Retired Brass Want New Abuse Probe

This undated still photo made available by The Washington Post on Friday May 21, 2004, shows a U.S. soldier holding a dog in front an Iraqi detainee at Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. (AP Photo/The Washington Post) ** MANDATORY CREDIT: THE WASHINGTON POST**NO SALES **
AP/Washington Post
The Pentagon is under increasing fire for its handling of the prison abuse investigation, as some retired military officers call for an independent commission to get to the bottom of the four-month-old scandal.

Their appeal came a day before Thursday's hearings by the Senate and House armed services panels, which were reviewing the two latest reports ordered by the Defense Department.

"We cannot ignore that there are now dozens of well-documented allegations of torture, abuse and otherwise questionable detention practices" eight former generals and admirals said Wednesday of prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In-house Pentagon probes don't require sworn testimony, don't have subpoena power and are examples of the military trying to police itself, the officers said in a letter to Bush.

Most of the officers had backgrounds in military law. In the presidential campaign, two of them have publicly called for President Bush's defeat in November.

The Pentagon says a probe headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger was independent, but its members were appointed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has been criticized in the scandal.

An Army investigation headed by Maj. Gen. George Fay concentrated on which military intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq could be charged with crimes under military law. But Fay's group also said the Army's top commanders in Iraq shared some blame for management failures.

The Schlesinger report looked at Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay as well as Iraq and at military police, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Rumsfeld as well as intelligence officers in Iraq. It concluded that while lower ranking soldiers might be charged, some blame could go to the highest levels of the Pentagon for inadequate supervision and failure to adapt to developments.

"We found fundamental failures throughout all levels of command, from the soldiers on the ground to (U.S.) Central Command and to the Pentagon," said Tillie Fowler, a former Republican congresswoman who served on the panel.

"These failures of leadership helped to set the conditions which allowed the abusive practices to take place," Fowler said.

The Schlesinger report assigned significant blame to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, saying he should have ensured that his staff dealt with the command and resource problems at Abu Ghraib when they first came to light in November 2003. Still, it acknowledges that Sanchez was focused on combating a mounting Iraqi insurgency at the time.

A Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that months of piecemeal military investigations have left officials and the public without a full idea of exactly what happened and who is responsible.

"It's about time we had an investigation that is complete and answers all the questions," Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said in telephone conference with several reporters.

The scandal created international revulsion four months ago with disclosure of photographs showing troops threatening prisoners at Abu Ghraib with dogs, posing them in sexual positions and keeping detainees naked and hooded.

Though defense officials said the photos portrayed the actions of a few bad apples, the controversy has grown to include probes of some 300 allegations of detainee deaths, torture or other mistreatment, some during interrogations to gather intelligence.

Abuses occurred as long as nearly two years ago — among prisoners taken in the campaign to rout al Qaeda from Afghanistan.

Critics say fault may ultimately rest with White House and Pentagon leaders for creating confusion when they decided in early 2002 that terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay did not fall under Geneva Conventions and then sought to redefine longtime rules of detention, interrogation and trials to suit the counterterrorism war.

In a February 2002 memo, Mr. Bush ordered that all prisoners in the war on terrorism be treated humanely and, "to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity," in line with the "principles" of the Geneva Conventions. But at the same time he reserved the right to suspend the conventions "in this or future conflicts."

In a memo written in August 2002, the Justice Department appeared to justify the use of torture in the war on terror and argued that the president's wartime powers superseded anti-torture laws and treaties. The Justice Department has disavowed that memo.

Other documents have emerged showing that Rumsfeld authorized guards to strip detainees and threaten them with dogs. Some techniques Rumsfeld approved in December 2002 triggered objections from interrogators and military lawyers, causing the secretary to suspend some of the practices.

Five months later Rumsfeld issued a scaled back list of procedures — still in effect this year — which includes isolation, sleep adjustment and "false flag," in which interrogators pretend to be from a country other than the United States.

It has also emerged that, at the request of then-CIA Director George Tenet, Rumsfeld directed Sanchez to imprison an admitted terrorist without reporting him to the International Red Cross. Both assigning a prisoner number and notifying the Red Cross are required under the Geneva Conventions and other humanitarian laws.

The retired military leaders who wrote to Mr. Bush were Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, Navy Judge Advocate General from 1997 to 2000; Brig. Gen. David M. Brahms, Marine Corps senior legal adviser from 1983 to 1988; Brig. Gen. James Cullen, former chief judge of the Army Court of Criminal Appeals; Maj. Gen. John L. Fugh, former Judge Advocate General of the Army; Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, currently a consultant in international security; Vice Adm. Lee F. Gunn, Inspector General of the Department of the Navy until his retirement in August 2000; Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former commander of U.S. Central Command; Brig. Gen. Richard Omeara, who served in the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps.

Hoar is part of a group of retired diplomats and military officers that has said Mr. Bush should be voted out of office because his policies damaged U.S. national security interests and America's standing in the world. Gunn is among 12 retired generals and admirals who have endorsed Mr. Bush's Democratic rival John Kerry.