Rumsfeld under fire for prison scandal
By Charles Aldinger and Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Pentagon civilian and military leaders and the military command in Iraq contributed to an environment in which prisoners suffered sadistic abuse at Abu Ghraib jail, a high-level panel has reported.
The independent four-member panel headed by former Defence Secretary James Schlesinger found that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to exercise proper oversight over confusing detention policies at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It marked the first time an official investigation -- one ordered by Rumsfeld in May -- assigned even indirect blame to the highest levels of the Pentagon in a prisoner abuse scandal that triggered international outrage. But Schlesinger and other panel members declined to call for Rumsfeld or Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the military joint chiefs, to quit.
"We found fundamental failures throughout all levels of command, from the soldiers on the ground to Central Command and to the Pentagon. These failures of leadership helped to set the conditions which allowed for the abusive practices to take place," panel member Tillie Fowler, a former Republican congresswoman from Florida, told a Pentagon briefing.
"The warning signs were there, but they went unnoticed or were ignored," she said.
The Pentagon failed to clarify and enforce how different types of prisoners were to be treated by the military and did not provide enough adequately organised and trained personnel to guard and question prisoners in Iraq, the report said.
It concluded that military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon "share this burden of responsibility" for command failures concerning detention and interrogation operations.
Rumsfeld said in a statement the panel had provided "important information and recommendations that will be of assistance in our ongoing efforts to improve detention operations."
The report did not find any explicit U.S. policy calling for the torture or inhumane treatment of detainees, nor did it find that Rumsfeld directly ordered abuses like stripping prisoners naked and sexually humiliating them.
It said, however, that the abuses were not carried out by just a few individuals, as the Bush administration has consistently maintained. Seven Army reservists have been charged with abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Schlesinger said there were 300 cases of abuse being investigated, many beyond Abu Ghraib, "So the abuses were not limited to a few individuals."
He described the situation at Abu Ghraib as chaos and the report cited sadistic and brutal abuse by Americans.
"It was a kind of 'Animal House' on the night shift," Schlesinger told reporters.
The report said prisoner interrogation policies in Iraq were inadequate and deficient. It said changes made by Rumsfeld between December 2002 and April 2003 in interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba contributed to uncertainties in the field as to what actions were allowed and what were forbidden.
An expanded list of more coercive techniques that Rumsfeld allowed at Guantanamo "migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq, where they were neither limited nor safeguarded," it found.
Schlesinger saw no need for Rumsfeld to quit. "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."
The panel included former Defence Secretary Harold Brown and retired Air Force General Charles Horner, who led the allied air campaign in the 1991 Gulf War.
The report assigned direct responsibility for the abuse to commanders on the scene up to the brigade level.
It condemned the "weak and ineffectual leadership" of Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade at Abu Ghraib. But Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time, failed to take strong action when he realised the extent of the leadership problems at the jail, the report said.
A separate Army investigation headed by Major General George Fay also faults Sanchez, a senior Army official said. The Fay report, to be released on Wednesday, painted Sanchez and his staff as preoccupied with combating an escalating insurgency and not focusing on the festering problems at Abu Ghraib.
This report also said military intelligence personnel kept a number of prisoners, dubbed "ghost detainees," off the books and hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the official added.
Edited by alis, 24 August 2004 - 11:20 PM.