U.S. Army abuse probe clears 4 senior officers

Posted in United States | 25-Apr-05 | Author: Eric Schmitt| Source: International Herald Tribune

The Army has exonerated Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
A high-level U.S. Army investigation has cleared four of the most senior army officers overseeing prison policies and operations in Iraq of responsibility for the abuses of prisoners there, congressional and administration officials said.

Among those exonerated was Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who was the top commander in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. He was the highest-ranking officer to face allegations of leadership failure in connection with the scandal, but has not been accused of criminal misconduct.

Barring the discovery of new evidence, the inquiry by the army's inspector general and judge advocate general closes the army's book on whether the highest-ranking officers in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal should be held accountable for command failings that past reviews have described.

Only one of the top five officers, whose roles the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee had asked the army to review, has received punishment. That officer, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, an army reservist who commanded the military police unit at the Abu Ghraib prison, was relieved of her command and given a written reprimand. She has repeatedly said that she has been scapegoated for the failures of superiors.

The findings come nearly a year after shocking photographs of American military police abusing naked Iraqi prisoners were first broadcast on national television, and an internal army report chronicled the virtual collapse of the command structure at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. The misconduct took place in the autumn of 2003.

Only a small number of mostly enlisted soldiers have faced courts-martial for their actions at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere; dozens of others have faced administrative discipline for abusing detainees at other sites and battlefield interrogation stations across Iraq.

An independent panel led by a former U.S. defense secretary, James Schlesinger, concluded in August that Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq at the time, failed to make sure that his staff was dealing with Abu Ghraib's problems. A separate army investigation, called the Kern-Fay-Jones report, found that at one point Sanchez approved the use of severe interrogation practices that led indirectly to some of the abuses.

The Schlesinger inquiry last summer also determined that Sanchez's deputy, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, failed to act quickly enough to make urgent requests to higher headquarters for more troops at the understaffed prison.

But those inquiries were not empowered to recommend any punishments; that was left up to the army.

The army review, by the inspector general, Lieutenant General Stanley Green, exonerated Sanchez and Wojdakowski of the allegations that were included in one or more of the 10 investigations over the past year into the abuse.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced the findings. "It's just another effort to paper over the scandal," he said in a telephone interview.

Rumsfeld and Tenet assailed

A human rights group has issued a report calling for a special prosecutor to examine the conduct of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of the United States and the former director of central intelligence, George Tenet, in issues related to the abuse of detainees, The New York Times reported from Washington.

The group, Human Rights Watch, said it had found no indication that Rumsfeld warned those under his command to halt abusive treatment of detainees and said that he should be investigated for abuses under a doctrine of "command responsibility." Rumsfeld has said he made it clear to subordinates that he did not condone mistreatment.

The report found that Tenet had been responsible for policies that sent detainees to countries where they were tortured, which made him potentially liable as an accomplice to torture.