U.S. works to repair damage of Abu Ghraib

USA TODAY
April 28, 2005, Thursday, FIRST EDITION
BYLINE: Dave Moniz and Tom Squitieri
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 6A
LENGTH: 1209 words
DATELINE: WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON — Seven years ago, Army Reserve Col. Walter Schumm, an authority on the handling of POWs, co-authored an essay predicting trouble if the military did not pay more attention to the potential for prisoner abuse in wartime.

In his paper, published in the journal Military Review, Schumm wrote, “It only takes one improperly trained or motivated soldier among a thousand to commit an offense that would cause our nation considerable embarrassment.”

Last year, a group of Army Reserve MPs, many with little or no training in prison operations, was revealed to have abused and tortured Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. As Schumm foresaw, that damaged the United States’ standing in the world.

More needed for mundane jobs During war preparations, the Pentagon has focused far more on winning in combat and far less on the more mundane matters of watching prisoners.

When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, for example, the Army lacked enough military police soldiers, including those trained in managing prisons.

Andrew Bacevich, a former Army officer who is the director of Boston University’s Center for International Relations, said that since Vietnam, the U.S. military has been organized to fight “neat and tidy” wars. The Persian Gulf War in 1991, which ended quickly and decisively, reinforced that idea.

“It’s glamorous to fly fighter jets and fight in the infantry, but it’s not glamorous to fly C-130s or be assigned to a water-purification unit,” Bacevich said, listing other military jobs he said are essential but sometimes overlooked.

In the wake of 11 investigations and reports into what went wrong at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities, the Army recognized it had too few soldiers assigned to one of the more mundane jobs — prisoner control. So it is rushing to add more than 3,000 MP soldiers trained to handle detainees.

Since the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Army has investigated 353 detainee abuse cases worldwide, including 70 involving detainee deaths. Of the 353, 225 are closed, and 135 actions have been taken against 124 soldiers, including 33 courts-martial, 67 non-judicial punishments, 18 reprimands and 17 soldiers kicked out of the Army or removed from command.

From Feb. 18, 2004, to Dec. 31, 2004, the United States released a total of 9,271 detainees from all its prisons in Iraq, according to the Army and U.S. Central Command. The military could not immediately provide statistics for the number of prisoners released from Abu Ghraib, which is still in operation.

Making abuse less likely The Army has also enacted a number of changes designed to prevent future abuses, including identifying unacceptable interrogation methods, adding layers of oversight and requiring that all reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross be forwarded immediately up the chain of command to senior military officers and civilians at the Pentagon.

Those changes will help make prisoner abuses much less likely, said Army Col. Peter Champagne, who is helping oversee many of the new policies being put into place at the Pentagon.

Since April 2004, when some of the changes were being enacted, abuse allegations have dropped by about 80%, according to the Army.

Those changes, however, will do little to fix America’s image abroad, said Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He said Abu Ghraib will make other nations less willing to listen to the United States moralize on human rights issues.

“There is a lot of polling data that show a horrifying shift in unfavorable attitudes toward us,” Freeman said, noting that some of the shift in opinion had begun before the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted in the media in late April 2004.

Both the Pew Research Center and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland show a steady decline in positive feelings about America since 2002 — even among close U.S. allies such as Canada and Great Britain.

Michael Dimock, a Pew research associate director, said a poll in 2004 released one month before the public became aware of Abu Ghraib showed a drop in respect for the United States in most countries surveyed.

This week, Human Rights Watch issued a report on detainee abuse and said the United States should name a special prosecutor to investigate Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former CIA director George Tenet.

Reed Brody, special counsel for Human Rights Watch, said soldiers at the bottom of the chain of command had taken blame for the abuses and “there has to be some accountability” for senior officers to prevent future abuses.

Human Rights Watch is a privately funded organization based in New York that monitors human rights policies around the world.

A handful of low-ranking enlisted soldiers have been charged criminally in the scandal. The Army has yet to release the results of its latest investigation into prisoner abuses, which cleared four high-ranking military officers serving in Iraq at the time of Abu Ghraib, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

Sanchez commanded U.S. forces in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib sandal and approved the use of military guard dogs in interrogations.

Damage to careers Schumm, a Kansas State University professor who once commanded an MP battalion, said high-ranking officers should have been disciplined.

In part, Schumm said, that’s because high-level officials wanted to see “how much could be gotten away with for as long as possible.”

Dan Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said that although senior officers in Iraq weren’t fired or charged with criminal acts, they have nonetheless suffered.

“It is not always the conviction for the crime or the court-martial that can doom a career,” Goure said. “Everybody associated with that has been frozen in place or not allowed to rise.”

What’s different since scandal

Among the changes:

*The Army has issued new regulations that outline what military intelligence officers can and cannot do during interrogations. The Defense Department says the new rules, which are classified, are designed to remove ambiguity. Included in the new regulations: Military guard dogs are prohibited under any circumstance.

* The Pentagon has created several new offices that will monitor the treatment of prisoners. They include a two-star general in Iraq who oversees detainee operations and a deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs. The Pentagon also now mandates that all Red Cross reports on prisoner treatment be immediately forwarded to the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and to military lawyers.

*The Army is adding 35 new military police units to address shortages, including MPs who are trained in managing prisoners. The unit that was assigned to Abu Ghraib at the time of the scandal was a seldom-used Army Reserve unit from Maryland, called up because of a shortage of MPs, especially those trained in prison management.

*The Marines now require that Navy medical personnel examine all detainees before or after interrogations by Marines, and each detainee must be examined every 24 hours. The Navy does the Marines’ medical work