WASHINGTON — An Army general acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that U.S. forces tortured Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison, and his report said a colonel who headed the military intelligence unit at the prison could face criminal charges.
“It’s a harsh word, and in some instances, unfortunately, I think it was appropriate here. There were a few instances where torture was being used,” Maj. Gen. George Fay said at a briefing at the Pentagon on the Army’s investigation into the role of military intelligence personnel in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Defense Department leaders and Bush administration officials had previously steered clear of describing the physical abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners as torture. Fay did not specify the actions he considered torture.
“We discovered serious misconduct and a loss of moral values,” said Gen. Paul Kern, the head of the investigation.
The findings, by Fay and Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones, came a day after an independent panel released a report blaming senior leaders, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for lax oversight and inattention to the issue of military-run prisons in Iraq. This contributed to the chaos at Abu Ghraib, said members of that panel, led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Wednesday that civilian leaders in the White House and the Defense Department should be held accountable for the abuses.
“Harry Truman had that sign on the desk, and it said, ‘The buck stops here,’” Kerry said in Philadelphia. “The buck doesn’t stop at the Pentagon.”
As he has several times before, Kerry called for Rumsfeld to resign. He also called for President Bush to appoint an independent commission to investigate “all of the chain of abuses that took place, and why they took place, including the civilian side.”
46 could be charged
Investigators referred Col. Thomas Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade at Abu Ghraib, to Army authorities for possible disciplinary action, which could prompt criminal charges.
In all, the report referred 46 names for possible charges. In addition to Pappas, four other Army officers, 29 more military intelligence soldiers, four military police soldiers and two medical personnel were forwarded. On the civilian side, the names of six private contractors were sent to the Justice Department for possible legal action.
To date, only seven military police reservists who served at Abu Ghraib have been charged.
The 143-page investigation, nicknamed the Fay report, depicts the involvement of U.S. military intelligence officers and civilian contractors working with them in the abuse at Abu Ghraib, a former torture center under toppled President Saddam Hussein, as much greater than had been previously disclosed.
The report blames the abuses on several factors: “misconduct (ranging from inhumane to sadistic) by a small group of morally corrupt soldiers and civilians, a lack of discipline on the part of leaders and soldiers” and a “failure or lack of leadership” by higher command in Iraq.
The report distinguishes between the abuse depicted in many of the now-famous photographs from the prison, which the military says was committed by a small group of guards and others, and abuses committed during interrogations.
About two-thirds of the abuses during interrogations were committed by soldiers who wrongly believed they were using approved techniques or were unclear about what techniques they could legally use, Army officials said.
Kern said the most horrific abuse investigators discovered involved U.S. soldiers who held a contest to scare teenage detainees with guard dogs “in order to see who could make the detainees urinate and defecate first.”
“This is clearly a deviation from everything we’ve taught people how to behave,” Kern said. “There were failures of leadership, of people seeing these things and not correcting them. There were failures of discipline.”
Senior officers at loggerheads
Earlier investigations have found a deeply antagonistic relationship between the military police, led by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, and military intelligence soldiers, led by Pappas, at Abu Ghraib, where numerous prisoners were subjected to physical abuse and sexual humiliation.
The report said Pappas improperly authorized the use of guard dogs during interrogations, failed to take aggressive action against soldiers who violated U.S. rules and the Geneva Conventions, showed poor judgment and failed to put in place a system to detect and prevent abuses.
Lt. Col. Stephen Jordan, Maj. David Price, Maj. Michael Thompson and Capt. Carolyn Wood could also face criminal charges. Jordan directed the Abu Ghraib interrogation debriefing center. The report cited him for dereliction of duty during a chaotic night of prisoner abuse in November 2003.
The report also found that U.S. forces improperly hid at least eight detainees from observers of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and investigators asked the Defense Department inspector general’s office and the CIA to look further into the issue of so-called ghost detainees.
Independent panel’s report
By contrast, the independent report released Tuesday found no policy of abuse and concluded that the problems were directly the fault of the soldiers who committed violence against the prisoners and of their immediate supervisors.
The four-member commission, appointed by Rumsfeld and headed by Schlesinger, also said senior commanders and top-level Defense Department officials, including Rumsfeld, could be faulted for failed leadership and oversight.
The new reports are among several that have examined various aspects of the prisoner abuse scandal, which rocked the Bush administration and triggered calls by others in Congress for Rumsfeld to resign.
No senior officials deserve to lose their jobs, the Schlesinger commission members told reporters Tuesday while releasing their findings. They said they believed the Defense Department was on a path to remedying the underlying causes of the abuse.
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.
The White House had no immediate comment on the Schlesinger report.
At least three more reports are in the works. One, looking at allegations that detainees were abused by Special Operations forces, is due in the next few weeks.
Another, in which Vice Adm. Albert Church, the Navy’s inspector general, has been reviewing Defense Department detainee operations, is expected in mid-September. The third, looking at whether military intelligence and military police units were taught proper interrogation procedures, is expected in November.
MSNBC-TV’s Leonor Ayala, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.