Panel Cites Direct, Indirect Responsibility for Abu Ghraib
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2004 Abu Ghraib prison was "chaos," said members of the Independent Panel to Review DoD Detention Operations today, but commanders on the ground and up the chain of command should have recognized the problems and corrected them.
Former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, panel chairman, said there were direct responsibilities up to brigade level "because they did not adequately supervise what was going on at Abu Ghraib. In addition, there was indirect responsibility at higher levels in that the weaknesses at Abu Ghraib were well- known and that corrective action could have been taken and should have been taken."
The panel members Schlesinger, former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, former Congresswoman Tillie K. Fowler and retired Air Force Gen. Charles A. Horner briefed the Pentagon press corps here today.
The panel did not mince words in the report to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "The events of October through December 2003 on the night shift of Tier 1 at Abu Ghraib prison were acts of brutality and purposeless sadism," the panel members wrote.
These events were not limited to just some individuals and leaders. The report says there is "both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels." Fowler said the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commander U.S. Central Command and the commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7 share some responsibility for allowing the conditions that led to charges of abuse.
Still, the report commended the Defense Department for its actions in correcting the situation. "Department of Defense reform efforts are underway and the panel commends these efforts," the commissioners wrote. "The military services now recognize the problems and are studying force compositions, training, doctrine, responsibilities and active duty/reserve and guard/contractor mixes which must be adjusted to ensure we are better prepared to succeed in the war on terrorism."
All panel members said that charges of abuse are miniscule compared to the number of detainees. There are 300 charges of abuse, and DoD has held more than 50,000 detainees worldwide. Of the 300 cases under investigation, more than half were for actions taken at the point of capture, the former secretary said.
"These are circumstances in which one has seen buddies killed, the blood is up, so to speak," he said. "And at the point of capture, there are actions that are taken which are regrettable in hindsight. Those are the responsibilities of the individuals."
Schlesinger addressed the situation at Abu Ghraib. The prison was subject to constant shelling and several soldiers and scores of prisoners were killed in mortar attacks on the facility. In another section of the prison, Iraqi police some of them on the take maintained a loose sort of control.
The ratio of U.S. MPs to detainees was all out of proportion too, Schlesinger said. At the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility the ratio of guards to detainees is 1-to-1. At Abu Ghraib the ratio was one guard to 75 detainees. The MPs at Abu Ghraib "were undertrained for detention operations and they had arrived not in units and with equipment missing," Schlesinger said.
The panel concluded that contrary to speculation, the abuses detailed in the photos that flooded the world in April and May "did not come from authorized interrogation, they did not come from seeking intelligence. They were 'freelance' activities on the part of the night shift at Abu Ghraib," Schlesinger said
The panelists stressed there was no U.S. government policy of abuse. Senior officials repeatedly said that in Iraq the Geneva Convention would apply. The abuse in Abu Ghraib was unique in the sense that there was sadism on the part on the night shift.
"There was sadism that was certainly not authorized," the chairman of the panel said. "It was kind of like 'Animal House' on the night shift. That is reflected in that there were no such activities on the day shift when there were different non-coms in charge."
There is a danger as DoD moves forward to correct the problems at Abu Ghraib, Schlesinger said. Intelligence is crucial to fighting the war on terrorism. "One consequence of the of the publicity is that it has had a chilling effect on interrogation operations," he said. "It is essential in the war on terror that we have adequate intelligence and effective interrogation."
From an institutional level, U.S. forces were prepared for the same type of detainee operations that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War controlling enemy prisoners of war and handling large numbers of refugees, Brown said.
Brown also said that the military police and military intelligence units were poorly resourced. They needed more members, more translators, more people trained in detainee operations. He said the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commander of U.S. Central Command failed to develop a war plan to post major combat operations, and that the Pentagon failed to adequately clarify and enforce how the various categories of detainees were to be treated through the military detention facilities.
Fowler agreed and said these failures "created a confusion and an atmosphere where commanders showed little signs of the leadership expected of them."
All members of the panel agreed that neither Defense Secretary Rumsfeld nor Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers should resign. "(Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's) resignation would be a boon to all of America's enemies," Schlesinger said. "Consequently, I think it would be a misfortune if it were to take place."
Brown, linked to the panel briefing via phone, said that at some levels there was some dereliction of duty and at other levels there were mistakes. The former secretary put the situation in journalistic terms.
"There's a difference between a reporter who gets one or several facts wrong in trying to meet a deadline, and a reporter who falsifies a long set of stories," he said. "They should not be treated the same way. I think there's an analogous situation here."