- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

The unacceptable abuse of Iraqi prisoners by a few ill-trained U.S. soldiers is obviously a serious setback — our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world.

But it should not, and I believe will not, deter us from keeping Iraq out of the hands of the thugs who have murdered thousands of Iraqi civilians and killed hundreds of U.S. and coalition troops.

Physical assaults on some two-dozen prisoners or detainees in Iraq (two of whom were killed by U.S. soldiers) and in Afghanistan are under investigation. At least six military police officers face criminal charges. Six U.S. officers have received career-ending reprimands. Others will likely face charges of misconduct and abuse.

President Bush, in interviews on Arab television, has condemned the abuses and promised “justice will be delivered.” Mr. Bush’s intentions were echoed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other senior government officials. The word has gone out to the Iraqi people and the larger Arab world such actions are un-American and will not be tolerated.

Most of the abuses occurred at two maximum-security interrogation cellblocks at the Abu Ghraib Prison, just outside of Baghdad, site of the torture chambers run by Saddam Hussein’s butchers before American soldiers liberated Iraq.

There are no excuses for the physical mistreatment of prisoners, but, as Mr. Bush pointed out on Arab television, these abuses “represent the actions of a few people” who should have known better. Senior military officials are to blame as well for putting Army personnel into prison security and interrogation support roles for which they were untrained and, in too many cases, unsupervised.

It has also become clear soldiers who participated in these abuses were being pushed by higher-ups to put more pressure on the detainees to get them to talk. The selected insurgents placed in these two cellblocks were believed to have a wealth of information about terrorist leaders, their whereabouts and future attacks on U.S. soldiers.

“They were putting a lot of pressure on the interrogation teams to get more information,” Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski told The Washington Times’ military correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

Gen. Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, was warden of all 16 Army-run prisons in Iraq. She portrays the central problem that led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib as too many prisoners and too few military personnel. Notably, she singles out Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who formerly ran the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and now is in charge of all the Iraqi prisons, for much of the blame.

Gen. Miller’s central mission when he was sent to Iraq last September was to extract more intelligence from the thousands of detainees there.

“He wanted all the interrogation teams in one location,” Karpinski told The Washington Times. “The problem was he had 800 MPs to guard 600 [in Guantanamo]. We had 130 MPs for about 8,000 detainees.”

Not only were the small number of MPs stretched to the breaking point, their lack of training was a scandal waiting to happen, according to a top-secret investigation completed in March by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba.

Gen. Taguba’s report concluded that “the 800th MP Brigade was not adequately trained for a mission that included operating a prison or penal institution at Abu Ghraib Prison complex,” and that the 800th MP Brigade “as a whole was under-strength for the mission for which it was tasked.”

Gen. Karpinski has been admonished in writing for what the Army calls command failures. But her observations about the pressure placed on MPs by Gen. Miller and others to “Gitmo-ize” interrogations, together with Gen. Taguba’s report, help explain what led to these abuses.

A few more things need to be said about the prison scandal.

(1) Some of the interrogation methods yielded intelligence information that helped save lives of U.S. soldiers and of Iraqi civilians who want the terrorist insurgency to end. In most cases the questioning of detainees has been professional, persistent — tough but humane.

(2) The prison population in the two cellblocks at Abu Ghraib was made up of Saddam henchmen, former Ba’ath Party security officers who ran his torture mills, and criminals who joined the insurgency just to kill Americans. Some of the detainees are accused of killing U.S. soldiers and would no doubt kill again if freed.

(3) No matter how shocking the latest abuses appear, they pale in comparison to the amputations, electrocutions, beheadings, rapes and other instances of real torture that Iraq’s sadistic rulers engaged in at Abu Ghraib before Saddam’s terrorist regime was toppled.

(4) U.S. troops and their officers have carried out their jobs with the utmost professionalism, intelligence and courage. It bears repeating: These abuses were done by a handful soldiers out of 135,000 servicemen.

(5) Finally, millions of Iraqis today are working, traveling, worshipping, going to school, marrying, reading daily newspapers and expressing grievances without fear of reprisal, because brave American soldiers sacrificed their lives to free their country. They — and we — should never forget that.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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