Army General Says Abuse Caused by Faulty Leadership
Taguba Makes First Appearance Since Writing Report on Abu Ghraib
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2004; 4:00 PM
The Army general who investigated the abuse of U.S.-held prisoners in Iraq today blamed a "failure of leadership" for the problem but said he found no evidence that the soldiers who committed the mistreatment were acting on orders from senior officers.
Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba told the Senate Armed Services Committee that six or seven military police at the Abu Ghraib prison acted "on their own volition" in committing the abuses in collaboration with several low-level military intelligence interrogators, including civilian contractors, whom they considered competent authorities.
"At the end of the day, a few soldiers and civilians conspired to abuse and conduct egregious acts of violence against detainees and other civilians outside the bounds of international laws and the Geneva Convention," Taguba told the committee during three hours of testimony on the scandal that has riveted the nation for the past two weeks.
In a last-minute change, reportedly at the behest of the Pentagon, Taguba appeared jointly before the committee with two senior Defense Department officials: Stephen A. Cambone, the undersecretary for intelligence, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance L. Smith, the deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command.
Taguba, 53, the author of a 6,000-page report on the 800th Military Police Brigade, the unit with overall responsibility for Abu Ghraib, agreed with Cambone and Smith that the soldiers at the notorious prison west of Baghdad were not committing the abuses under orders from higher-ups. But Taguba expressed disagreement with Cambone over who had ultimate control over the prison and over the appropriateness of collaboration between military police and intelligence operatives to set the conditions for interrogating detainees.
Taguba, the deputy commanding general for support of the Coalition Forces Land Component Command in Kuwait, appeared before the Senate committee as part of its efforts to obtain a full accounting of the prisoner abuse and ensure that it does not happen again.
In an opening statement, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the committee, said a hearing last week, in which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld apologized for the abuse, "barely scratched the surface" of the issues before the panel, including the responsibility of senior officers for creating "an environment in which the abuses could occur."
Levin said, "The despicable actions described in General Taguba's report not only reek of abuse, they reek of an organized effort and methodical preparation for interrogation." He said the collars used on prisoners, the military dogs that intimidated and bit them and the cameras that photographed them in sexually compromising positions "did not suddenly appear out of thin air" and that the abuses "were not the spontaneous actions of lower-ranking enlisted personnel who lacked the proper supervision." Rather, Levin said, "These attempts to extract information from prisoners by abusive and degrading methods were clearly planned and suggested by others."
Asked by the committee chairman, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), to explain "what went wrong," Taguba said: "Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down, lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision."
Taguba said later, however, that his investigation did not uncover any evidence of "an overall military intelligence policy" that directed such abuses. A separate investigation into the actions of military intelligence operatives at Abu Ghraib is underway. Taguba said he believed the abuses resulted from military police guards' interactions with military intelligence personnel whom the guards perceived as "competent authorities" and who influenced the actions of the military police.
Responding to a question from Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) on who "gave the order to soften up these prisoners," Taguba said, "We did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given to these soldiers to conduct what they did. I believe that they did it on their own volition. I believe that they collaborated with several [military intelligence] interrogators at the lower level," based on information obtained from interviews and written statements. "We didn't find any order, written or otherwise, that directed them to do what they did."
Taguba said that, for example, the digital cameras used to photograph some of the abuses were the "personal cameras" of the guards and that the pictures were not taken on any orders from higher-ups.
Lt. Gen. Smith said that "the photographing of prisoners, especially with private cameras, is against the rules."
Taguba, whose family emigrated to Hawaii from the Philippines when he was 11 years old, is the second highest-ranking Filipino American in the U.S. Army. His father, Tomas B. Taguba, served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines as a member of the Philippine Scouts during World War II and was captured by the Japanese at Bataan in 1942. He escaped from the infamous Bataan Death March, in which thousands of U.S. soldiers were brutalized by the Japanese and many died.
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