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Detainee Panel Tells Senate Not to Overlook Forest

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2004 – Members of a panel that reviewed DoD detention operations said it is important to "not overlook the forest for the trees."

Former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the vast majority of American servicemembers around the world are serving honorably.

He said the force "has behaved with extraordinary forbearance and including countless acts of kindness. In this respect, their performance has been vastly better than our performance in previous wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam."

Schlesinger testified with fellow panel member, former Defense Secretary Harold Brown.

Brown said the abuse depicted in the photos taken at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison "displayed a pathology not duplicated elsewhere." He said the abuse was totally unacceptable on humanitarian grounds.

He also said the abuse, and photos of the abuse, was "extremely damaging to U.S. standing, policies and objectives in the greater Middle East and the struggle against transnational terrorism."

Yet in the war on terror, information is the key to saving lives, Schlesinger said. He said that aggressive interrogation is imperative to learn where terrorists plan to strike, where they keep their weapons, how they are financed and so on. He decried the chilling effect that the Abu Ghraib scandal has had on the military.

"The Marines in Fallujah in Al Anbar, no longer move on intelligence unless the intelligence can be confirmed," he said. "As a result, they are missing opportunities to deal with some of the insurgents."

Schlesinger said that any abuse is too much, but tried to put the problem in context. He said U.S. forces held more than 50,000 detainees in Iraq. The panel identified 300 allegations of detainee abuse and proved 66 cases. One-third of the allegations of abuse are for actions at the point of capture. "War is a matter of violence, and in combat, passions run high," he said.

Schlesinger said the Bush administration may have originally erred in classifying the abuse at Abu Ghraib as a result of the actions of a handful of MPs. Military intelligence personnel may have encouraged abuse in some instances. In others, military intelligence personnel may have honestly misread directives or misinterpreted policies.

Schlesinger said the panel found no policy that encouraged or justified abuse, and found more than a few actions to avoid abuse. Yet senior leaders did not exercise proper oversight of the prison and other detainee operations, and senior leaders in the Pentagon did not provide the right mix of resources or change resources when the conditions in Iraq changed.

Schlesinger compared the abuse scandal to an infection. "If there are any defects, they must be diagnosed and any infected areas must be lanced and cauterized as we seek to avoid repetition," he said. "In this manner, we can cleanse any stain on the reputation of our armed forces, so their overall performance continues to be understood and highly valued by the larger American society."

Schlesinger said that a general policy on detainee operations "should be designed and enshrined in doctrine" so confusion over what is permitted evaporates and military personnel are properly trained to observe appropriate rules.

Schlesinger said one military police member at Abu Ghraib told the panel that they "did it for the fun of it." He likened the behavior to that depicted in the movie "Animal House."

"These abuses and the failed oversight that allowed them are an embarrassment," he said. "They do not reflect the standards that this society believes appropriate. Take the steps to see that those standards are upheld in the future."

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