Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Confused interrogation rules and Pentagon leadership failures contributed to the abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, but the abuse was not the result of approved military policies, says a blue ribbon panel of defense specialists.

“Still, the abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline,” the panel concluded.

The Pentagon panel, headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, also agreed that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should not resign over the scandal involving military personnel who abused detained Iraqis.

“Let me say that his resignation would be a boon to all of America’s enemies, and consequently I think that it would be a misfortune if it were to take place,” Mr. Schlesinger told reporters at the Pentagon in releasing a report of the four-member panel.

Mr. Schlesinger, a former CIA director, said the U.S. and world reaction to the prisoner abuse has had a chilling effect on military interrogators that is hampering efforts to gather intelligence from captured terrorists.

“A chilling effect on interrogation means that we take in less intelligence; that intelligence may come in belatedly, too late to take necessary corrective actions,” Mr. Schlesinger said.

Mr. Schlesinger said the panel did not find cases of torture, although it focused on policies more than individual abuses.

The report stated that the most graphic abuses — those revealed in April through photographs of naked Iraqi prisoners being stacked in piles and snarling dogs being used to intimidate other prisoners — were criminal acts by soldiers acting improperly outside of higher authority.

“There was chaos at Abu Ghraib,” Mr. Schlesinger said.

“The events of October through December 2003 on the night shift of Tier 1 at Abu Ghraib prison were acts of brutality and purposeless sadism,” the report states.

However, the photographed abuses were not part of authorized interrogations and were not part of interrogations aimed at gathering intelligence.

“It was a kind of animal house on the night shift,” Mr. Schlesinger said.

The report concluded that the abuses at Abu Ghraib “would have been avoided with proper training, leadership and oversight.”

The panel also criticized the military’s planning in Iraq, noting that “there was not only a failure to plan for a major insurgency, but also quickly and adequately adapt to the insurgency that followed after major combat operations,” the report said.

A U.S. military police force of about 90 soldiers was tasked with guarding 7,000 Iraqi prisoners. “Abu Ghraib was seriously overcrowded, under-resourced and under continual attack,” the report said.

The report blamed the night-shift abuses on noncommissioned officers in charge during the shift. One participant in the abuses was quoted in the report as saying the acts were done “just for the fun of it.”

The report said interrogation rules were first developed for use in questioning al Qaeda terrorists captured in Afghanistan who were brought to a prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In Iraq in 2003, prisoner interrogation rules were a mixture of traditional guidelines used by the Army for captured enemy prisoners and tougher standards authorized for use in Guantanamo and used by U.S. special operations commandos in Afghanistan, the report said.

The report stated that as of August there were 300 incidents of suspected abuse and after 155 investigations, a total of 66 incidents were found to be cases of abuse of detainees under control of U.S. forces.

Among the 66 cases, eight took place at Guantanamo, three in Afghanistan and 55 in Iraq. Since the war on terror was launched after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government has operated about 17 prison sites in Iraq, 25 in Afghanistan and the facility in Cuba. A total of 50,000 prisoners have been in custody since November 2001.

The report criticized Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of forces in Iraq, for not taking strong acton after learning of leadership problems at Abu Ghraib in November 2003.

The panel also faulted Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade at Abu Ghraib, for leadership failures.

Gen. Karpinski has denied knowing about the abuses before they become public, and has blamed military intelligence personnel for pressuring police to soften up prisoners.

Military authorities are conducting numerous investigations into prisoner abuses and so far seven military police soldiers are facing criminal charges. As many as two dozen or more military intelligence soldiers also may be charged.

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