Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq: Abu Ghurayb Scandal Continues To Grab U.S. Headlines

Leaked photos of abuses at Abu Ghurayb shocked the public (file photo) The scandal over the abuse and torture of people in U.S. military custody will not go away. Last week it intensified. Two U.S. Army investigators -- Generals Paul Kern and George Fay -- told Congress that dozens, perhaps a total of 100, prisoners held in Iraq were kept from Red Cross inspectors. Kern said he will look into whether formal charges should be filed against high-ranking military officials, including General Ricardo Sanchez, once the senior U.S. commander in Iraq.

Washington, 13 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- For more than four months, the issue of prisoner abuse has hung over U.S. involvement in Iraq as new revelations have kept forcing it into the public consciousness.

The most recent revelations suggest that the U.S. Army agreed to demands by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that inspectors from the International Committee of the Red Cross be kept from seeing dozens of prisoners. Such a move would represent a violation of international law because the Geneva Conventions require countries to disclose information on prisoners to the Red Cross.

Investigators are studying about 300 reports that prisoners were beaten, raped, or even killed while in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. So far, only enlisted personnel and lower-level military officers have been charged in relation to the abuse and torture scandal.

But Kern's statement on 9 September to the Senate Armed Services Committee shows that even Sanchez is not immune to scrutiny in the still-unfolding scandal.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced questions about the abuse scandal on 10 September during an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, where he delivered a speech billed as a "progress report" on what President George W. Bush calls a war on terror.
Investigators are studying about 300 reports that prisoners were beaten, raped, or even killed while in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Rumsfeld expressed his revulsion at the abuse, and said every military man and woman knows that such behavior can never be permitted.

"The pictures [of abuse] that one saw of [the] Abu Ghurayb [prison in Baghdad] were terrible, and they represented abuses of people in our custody," Rumsfeld said. "And that's wrong, and that should not have happened. And there isn't anyone connected with the Department of Defense who doesn't understand that, doesn't know it."

But Rumsfeld said that, as deplorable as some Americans' behavior has been, he believes the actions of the insurgents in Iraq are worse. He cited cases where the insurgents beheaded men they had kidnapped for the benefit of video cameras.

Rumsfeld said the abuse and torture by U.S. soldiers were not the result of any policy decisions made in Washington. This in spite of a recent high-level report -- the so-called Schlesinger report -- that blamed the Pentagon for contributing to a climate that led to the sadistic treatment of detainees.

"The people who've done something wrong are being prosecuted," Rumsfeld said. "The investigations are still under way, and more may be happening because a number of these matters have been referred to the Army inspector general and the Defense Department inspector general. And corrective steps have been taken."

The secretary did not mention the possibility that Sanchez himself might be brought to trial. And while no officer of Sanchez's rank has faced such a trial in modern history, the idea is not out of the question, according to retired Colonel Kenneth Allard, a former intelligence officer who now teaches military affairs at Georgetown University in Washington.

Allard told RFE/RL that this does not mean that he necessarily expects Sanchez to go on trial. But for a military investigator even to suggest it could mean that the general's career is over.

The reason, Allard said, is an extremely strict sense of responsibility is instilled in U.S. military officers.

"The ethos of this thing is that you are responsible for what your people do, you're responsible for what they fail to do. You're responsible -- if you're the general in charge -- for setting up the command climate. With these stars come enormous responsibilities," Allard said.

Allard said Sanchez appears not to have taken action that he should have taken -- for example, firing the commander of the Abu Ghurayb prison outside Baghdad, where much of the abuse occurred.

According to Allard, it is not enough for Sanchez to say that he didn't know what was going on at Abu Ghurayb because a commanding officer is supposed to know.

Is such accountability fair?

"No, but neither is war," Allard said. "Ultimately, it [military command] involves human lives, so you have no choice except to exert a very, very high standard."