An independent panel faulted the Pentagon's top civilian and military leadership yesterday for failing to exercise adequate oversight and allowing conditions that led to the abuse of detainees in Iraq.
The four-member panel headed by former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger found that actions by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld contributed to confusion over what techniques were permissible for interrogating prisoners in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, center, is accompanied by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, military commander of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, at Abu Ghraib.
(Pool Photo David Hume Kennerly)
It also concluded that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior commanders in the Persian Gulf region first underestimated the need for detention-facility personnel in devising a postwar plan for Iraq and then neglected to move fast enough to provide such troops once the demand became apparent last year.
The findings marked the first time an official investigation -- one ordered by Rumsfeld in May -- sought to pin a share of responsibility on the Pentagon's upper reaches for a prison abuse scandal that has undercut U.S. operations in Iraq and eroded U.S. moral standing around the world.
But panel members -- including two former secretaries of defense, a retired four-star general and a former Republican member of Congress -- declined at a Pentagon news conference to call for the resignation of Rumsfeld or senior commanders such as Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Schlesinger said Rumsfeld's resignation "would be a boon to all of America's enemies and, consequently, I think that it would be a misfortune if it were to take place." He said that while Myers and other high-ranking officers made mistakes, the errors were not sufficient to warrant their resignations.
The panel commended the Pentagon for taking recent steps to prevent new cases of abuse. But Schlesinger warned that "one consequence" of the publicity and punishments associated with the scandal has been "a chilling effect on interrogation operations." He did not provide specifics.
Releasing a 92-page report, the panel said it did not find any U.S. "policy of abuse" or "approved procedures" that permitted the torture or inhumane treatment of detainees. But the panel contradicted administration claims that the scandal was largely the result of the actions of a few individuals at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. That case emerged in April with the publication of photographs showing naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners being sexually humiliated and threatened with dogs.
"The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline," the report said. "There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels."
Underscoring the broad scope of mistreatment, the panel said 300 abuse cases have come under investigation -- a number about three times greater than previous U.S. military statements.
Of 155 completed investigations, the report added, 66 have resulted in determinations of abuse -- 55 of them in Iraq, three in Afghanistan and eight at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "Dozens of non-judicial punishments have already been awarded," the report said without detailing them.
Rumsfeld, who was briefed on the findings yesterday morning, issued a brief statement saying the panel had provided "important information and recommendations that will be of assistance in our ongoing efforts to improve detention operations." White House press secretary Scott McClellan, with President Bush in Crawford, Tex., had no immediate comment on the report.
Democrats on Capitol Hill blasted the administration and the Pentagon for the leadership failures outlined in the report. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said the report makes clear that responsibility for the abuse falls not just on a few low-ranking military personnel. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) appealed for another independent investigation, saying the Schlesinger panel lacked sufficient authority to investigate senior administration officials.
But Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the report "very thorough and professional." He said his committee, which has held several hearings on the scandal, would examine the need for further investigations when hearings resume in September.
So far, seven reservists with the 372nd Military Police Company have been the only ones charged with crimes arising from the Abu Ghraib events. Two have pleaded guilty to charges of abuse, and five others are facing preliminary criminal proceedings in the United States and in Germany.
Their attorneys have said the abuse arose from the directions of military intelligence personnel who were looking to "soften up" detainees for interrogation purposes. The lawyers have said the military guards were encouraged to use harsh tactics and were congratulated for their apparent successes.
An Army investigation focused on the role of military intelligence, headed by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay and Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and due for release today will recommend that more than two dozen military intelligence personnel and civilian contractors be referred for further disciplinary action, government officials said.
Schlesinger disputed the claim that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was part of an intelligence-gathering operation. He said the mistreatment reflected "freelance activities on the part of the night shift," describing the situation as "a kind of 'Animal House' " -- a reference to a 1978 movie about riotous behavior at a fraternity house.
Anthony Vieira, a civilian defense attorney for one of the accused -- Pfc. Lynndie R. England -- said the panel's report vastly understates the involvement of senior military leadership and is yet another fallback position. Vieira said military intelligence personnel created a buffer between the official chain of command and the military guards who were involved in the abuse by having civilian contractors pass on questionable orders and directions to the low-ranking soldiers.
"That's the game that's being played here," he said.
Schlesinger drew a distinction between what he called direct and indirect responsibility.
"There was direct responsibility for those activities on the part of the commanders on the scene up to the brigade level, because they did not adequately supervise what was going on at Abu Ghraib," he said. "There was indirect responsibility at higher levels, in that the weaknesses at Abu Ghraib were well-known and that corrective action could have been taken and should have been taken."
In discussing Rumsfeld's role, the report said changes he made between December 2002 and April 2003 in interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay "migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded." The report said Rumsfeld might have avoided the policy confusion if he had a wider range of legal opinions and a more robust internal debate over detainee policies and operations in 2002, before the war started.
But panel members said senior military commanders bore a greater share of responsibility than Rumsfeld for what went wrong. They were portrayed as poorly prepared for the insurgency that followed the invasion and did not anticipate the need to manage a large prison population.
At one point, the report noted, there were 495 detention personnel in Iraq, compared with an authorized level of 1,400. The ratio of military police to detainees at Abu Ghraib was as high as 1 to about 75, the report said, compared with a ratio of 1 to 1 at Guantanamo Bay.
While the Pentagon's Joint Staff and U.S. Central Command were chided for not shifting resources fast enough to bolster detention operations, the panel is most critical of the top officers in Iraq. It said the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, should have appealed to higher headquarters for additional assets and taken stronger action last fall to strengthen leadership at Abu Ghraib when they became aware of command problems there. It also faulted them for "a series of tangled command relationships" that fostered confusion.
It was not in the panel's charter to recommend disciplinary action. But the group, which reviewed an advance copy of the Jones-Fay report due today, said it concurred with the finding there that Sanchez and Wojdakowski "failed to ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation operations."
Its strongest criticism of commanders was leveled at two brigade leaders -- Army Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, who headed the 800th Military Police Brigade, and Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who led the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. The panel said it "expects disciplinary action may be forthcoming" against the two.
"The aberrant behavior on the night shift in Cell Block 1 at Abu Ghraib would have been avoided with proper training, leadership and oversight," the panel concluded.
Schlesinger commended the Pentagon for providing "total cooperation." But the CIA was not as forthcoming. In its report, the panel said it was denied "full access to information" about CIA involvement in detention operations and cited this as an area that "needs further investigation."
Offering 14 recommendations, the panel endorsed calls by previous investigations to clarify U.S. rules on treatment of detainees, interrogation techniques, and collaboration between military police and intelligence personnel at detention facilities. It also urged an increase in the number of U.S. military detention specialists and in military police and military intelligence forces.