An Army investigation into the role of military intelligence personnel in the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison reports that the scandal was not just caused by a small circle of rogue military police soldiers but resulted from failures of leadership rising to the highest levels of the U.S. command in Iraq, senior defense officials said.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the report has not yet been completed, said the 9,000-page document says that a combination of leadership failings, confounding policies, lack of discipline and absolute confusion at the prison led to the abuse. It widens the scope of culpability from seven MPs who have been charged with abuse to include nearly 20 low-ranking soldiers who could face criminal prosecution in military courts. No Army officers, however, are expected to face criminal charges.
Officials also said that the report implicates five civilian contractors in the abuse, and that Army officials plan to recommend that their cases be sent to the Justice Department for possible prosecution in civilian courts.
The investigation, shepherded by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, is one of several into the abuse, which became widely known after hundreds of photographs surfaced depicting detainees in mock sexual positions, in a naked human pyramid and being intimidated by unmuzzled dogs. While the Pentagon and the White House have consistently blamed the abuse on what they have called a rogue band of MPs acting on their own, officials said this new report spreads the blame and points to widespread problems at the prison.
The findings, elements of which were reported by other news organizations, appear to support contentions by defense attorneys for the charged MPs that the problems at the prison were pervasive and were exacerbated by a lack of leadership. The lawyers have asserted that their clients were acting on orders when they stripped detainees and kept them awake using stress positions and humiliating poses. Officials said the Fay report will stop short of saying that soldiers were ordered to abuse detainees.
One senior defense official said the investigation specifically decries the fact that many soldiers saw or knew of the abuse and never reported it to authorities. Concerns are also raised about the vague instructions from high-ranking officials about what was allowed during interrogations at the prison, which led military intelligence and military police soldiers to misapply them, the official said.
"The interrogation policy was misunderstood, and it was one of a few policies that failed," the official said. "There was total confusion about the military intelligence tactics, techniques and procedures."
Another defense official said the Army study would be "a comprehensive report, a thorough look at another aspect of Abu Ghraib, to include up to the CJTF-command level," a reference to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who until recently was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Others said the report criticizes the leadership but softens its assessment by noting that top officers were focused on the insurgency that erupted last summer.
Officials said the probe criticizes commanders for essentially failing to pick up the strong signs of abuse as they rose through the chain of command and for all but ignoring reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross detailing the abuse.
The top command "shares responsibility for not ensuring proper leadership, proper discipline and proper resources," one defense official said. "Command should have paid more attention to the issue. Signals, symptoms of abuse weren't fully vetted to the top."
Military officials said Fay's report is expected to be presented to the public early next week. An independent investigative panel appointed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld plans to issue its report on Tuesday. The Senate Armed Services Committee announced yesterday separate hearings set for Sept. 9 to deal with both reports.
In the medical journal the Lancet, an American physician and bioethicist called for an investigation of the role medical personnel may have played in enabling and overlooking the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
"The U.S. military medical system failed to protect detainees' human rights, sometimes collaborated with interrogators or abusive guards, and failed to properly report injuries or deaths caused by beatings," Steven H. Miles of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota wrote in the issue published today.
Miles based his assertions on the findings of Army investigators, the translated testimony of detainees and news reports. He noted that a psychiatrist helped "design, approve and monitor interrogations at Abu Ghraib"; that a physician permitted an untrained guard to stitch a cut on a prisoner's face; and that doctors "routinely attributed detainee deaths on death certificates to . . . natural causes" when the deaths were the result of torture.
He also said that inspectors from the International Committee of the Red Cross found inadequate medical records on detainees and that monthly "health inspections," required by the Geneva Conventions, were not always done.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Miles conceded that military physicians have difficult roles with regard to the enemy, but he said that their ultimate loyalties should be clear.
"Docs are different from soldiers. . . . Our sole obligation is to the well-being of the patient," he said. He said this is especially important for physicians who have contact with prisoners.
"The health personnel will, in fact, be the first and last barrier between them [prisoners] and human rights abuses," he said. "When the health professionals are either silent or actively complicit in these abuses, it sends a message to the detainees how utterly beyond human protection they are."
Staff writer David Brown contributed to this report.