Thursday, June 10, 2004

The three-star Army general overseeing the investigation of prisoner abuse in Iraq has asked to be recused from the probe in order to preserve its integrity and satisfy military rules, a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq who was overseeing the Abu Ghraib prison investigation, asked to be replaced after the lead investigator, Maj. Gen. George Fay, said he could not interview a higher ranking officer such as Gen. Sanchez without violating military rules, said Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman.

Gen. Sanchez, commander of all ground forces in Iraq, then agreed to recuse himself from the investigation. He asked Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, to see that another senior investigating officer is named as a replacement, Mr. Whitman said.

Gen. Abizaid asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld several days ago to appoint a new officer to review Gen. Fay’s investigative work and Mr. Rumsfeld is working on naming a three- or four-star general, Mr. Whitman said.

The new investigating officer would replace two-star Gen. Fay with a three- or four-star officer.

The move allows Gen. Sanchez, a three-star general, to be questioned by the new higher-ranking general as part of the investigation.

Mr. Whitman said the military and Pentagon are being careful to make sure that the investigation of the prison abuse charges is not compromised.

Gen. Sanchez ordered U.S. military intelligence officials to take control of Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison last year. He has denied any knowledge of the prison abuse.

The prison is where U.S. military police officers were photographed abusing Iraqi detainees.

“It doesn’t really complicate [the investigation] in any way,” Mr. Whitman said. “It will certainly ensure that it is comprehensive and transparent and complete, because we want to remove any doubt from people’s mind when we finish, not just this investigation but the 10 lines of inquiry that are open.”

Mr. Whitman said the fact that the prisoner abuse “may be confined to a small number of people, we want to make sure our look at this is very broad, very deep and very expansive.”

Gen. Sanchez said in congressional testimony that his orders related to military intelligence at the prison were directed at the security of the prison and did not direct that military police be used to conduct interrogations or to weaken prisoners’ resistance for questioning.

Gen. Fay sought and received permission to extend the duration of the prison investigation.

His report was expected to be finished next month, but the appointment of a new lead investigator could delay the probe, defense officials said.

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