Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Rumsfeld shakes blame in Abu Ghraib prison scandal

BLAME GAME The investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal found Defense Secretary Rumsfeld did not directly encourage the torture of prisoners


US Army General Paul Kern, during a press conference, Wednesday, at the Pentagon shows a slide indicating the findings in the US Army report on the investigation of intelligence activities at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where prisoners in US custody were abused.


The release of two in-depth investigative reports this week on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal appears to have put to rest suspicions that US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered or encouraged the use of abusive tactics against Iraqi detainees.

Rumsfeld and other defense leaders are faulted for lapses in oversight of the detention and interrogation system in Iraq, but unless the House or Senate launch new efforts to undermine Rumsfeld it seems the scandal will not force him from office, as appeared possible last spring.

Some senior military officers, however, may be in jeopardy. Disciplinary action has been recommended for a few commanders -- none above the rank of colonel -- and the three-star general who was in charge of the US military in Iraq at the time, Ricardo Sanchez, is cited in both new reports for leadership failures that might stop him from getting promoted to a fourth star.

Taken together, the two reports -- one by an independent panel of defense experts and one by a four-star Army general -- provide what amounts to the Pentagon's best answer to the central question that arose when photos of soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners shocked the world last April.

The question was: How could this have happened in a military that Rumsfeld and others call the best in the world?

The short answer is that a relatively small number of deviant soldiers (about three dozen) committed sadistic acts, knowingly violating Army ethics and common standards of decency. And some of their leaders were derelict in failing to provide supervision and support.

"We learned there were leaders who knew about this misconduct, knew better, and did nothing," said General Paul Kern, who oversaw an Army investigation of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which ran the interrogation operation at the Abu Ghraib facility near Baghdad. His report was released Wednesday.

Of those who committed the abuse, Kern said some simply chose to break the law with behavior he said ranged from inhumane -- like exposing naked prisoners to extreme cold -- to sadistic, like using guard dogs to frighten two Iraqi adolescents into involuntarily soiled themselves.

A part of the broader answer is that the Army was not fully prepared for the instability and insurgency that took hold after the fall of Baghdad. It didn't have enough people available to properly run the prison and interrogation system; many were not well trained for that duty, and those at Abu Ghraib were ill-equipped to deal with insurgent attacks on the prison.

Some in Congress had suggested that Rumsfeld indirectly encouraged excesses in the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq, but neither the Army nor the independent investigation found any evidence of this.

The independent panel, headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, did conclude that Rumsfeld should have made fuller use of his legal staff in developing an interrogation policy for Iraq before the war began. More broadly, it said the Pentagon leaders failed to adjust quickly to an unanticipated Iraqi insurgency that began in the summer last year, putting great strain on the people and resources devoted to running the prisons.

Asked Wednesday after the release of the Army report whether Rumsfeld should go, Sen. John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters he agreed with Schlesinger's view that Rumsfeld's departure would be a "boon to all of America's enemies."

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