NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 8/24/2004 9:10:34 PM ET 2004-08-25T01:10:34

U.S. soldiers running the Abu Ghraib prison are mainly to blame for the inmate abuses there, but fault also lies with the Pentagon’s most senior civilian and military officials, according to a report released Tuesday by an independent panel of civilian defense experts.

Senior leaders did not establish clear guidelines on permissible techniques for interrogating various categories of prisoners held at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq, the report said.

High-level commanders failed to shift resources to an understaffed and ill-trained prison detention unit once it became apparent that the system was out of control, the report said.

The findings were presented at a Pentagon news conference by James Schlesinger, the former secretary of defense who headed a four-person commission created last May by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“There was chaos at Abu Ghraib," Schlesinger said, and it was due in part to the fact that the prison was a regular target of shelling by an Iraqi insurgency not adequately anticipated by U.S. leaders.

The report said the direct responsibility lay with soldiers and commanders in the field rather than in Washington.

“There was direct responsibility for those activities on the part of the commanders on the scene up to the brigade level, because they did not adequately supervise what was going on at Abu Ghraib,” Schlesinger said. “There was indirect responsibility at higher levels, in that the weaknesses at Abu Ghraib were well-known and that corrective action could have been taken and should have been taken.”

Video: He said Rumsfeld’s office could be faulted for inadequate supervision, but he strongly objected to the suggestion that Rumsfeld should step down from his post.

“His resignation would be a boon to all of America’s enemies,” Schlesinger said.

Rumsfeld, for his part, thanked the panel, saying in a statement that it "provided important information and recommendations."

Asked later about the culpability of senior military commanders, Schlesinger said “they were not focused on the detention operations,” but even so they should not be forced to resign or be punished. He referred specifically to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was the top U.S. commander in Iraq during the period in question.

The mistreatment of prisoners, described by the commission as “acts of brutality and purposeless sadism,” would have been avoided with proper training, leadership and oversight, the report said.

'Sadism on the night shift'
In most cases, the abuse was not carried out with the purpose of achieving intelligence from prisoners, Schlesinger said, but by bored soldiers on the nightshift at Abu Ghraib.

“There were freelance activities,” he said, describing it as “sadism on the night shift."

The panel did not suggest that Rumsfeld ordered any of the abuses or did anything to encourage them. But it indicated that his policies created some confusion at lower levels of the military.

“The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline,” the report said. “There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels.”

The commission was particularly critical of Sanchez.

“We believe Lt. Gen. Sanchez should have taken stronger action in November when he realized the extent of the leadership problems at Abu Ghraib,” the report said. It concluded that he “failed to ensure proper staff oversight” of detention and interrogation operations.

Separate Army report
The Schlesinger commission’s report underscored the fact that there were not enough trained military police assigned to an increasingly growing detainee population because reinforcements were not sent to the prison despite a growing insurgency.

Partly as a result, suspect interrogation techniques first used with detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were employed at Abu Ghraib without proper safeguards, the report found. Among those techniques was the use of unmuzzled dogs.

An Army investigation report to be released on Wednesday will recommend that 20 or more military intelligence troops and others at Abu Ghraib face administrative or perhaps criminal punishment in the scandal that has infuriated the Arab world.

The Washington Post, citing Pentagon sources, reported that the separate Army investigation found military police dogs were used to frighten Iraqi teenagers detained at the prison as part of a sadistic game.

The Post reported that MPs were using their animals to make juveniles — as young as 15 years old — urinate on themselves as part of a competition.

"It has nothing to do with interrogation," The Post quoted one Army officer as saying. "It was just them on their own being weird."

General, colonel criticized
The Schlesinger panel, named by Rumsfeld to look into the abuse and how effectively the Pentagon is addressing the problem with a number of investigations, also includes former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, former Florida Republican Rep. Tillie Fowler and retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner, who led the allied air campaign in the 1991 Gulf War.

The panel interviewed Rumsfeld, Myers and Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and during its investigation.

The Schlesinger commission concluded that Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th MP Brigade, and Col. Thomas Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, knew or should have known that the abuses were taking place and should have taken measures to prevent them.

Pappas received a letter of reprimand. Karpinski, who was suspended in May, has denied knowing about any mistreatment of prisoners until photographs surfaced at the end of April. She was also criticized in an earlier abuse investigation headed by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba.

Karpinski has received a letter of reprimand and been suspended from her post. She is protesting that suspension.

The report was particularly harsh on Karpinski, accusing her of leadership failures that set the conditions that led to the abuses. The report cited her failure to establish appropriate standard operating procedures and to ensure that protections of the Geneva Conventions were afforded prisoners, as well as her failure to take appropriate action against ineffective commanders and staff officers.

Karpinski said in an interview broadcast this month by the British Broadcasting Corp. that there had been a conspiracy to prevent her knowing about the abuse. Asked whether she thought the conspiracy reached up to the Defense Department or the White House, she said, “The indication is that it may have.”

Reuters, The Associated Press and NBC’s Joel Seidman contributed to this report.

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