Global Policy Forum

Pentagon Clears Top Personnel, Policies in Abuses


By Vicki Allen

March 10, 2005

The Pentagon said its policies and top officials did not cause the mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, but in a report released on Thursday cited a series of missed opportunities to correct lapses that led to the abuses.

The latest and most wide-ranging abuse report, by Navy inspector general Vice Adm. Albert Church, largely tracks the Pentagon's previous contention that its leaders were not directly responsible for sexual and physical mistreatment of prisoners. A 21-page unclassified summary of the report was to be released at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The full 368-page report is classified.

The summary obtained by Reuters found "no single, over-arching explanation" for the abuses. While it said authorized interrogation policies did not cause them, "We nevertheless identified a number of missed opportunities in the policy development process" to issue more specific guidelines and to learn from previous conflicts.

The report was condemned by Human Rights Watch. "This looks like another whitewash. Almost a year after the Abu Ghraib pictures, we still haven't had an independent investigation into the widespread prison abuse by someone not appointed by or subordinate to Secretary Rumsfeld," the organization's special counsel, Reed Brody, said.

The abuses came to light in photographs of U.S. soldiers humiliating, hitting and threatening detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, embarrassing the Bush administration and undercutting U.S. credibility as it sought to stabilize Iraq after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The report reviewed 70 investigations of confirmed abuses out of 180 closed cases. It said 23 of those happened at the point of capture "at which passions often run high as servicemembers find themselves in dangerous situations." Of the closed, substantiated cases of detainee abuses that included six deaths, it said just 20 were related to interrogations.

The report said U.S. servicemembers "may have at times permitted the enemy's treacherous tactics and disregard for the laws of war ... to erode their own standards of conduct." It cited "a failure to react to early warning signs of abuse," particularly at Abu Ghraib prison, but said it could not provide details in the unclassified summary. It also cited "a breakdown of good order and discipline at some units that could account for other incidents of abuse."

While the report did not look into pinpointing official responsibility, it found no direct pressure from high in the chain of command that led to abusive interrogations. The summary said it found "no evidence to support the notion that the office of the secretary of defense, the National Security staff, Centcom (U.S. Central Command) or any other organization applied explicit pressure for intelligence or gave 'back-channel' permission to forces in the field to use more aggressive interrogation techniques" than authorized in the Army's manual or by the command interrogation policy.

The summary also said despite "the highly publicized involvement of some contractors in abuse at Abu Ghraib," it found "very few instances of abuse involving contractors" who it said by and large were older and more experienced than military interrogators. The summary broke little new ground, a Democratic aide said, although the full classified report addresses some specific instances of abuse.

This report also did not address a number of issues including the role of the CIA, or the practice of transferring prisoners to countries that allow torture in interrogations, the aide said. Three additional reports are expected. "There are some pretty big holes in this thing," the Democratic aide said.

But Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas in a statement said the report "like many others that preceded it, makes clear that the abuses that did occur took place, not as a result of administration policies, but rather in direct disregard for those policies and procedures.

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