- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The top U.S. commander for Iraq and Afghanistan acknowledged yesterday his command failed to properly handle the Red Cross’ written reports of prisoner abuse filed before and after U.S. soldier misconduct at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

“If I may, sir, this system is broken,” responded Army Gen. John Abizaid, after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and other senators listed three reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that never reached top officers for corrective action.

“I do not recall having a lot to do with this particular report or paying as much attention to it,” Gen. Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was referring to a May 2003 Red Cross report that listed problems dealing with prisoners of war and detainees in the chaotic days that followed the fall of Baghdad.

“We have a real problem with ICRC reports and the way that they’re handled, and the way that they move up and down the chain of command,” added the general. One report specifically touched on abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

But Gen. Abizaid said that many of the ICRC complaints stemmed from “what happens at the point of detention, where soldiers fighting for their lives detain people, which is a very brutal and bloody event.”

The Abu Ghraib abuses finally reached the attention of Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, after a soldier went to top officials in January with stark photographs of the sexual and physical misconduct against Iraqi prisoners.

The mishandling of such Red Cross reports may explain why the American military did not act to clean up abuses at Abu Ghraib until the lone soldier came forward.

“I believe that I have taken the proper steps to ensure that such behavior is not repeated,” Gen. Sanchez told the committee. The general said he has renamed Abu Ghraib, where Saddam Hussein’s agents tortured his political enemies, as “Camp Redemption.”

The Senate panel is conducting a series of public hearings into abuse last fall by military intelligence officers and military police at Abu Ghraib.

Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, announced that the Pentagon had turned over a new computer disk containing more photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who conducted the Army’s first investigation into the abuse, told the committee last week he found no policy that directed the mistreatment.

Gen. Abizaid said, “I don’t believe that the culture of abuse existed in my command. … I believe that we have isolated incidents that have taken place.”

The general made it clear he did not hear of the problem until the soldier came forward. He recited several messages he sent out during the war ordering U.S. personnel to treat Iraqis properly.

Pentagon officials have said they believe the scandal is limited to a small number of Army personnel and private interpreters on the night shift at Abu Ghraib.

But the Red Cross reports complain of other abuses at other detainee camps since Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003.

The Denver Post reported yesterday that the military is investigating five Iraqi deaths as potential homicides at the hands of Americans who might have used brutal interrogation techniques.

One central question in the Abu Ghraib investigation is whether recommendations from Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller in any way led to the abuse.

Gen. Miller, who ran the detention center at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was so successful in gleaning intelligence from Afghanistan war detainees that he was sent to Iraq. He inspected operations and recommended that military police play a larger role in interrogation process to aid military intelligence personnel who did the questioning.

Gen. Miller said his recommendations, which were accepted by Gen. Sanchez, never suggested the military police get involved in maltreatment.

“The recommendation was that they conduct passive intelligence gathering during this process and, by that, that meant to observe the detainees, to see how their behavior was, to see who they would speak with, and then to report that to the interrogators,” Gen. Miller testified.

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