Abu Ghraib: Congressional Investigation

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The Congressional Investigation into the allegations of abuse, torture, and acts of brutality perpetrated by U.S., British, and private military contractors against Iraqis and other prisoners held at Abu Ghraib has been underway since May 7, 2003.

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Hearing Focus

"The Senate Armed Services Committee, in an abrupt change of course, said on Monday [May 17] that it would summon three senior military commanders to testify Wednesday [May 19] about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
"Scheduled to appear are Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top officer in the Middle East; Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, ground commander in Iraq; and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, head of detention operations in Iraq."
"While the Senate panel planned its session for Wednesday, House members were scheduled to meet behind closed doors on Tuesday [May 18] with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld as well as Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who compiled the report on abuses of Iraqi prisoners."

Hearing Testimony

"When the people of power in this town find it necessary to issue ringing declarations of overwhelming support for one of their own, as they've done all week for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, it usually means that the object of their affection is toast."
"All 100 senators will have a three-hour window Wednesday to view additional photographs and video showing abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Sen. John W. Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee has announced. ... Pentagon officials will deliver the images to the Senate and take them back afterward. ... Lawmakers will be able to view them from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET in S-407, a secure room in the Capitol usually reserved for classified briefings."

Abizaid, Sanchez and Miller Testimony, May 19, 2004

Taguba and Cambone Testimony, May 11, 2004

  • Eric Schmitt reports in the May 12, 2004, New York Times that, in their testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, May 11th, Major General Antonio M. Taguba, "currently serving as the Deputy Commanding General (Support), Third U.S. Army, U.S. Army Forces Central Command (U.S. Central Command) and Coalition Forces Land Component Command," and Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, "clashed" on Taguba's September 2003 abuse findings. [1] [2]
Taguba was also accompanied during his testimony by "U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance L. Smith, deputy commander with U.S. Central Command." [3]
Taguba said "that he did not find any evidence 'written or otherwise' that the soldiers involved in the abuse were ordered to soften up prisoners for interrogation. ... 'We did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given to these soldiers to conduct what they did. I believe that they did it on their own volition and I believe that they collaborated with several MI (military intelligence) interrogators at the lower level,' Tugaba said." [4]
"But the civilian official, Stephen A. Cambone, ... contradicted the general. He said that the military police and the military intelligence unit at the prison needed to work closely to gain as much intelligence as possible from Iraqi prisoners to prevent attacks against American soldiers. Mr. Cambone also said that General Taguba misinterpreted the November order, which he said only put the intelligence unit in charge of the prison facility, not of the military police guards." [5]
"The unusual public sparring between a two-star Army general and one of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's most trusted aides cast a spotlight on the confusing conditions at the prison last fall when the worst abuses occurred, as well as the sensitive issue of whether the Pentagon's thirst for better intelligence to combat Iraqi insurgents contributed to the climate there."
  • Douglas Jehl, "Head of Inquiry on Iraq Abuses Now in Spotlight," New York Times, May 11, 2004: "The unflinching report on abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that General Taguba completed in March, people who know him say, was shaped by that strong moral compass and by his vision of the Army as a noble calling."

Rumsfeld Testimony, May 7, 2004

Rumsfeld "went through the motions of taking responsibility (Rumsfeld: 'It took place on my watch'), issued almost perfunctory apologies, and then tried to explain away the Abu Ghraib torture story as old news."
  • Maureen Dowd, "World of Hurt," New York Times Op-Ed, May 9, 2004: "Good golly, you knew Rummy wasn't going to pretend to stay contrite for long. Not with lawmakers bugging him about the Pearl Harbor of PR, as Republican Tom Cole called it."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Nebraska said on Saturday, May 8th, that "Army investigation into the Iraq prison scandal should have repercussions for higher-ups, not just the military police accused of abusing detainees."
Senators were divided as to whether Rumsfeld should resign at this time.
"... the question is not only how Rumsfeld and the Pentagon responded to the accusations confirmed by the Taguba report, which was completed on March 20; it is, why didn't the Pentagon take steps to prevent the abuses documented in that report when it had ample warning about abusive practices there and in other military facilities? The horrific acts that have triggered the current controversy transpired between October and December of last year. But before these acts became the subject of an inquiry--which was prompted by the report of a courageous whistleblower in January--there were indications that prisoners were being abused at detention facilities throughout Iraq. Between March and November 2003, the International Committee of the Red Cross inspected these facilities and found numerous violations. A confidential report the ICRC prepared--which was disclosed in today's Wall Street Journal-- noted that Red Cross inspectors had uncovered 'excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury.' The report cited the use of 'physical or psychological coercion during interrogation to secure information' which 'in some cases was tantamount to torture.' It noted that prisoners were beaten, paraded naked with women's underwear over their heads, photographed in humiliating positions. The ICRC maintains that it began telling U.S. officials about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners--in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere--shortly after the beginning of the war.
"Why didn't Rumsfeld's Pentagon respond to these warnings? That's what the senators should have demanded to know. But they didn't."
  • David Brooks writes in the May 8, 2004, New York Times article "Crisis of Confidence" that the United States is "a shellshocked hegemon" and "In short, we are on the verge of a crisis of confidence."
"Yesterday, members of the administration were once again called to Capitol Hill to testify about a gruesome mistake. Once again investigations were begun and commissions were formed. Once again those of us who support this war and this administration were hard pressed to excuse what had just happened. Once again, baffling questions arose. Whose bright idea was it to keep Saddam's gulag open as a U.S. prison, anyway?
"It's hard not to be impressed with the way the military crisply opened criminal investigations into the depravity at Abu Ghraib. It's hard not to be appalled by the Pentagon's blindness to the psychological catastrophe these photos were bound to create. Even yesterday, months after the atrocities were first known, Donald Rumsfeld and company were incapable of answering the most elemental questions from John McCain, Lindsey Graham and others about who was in charge of the prison, and why the photos weren't immediately seen as weapons of mass morale destruction."
  • Noell Straub reported in the May 8, 2004, Boston Herald that the "Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal took an explosive turn yesterday with the revelation that photos and graphic videotapes not yet made public show abuses more horrific than those already seen.
"Signaling the worst revelations are yet to come, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the additional photos show 'acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman.'
"'There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist,' Rumsfeld testified before Congress. ... 'If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse. That's just a fact.'
"The unreleased images show American soldiers beating one prisoner almost to death, apparently raping a female prisoner, acting inappropriately with a dead body, and taping Iraqi guards raping young boys, according to NBC News."
"Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned that the scandal, if not dealt with quickly, could turn Iraq into another Vietnam. ... 'We risk losing public support for this conflict,' McCain said. 'As Americans turned away from the Vietnam War, they may turn away from this one.'
"After the hearing, McCain said Rumsfeld's testimony failed to answer basic questions, such as how high up the chain of command the fault reaches. ... Lawmakers promised to pursue a series of hearings into the matter." [6]

Congressional Calls for Action

  • Helen Dewar and Spencer S. Hsu report in the May 28, 2004, Washington Post that Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) "says his committee has a 'solemn responsibility' to discover what went wrong and to 'make sure it never, never happens again.' But some conservatives are angry about the high-profile televised hearings, saying the prisoner-abuse issue is overblown and threatens to undermine the United States' primary mission in Iraq. ... As a result, the 77-year-old Virginian finds himself in an uncomfortable but familiar position: more at odds with the right flank of his own party on some critical issues than he is with Democrats."
  • On May 4, 2004, Senator Henry A. Waxman sent a Letter to Tom Davis, Chairman of the Committee on Government Reform, calling for an immediate investigation into "allegations that private contractors participated in the illegal and systemic abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib Army prison outside Baghdad."
"'Secret, closed door meetings on a subject of such enormous import smack of damage control and cover-up,' Byrd said. 'The time for public hearings on prisons run by the U.S. armed forces is now. We must leave no room for charges that investigations are being glossed over, pushed aside, sat on, or ignored.
"'The abuse of Iraqi prisoners was covered up for months until it was reported by the news media. Congress has no time to spare to find out what went wrong and what is still wrong, and take action to prevent further abuse of prisoners in our charge,' Byrd said. 'These hearings should take place as soon as possible, and examine all detention facilities run by the U.S. military, including those in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.'
"Byrd, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has written to Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and Ranking Member Carl Levin, D-Mich., requesting that top civilian and military leadership at the Department of Defense appear before the committee to answer questions about the treatment of prisoners not only at facilities in Iraq, but also at military prisons around the world. The Pentagon is already looking into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.
"'The photographic evidence that Iraqi prisoners have been humiliated, abused, and mistreated is absolutely shocking. One can hardly ponder the technicalities of the Geneva Conventions when the most basic rules of human decency have been violated. The disgust expressed by many Americans has been amplified a thousand times by outraged Muslims around the world,' Byrd said Tuesday."
"'Soldiers are blaming superior officers, and generals are blaming subordinates. Others blame our intelligence services, which blame contractors, who blame others still. Some military leaders claim that this is an isolated incident, others make ominous claims about patterns of abuses,' Byrd said. 'With whom does this buck stop?'"

War Crimes Tribunals

Neil A. Lewis, "U.S. rejects global pact on war-crimes tribunal," International Herald Tribune, May 6, 2002: "Bush to 'unsign' Clinton-era agreement."

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