Leadership flaws found in abuse scandal

Report faults Rumsfeld, aides for poor oversight of detention centers

August 24, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A high-level panel reviewing American military detention operations has concluded that leadership failures at the highest levels of the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff and military command in Iraq contributed to an environment in which detainees were abused at Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities, defense officials said yesterday.

The report, set to be released today, does not explicitly blame Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for the misconduct or for ordering policies that condoned or encouraged it. But the panel implicitly faults Rumsfeld, as well as his top civilian and military aides, for not exercising sufficient oversight over a confusing array of policies and interrogation practices at detention centers in Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq, officials said.

The military's Joint Staff, which is responsible for allocating military resources among the various combatant commanders, is criticized for not recognizing that military police at Abu Ghraib were overwhelmed by an influx of detainees. And the report criticizes the top commander in Iraq at the time, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, for not paying close enough attention to worsening conditions at Abu Ghraib, delegating oversight of prison operations to subordinates.

In contrast to the half-dozen military inquiries into aspects of the Abu Ghraib scandal, including the roles of military police and military intelligence officials, the four-member panel headed by James R. Schlesinger, a former secretary of defense, was appointed by Rumsfeld to identify gaps in the reviews and offer a critique of senior officials' roles that uniformed military officers might be reluctant to level against their superiors.

The Schlesinger panel's report and a high-level Army investigation into the role of military intelligence officials in the misconduct are expected to offer important new details and context that may help explain the causes of a scandal that came to the military's attention in January, but only became public in April with the disclosure of photographs of prisoner abuse.

The panel said in a statement yesterday that it would brief Rumsfeld, who is traveling this week, by video-teleconference today about the conclusions, and then present its findings at a news conference at the Pentagon. Panel staff members have kept aides to Rumsfeld apprised of their work, though the defense secretary was not expected to respond until the briefing today. The Army is expected to release the findings of its own review this week, probably tomorrow.

The broad outlines of the Schlesinger panel's work were described by two defense officials who had portions of it summarized for them by associates. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the full report has not been made public.

In addition to Schlesinger, the panel members are Harold Brown, another former defense secretary; Tillie K. Fowler, a former Florida Republican congresswoman and chairwoman of last year's investigation into sexual misconduct at the U.S. Air Force Academy; and Gen. Charles A. Horner, a retired four-star Air Force officer who led the air campaign in the 1991 Gulf War.

All of the panel members, who also sit on the Defense Policy Board, an advisory panel to Rumsfeld, have reputations for independence. Some congressional officials warned, however, that they had not yet seen the report's precise language, so it was difficult to gauge just how critical it would be of Rumsfeld and other top civilian and military officials.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled two hearings for Sept. 9 to review the findings of the Schlesinger panel and the Army investigation, which was opened by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay. The committee has held a series of hearings on the scandal, but none since May 19, because many Republicans in the House and some in the Senate have voiced fears that keeping the issue alive on Capitol Hill could hurt President Bush's re-election prospects in November.

"The Schlesinger panel has the power to look up the civilian chain of command and is not limited," a Senate Republican aide said yesterday. "It is a key report."

The Schlesinger panel interviewed only about two dozen people, far fewer than other inquiries, but it focused on senior policymakers and commanders. The panel, for instance, is the only inquiry to interview Rumsfeld (twice); Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz; Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East. "It is very comprehensive," one senior defense official said of the report.

The Schlesinger report's executive summary, which runs about 20 pages, ticks off problems in organization, detention policies, command structures and the training of active-duty personnel and reservists, all issues that Rumsfeld asked the panel to examine in a May 12 memorandum to the group.

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