Lessons of a by-the-Book Soldier
At Hearing, Taguba Provides Straight Talk During a Time of Elusive Truths
By David Von Drehle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2004; Page A18
His name has been famous for about 10 days, since his report on the abuse of prisoners in Iraq burst into the global spotlight -- but only yesterday did the world get a good look at Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba.
Forthright, terse, direct, Taguba turned out to be a by-the-book soldier worthy of central casting. The man sent to investigate the warped doings at Abu Ghraib appeared to be the straightest arrow imaginable. He didn't just nod to Army rules and regulations; he seemed to have memorized every page of every manual.
Early in Taguba's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked him: "Why do you believe that there should be a separation between the military police and intelligence officers?"
He answered: "Army regulation 190-8, which is a multiservice regulation, establishes the policy in executive agency for detention operations. And there enumerates in paragraph 1-5 the general policy and the treatment of not just [prisoners of war] but civilian internees, retained personnel and other detainees. . . . We also used the M.P.s' doctrine on detention operations, which is Field Manual 3-19.40. And we further referred to . . . Field Manual 3452."
Over the years, this sort of spit-and-polish soldier has been the butt of a million jokes. He's Lt. Peachfuzz on the comics page, Maj. Frank Burns in the reruns. But senators from both parties ultimately found Taguba refreshing for his ability and willingness to give straight answers in plain language and the fewest possible words.
In their hunt for the facts about what happened at Abu Ghraib and why, the senators have heard many half-answers, nonresponses and promises to get back to them. Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) tried to pin down Stephen Cambone, a senior Pentagon civilian in charge of military intelligence, by asking, "In simple and plain words, how do you think this happened?"
Cambone's answer: "With the caveat, sir, that I don't know the facts, it's, for me, hard to explain."
Warner put the same question to Taguba. "In simple words -- your own soldier's language -- how did this happen?"
Taguba's answer: "Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down. Lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant. Those are my comments."
"Thank you very much," the senator said.
Taguba, 53, is the son of Sgt. Tomas Taguba, a Filipino who knew a thing or two about the abuse of prisoners, having escaped from Japanese custody during the infamous Bataan Death March during World War II. Tomas was serving in the Philippine Scouts when the islands fell, and after his escape spent three years spying on Japanese troop movements and relaying the information to U.S. forces. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur returned victorious, the senior Taguba joined the U.S. military.
His son was born in 1950 in Sampaloc, a district of Manila. Tony Taguba, as the general is known to friends, has told interviewers that he saw little of his father as a boy, but understood that's the way it is for a soldier's family. The Tagubas -- Tony, his two brothers and five sisters -- were upright, pious and disciplined: a well-ordered platoon.
In 1961, the family moved to Hawaii. Years later, when he became only the second Filipino American general, Taguba told AsianWeek that life in the United States "opened my mind to the capabilities and opportunities in America." For him, the Army opened the door to those possibilities. It gave him an education, first through the ROTC program at Idaho State University and later at military and private colleges across the country. He has multiple master's degrees.
He was trained as a commander of armored forces, but his specialty has been managing large support operations -- he was in charge of programs for Army families at one point, and will soon take up the post of deputy assistant secretary for reserve affairs. But though he has not commanded a combat division, Taguba is known as a workhorse, routinely putting in 90-hour weeks on the job.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company