Tue 24 August, 2004 23:49
By Charles Aldinger and Philip Blenkinsop
WASHINGTON/MANNHEIM (Reuters) - Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire from a high-level inquiry into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal but a U.S. military judge has ruled he did not have to testify at a trial arising from the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
A four-member panel headed by former Defence Secretary James Schlesinger issued a report on Tuesday accusing the chain of command from Rumsfeld down of leadership failures that created conditions for the abuse late last year that sparked anti-American outrage across the world.
Schlesinger described the events at the U.S.-run Baghdad prison as "'Animal House' on the night shift," a reference to a 1970s U.S. film about riotous behaviour at a student boarding house.
But he said it was clear that Rumsfeld had issued no orders for the mistreatment of prisoners and direct responsibility ended with field commanders in Iraq.
"Command failures were compounded by poor advice provided by staff officers with re sponsibility for overseeing battlefield functions related to detention and interrogation operations," said the report, commissioned by Rumsfeld in May.
"Military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon share this burden of responsibility."
Seven military police personnel have been charged so far in connection with the abuse at Abu Ghraib, which became public in April when photographs emerged of naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners being sexually humiliated and threatened with dogs.
In Mannheim, Germany, the judge hearing some of the cases dismissed a motion brought by one of the accused, Sergeant Javal Davis, to force Rumsfeld to testify.
"I fail to see a connection between this group and the authorities in Washington. I'm not saying there is no link, but you have not shown sufficient evidence," said Judge James Pohl.
One of Davis's lawyers, Paul Bergrin, referred to memos which he said showed Rumsfeld had approved hooding and stripping prisoners, who could also be put in stress positions and subjected to "ph ysical conduct."
RUMSFELD "APPROVED TECHNIQUES"
"As insurgencies (in Iraq) increased, the need for actionable intelligence increased. These techniques were approved by Donald Rumsfeld," Bergrin said.
He and other Defence lawyers say their clients were following orders to break inmates for interrogation.
The highest-ranking of the seven, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, has reached a deal to plead guilty to some charges at his court martial, lawyer Gary Myers told reporters.
"He has, unlike many, accepted responsibility for corrupt behaviour generated by the circumstances that existed in Abu Ghraib," Myers said.
The Schlesinger report said interrogation policies in Iraq were inadequate and deficient, and changes made by Rumsfeld between December 2002 and April 2003 in the techniques permitted contributed to uncertainties in the field as to what was allowed and what was not.
But panel members said there was no reason for Rumsfeld to step down. "If the head of a department had to resign every time an yone down below did something wrong, it would be a very empty Cabinet table," said one panellist, former Defence secretary Harold Brown.
Shortly after the scandal erupted, President George W. Bush rejected calls for Rumsfeld's resignation, saying he was doing a "superb job." Bush asserted the abuse was the work of "a small number" of soldiers.
However, the Schlesinger panel said 300 cases of abuse were being investigated, many beyond Abu Ghraib. "So the abuses were not limited to a few individuals."
A senior Army official said a separate investigation headed by Major General George Fay would fault Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, at the time the top U.S. commander in Iraq, for leadership failures for not addressing troubles at Abu Ghraib.
The Fay report, to be released on Wednesday, found Sanchez and his staff were preoccupied with an escalating insurgency and did not focus on the festering problems at Abu Ghraib, the Army official said.