Leadership Failure Is Blamed in Abuse
Soldiers' Actions Weren't Ordered, General Says
By Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 12, 2004; Page A01
The Army general who investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad said yesterday that he had found no evidence the misconduct was based on orders from high-ranking officers or involved a deliberate policy to stretch legal limits on extracting information from detainees.
Instead, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba attributed the scandal to the willful actions of a small group of soldiers and to "a failure of leadership" and supervision by brigade and lower-level commanders.
Similarly, the Army's top intelligence officer, Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, sought to portray the abuse as the deeds of a handful of military police soldiers, with the peripheral involvement of U.S. military intelligence personnel in Iraq.
But several senators challenged the notion that low-ranking soldiers could have devised the particularly humiliating measures on their own, and Taguba reported that military guards probably were influenced by intelligence personnel. He also clashed openly with the Pentagon official responsible for intelligence, Stephen A. Cambone, over the propriety and significance of a decision last November to place Abu Ghraib prison under the command of a military intelligence officer.
Appearing before a Senate panel investigating the prison scandal, Taguba testified that the move made military guards subject to the tactical control of interrogators, thus violating Army doctrine and blurring lines of responsibility. Cambone defended the decision as consistent with military standards and helpful to improving the gathering of intelligence.
Revealing the interrogation methods allowed in Iraq, the Armed Services Committee released a single-page titled "Interrogation Rules of Engagement," listing two categories of measures. The first showed basic techniques approved for all detainees, while the second involved tougher measures that required approval by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Among the items on the second list were stress positions for as long as 45 minutes, sleep deprivation for as long as 72 hours and use of muzzled dogs.
Cambone said the Bush administration's policy has been to apply the Geneva Conventions to the interrogation and other treatment of detainees in Iraq. But several senators expressed doubts about whether some of the listed techniques conform with international limits.
Yesterday's hearing marked the first public appearance by Taguba since results of his investigation, along with photographs documenting abuse, burst into public view over the past two weeks. The disclosures have set off an international furor, undercutting U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq and prompting calls by Democratic lawmakers and some newspapers for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign.
Rumsfeld has said he will not step down to appease political critics but will leave if he deems he can no longer be effective. He picked up support yesterday from a Republican senator who had been withholding judgment.
"I think it would be unfair for him to take a fall if this is just a limited activity of a few people or of a prison poorly run," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said.
Democrats voiced frustration at conflicting accounts from military and civilian officials, but for the most part, senators muted their differences and focused on trying to resolve one of the core questions of the scandal -- namely, whether the abuses were essentially the result of a few errant soldiers and private contractors, or reflected a misguided command structure and interrogation policies that neglected human rights.
Taguba, 53, a Philippine-born two-star general with a reputation as a straight shooter, drew praise from members of both parties for a thorough and objective inquiry into the mistreatment. Asked by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the committee chairman, to put "in simple words" how the abuses happened, Taguba said: "Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down. Lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant."
Pressed by several senators on whether any order had been given to the guards "to soften up" the detainees prior to interrogation, Taguba said he discovered none, nor any "overall military or intelligence policy" to do so. But he said that the military guards who have been charged with committing the abuses were influenced by military intelligence personnel and private contractors responsible for interrogations.
"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," said Taguba, who was deputy commander for military support operations in the Persian Gulf region when he led the investigation.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company