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Private First Class Lynndie England of the U.S. Army reserves pleaded guilty yesterday to her role in the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghurayb prison outside Baghdad. The scandal arose a year ago with the disclosure of photos of England and other U.S. soldiers conducting the abuse. U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have dismissed the mistreatment as the acts of a few rogue soldiers. But now there are news reports of similar behavior at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Washington, 3 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Kenneth Allard says he is certain that the abuses by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghurayb and Guantanamo Bay are linked.
"I think it's pretty clear that they're playing by the same playbook. I don't think there's any question about that whatsoever," he said.
Allard, speaking with RFE/RL from Daphne in the U.S. state of Alabama, is a retired U.S. Army colonel and former intelligence officer. He says that while the world first learned about the trouble at Abu Ghurayb, and only later about Guantanamo, he believes it was the guards in Iraq who copied the methods of the jailers in Cuba.
American news reports say agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who were sent to Guantanamo to help interrogate prisoners captured in Afghanistan, expressed shock at the abusive techniques used by military personnel.
These reports, citing FBI e-mails, describe prisoners bound and left on cell floors and submitted to sexual and religious humiliation -- mistreatment similar to that at Abu Ghurayb.
Allard says it may be possible to argue in favor of such harsh treatment at Guantanamo because many of those held there are believed to be ranking members of Al-Qaeda, which is blamed for the attacks of 11 September 2001, and is probably planning even deadlier attacks.
But Allard says there can be no excuse for those techniques at Abu Ghurayb.
"What we are facing [in questioning inmates at Guantanamo Bay] is the potential of a nuclear threat coming from Al-Qaeda," he said. "And you have to ask yourself the question, 'Is there anything that we can do that would not be justified by trying to avoid that ultimate of all evils?' We ought to have that debate. Now, when you get to [consider] Abu Ghurayb, what you have there is lousy supervision and people not doing what they were paid to do."
Allard says it is too early to say whether high-ranking officers are to blame for the reported abuses at Guantanamo. But he says he is convinced that General Janice Karpinski, the commanding officer at Abu Ghurayb when the abuses occurred, bears responsibility, if only because she lacked the leadership necessary to prevent them.
Another former military intelligence officer, retired General Edward Atkeson, agrees there is an unsettling parallel between the behavior at Abu Ghurayb and Guantanamo. Speaking from his home in suburban Washington, Atkeson tells RFE/RL that it's time for the Pentagon to mount a credible investigation: "I can only say that it smells bad and I think that it needs thorough investigation at a very high level. They've done an awful lot of that [investigating], but the aura is still not very sweet. I think it would have been much smarter if they had taken the deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs [of Staff] and sent him over to investigate."
That deputy chairman then was U.S. Marine General Peter Pace, a four-star general who was recently named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Atkeson says a man of his rank and his position at the Pentagon would have had no trouble getting even the highest-ranking American officer in Iraq at the time to submit to any questions he might have.
But Atkeson says it was George Fay, a three-star general, who was responsible for the Abu Ghurayb probe. At the time the Abu Ghurayb scandal broke, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq also was Ricardo Sanchez, a three-star general.
Atkeson says an investigating general could have trouble getting complete cooperation from a general of the same rank, but who also has a large command. He says it's akin to an employee investigating his boss: "It's asking you to investigate whatever your boss will let you see."
But U.S. Air Force Major Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, says one leader of the investigation of Abu Ghurayb did, in fact, outrank Sanchez. "General Paul Kern was the appointing officer," he said. "He was directing the conduct of that investigation. I also want to point out that General Kern is a four-star army general."
Shavers says an appointing officer is in charge of deciding who will be questioned, and by whom, and what evidence will be examined. But he says Kern was not personally involved in the questioning in Iraq.