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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

11 May 2004

Discipline, Training, Leadership Scored in Prisoner Abuse Case

Investigating general sees failure from "brigade commander on down"

By David Anthony Denny
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Top U.S. Army investigator Major General Antonio Taguba told the Senate Armed Services Committee May 11 that the abuses of Iraqi prisoners by several guards and interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad happened because of "failure in leadership ... from the brigade commander on down; lack of discipline; no training whatsoever; and no supervision."

Taguba, Army deputy commanding general for support of the coalition forces land component command, made that statement in answer to Committee Chairman John Warner's question, "In simple words, [in] your own soldier's language, how did this happen?" Taguba added "supervisory omission was rampant" at the end of his reply.

Warner, a Republican senator from Virginia, said in his opening remarks, "This degree of breakdown in military leadership represents an extremely rare chapter in the otherwise proud history of our armed forces. It defies common sense and contradicts all the values for which America stands." He called for "a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees consistent with our law and protections" of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Also giving testimony to the committee was Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. In his opening statement, Cambone said, "We are dismayed by what took place. The Iraqi detainees are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. We had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't do that. That was wrong. ... To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology."

Cambone pointed out that "[f]rom the outset of the war in Iraq, the United States government has recognized and made clear that the Geneva Conventions apply to our activity in that country."

Under questioning by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's ranking minority member, a disagreement arose between Taguba and Cambone over who was in effective charge -- "tactical control" -- of the prison. Reading from Taguba's investigative report (given to the committee on May 4), Levin said a change of command order made on November 19, 2003, "‘effectively made a military intelligence officer rather than an MP [military police] officer responsible for the MP units conducting detainee operations'" at Abu Ghraib. "Is that your conclusion?" Levin asked.

"Yes, sir," Taguba replied, "because the order gave [the intelligence officer] tactical control of all units that were residing at Abu Ghraib."

Levin then asked Cambone, "Do you disagree with what the general just said?"

"Yes sir," Cambone answered. "I do. I do not believe that the order placing Colonel Pappas [the military intelligence officer] in charge gave him the authority to address the MPs' activities in direct [operational control] conditions."

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain asked Taguba whether the abuses resulted from "an overall military intelligence policy to ‘soften up' detainees for interrogation." Taguba, however, said, "we did not gain any evidence where it was an overall military intelligence policy of this sort. 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."

Republican Senator James Imhofe of Oklahoma said he was among those "more outraged by the outrage" of some committee members than "by the treatment" of the Iraqi prisoners. The detainees, he said, were "not there for traffic violations. ... [T]hey'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. I would guess that these prisoners wake up every morning thanking Allah that Saddam Hussein is not in charge."

Imhofe also suggested that an important reason that officials higher up in the military and civilian chain of command were not given details on the full nature and extent of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib was because of the problem of "undue command influence." Air Force Lieutenant General Lance Smith, deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, agreed with Imhofe.

Smith said that should high-ranking military officers of Central Command say something like "we must take this action against these individuals," that would constitute undue command influence on those who would making judgments on the accused personnel. It "would influence and bias their decisions," Smith said.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas asked Taguba whether the actions of the accused military personnel resulted from changes in policy at the prison. Taguba answered that "we didn't find any changes" in policies. Rather, he said, "there were interactions between the guards and the military interrogators at that level."

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, in questioning Taguba, brought out the information that Brigadier General Janice Karpinsky, in overall command of all of the detention facilities in Iraq, challenged the November 2003 delegation of "authority that was given to Colonel Pappas" at Abu Ghraib, Taguba said.

"And what was the result of the challenge?" Nelson asked.

"Sir, it created a confusion and friction between those two commanders," Taguba replied.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, speaking near the end of the session, said, "I think we're failing the country ourselves up here a bit. I think we're overly criticizing this. ... I think Republicans and Democrats have a different view of a lot of things, but it seems to me that investigating a prison abuse scandal ... should pull you together, not tear you apart."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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