U.S. general in Abu Ghraib scandal cleared

REUTERS

Sat Apr 23, 2005

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has exonerated Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

Another general was relieved of her command amid evidence of dereliction of duty, defence officials said on Friday.

An Army investigation by a 10-member investigative team that last October began assessing any wrongdoing by top brass in Iraq found that Sanchez and three other senior officers had not committed dereliction of duty, the officials said. These four will not face criminal or administrative punishment.

But the investigation found that "allegations of dereliction of duty were substantiated" in the case of Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who had commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade at the heart of the Abu Ghraib abuse, said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Karpinski will not face criminal charges but has received an official letter of reprimand from a senior Army general and has been relieved of her command, the official said. Karpinski last year was suspended, but not officially removed, from her command and removed from active duty.

The results of the investigation were made public days before the one-year anniversary of the publication of the first photographs depicting U.S. forces sexually humiliating and physically abusing Iraqi prisoners at the jail on the outskirts of Baghdad. The scandal triggered international criticism of the United States. Since then, numerous cases of detainee abuse have surfaced.

ONE GENERAL PROMOTED

Human rights activists sharply criticized the Army's failure to take action against Sanchez and reiterated their call for an independent investigation of detainee abuse. Human rights groups and other critics have blamed the abuse on actions by top U.S. commanders in Iraq as well as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials.

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

The other senior officers exonerated by the investigation were: Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Sanchez's former top deputy; Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, formerly Sanchez's top intelligence official; and a colonel who served as Sanchez's top legal adviser. Fast was a one-star general at the time of the prisoner abuse, but has since been promoted.

Sanchez served as the top U.S. commander in Iraq starting in June 2003 and lasting through the worst of the abuse, but rotated out of the country in the summer of 2004. Other official Pentagon investigations have criticized some of his actions and those of other senior officers.

"FEAR OF DOGS"

A September 14, 2003, memo signed by Sanchez that was made public last month showed that he authorized prisoner interrogation tactics more harsh than accepted Army practice, including using guard dogs to exploit "Arab fear of dogs."

In it, Sanchez laid out which interrogation techniques were permitted in Iraq and said some required his prior approval. Some of the harshest techniques were disallowed the next month because of opposition from some military lawyers.

Investigators interviewed more than three dozen people under oath, including Paul Bremer, who had been the U.S. governor of Iraq at the time of the abuse, an official said.

The official said investigators found some mitigating circumstances for Sanchez, including the fact that the U.S. military command in Iraq initially had been short of senior officers. Other mitigating factors cited by the official were the fact that Sanchez had to contend with an upsurge in violence by insurgents and that he faced pressure to find then-fugitive deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"What this decision unfortunately continues is a pattern of exoneration and indeed promotion for many of the individuals at the heart of the torture scandal," said Amnesty International spokesman Alistair Hodgett.

"It only serves to underscore the desperate need for an independent investigation that will scrutinize the policy decisions and the individuals who made and implemented them in a manner that will expose the truth and ensure that the U.S. can once again criticize other nations for their use of torture without being accused of hypocrisy," Hodgett added.