Central Command Leaders Brief Senate on Abu Ghraib
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 19, 2004 While the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal is disturbing to Middle East leaders, of more concern to those leaders is whether the United States will lose patience with the process and leave Iraq before a stable government is in place, Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander, U.S. Central Command, said here today.
Abizaid, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, deputy commander for detainee operations and Army Col. Marc Warren, staff judge advocate, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Both Abizaid and Sanchez told the senators they accept responsibility for the failures under their commands.
Abizaid said one of his deepest beliefs is that U.S. military officers, when in charge, must be in charge. "This is as true for the lowest second lieutenant in the chain of command as it is for me," he said. "Every officer is responsible for what his or her unit does or fails to do. I accept that responsibility for the United States Central Command."
Abizaid told the senators the command will follow the trail of evidence wherever it leads. He said Central Command will continue to correct systemic problems as they arise, and will hold people accountable.
Seven soldiers have been charged under the scandal. One, Army Spc. Jeremy Sivits, was sentenced to up to a year in prison by a special court-martial in Baghdad today. Sivits also was reduced to E-1 and will receive a bad-conduct discharge. The soldier apologized to the Iraqi people for his part in the scandal. Sivits pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to maltreat detainees, one count of dereliction of duty and two counts of maltreatment of detainees.
Three other soldiers Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick and Spc. Charles Graner -- were arraigned. The judge said pre-trial hearings will begin June 21.
Abizaid said he has spoken with regional leaders about the Abu Ghraib scandal, the damage the scandal has caused to U.S. credibility in the region, and the overall situation in Iraq. "They, like us, and the many Iraqis who talked to me before I last left Iraq, were shocked, disgusted and disappointed by the images of abuse," Abizaid said. "Yet all of them expressed confidence that our system could and would produce answers and hold people accountable."
As concerned as they are about the prison, "they are more concerned about our willingness to stay the course in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "They are more worried that we'll lose our patience for the difficult tasks of stabilizing those areas and we'll walk away, and come home and bring up the drawbridges and defend Fortress America." Abizaid said he told the leaders the United States is tough, cannot be defeated militarily and will stay the course.
Abizaid said the United States cannot allow the enemy to come back into power in either Iraq or Afghanistan. He said the enemy viewpoint is best summed up by the way the Taliban ran Afghanistan. "If they can outlast us in Afghanistan and undermine the legitimate government there, they will once again fill up the seats at the soccer stadiums and force people to watch executions," he said. "In Iraq, if the culture of intimidation practiced by our enemy is allowed to win, the mass graves will fill again.
"Our enemies kill without remorse," he continued, "they challenge our will through the careful manipulation of propaganda and information, they seek safe havens in order to develop weapons of mass destruction that they will use against us when they are ready."
Abizaid said the targets will not only be those in Kabul and Baghdad, but places like Madrid and London and New York. "Unlike us, they will not hold themselves accountable for their outrages," he said.
But despite the images of the prison abuse and burning Humvees on the television screens of the world, "we are winning the battle against extremism," the general said. The troops are confident, are winning the tactical battle, and continue to work with allies to build viable Iraqi and Afghan security forces, he added.
Abizaid assessed the areas where breakdowns occurred with regard to Abu Ghraib. He said breakdowns occurred in procedures, in access, in standards of interrogation, and in confusion between the roles of military intelligence personnel and military police.
Sanchez told the senators he is dedicated to ensuring nothing like the Abu Ghraib abuse happens again. "We have already initiated courts-martial in seven cases, and there may very well be more prosecutions," he said. Army Criminal Investigation Command investigators continue their investigations, and the evidence may lead to more courts martial, he said.
Sanchez detailed to the senators his actions upon learning of the allegations of abuse. "There is no doubt that the law of war, including the Geneva Conventions, apply to our operations in Iraq," Sanchez said. "This includes interrogations."
The general said he acted as soon as he learned of the abuses. "I ensured that a criminal investigation had been initiated and requested my superior appoint an investigating officer to conduct a separate administrative investigation into this matter," he said.
Within days of receiving the initial report, Sanchez said, he suspended key members of the chain of command of the unit responsible for detainee security at Abu Ghraib.