Top Army Officers Are Cleared in Abuse Cases

Washington Post

An Army inspector general’s report has cleared senior Army officers of wrongdoing in the abuse of military prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere, government officials familiar with the findings said yesterday.

The only Army general officer recommended for punishment for the failures that led to abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan is Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, who was in charge of U.S. prison facilities in Iraq as commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade in late 2003 and early 2004. Several sources said Karpinski is expected to receive an administrative reprimand for dereliction of duty.

Karpinski, who has said she would fight such a charge, did not return calls yesterday. Her attorney, Neal A. Puckett, has not seen the report but said other general officers share responsibility for shortfalls. “I don’t think it’s fair, and it continues to make her the scapegoat for this entire situation, which has been her feeling all along,” Puckett said.

The investigation essentially found no culpability on the part of Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and three of his senior deputies, ruling that allegations they failed to prevent or stop abuses were “unsubstantiated.” A military source said a 10-member team began the investigation in October and based its conclusions on the 10 major defense inquiries into abuse and interviews with 37 senior officials, including L. Paul Bremer, who led the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. The report has not been released.

Of those 10 major inquiries, the inspector general’s was designed to be the Army’s final word on the responsibility of senior leadership in relation to the abuses. It was the only investigation designed to assign blame, if any, within the Army’s senior leadership. Questions about Sanchez’s and other senior leaders’ role in approving harsh interrogation tactics — including the use of military working dogs to intimidate detainees — have swirled since photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib surfaced almost exactly a year ago.

Army officials said yesterday that they have identified 125 soldiers and officers who were either tried at courts-martial or issued administrative punishments for detainee abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far, seven low-ranking soldiers have faced the most serious charges in the sexual humiliation and physical abuse cases arising out of Abu Ghraib; five have pleaded guilty or have been found guilty, and two have courts-martial scheduled for next month. Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., who was characterized as the ringleader of the abuses there, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The administrative reprimand Karpinski is expected to receive is the kind of punishment that can end a military career, and officials said it is possible she could be relieved of her command as a result.

Sources close to the investigation said two high-ranking military intelligence officers who worked at Abu Ghraib — Col. Thomas M. Pappas and Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan — could face criminal charges or disciplinary measures for their roles at the prison. Both supervised interrogations, and Sanchez ultimately gave them responsibility for the entire Abu Ghraib operation.

“The dereliction happened at the brigade level and below,” said one defense official familiar with the report.

In a statement released by the Army yesterday, Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the top Army spokesman, did not comment on the inspector general’s findings but said the Army has thoroughly investigated the abuses. In the 10 major investigations, more than 1,700 people have been interviewed and more than 15,000 pages of documents assembled, according to the Army.

“We will not rush to judgment in these cases or in any others,” Brooks said. “The recommendations and decisions are consistent with, and appropriate to, the findings of these very thorough investigations.”

Top-level investigations into the abuses have largely stopped short of calling them systemic, but some found major problems with the way detention operations in Iraq were conducted after President Bush declared major combat in Iraq over in April 2003. A lack of planning and resources, the reports generally agreed, led to the U.S. detention system getting overwhelmed and fostered frustration with a lack of actionable intelligence with which to fight the insurgency. In addition, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have since proposed an overhaul of the military’s wartime detention operations.

Previous inquiries have addressed the roles of distinct military disciplines at the prisons. Some of the probes identified senior leadership as being indirectly responsible for the climate that led to abuses but made no findings on culpability. Responsibility for such findings was given to the Army inspector general.

A comprehensive report about Abu Ghraib by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay concluded that there were failures at the highest levels, mainly in oversight lapses. He found that Sanchez and his deputy “failed to ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation operations” and “reacted inadequately” to warnings that abuse was occurring.

Sanchez’s top intelligence adviser, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, learned of abuses in late 2003 after commissioning an independent investigation, but the Abu Ghraib abuses did not get command attention until January 2004, when a soldier turned over digital photographs of some of the abuses.

Fast, who recently assumed command of the Army’s intelligence center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., also was cleared of wrongdoing.

An overarching, independent analysis of the abuses by James R. Schlesinger said senior leadership should bear responsibility. “Commanders are responsible for all their units do or fail to do, and should be held accountable for their action or inaction,” the report said.

Although the Army has not officially announced the results of the investigation, senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee staff were briefed on the results this week, Hill staff members said. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the committee, attended a portion of the briefing. Staff members with Sen. Carl M. Levin’s (D-Mich.) office were briefed, but a spokesperson for Levin declined to comment on the issue.

Warner has been adamant about getting to the bottom of senior leadership responsibility, and he issued a statement yesterday in which he said it is “absolutely essential to determine what went wrong, up and down the chain of command, both civilian and military.”

Warner did not specifically address the findings, but he vowed to have another Armed Services Committee hearing about detainee abuses after the reviews are complete, saying that he wants “to examine the adequacy of those reviews, and to offer the opportunity to senior Department and military leadership to address the issue of accountability.”

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