Four Top Officers Cleared by Army in Prison Abuses

By ERIC SCHMITT

New York Times

April 23, 2005

WASHINGTON, April 23 - A high-level Army investigation has cleared four of the five top Army officers overseeing prison policies and operations in Iraq of responsibility for the abuse of detainees there, Congressional and administration officials said Friday.

Among the officers was Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who was the top commander in Iraq from June 2003 to July 2004. He was the highest-ranking officer to face allegations of leadership failure in connection with the scandal, but he was not accused of criminal misconduct.

Barring new evidence, the inquiry, by the Army's inspector general, effectively closes the Army's book on whether the highest-ranking officers in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal should be held accountable for command failings described in past reviews.

Only one of the top five officers, whose roles the Senate Armed Services Committee had asked the Army to review, has received any punishment. That officer, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, an Army Reserve officer who commanded the military police unit at the Abu Ghraib prison, was relieved of her command and given a written reprimand. She has repeatedly said she was made the scapegoat for the failures of superiors.

The findings, which provoked outrage from some civil rights groups and Democratic aides, came nearly a year after shocking photographs of American military police officers stacking naked Iraqi prisoners in a human pyramid and of other abuses first telecast nationally. Shortly afterward, an internal Army report chronicled the virtual collapse of the command structure at Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, in the fall of 2003.

So far, only a small number of soldiers, mostly from the enlisted ranks, have faced courts-martial for their actions at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Dozens of others have faced administrative discipline for abusing captives at other detention sites and battlefield interrogation stations across Iraq.

An independent panel led by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger concluded last August that General Sanchez had failed to make sure that his staff was dealing with Abu Ghraib's problems. A separate Army investigation, called the Kern-Fay-Jones report, found that at one point General Sanchez approved the use of severe interrogation practices that led indirectly to some of the abuses.

The Schlesinger inquiry last summer also determined that General Sanchez's deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, failed to act quickly enough to make urgent requests to higher levels for more troops at the understaffed prison.

But those inquiries were not empowered to impose any punishments; that was left up to the Army.

The new review, by the Army inspector general, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Green, exonerated General Sanchez and General Wojdakowski of the allegations that were included in one or more of the 10 major investigations over the past year into detainee abuse.

It also found to be "unsubstantiated" allegations against Maj. Gen. Barbara G. Fast, the former chief intelligence officer in Iraq who oversaw the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib, and Col. Marc Warren, the command's top legal officer. The Schlesinger panel said Colonel Warren had failed to report prisoner abuses witnessed by the Red Cross to his boss for more than a month, and that General Fast had failed to advise General Sanchez properly about the management of interrogations at the prison.

While General Sanchez and the other top officers may not have done everything right, the inquiry said, their failures came as they struggled to combat a fast-growing insurgency and a booming prison population, all with an understaffed headquarters.

But some Democratic aides on Capitol Hill, civil rights groups and lawyers for lower-ranking soldiers who have been disciplined voiced dismay on Friday at the findings, which they said would fuel the perception that the Army was trying to protect its senior leaders at the expense of junior officers and enlisted soldiers.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced the findings and urged the Bush administration to appoint a special independent counsel to look up the military and Pentagon civilian chains of command. "This further underscores the military's inability to look into allegations of torture and abuse," Mr. Romero said in a telephone interview. "It's just another effort to paper over the scandal."

Guy Womack, a lawyer for the Army reservist who the government had called the ringleader in the abuse, Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., said he had interviewed Generals Sanchez and Wojdakowski and agreed with the Army's findings about them. But he said General Fast and Colonel Warren were more directly involved in overseeing detention policy and operations and should have been disciplined. "It's a joke," he said.

Democratic aides, who along with their Republican counterparts were briefed this week on the Army inquiry's findings, said Friday that they disagreed with the conclusions and would review the full investigation before determining their next step.

Army officials defended the investigation as an exhaustive inquiry that included a review of the 10 major inquiries so far, sworn statements from 37 senior officials, including L. Paul Bremer III, the former top civilian administrator in Iraq, as well as information gathered from dozens of criminal investigations and courts-martial.

"The recommendations and decisions are consistent with, and appropriate to, the findings of these very thorough investigations," Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the Army's top spokesman, said in a statement.

Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Armed Services Committee, declined in a statement to comment directly on the Army's findings, but signaled he would call a hearing on senior officer accountability in the detainee abuse scandal. A spokesman for Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's ranking Democrat, declined to comment.

As a result of the findings of the Schlesinger panel and other military inquiries, Mr. Warner's committee directed the Army in September to review the cases of General Sanchez and at least four other senior officers in Iraq to determine if any should be held accountable and disciplined.

The Army expanded that inquiry to 12 officers of the rank of colonel or higher, including anyone of that rank who was criticized in at least one of the 10 major investigations.

Four senior Defense Department officials, who provided details about the inquiry on the condition of anonymity because several members of Congress had not been fully briefed, declined to identify the officers under scrutiny, although the five whom Congress has focused on were well known. Nor did they say whether any of seven other officers under scrutiny were disciplined. Congressional aides said they had not yet been briefed on those cases.

The 12 officers under scrutiny by the inspector general do not include the top two military intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib, Col. Thomas M. Pappas and Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan. Senior military officials said they were being examined by separate investigations that could lead to criminal charges.

General Green, the inspector general, has completed his review of allegations against 11 of the 12 officers, officials said. If the allegations were not substantiated, no action was taken. If they were, the files were forwarded to the Army judge advocate general, the senior military lawyer, Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, who could recommend a wide range of disciplinary options, from no action to counseling to a career-killing reprimand. The 12 officers had the right to respond to the findings before any disciplinary action were taken.

A senior military official said there were no criminal allegations against any of the 12 officers.

General Sanchez, once considered for promotion to be the four-star commander of military operations in Latin America, remains the head of the Army's V Corps, based in Germany. It is unclear whether he will be given a new assignment when his command ends this summer or whether he will retire.