- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba’s carefully documented report on the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and his congressional testimony yesterday paint a disturbing picture of the performance of the 800th Military Police Brigade there. The problems at the prison, Gen. Taguba told the Senate Armed Services Committee, resulted from a “failure of leadership from the brigade level on down, a lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision.”

What Gen. Taguba did not do — to the consternation of Democrats and many in the establishment media — is to provide any evidence for assertions that Pentagon higher-ups, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, were responsible for instituting policies that produced the abuses at Abu Ghraib. While Democrats like Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island repeatedly prodded Maj. Gen. Taguba for evidence linking senior Pentagon officials to the abuse of Iraqis in detention, the general emphasized that the crux of the problem was the disastrous performance of the 800th, commanded by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski — not the actions of Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputies.

Gen. Karpinski was responsible for overseeing the prison, which held between 6,000 and 7,000 detainees last year between October and December — the period when abuse was documented. While the detainees included persons suspected of involvement in petty crimes, the population also included leaders of the brutal insurgency, Ba’athist comrades of former dictator Saddam Hussein and jihadists. (Some of these groups overlapped). One of those in custody was suspected of raping a fellow detainee, a 15-year-old boy.

According to Gen. Taguba, the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was the work of a small number of low-level military personnel. Many of the problems inherent in the structure of the 800th “were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of [Gen Karpinski’s] command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among soldiers,” he found.

In her defense, Gen. Karpinski says that she had no idea that the abuse was going on. She blames the problems on military intelligence forces who operated the prison during the time in question and claims she has been made a scapegoat by higher-ups and has suggested that the Taguba findings were unduly harsh because she is a woman.

In sum, no evidence that has been put forward thus far suggests that Mr. Rumsfeld’s job is or should be in jeopardy, as his harshest Democratic critics suggest. President Bush knows that, as his secretary of defense during two wars (and one of the most powerful advocates of liberating Iraq from Saddam), Mr. Rumsfeld’s political future is inexorably linked with the future of the Bush presidency.

All of that said, important questions remain unanswered as to how the situation at Abu Ghraib deteriorated. At yesterday’s hearing, Gen. Taguba and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone disagreed as to whether military-intelligence officials or military police were in charge of the prison. Mr. Cambone acknowledged that the Army is still unable to provide a full accounting of how the abuse occurred. It is essential that this information be made public as expeditiously as possible.

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