces Abu Ghraib scrutiny

July 15, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Among the handful of Army officers facing scrutiny in the investigation of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast is perhaps the least known, but among the most important.

Fast, 50, the senior intelligence officer in Iraq, was the key conduit for orders and information that related to Abu Ghraib, which she visited frequently, including the infamous cellblocks 1A and 1B, where abuses took place.

A civilian interrogator at the prison wrote that she was involved in CIA access, and Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was the overall commander of military police at the facility, said Fast was aware of a Red Cross report revealing wrongdoing at the prison three months before the scandal broke.

Fast approved the order putting Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of a military intelligence brigade at Abu Ghraib in overall command of the prison. She prodded him for fresh information from detainees so insistently that he remarked, "It's worse than a root canal," Karpinski said.

Fast also installed Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, an aggressive interrogator who said that he "only reported to her," said Army officers and soldiers who served with Fast in Iraq.

Pappas, Jordan and some of the civilian interrogators have since been singled out in an Army report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba for being "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib."

The two officers have been reprimanded. Fast, whose career has ascended rapidly, has been given a plum assignment when she leaves Iraq next month: commander of the Army's intelligence center and school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where she served a brief tour as assistant commandant.

"Major General Fast is not doing interviews related to Abu Ghraib while the [Army intelligence] investigation is ongoing," said Maj. Carolyn Dysart, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq. "It would be inappropriate for her to comment."

A clearer picture of Fast, one of the highest-ranking women in the Army, is likely to emerge in coming weeks through the report by Army intelligence investigators that Dysart referred to, Senate hearings and questions by attorneys representing the military police facing courts-martial.

All seven who have been charged are low-level reservists attached to the 372nd Military Police Unit based in Cresaptown, Md.

Their attorneys argue that military intelligence officers ordered the MPs to commit the abuses to gain information.

Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, has listed Fast among those he wants the committee to question about Abu Ghraib.

"It would seem that her new command is certainly premature, if not inappropriate," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. "There are still so many unanswered questions."

"It's very strange. [Fast] was never suspended. And she [will take] command of Fort Huachuca," said Karpinski, who was commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade until she received a letter of admonishment for her alleged leadership failures and was suspended from command. She is trying to get reinstated to her post.

Fast was aware of at least some of the Abu Ghraib activities of CIA personnel, a number of whom are being questioned about the abuses and at least one death, according to the writings of a civilian interrogator at Abu Ghraib, Joe Ryan, who worked for the Virginia-based contractor CACI International.

In a Web diary that is part of a court exhibit filed by Iraqis who claim they were abused at the prison, Ryan wrote: "The CIA has proven once again they are incompetent boobs. ... They have General Fast's ire. They cannot set foot on Abu Ghurayb without her expressed permission."

Fast arrived in Baghdad late last summer to become intelligence chief for the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. How she ran intelligence operations is among the questions of an Army investigation led by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones, whose equivalent rank allows him to question Sanchez.

Karpinski said Fast spoke of the difficulties of gathering intelligence in Iraq. "She said, `It's like herding cats. I can't get my arms around it,'" Karpinski said.

As the insurgency increased throughout the summer, Fast repeatedly pressed her staff for more information from the detainees, according to fellow officers. One intelligence officer who worked with Pappas said he seemed beaten down.

"There was a lot of pressure for [intelligence]. Anything that could affect the safety of our soldiers," he said.

After meetings with Fast, Karpinski said, Pappas would "hold his head and say, `It's worse than a root canal.'" Pappas pressed his soldiers to conduct more interrogations and produce more reports.

Harsher techniques were also being approved. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, visited Abu Ghraib in September and said MPs should "set the conditions" for interrogations, a phrase that has been interpreted by some as meaning softening up the prisoners for questioning.

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