Army lays abuse of prisoners to `few individuals'

Problem is not systemic, inspector general concludes

July 23, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Army reported yesterday that there have been 94 cases of confirmed or alleged abuse by soldiers against detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past three years, though officials said the wrongdoing can be blamed on a small number of soldiers and failures by lower-level officers rather than on systemwide problems.

"The abuses that have occurred are not representative of policy, doctrine, or soldier training," said a report by Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, the Army's inspector general who reviewed detainee and interrogation operations. "These abuses should be viewed as what they are - unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals and, in some cases, coupled with the failure of a few leaders to provide adequate supervision and leadership."

The report, conducted over the past five months, is the first of several that are probing the prisoner abuse scandal that erupted in April when CBS' 60 Minutes broadcast pictures of naked and abused Iraqi detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison with their smiling guards from the Army Reserve's 372nd Military Police Company from Cresaptown, Md.

Seven of those soldiers have been charged in the scandal. One has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to a year in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

Mikolashek, who briefed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the report, said while no systemic problems led to the abuse, he made 52 recommendations for changes in detainee and interrogation operations. They ranged from better training for military police to the development of interrogation techniques that are "acceptable, effective and legal for non-compliant detainees."

Committee criticism

The three-star general drew criticism, particularly from committee Democrats, when he said that the report did not look above the brigade level for any lapses, such as "poor command climate," that may have contributed to the abuses.

"We think it ended there," he told the committee. "That's where the problem was."

So far, the most senior officers disciplined are at the brigade level - Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade, to which Maryland's 372nd MP Company was attached, and Col. Thomas Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade at the prison.

But the senators said that Mikolashek should have looked at the entire chain of command, up to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq at the time.

"I don't think you've done the job you're supposed to do," said Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat. "One of the systemic issues, I think, is the responsiveness of the chain of command at the highest levels to reports of abuse."

Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican and the panel's chairman, said Reed brought up "an important question" about the chain of command. "He is raising an issue that's of concern to a number of senators, and that is the level of accountability," Warner said.

Red Cross report

Senators also pointed to a November report by the International Committee of the Red Cross that detailed abuses at Abu Ghraib a few months before the scandal broke and that was reviewed by some senior officers.

That report told of detainees kept "completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness," and stated that "the military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was `part of the process,'" the Red Cross report said. A February report from the Red Cross alleged that "methods of ill treatment" were "used in a systematic way" by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the "interrogation techniques witnessed by the ... Red Cross during visits to Abu Ghraib appear consistent with techniques that we now know were approved and later rescinded by high-level Defense Department officials or by commanders in theater in Iraq."

Mikolashek said some of the other Army investigations will look into how the Red Cross report reached the American military command in Iraq.

Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat, said later in an interview that the inspector general's report was billed as a complete look at the situation. But he said the distribution of the Red Cross reports is among the unanswered questions.

Another question, Reed said, is what role senior officers played in hiding so-called "ghost detainees" from the Red Cross. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said in a report earlier this year that this practice was contrary to Army doctrine and a violation of international law.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged in June that, at the request of then-CIA Director George Tenet, he authorized the U.S. military to hide an Iraqi detainee last fall from the Red Cross and other international organizations that monitor detainees.

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