- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Iraqi prisoner abuses were the actions of a handful of guards and their superiors who thought they were helping military interrogators, not the result of an official policy or order, according to the Army general who investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said the military police unit at Abu Ghraib was undisciplined, undermanned, poorly led and probably confused as to whether military intelligence officers or military police were in control at the building.

“We did not gain any evidence where it was an overall military intelligence policy of this sort,” Gen. Taguba told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.

“I think it was a matter of soldiers with their interaction with military intelligence personnel, who they perceived or thought to be competent authority, that were giving them or influencing their action to set the conditions for successful interrogations operations,” he said.

Some Republicans and Democrats, though, said they thought command decisions at higher levels set the stage for the abuses.

“I cannot help but suspect that others were involved — that military intelligence personnel were involved, or people further up the chain of command, in suggesting to the guards specific types of abuse designed to break these prisoners,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican.

The Senate held its second set of hearings yesterday on the burgeoning issue of abuse of Iraqi prisoners, which became a subject of public debate two weeks ago when photos of the abuse were first aired.

On Friday, the committee heard from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who testified even as some members called for him to resign or be fired by President Bush.

Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday received a long ovation from military employees and contractors at a Defense Department town hall meeting at the Pentagon, where he said the military shouldn’t be defined by the abuses and said military justice was already handling the cases.

“They acted responsibly and told the world that there were charges — allegations of abuses. The military, not the media, discovered these abuses. The military reported the abuses, not the media,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The military also got a boost at yesterday’s hearing from Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, who said he was more “outraged by the outrage” than he was by the abuse of the prisoners.

“They’re not there for traffic violations,” Mr. Inhofe said. “If they’re in cell block 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.”

He said the abuses must be put in the context of the war zone.

“I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons, looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying,” he said.

“I just don’t think we can take seven bad people. There are some 700 guards in Abu Ghraib. There are some 25 other prisons, about 15,000 guards all together, and seven of them did things they shouldn’t have done and they’re being punished for that,” Mr. Inhofe said.

Five generals and Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, testified before the committee yesterday, with most telling the panel that the military justice system had been handling the cases even before the photos were made public, and would have continued to do so regardless.

Gen. Taguba investigated the extent of abuse in the 800th Military Police Brigade, the unit that was responsible for the abuses uncovered so far.

Yesterday, he told the panel that he found clear violations of the Geneva Conventions in treatment of prisoners of war, but major abuse was limited to Abu Ghraib, as far as he could learn. He said six or seven guards were directly involved, and another 17 supervisors might be implicated.

All six witnesses said there was no official policy encouraging abuses as an acceptable interrogation technique, and several testified that there were a series of specific orders directing that prisoners be treated humanely.

“An order to soften up a detainee would not be a legal order, would it?” said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, to which Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance F. Smith, deputy director of the U.S. Central Command, replied, “No, sir.”

Some panel members said they believed the abuse reports implicate more than just the low-level soldiers and supervisors at the prison, with Democrats saying it was no coincidence Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller was sent to Iraq in August to increase the flow of intelligence coming from prisoners, and two months later the first abuses took place at Abu Ghraib.

“If indeed General Miller was sent from Guantanamo to Iraq for the purpose of acquiring more actionable intelligence from detainees,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, “then it is fair to conclude that the actions that are at point here in your report are in some way connected to General Miller’s arrival and his specific orders, however they were interpreted, by those MPs and the military intelligence that were involved.”

Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, promised to call more hearings until lawmakers got to the bottom of the issue.

“The plot is thickening,” Mr. Warner said.

Meanwhile, he and other Senate leaders have agreed to have the Pentagon make the photos and videos available to senators in a secure room for three hours today.

Senate leaders wanted to have the photos available, but did not want custody of them, so as not to become involved in issues over their public release or to harm the criminal prosecutions now ongoing.

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