Top Officer Seeks New Head of Iraq Inquiry
Thursday, June 10, 2004
The top U.S. general in Iraq has asked that he be removed as the senior officer overseeing an investigation of military intelligence soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison, the Pentagon reported last night.
Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who supervises U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, also has requested that a higher-ranking officer take charge of the investigation, supplanting the two-star general who has led it so far.
The moves open the way for the investigation, which has focused on the roles played by interrogators in the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib, to expand up the chain of command and include the questioning of Sanchez and other senior officers in Iraq. Sanchez's part in authorizing the inquiry, and the fact it was handed at the outset to a two-star officer, has left it open to suspicions that it was intended more to contain the scandal than to pursue all leads, no matter how high they went.
"This is being done in order to ensure a complete, thorough and transparent investigation, one that will leave no doubt as to the veracity of its findings," said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman.
The probe, which has been headed by Army Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, is critical to filling out the picture of what went wrong at the prison outside Baghdad and assigning responsibility for the harsh treatment of detainees there. An earlier investigation by another two-star officer, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, found considerable fault with the military police unit responsible for guarding the detainees and also implicated some intelligence soldiers.
But because Fay is the deputy chief of Army intelligence, his investigation has faced criticism from some lawmakers, military lawyers and defense experts as containing an inherent conflict of interest. Further, Fay's rank has limited him from examining the actions of three- or four-star officers who had oversight responsibility for detention facilities in Iraq.
Sanchez has denied sanctioning the abusive treatment at the prison or even knowing about it until a soldier came forward in January with photographs showing Iraqi detainees naked and subjected to humiliating and painful actions. One soldier charged in the case has disputed Sanchez, saying through his attorney that he was prepared to testify that Sanchez witnessed abuses at the prison.
It was Sanchez who appointed Fay to conduct the investigation. His requests for a new appointing authority and a more senior investigating officer went to Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, who as head of Central Command oversees all U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region. Abizaid, in turn, has asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to select the new appointing authority, Whitman said.
In a related development, Rumsfeld has ordered the Navy's inspector general to expand his examination of military detention facilities and conduct a wide-ranging investigation of interrogation practices throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
The new order places a three-star Navy officer -- Vice Adm. Albert "Tom" Church -- in charge of investigating the actions of Army soldiers. It also creates some overlap both with Fay's investigation and with one by the Army's inspector general into training and doctrine of detention operations.
"The goal here is to make sure we have a comprehensive set of reviews that will leave no gaps," Whitman said, confirming the wider Navy-led probe first reported by the Chicago Tribune.
The prison abuse scandal has spawned an array of investigations, assessments and reviews, but critics have complained the various inquiries form more a disjoined patchwork than a coherent and complete set. Most of the probes involve the Army investigating itself, and no investigating authority has been given the specific task of assessing the roles of top authorities at Central Command and the Pentagon, or the involvement of the White House and intelligence agencies.
When initiated in early May, the Navy inquiry had been limited to assessing operations at two prisons outside Iraq and Afghanistan holding terrorist suspects -- the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the naval brig at Charleston, S.C. Rumsfeld widened Church's mission about two weeks ago, Whitman said, but did so without public announcement.