Aug. 25, 2004 – A commission of civilian military advisers established by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that soldiers running Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq deserve most of the blame for acts of torture and abuse committed there, while high-ranking Pentagon officials are guilty only of mismanagement.
The panel also suggests that much of the torture was the result of "freelancing" by guards working the night shift rather than part of an effort to gather intelligence from prisoners.
In announcing the groupâ€™s findings Tuesday, chairman James Schlesinger, himself a former Defense Secretary, said Rumsfeldâ€™s office could be faulted for inadequate supervision of the prison system in Iraq, but he refused to place further blame on the secretary and objected to calls for Rumsfeld to step down. "His resignation would be a boon to all of America's enemies," Schlesinger said.
The report also accused Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of US forces in Iraq, of failing to "ensure proper staff oversight" at the prison. But as with Rumsfeld, Schlesinger said Sanchez should not be forced to resign or even be punished.
According to Reuters and other outlets, a separate report based on an investigation conducted by Major General George Fay, which is expected to be released Wednesday, also cites Sanchez for not adequately addressing problems at Abu Ghraib but stops short of recommending that he resign or be reprimanded, becoming the second report this week to point fingers at top brass while primarily blaming enlisted personnel inside the prison.
The Schlesinger commissionâ€™s failure to place direct blame on high-ranking officials is already coming under sharp criticism by at least one major international human rights organization. Reed Brody, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters, "They [the Schlesinger Commission] are talking about management failures when they should be talking about who in the Pentagon and the military command ordered, approved or tolerated the torture of detainees."
Brody appeared to be making reference to a report in May by journalist Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, which cited anonymous military and intelligence sources suggesting that Rumsfeld himself approved the use of brutal interrogation tactics on Iraqis captured after the US invasion last year.
"The report does not seem to examine the relationship between Secretary Rumsfeld's approval of interrogation techniques designed to inflict pain and humiliation and the widespread abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo," Brody said.
Hersh reported that last year that Rumsfeld expanded the role of a secret Pentagon interrogation unit, which had been focused on gathering information about Al-Qaeda after 9-11, to the interrogation of prisoners held by the US in Iraq. "According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials," Hersh wrote, the operation "encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq."
In addition to Schlesinger, the commission consisted of retired Air Force General Charles Horner, former Florida Republican Congresswoman Tillie Fowler and Harold Brown, former Defense Secretary under Jimmy Carter. All four members also serve on the Defense Policy Board, a committee that regularly advises Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials.