Senators expressed dismay yesterday that no senior military or civilian Pentagon officials have been held accountable for the policy and command failures that led to detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Navy admiral who wrote the most recent review of U.S. detention policies was largely unable to say where that accountability should lie.
Vice Admiral Albert T. Church III's review of interrogation policy and detention operations did not place specific blame for the confusing interrogation policies that migrated from Washington to the battlefield, and he told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing that no high-level policy decisions directly led to the abuse. But Church said he did not interview top officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, nor did he make conclusions about individual responsibility, saying it was not part of his mission.
Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III told senators that no high-level policy decisions directly led to the abuse.
(Dennis Cook -- AP)
Still, Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, one of the officers in charge of detention operations in Iraq at the time of the abuse, said yesterday that she has been issued an administrative reprimand, the first such action against a top officer since the abuse allegations surfaced last year.
So far, only a handful of enlisted soldiers have faced courts-martial for their actions at the Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, while others have faced administrative punishment. The main open question in the abuse cases is how far up the chain of command official discipline or criminal charges will reach.
Church's report called the development of interrogation policies for use in the fight against terrorism a series of "missed opportunities" to eliminate confusion and clearly spell out doctrine. But his report concluded that even clear policies might not have stopped dozens of abuse cases.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said a "major gap" in Church's report and in nine other Pentagon reviews is the issue of senior-leadership responsibility for the creation of an environment that contributed to or condoned abusive behavior.
In a sparsely attended hearing -- only 10 of the 24 panel members were there -- senators from both parties, including Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), offered strong criticism of the findings. Sen. James M. Talent (R-Mo.), praising the report, said he did not "need an investigation to tell me that there was no comprehensive or systematic use of inhumane tactics by the American military, because those guys and gals just wouldn't do it."
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the committee chairman, said there will be at least one more hearing to examine culpability. "There has not been a finality in terms of the assessment of accountability of either senior policy people or senior officers," he said.
Human rights organizations also assailed the report, again calling for an investigation not subordinate to Rumsfeld. "This report strains credibility," said Reed Brody, special counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Unfortunately, the United States continues to do what every dictatorship and banana republic does when its abuses are discovered: Cover up and shift blame downwards."
Asked at a Pentagon news conference about those criticisms, Church dismissed them as coming from people who had not read the report, most of which remains classified. "I don't believe anybody can call this a whitewash," he said. "The facts are what the facts are."
Church said his report's reference to "missed opportunities" should be read as "lessons learned," suggesting that no one specifically need be held to account.
"I don't think you can hold anybody accountable for a situation that maybe if you had done something different, maybe something would have occurred differently," he said. "It's a lesson learned that we need to capture and think about for the future."
Appearing with Church at the Pentagon were several other senior officials, who outlined a number of changes in policy, training and organization that the Army and the Defense Department have made to guard against future abuse. Among them are new Army regulations clarifying permissible interrogation techniques, the role of military police in interrogations and the handling of reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Senior Army and defense officials said Karpinski has been issued an official letter of reprimand from the Army leadership, a form of administrative punishment that can end a military career. Karpinski said she has not seen a copy of the letter but understands that it does not hold her responsible for the Abu Ghraib photographs or abusive acts, instead alleging deficiencies in her leadership.
Karpinski said she will fight the reprimand and maintains that problems at the facility stemmed from intense pressure and direction from high-ranking military intelligence officials. She said she believes Church's report, and the ones that preceded it, are flawed.
"The members of the Senate Armed Services Committee know that all these investigations are incomplete," Karpinski said. "I don't think people in this administration want them to get to the bottom of this."
Defense officials said investigators are still looking into the culpability of commanders as senior as Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who led troops in Iraq during the time of the abuse. Army officials said Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, who was in charge of intelligence operations under Sanchez, has been cleared by commanders and is awaiting assignment to a new command.
Though the status of the investigations is unclear, an Army official said decisions and actions are imminent.