Top officers are reported cleared over Abu Ghraib

Army review determines Sanchez, others not liable in scandal, sources say

April 23, 2005|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A comprehensive Army review has determined that top officers in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was the senior ground commander in the country, and his key staff, should not be held liable for any wrongdoing or leadership failures, according to congressional sources.

Reviews by the Army Inspector General's office and the Judge Advocate General, the service's top lawyer, found there is no substance to any allegations against Sanchez and his then senior staff, including his deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, intelligence officer Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast and legal officer Col. Marc Warren, according to these sources.

So far, the only substantiated allegations and punishment of a senior officer have been meted out to Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, an Army Reserve officer who commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade, including the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company. Six soldiers from that unit have been convicted, and two others are awaiting trial involving the abuses of detainees at the notorious prison outside Baghdad. Karpinski has been suspended from command and received a letter of reprimand for leadership failures.

Asked about the comments by congressional sources, Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, an Army spokesman, said, "In response to public expectations about senior leader punishment even before findings have been made public: We are doing what our citizens expect us to do for any citizen - protecting their rights while ensuring we find and act appropriately on the truth. We will not rush to judgment in these cases or in any others."

Key staff members on Capitol Hill have been briefed on the Army's findings and are focusing on the reports involving those top five officers, said senior Pentagon officials. The officials, who requested anonymity, outlined the process yesterday.

The five top officers were among 12 officers above the rank of colonel who were investigated by the Army. None of the five faced substantiated allegations.

Of the remaining seven officers, "There is a mix of substantiated and unsubstantiated allegations," said the senior official, who would neither reveal the specifics of the allegations nor the names of any officers.

Of the 12 officers under review, reports have been completed on 11, officials said. None of the allegations involves criminal charges, but they center on leadership issues or official duties.

Two other officers at the center of the Abu Ghraib scandal, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who commanded the military intelligence unit at the prison, and Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, who ran the interrogation center, were not among the dozen officers under review. Both are under separate investigation and could face criminal charges, Pentagon officials said.

The results of the Army probes are likely to produce anger on Capitol Hill, particularly among Democrats who continue to insist that senior officers must be held accountable. Some have pressed for an independent review.

The committee's chairman, Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, said last month, "There has not been a finality in terms of the assessment of accountability of either senior policy people or senior officers."

Gary Myers, a lawyer who represented one of the Maryland soldiers, Pvt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, who has been convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, said he was troubled by the determinations on Sanchez and his top deputies.

"It is probably true that there was no criminal responsibility in the classical sense, but to suggest there is no responsibility in the leadership or moral sense offends my sense of justice," Myers, a former Army lawyer, said in a telephone interview.

While some of the dozen official investigations into Abu Ghraib did not cite any culpability among senior civilian officials or military officers, one of the probes, led by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, issued a report last summer criticizing senior officers, particularly Sanchez.

It said Sanchez was understandably focused on fighting a growing Iraqi insurgency and failed to ensure that his staff was dealing with Abu Ghraib's command and resources problems.

One panel member, former Republican Rep. Tillie Fowler, who died seven months after the report was released, had described the general's command structure as "a labyrinth of confusion." The report criticized the four-star officer for failing to adequately control Karpinski, the military police commander whose leadership was also faulted.

The report added that Sanchez and his deputy Wojdakowski, and the headquarters staff in Baghdad, "should have seen that urgent demands were placed to higher headquarters" for more troops at the understaffed prison.

Yesterday, Warner, the Virginia senator and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, released a statement saying he strongly agreed with the conclusions of the Schlesinger report that commanders are responsible for their units.

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