Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday said his review has revealed no evidence that a senior civilian or military officer ordered the abuse of Iraqi detainees in the war on terrorism.
The military has started a series of investigations into the maltreatment of Iraqi insurgents and criminal suspects last fall at the Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities. One major question has been whether the physical, and in some cases, sexual abuse was ordered by senior commanders.
Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon press conference yesterday he has been briefed on most of the probes and that the scandal does not reach higher-ups.
“I have high confidence that I have not seen anything that suggests that a senior civilian or military official of the United States of America has acted in a manner that’s inconsistent with the president’s request that everyone be treated humanely,” the defense secretary said.
He said there was no order that “could be characterized as ordering or authorizing or permitting torture or acts that are inconsistent with our international treaty obligations or our laws or our values as a country.”
Mr. Rumsfeld is the latest high-profile Bush administration official to meet with the press to explain Iraq policy as the June 30 Iraqi sovereignty handover date approaches.
The defense secretary was particular critical of the Washington press corps coverage of Iraq as Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists continue to kill Americans and their Iraqi allies.
“This much is certain,” Mr. Rumsfeld said on a day when scores of Iraqis were killed by another terrorist’s car bomb. “Coalition forces cannot be defeated on the battlefield.
“The only way this effort could fail is if people were to be persuaded that the cause is lost, or that it’s not worth the pain — or if those who seem to measure progress in Iraq against a more perfect world convince others to throw in the towel. I’m confident that that will not happen.”
To date, the Army has charged seven military police soldiers, who served as Abu Ghraib guards, with abusing Iraqi detainees. One has pleaded guilty at a court-martial.
The Army continues to conduct a criminal probe that could result in charges against members of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. The unit was under pressure from higher-ups to extract information from a group of detainees who had information on cells of insurgents killing American troops.
Pentagon lawyers have ruled that all detainees in Iraq are covered by rules of the Geneva Conventions that guarantee humane treatment.
This differs with the policy for terror suspects captured in Afghanistan, whom the military deems enemy combatants, not prisoners of war, although the Pentagon says their treatment follows Geneva standards.
Even under the conventions, U.S. officials believe they can put pressure on detainees to provide information on terror networks or planned attacks. The techniques may include sleep- and light-deprivation, and restricted rations.
Mr. Rumsfeld was asked about his order in October not to notify the International Committee of the Red Cross about the capture of a member of the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam. The secretary said it was done at the request of CIA Director George J. Tenet.
The captive was a senior Ansar al-Islam member and perhaps had information on Abu Mousab Zarqawi, whose beheading of American Nicholas Berg was videotaped. Officials say they did not want the Red Cross to interrupt the interrogation.
Daniel J. Dell’Orto, the Defense Department’s principal deputy general counsel, said the Pentagon made a mistake.
“We should have registered him much sooner than we did,” he said. “It didn’t have to be at the very instant we brought him into our custody. And that’s something that we’ll just have to examine as to whether there was a breakdown in the quickness with which we registered him.”