Top Commander in Iraq Takes Responsiblity for Prison Abuse
Warner Tells Senators of Yet More Photos
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2004; 3:35 PM
The Army general in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East said today that the abuse of Iraqi detainees at a prison near Baghdad was part of "systemic problems" at the facility and that he accepted responsibility for them. But he denied the existence of a broader "culture of abuse" in U.S. military detentions.
Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command, vowed to "follow the trail of evidence wherever it leads" and to hold accountable anyone responsible for the mistreatment.
Appearing with two other generals and a colonel before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is investigating the prison abuse scandal, Abizaid warned the nation to brace for even more violence in Iraq from insurgents and foreign terrorists in the months ahead, and he allowed that more U.S. troops might be needed "because the enemy has a vote."
In the course of a wide-ranging hearing that lasted more than three hours, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the committee chairman, said legislators should also brace for more prison abuse photos. He remarked that he had just been notified by the Defense Department that "another disc of pictures has been located." He said arrangements would be made for senators to view them.
Questioned on the situation in Iraq aside from the reported mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, Abizaid said that Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist with links to the al Qaeda network, appears to be able to move around Iraq and to "strike at will." Zarqawi claims to have ordered numerous suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of people in Iraq, and U.S. authorities blame him for the car-bomb assassination Monday of Izzedin Salim, the acting president of the Iraqi Governing Council. Zarqawi is also believed to be the masked man who recently beheaded an American civilian, Nicholas Berg, in a video that was posted on the Internet.
Abizaid said U.S. authorities have reason to believe that Zarqawi recently was in neighboring Jordan, where he was allegedly involved in a plot that would have killed thousands of people if it had not been foiled by Jordanian forces.
"We should not kid ourselves about the violent times ahead," Abizaid told the committee. He said U.S. forces face "a patient and despicable enemy" in Iraq that will cost the United States "more blood and more treasure." And he cautioned that the worst violence may come between the time the U.S. occupation authority hands over political power to Iraqis on June 30 and the first national elections, which are scheduled for early next year.
"They must make it fail now," Abizaid said of the insurgents' approach to the transition to democratic self-government in Iraq. "They're pulling out everything that they can to make it fail."
U.S. forces are winning "tactical battle after tactical battle" in Iraq, Abizaid said, but he acknowledged that the war has a huge nonmilitary dimension.
"While we cannot be defeated militarily, we aren't going to win this thing militarily alone," he said. "It's really one of the hardest things this nation has ever undertaken."
In response to senators' questions, Abizaid said he was "pretty comfortable" with the number of combat troops and weapons systems in Iraq. What makes him uncomfortable, he said, is that "there are certain types of troops we don't have enough of," notably military police, military intelligence personnel and civil affairs officers. This is because "they're not in the force structure," he said.
"I'm also not comfortable that there's enough international troops on the battlefield," Abizaid said. "Maybe I miscalculated" the number of the troops that would be needed to occupy Iraq, he conceded. "But we adjusted . . . and we continue to adjust."
The size of the force in the future "depends on the enemy," he said. "It's possible we might need more forces." He expressed hope that, with a new U.N. resolution, more international forces might be dispatched to Iraq.
Appearing with Abizaid, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said that in addition to court martial proceedings already initiated against seven military personnel over the Abu Ghraib scandal, "there may very well be more prosecutions" as a result of several ongoing investigations.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company