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Leaders reportedly back with MP unit

The two leaders of the MP unit whose members were accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners have been restored to command, a National Guard colleague said Thursday.
/ Source: Reuters

The two leaders of a U.S. military police unit whose members were accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners have been restored to their command despite a report calling for their dismissal, a National Guard colleague said Thursday.

A widely publicized military report into the scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad recommended that the men, Capt. Donald Reese and First Sgt. Brian Lipinski, be relieved of their commands for failing to supervise their soldiers properly.

But 1st Sgt. Paul George, Lipinski’s counterpart with a different unit that also served at Abu Ghraib, said he had received an e-mail from Lipinski saying both men were back in charge of their 372nd Military Police Company in Iraq.

Spokesmen for the company and the U.S. military reached by telephone in Baghdad could not confirm that status of the two soldiers.

Lipinski “told me that he was put back with his unit and that the commander was, as well, and [that] them staying there in Iraq had nothing to do with any punishment,” George told Reuters after being in contact with Lipinski by e-mail. “His whole unit got extended.”

The U.S. military has charged seven members of the 372nd MP Company with sexually humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a torture center under former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

A military court sentenced one of the men, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, to a year in prison Wednesday in the first of the courts-martial against the soldiers.

The report, issued in March by Maj. Gen Antonio Taguba, quoted Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who has since been relieved of her command, as partly blaming Reese, commander of the unit, and Lipinski, its top noncommissioned officer. The report concluded that the two men should be reprimanded for failing to oversee their soldiers properly.

George said Reese and Lipinski were now leading their unit helping provide convoy protection in Balad, Iraq, home of one of the country’s largest air bases.

Unit leaders said to be shocked by abuses
George, who oversaw day-to-day activities of the San Francisco area-based 870th MP Company at Abu Ghraib, said both men were shocked by the abuses and should not lose their leadership positions.

“I thought he had a death in the family,” George said of a conversation with Lipinski after he learned of the abuses in January. “He said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you that’s just so perplexing and disturbing I don’t even know how to tell you.’ ”

“He was just devastated and said, ‘I had no idea, you know, this situation was going on.’ ”

Meanwhile Thursday, a National Guard official said Capt. Leo Merck, former commander of the 870th MP Company, had been discharged Wednesday following accusations that he photographed his female soldiers in the shower at Abu Ghraib.

“He received a discharge in lieu of court-martial,” said Capt. Denise Varner, a spokeswoman for the  National Guard. “He is no longer a member of the Army or the California National Guard.”

For days, military officials said they were unable to provide information on the status of Merck, who is an accountant in civilian life. A dishonorable discharge could affect his veteran’s benefits, such as his access to medical facilities and his pension.