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Pentagon Was Warned of Abuse Months Ago

ICRC officials made "repeated requests" to the U.S.-led occupation authority to correct abuses, the organization's president, Jakob Kellenberger, said yesterday. He said officials presented "serious concerns" to occupation authorities, reminding them of obligations under the Geneva Conventions and international treaties.

"These findings clearly underline the necessity for the authorities concerned to strike a balance between the legitimate security concerns of states and the protection of human dignity," Kellenberger said in a written statement.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at a Capitol Hill hearing on Iraqi prisoner abuse as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld listens. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

U.S. military police, along with legal and medical specialists, studied the detention system in Iraq between Oct. 13 and Nov. 6. They found shortages of manpower and training, and called for immediate action to address human rights deficits.

In Washington, meanwhile, the State Department -- fenced out of major influence over postwar Iraq by a January 2003 presidential directive -- was increasingly troubled last autumn by lengthy detentions and allegations of mistreatment.

Powell raised the detainee issue frequently in meetings of the Bush national security team, aides reported. They said he often felt like a lone voice.

"Powell was kept up to date by our people and the Red Cross that there were serious problems and ongoing concerns, which he raised with his counterparts and colleagues," a senior State Department official said.

On Jan. 13, Army Spec. Joseph M. Darby, who was assigned to Abu Ghraib, informed his superiors about abuses there. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commanding officer of U.S. troops in Iraq, launched a criminal investigation the next day. Rumsfeld was notified, and the Pentagon disclosed the inquiry on Jan. 16.

That month, the Abu Ghraib photographs were described to Rumsfeld and the top military brass, Myers testified yesterday. He said they discussed the content, including forced nudity and mock sexual acts.

From the beginning, the Pentagon tried to prevent public disclosure.

"There were a lot of people that knew inside our building," Myers said. "The people that had been working with the media knew there were photos out there and the media was trying to get their hands on them from January."

On Jan. 31, the Defense Department assigned Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba to investigate. Two days later, he visited Abu Ghraib.

In late January or early February, Rumsfeld testified, President Bush was informed of the investigation as an "information item."

The Red Cross delivered a devastating final report to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq in late February. State Department officials who had heard some details and had pressed the Red Cross to release the report more widely arranged to receive a copy through a back channel and circulated it widely in Washington.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher acknowledged that the Red Cross had delivered recommendations to U.S. officials in Baghdad before releasing the report more widely in February. By then, he said, a U.S. investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuses was well underway, "and that resulted in a very thorough and honest report done inside the U.S. government by March."

On March 3, Taguba's preliminary findings were presented to Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. Later that month, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division charged six soldiers with crimes including indecent acts and conspiracy.

Bremer delivered a speech to Iraqis on April 23 that addressed a growing Iraqi backlash over detentions. He pledged that new cases would be reviewed by an attorney within three days and that a review of all cases would be expedited.

Five days later, over the objections of Myers, the photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib by members of the 372nd Military Police Company were broadcast by CBS television. The search for who knew what, and when, began.

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