msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/11/2004 6:40:44 PM ET 2004-05-11T22:40:44

A female soldier in the Army’s 320th Military Police Battalion took “vigilante justice” on Iraqi prisoners who she believed had raped Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, according to a letter from the battalion’s commander obtained by The Associated Press.

Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum, commander of the 320th Military Police Battalion, leveled the allegation in a rebuttal to charges against his leadership of the 320th, some of whose soldiers were also charged with abusing prisoners last fall at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.

Phillabaum made the allegation in an April 12 memo to Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq. He provided a copy to The AP.

In the document, Phillabaum said Master Sgt. Lisa Girman, 35, and three other MPs from the same battalion abused the prisoners at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq on May 12, 2003.

‘Vigilante justice’ alleged
“When Master Sgt. Lisa Girman returned to Camp Bucca shortly before midnight, she took ‘vigilante justice’ against EPW (enemy prisoners of war) that she believed had raped PFC. Jessica Lynch,” he said. “Four out of the 10 320th MP Battalion soldiers abused some of the EPWs; a clear indication that the abuse was the responsibility of those individuals acting alone and was not condoned by myself or any leader at Camp Bucca.”

Girman, who was among four members of the 320th discharged over allegations they abused prisoners at Camp Bucca, called Phillabaum’s description of the incident “completely false.”

“That night there was no abuse, there was no evidence of abuse,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

She said the group of accused MPs used only the minimum force necessary to subdue a group of unruly prisoners being taken to the camp, and that at the time of the incident, she didn’t know who the prisoners were, or whether they had any involvement with Lynch.

Other soldiers who allegedly witnessed the altercation testified against Girman and other members of the 320th at a disciplinary hearing last year.

Accuser called an ‘incompetent’ leader
Girman, a Pennsylvania state trooper in civilian life, called Phillabaum an “incompetent” leader trying to cover up his shortcomings by blaming others.

“It’s funny how the leadership continues to point downward,” she said.

Lynch was captured and injured in the early days of the Iraq invasion. She was later rescued by U.S. troops. According to medical records cited in her biography, she was also sodomized, apparently during a three-hour gap that she cannot recall.

In Charleston, W.Va., Lynch’s attorney, Stephen Goodwin, said she “would not condone the use of what happened to her as a reason to abuse prisoners.”

“Jessica would urge that all prisoners of war be treated humanely and appropriately,” Goodwin said. “She would not be in favor of any kind of abuse against any prisoner. It is not anything she would approve of.”

The four Army reservists from the 320th Military Police Battalion are accused of punching and kicking several Iraqis, breaking one man’s nose, while escorting prisoners to a POW processing center.

Reservists deny wrongdoing
Military officials have declined to name the reservists, but relatives identified them as Staff Sgt. Scott McKenzie, 37; Sgt. Shawna Edmondson, 24; and Spc. Tim Canjar, 21. All are from Pennsylvania. All four denied wrongdoing and said the force they used was necessary to subdue unruly prisoners.

Phillabaum, who was reprimanded in connection with the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, mentioned the previous abuse at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq in a rebuttal to charges leveled against him in an April report of an Army investigation.

Phillabaum said Girman and the other soldiers who allegedly beat prisoners at Camp Bucca had no authorization for heavy-handed tactics from their commanders.

Phillabaum said he doubted training would have stopped Girman or Spc. Charles A. Graner, an MP indicted in connection with the Abu Ghraib abuse.

“In my opinion, Master Sgt. Girman and Cpl. Graner led acts of abuse in clear violation of any standard of morality. Training alone would not have prevented these acts of abuse,” Phillabaum wrote, incorrectly labeling Graner a corporal.

“If I were omnipotent, I would have removed Master Sgt. Girman and Cpl. Graner from their duties and avoided the abuse of prisoners and the disgrace to the nation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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