Pentagon report on prisoner abuse met with skepticism; probe to go on

March 11, 2005, Friday, FINAL EDITION
BYLINE: Tom Squitieri
LENGTH: 621 words

WASHINGTON — The leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Thursday that their panel will continue to investigate senior military and civilian defense officials over any role they may have had in the abuse of detainees in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, now that the 10th Pentagon probe has concluded there was “no single, over-arching explanation” for the abuses.

The report by the Navy’s inspector general, Vice Adm. Albert Church, concluded there was no deliberate high-level policy that set the stage for detainee abuse, such as the incidents that came to light last year at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Instead, Church’s report blamed poor leadership at lower levels, in part because of changing and murky interrogation rules.

After 10 reviews, no senior military or civilian defense official has been directly implicated in any of the abuses. But Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee chairman, said that “much work is yet to be done” before closing “this very distressing chapter in our military history.”

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the panel’s senior Democrat, said the Pentagon probes have been conducted by officers subordinate to “the officials whose policies and actions they are investigating.” He added that he could “only conclude that the Defense Department is not able to assess accountability at senior levels.” Levin said that “only an independent review can fully and objectively assess both the institutional and personal accountability for the abuse of detainees.”

Warner said he’s “not trying to make any judgments” about the role of higher-ups until the committee finishes its reviews. Among the senior officers he said are being reviewed are Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is credited with developing interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and who was later named to run U.S. prisons in Iraq; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top military commander in Iraq at the time of prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, and Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, head of intelligence under Sanchez.

Church said it was “a missed opportunity that no specific guidance on interrogation techniques was provided to commanders responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq,” as it was to commanders at Guantanamo Bay.

“We cannot be sure how the number and severity of abuses would have been curtailed had there been early and consistent advice from higher levels,” the report said.

The 21-page summary of the Church report made public Thursday cited “a failure to react to early warning signs of abuse,” particularly at Abu Ghraib, but Church would not provide details in public. The summary also said that “a breakdown of good order and discipline at some units” could account for other incidents of abuse. It also said that in three cases, medical personnel “may have attempted to misrepresent the circumstances of the (prisoner) deaths, possibly to disguise detainee abuse.” Those cases were sent to the Army surgeon general for review.

Human rights groups were critical of the report. “This is the mother of all whitewashes,” said Tom Malinowski, head of the Washington, D.C., office of Human Rights Watch. “There have been a number of reports and some have been reasonably good. This one seemed, from start to finish, drafted with one purpose in mind: to exonerate any and all policymakers.”

Amnesty International said that while low-ranking U.S. servicemembers have faced investigation and prosecution, “apparently wearing a suit confers immunity from the same level of scrutiny.” To eliminate the conditions that allow abuse, “senior officials need to be held to account, not placed beyond the reach of investigation,” the group said in a statement.

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