Abuse Inquiry Faults Officers on Leadership

By THOM SHANKER and KATE ZERNIKE

The New York Times

August 19, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 - A high-level Army inquiry has found that senior American commanders created conditions that allowed abuses to occur at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by failing to provide leadership and enough resources to run the jail, according to Pentagon and military officials.

But the inquiry found no evidence of direct culpability above the colonel who commanded the military intelligence unit at the prison, these officials said. They would only speak anonymously because the report is still being reviewed and may be revised. It is expected to be delivered to Congress early next week.

The investigation, opened by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, is expected to blame at least two dozen military intelligence personnel, civilian contractors and Central Intelligence Agency officers for wrongdoing, officials said. Military medical personnel who witnessed abuse or learned of it when treating injuries among detainees, but did not report it up the chain of command, are also cited.

The soldiers could face disciplinary action ranging from criminal charges to administrative punishments, which reduce pay and rank and can be a career-ending blot, especially on the record of an officer.

Until now, seven soldiers attached to a military police unit have been charged with abuse of detainees at the sprawling prison, near Baghdad. Some have said they were acting on orders of military intelligence officers.

While the Fay report does not conclude that top commanders condoned wrongdoing in any way, it does fault them for failures of leadership.

"Commanders should have exercised more oversight," said one Pentagon official. "The emphasis on detainee operations was just not there."

The report is one of several investigations of Abu Ghraib prison. The scandal, which tarnished America's reputation around the world, broke in January after a soldier turned in photographs showing detainees in sexually humiliating positions.

The report's findings were described by more than a half-dozen Pentagon and military officials who have been briefed directly about it or have had it summarized for them by superiors.

These officials cautioned that the huge document - thousands of pages - is quite complicated in assessing actions by those above the level of soldiers and officers actually at the prison, and that it goes into a great number of issues raised by the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Senior officers in Baghdad at the time of the abuses, under the command of Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, were found to have had no role in ordering or permitting the abuse, nor did senior Pentagon officials in Washington, officials said. "There was no direct policy directives out of the Pentagon that caused this," said one official. "And Sanchez did not send orders to abuse detainees."

Even so, military commanders in Baghdad are criticized for not sufficiently supervising the prison systems throughout Iraq, according to officials briefed on the findings.

Without adequate oversight and discipline, an environment was created in which shifting guidelines for control over an estimated 45,000 detainees, and evolving rules for interrogations, could be interpreted freely and even disregarded.

"They were experimenting with techniques," said one official. "The draft guidance was left open to interpretation."

Another official said the report found abuses fell into two categories: intentional abuses of a violent or sexual nature, and those that occurred through misinterpretation or misapplication of evolving procedures.

The inquiry attributes the lack of attention to operations to a collision of unanticipated events on the battlefield of Iraq last autumn, when the worst abuses occurred: An unexpectedly tenacious insurgency drew most of the attention of senior commanders while, at the same time, combat sweeps of suspected insurgents generated a pool of detainees that far exceeded the military's ability to guard them and interrogate them.

The Fay report initially focused on the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, the unit that worked at the prison under the command of Col. Thomas M. Pappas. But senior officials decided it was important to broaden the inquiry. So a more senior officer, Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones, was brought in as required by military protocol to interview General Sanchez, also a three-star officer. The senior officer responsible for issuing the report is Gen. Paul J. Kern.

Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon's deputy spokesman, said late Wednesday that the report was nearing completion but refused to discuss details of pending inquiries.

"It's a very comprehensive and thorough report, not only of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, but also, given General Kern's broader authority, of the organizations and individuals more senior to the 205th," he said.

So far, one of the seven military police soldiers charged with the abuses has pleaded guilty in exchange for his testimony against the others. Lawyers for the remaining six have argued that they were simply following orders from military intelligence superiors.

Extensive testimony in several hearings over the past few months to determine whether the soldiers should face courts-martial has produced no evidence that the soldiers were under direct orders.

At a recent hearing for Pfc. Lynndie R. England, who appears in photographs grinning and holding a leash around the neck of a naked and crawling prisoner, soldiers testified that Colonel Pappas had sent orders that military police should be used to "set the conditions" for interrogations. But military intelligence officials at the prison testified that this meant finding out information about their personal lives that interrogators might use to prompt statements, not the kind of sexual humiliation seen in the photographs.

But the testimony has described a prison in chaos, where prisoners were routinely left naked and threatened by growling dogs. The prison was so crowded that interrogations were taking place in showers.

Records and sworn statements indicate that medics had some of the earliest and strongest clues that prisoners might be being mistreated, but said nothing until the investigation into abuses began when a whistleblower came forward in January. Medical records obtained by The New York Times show that medics had gone to the area of the prison where the abuse occurred several times to stitch suspicious wounds.

One medic noted in November that a patient had "blood down the front of clothes and sandbag over head" and three facial wounds requiring 13 stitches.

Several inquiries into prison abuse have been completed or are expected to issue reports in the next few months.

The first, by Maj. Gen Antonio M. Taguba, found that soldiers in the 372nd Military Police Company had committed "sadistic, blatant, and wanton" criminal acts. While his investigation was limited to the conduct of military police soldiers, his report said he strongly suspected that they had been influenced if not directed by military intelligence units under Colonel Pappas and Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, who led the interrogation unit.

At hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee in May, several skeptical senators raised questions about whether the soldiers had been influenced by direction from above and perhaps from the Pentagon. But a report in July by the Army's inspector general, Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, concluded that the mistreatment was limited to the actions of a few soldiers and the failure of a few leaders to supervise them.

At least two investigations are to report soon: one by the Navy's inspector general, looking at detention and interrogation procedures at American-run facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and a panel led by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, which was appointed by Secretary Rumsfeld and is to oversee all the other reports and identify areas left to examine.