By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 4, 2004
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Aug. 3 -- Army investigators said they believe a group of seven military police soldiers beat and humiliated detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as a way of "having some fun" and to blow off steam, not at the behest of their superiors, according to testimony at a preliminary court hearing for the one of the MP soldiers here Tuesday.
During the first day of an Article 32 hearing for Pfc. Lynndie R. England, 21, two Army special agents said they found no credible evidence that anyone in the Army's chain of command ordered the soldiers from the 372nd MP Company to embarrass detainees by forcing them into sexual positions and piling them naked in a human pyramid. England's smiling face while posing with naked detainees and the image of her holding a leash attached to a detainee's neck have been some of the most indelible images of the scandal.
The investigators said Tuesday what the Pentagon and the Bush administration have been saying since the scandal hit: The abuse appeared to them to be at the hands of a few rogue soldiers.
"They were joking around; they didn't think it was that serious," said Special Agent Paul Arthur, who headed the initial investigation at Abu Ghraib and said the soldiers appeared to be venting their frustrations. "They were just joking around, having some fun, on the night shift."
But the first courtroom testimony in the United States regarding Abu Ghraib showed that the initial Army investigation focused narrowly on the military police soldiers seen in hundreds of now-infamous digital photographs despite MP claims that military intelligence tactics shepherded the abuse. The probe only later turned a casual eye to the military intelligence brigade in control of the facility when a handful of its personnel were implicated in photographs.
"We were focusing on the abuse. We weren't focusing on the tactics," Arthur testified.
Investigators also said Tuesday that they turned an investigation into the use of unmuzzled military working dogs in interrogations over to the military intelligence commander at the prison who dog handlers have identified as the officer who approved the tactic, Col. Thomas M. Pappas. They also said that military intelligence Lt. Col. Steve Jordan verbally attacked abuse reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, saying he thought detainees were "making up" the allegations.
England's defense team poked at the Army's first investigation into the abuse, asking whether enough time was spent looking at the role of military intelligence interrogators who had been asking for help from the MPs to set the conditions for interrogations. Army officials have said the MPs were asked to help regulate sleep patterns and meals, but some of the charged MPs told investigators that they were asked to "rough up" or "soften up" detainees. Special Agent Warren Worth, who also investigated the abuse, said there was significant confusion over what the standard operating procedures were at the prison and that there was little guidance about the rules.
Capt. Jonathan Crisp, England's military attorney, asked Worth about suggestions from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who traveled to Abu Ghraib in the weeks before the abuse and overhauled the operation. In a 13-page report, obtained by The Washington Post, Miller suggested it was "essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees," and that such efforts "will consolidate both detention and strategic interrogation operations and result in synergy between MP and MI resources and an integrated, synchronized and focused strategic interrogation effort."
Col. Denise Arn will decide whether 19 charges -- including several related to intimate sexual photographs depicting England -- should go to a court-martial, where England could face nearly 40 years in prison.
Richard Hernandez, one of England's attorneys, said the investigation was not complete and England was simply following orders: "The government is doing whatever it can to make her a scapegoat."
Staff writer Scott Higham in Washington contributed to this report.