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The Second Report on Prisoner Abuse at Abu Ghraib

August 25, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: One plus one makes two new reports in two days on the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. Gwen Ifill has that story.

GWEN IFILL: The abuses at this now notorious prison in Iraq have drawn worldwide attention and, as of today, 11 separate investigations into what happened there. Today’s internal Pentagon probe, commissioned by the army and headed up by Gen. Paul Kern, focused on failures of military intelligence.

GEN. PAUL KERN: We conducted an investigation that focused on the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and its chain of command. However, we went where the facts led us. Our final report is complete and has been turned in. In the course of this investigation, we discovered serious misconduct and a loss of moral values. We found that the pictures you have seen, as revolting as they are, were not the result of any doctrine, training or policy failures, but violations of the law and misconduct.

GWEN IFILL: The report faults individual misconduct, lack of discipline and an overall lack of leadership at Abu Ghraib. And, like another report released yesterday, it catalogued the most egregious abuses, including many that were never photographed. They included: The death of one detainee brought injured to the prison by the CIA and transported quietly to a morgue after he died; the abuse and, in some cases, torture of detainees interrogated naked, threatened by dogs or kept in isolation; and the rape and sexual abuse of other detainees while soldiers watched. Investigators identified 44 instances of abuse committed by military intelligence or police. Major Gen. George Fay:

MAJ. GEN. GEORGE FAY: Each one of the 44 incidents that we go through in our report is a story unto itself, so each one should be read individually. Most of the abuses that everybody is so familiar with regarding the pictures, and those horrendous pictures, they relate to things that had nothing whatsoever to do with interrogation practices or military intelligence involvement. There were a few pictures that had military intelligence soldiers shown in them, and we do find instances where some military intelligence soldiers participated in the actual abuse.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Kern elaborated on the types of abuse they found in the intelligence unit.

GEN. PAUL KERN: I think the most horrific one that we found, from my perspective, is the case of where MP dog handlers were subjecting two adolescents to terror from the dogs for the purposes of playing a game between the two dog teams to see how poorly they could get these kids to behave, to see if they could get their bowel movements and their urination to work.

GWEN IFILL: The report also revealed the existence of eight so-called ghost detainees, prisoners held at Abu Ghraib without identification.

REPORTER: Can you tell us anything you might have learned in your report– again, we have not seen the report– about the CIA involvement with the ghost detainees?

GEN. PAUL KERN: I think the answer is clearly that they will investigate it. They have talked to us about that. They understand that they’re going to do that. They have agreed in helping us with building this fusion of intelligence activities which is critical to the entire operation, and so that comes from multiple organizations.

GWEN IFILL: Both reports released this week have said the Pentagon bears no direct responsibility for the abuses. Today’s report adds that the “thirst for intelligence was driving the train” at Abu Ghraib.

GWEN IFILL: For more on these investigations, we now turn to Scott Horton, president of the International League for Human Rights; and to retired Army Lt. Gen. John Le Moyne.

Gen. Le Moyne, taken together these two reports based on what we knew before we saw these investigations, do they for you paint a more benign or a chaotic picture of what was actually happening at Abu Ghraib?

LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE: I think they confirm what the Taguba report told us a few months ago. And now you’ve had three reports with very candid findings, very pointed recommendations, all of them from a slightly different point of view but all of them come into kind of common ground on the individual responsibility and the criminal activities of some of those soldiers, the leadership failure within the units themselves, and to some degree throughout the chain, including Department of Defense, on the overload they put for instance, Sanchez in, and the under resources to handle the missions they gave him last summer.

GWEN IFILL: Scott Horton, what was your take after looking at both of these reports?

SCOTT HORTON: Well, I really think your lead-in put the focus exactly where it should be. It said the thirst for intelligence was driving the train. That’s right. That’s a critical fact. The thirst was out of control, and here that thirst for intelligence was seated in the office of the Secretary of Defense.

I think these reports are remarkable contributions. They greatly clarify what went on on the ground in Iraq, particularly in Abu Ghraib Prison. Where they fall short and where they’re raising lots of concern now is the failure to look far up the chain of command and particularly into the office of Secretary of Defense.

There certainly is a major difference between the policy function far up and command and control on the ground. I think Tillie Fowler said that in your interview with her yesterday. But in this case, there was a very powerful impact between those policy decisions and what went wrong on the ground. And that really has not been properly developed in the reports.

GWEN IFILL: I do want to return and explore some more of this idea of higher-up chain of command. But I also want to talk about that thirst for intelligence question. What is interesting to me that so many of the pictures that we saw according to the latest report didn’t involve Gen. Le Moyne — interrogation.

It just involved widespread misbehavior, misunderstanding of the rules. How often does that happen?

LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE: It happens rarely. And it’s a reflection of Secretary Schlesinger’s report where he said this is a failure in the chain of command. Where were the first level supervisors? Why didn’t they know? And he also pointed out that the other shifts of that same unit did not do that.

And the good news on this particular incident, as horrific as this is, a young American soldier came forward and said this is wrong and started the investigation process for us and we haven’t stopped.

Scott’s got a good point about the insights we gain from these reports and Scott, it is very valuable. But I think there are about eight more reports still, investigation reports, still due out to us. And I think when we see those, put them all in context, we’ll have a much clearer picture as to the nature and scope of the abuses, the confusion that was there if any, and the disconnects between the policies at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

GWEN IFILL: Well, how do you respond to Scott Horton’s point? You’ve mentioned the chain of command but you’re talking about on the lower end; he’s talking about on the higher end. How high should this have gone?

LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE: Well, I think it has gone all the way to the secretary of defense already and Secretary Schlesinger’s report touched on that. And I didn’t sense any pulling back of his comments about where blame and responsibility lies. You do reach a point of at what level do you have direct sins of commission as opposed to sins of omission.

The commanders of the MP Brigade and the MI Brigade were directly responsible for what was going on inside those units and the standards that were supposed to be met and maintained. They failed to do that even when they were warned.

Gen. Sanchez had a vast mission to do with limited resources and according to the Schlesinger report there was some failure in going back to and reinforcing what those standards were inside those units. And when he did do that, it was a bit late; we’ll have to wait and see what the other reports say.

As far as the policy confusion goes, yes, ma’am there was policy confusion up there because the war changed dramatically, quickly in that summer period and that fall. And according to the Schlesinger report, there was some delay before we started to react and adjust to that.

GWEN IFILL: Scott Horton, if the war changed, if the mission changed, Gen. Sanchez wasn’t prepared for the sustained insurgency according to these reports and wasn’t planning for the population and didn’t have the resources to do what he was supposed to do at Abu Ghraib or to supervise it properly.

You seem to think that that responsibility should go to the Pentagon rather than to the commanders on the ground?

SCOTT HORTON: Well, it’s not either or, Gwen. I think that clearly there is responsibility for those on the ground and I think these reports are very effective when they talk and they allocate responsibility on the ground. Where they fall short is when they deal with a responsibility at the policy level, and they seem to assume that the confusion that existed surrounding interrogation and detention policy was a matter of oversight, a failure to give clear guidance.

They exclude the possibility that indeed it was a conscious decision to create an atmosphere of ambiguity in which experimentation with interrogation techniques — unlawful interrogation techniques — could occur.

My involvement in all this began when I was visited by a number of military lawyers about 15 months ago who raised a very serious concern that senior policymakers in the Pentagon had actively embarked upon creating this atmosphere of ambiguity and they thought it was going to have terrible consequences. They were right.

And there is more evidence of this. On Monday, in Manheim, Germany, a memorandum surfaced in which an officer was recounting, and this is again surrounding the visits of Maj. Gen. Miller, a decision and a push coming from above to take the gloves off and get tough with the detainees.

I’m told that there are several other documents of this sort which are waiting to surface and have not yet come out. This really has not been properly developed in the reports yet and I’ll wait and see what is to come in remaining reports, but certainly, you know the one that’s coming from Vice Admiral Church dealing with the navy in Guantanamo, I don’t think it is going to address this. It really should have been covered, I think in the Schlesinger report.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Le Moyne, what do you think about this possibility that this ambiguity was on purpose? In this latest report, it’s extensively documented the fact that the CIA seemed to have a different role, the other governmental agencies within the prison who were operating, than the army did. How much is that… is it possible what it is that Scott Horton suggested?

LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE: It may well be possible and I think the other investigations will show this, where it comes down on this. And Gen. Kern alluded to that in his comments about the CIA has indicated yes they are going to investigate this and work with our government.

What I find encouraging so far is that we have investigated ourselves. And a lot of militaries in the world would never do that. We have shown the results of this. A lot of governments in the world would not do that. More are going to come, more investigations.

And the really good news is that the Congress has hearings on this starting next week. And I don’t think that Sen. Warner and his colleagues on the Hill are going to let this lie. I think, Scott, that they will pursue this as far as they see a need to go.

GWEN IFILL: Yesterday, General, the emphasis at the Pentagon was on the vast majority of soldiers who did their jobs and Mr. Schlesinger was saying yesterday that this was an aberrational behavior on the part of a certain group on the night shift only at Abu Ghraib. Does that overall emphasis run the risk of taking attention away from the things that went wrong?

LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE: I don’t think so. I don’t think so, Gwen. Both Taguba’s report, Schlesinger’s report and then today Gen. Kern’s report listed a number of allegations that have been substantiated and it’s more than just the seven soldiers currently charged. And of those seven soldiers, two have already pleaded guilty.

I think the evidence shows they knew they were wrong when they did it. They knew it was criminal, and two of them have fessed up to that. We’ll see how the others work on this. We know there are some instances of violations at the point of capture, and Secretary Schlesinger’ report took comment on that.

In the heat of battle with the emotions, the adrenaline and fear, there are some things there that the soldier that was involved in it may not even remember or the prisoner, somebody else saw it. Some of those will come up, also. I think the numbers overall, though, Gwen, will be very, very small. I think you can pinpoint it to an individual act, the informal leader sometimes taking over in an instance of a weak chain of command.

GWEN IFILL: How about that, Scott Horton, are you content that this is more aberrational than widespread?

SCOTT HORTON: Well, forty to sixty incidents is already lot and the number of deaths in captivity we’ve seen in court is a very striking number, about 50 right now — several of those looking suspiciously like torture murders.

We also have very serious incidents that occurred not in Abu Ghraib but in other facilities like Camp Cropper. And we see a similar tenor to some of these things, particularly including sexual humiliation and the use of police dogs. And all of that, I think, stands against the suggestion that Secretary Schlesinger made yesterday that this is just a problem with the night shift. I think it is broader than that.

GWEN IFILL: How many – go ahead -

LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE: As I read the secretary’s report and listened to him, he was specifically talking about just Abu Ghraib, those allegations. And he was being clear to say it wasn’t all the MP’s or MI soldiers there. It was one particular small segment in that one location. He did clarify to say there were other allegations, other places that they also found.

GWEN IFILL: What are your unanswered questions right now, General?

LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE: I want to know why the platoon sergeant didn’t walk into his company commander or first sergeant the very first morning after that night shift of the first incident and bring it up. If the chain of command, as we are understanding now from the reports, began to get indicators there was something amiss, why didn’t they get involved in this thing directly and immediately and start making the changes? Why did they wait until it was too late and things were out of hand?

GWEN IFILL: Same question to you, Scott Horton. What are the unanswered questions?

SCOTT HORTON: Well, I think there is a direct line that run from Secretary Rumsfeld to Abu Ghraib and that runs through Maj. Gen. Miller. I think the major unanswered questions have to do with what led the secretary to decide to send Maj. Gen. Miller there. What is the role of Lt. Gen. Boykin and Steve Cambone in that process and why did that visit have the consequences we saw, not just in Abu Ghraib but also in other facilities in terms of violent treatment of detainees and use of sexual humiliation and military dogs?

GWEN IFILL: Scott Horton and John Le Moyne, thank you both very much.

LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE: Thank you.

SCOTT HORTON: Thank you very much, Gwen.