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Prison visits by general reported in hearing

A military lawyer for a soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib abuse case stated that a captain at the prison said the highest-ranking U.S. military officer in Iraq was present during some "interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse," according to a recording of a military hearing obtained by The Washington Post.
Senate Armed Services Committee Questions U.S. Generals In Prisoner Abuse Case
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez speaks as he testifies Wednesday during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Alex Wong / Getty Images file
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

A military lawyer for a soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib abuse case stated that a captain at the prison said the highest-ranking U.S. military officer in Iraq was present during some "interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse," according to a recording of a military hearing obtained by The Washington Post.

The lawyer, Capt. Robert Shuck, said he was told that Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and other senior military officers were aware of what was taking place on Tier 1A of Abu Ghraib. Shuck is assigned to defend Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II of the 372nd Military Police Company. During an April 2 hearing that was open to the public, Shuck said the company commander, Capt. Donald J. Reese, was prepared to testify in exchange for immunity. The military prosecutor questioned Shuck about what Reese would say under oath.

"Are you saying that Captain Reese is going to testify that General Sanchez was there and saw this going on?" asked Capt. John McCabe, the military prosecutor.

"That's what he told me," Shuck said. "I am an officer of the court, sir, and I would not lie. I have got two children at home. I'm not going to risk my career."

Shuck also said a sergeant at the prison, First Sgt. Brian G. Lipinski, was prepared to testify that intelligence officers told him the abuse of detainees on the cellblock was "the right thing to do." Earlier this month, Lipinski declined to comment on the case.

So far, clear evidence has not emerged that high-level officers condoned or promoted the abusive practices. Officers at the prison have blamed the abuse on a few rogue, low-level military police officers from the 372nd, a company of U.S. Army Reservists based in Cresaptown, Md. The general in charge of the prisons in Iraq at the time has said that military intelligence officers took control of Abu Ghraib and gave the MPs "ideas."

A Defense Department spokesman yesterday referred questions about Sanchez to U.S. military officials in the Middle East, warning that statements by defense lawyers or their clients should be treated with "appropriate caution." Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the senior military spokesman in Iraq, said Sanchez was unavailable for comment last night but would "enjoy the opportunity" to respond later.

At the April hearing, Shuck also said Reese would testify that Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, who supervised the military intelligence operation at Abu Ghraib, was "involved in intensive interrogations of detainees, condoned some of the activities and stressed that that was standard procedure." The hearing was held at Camp Victory in Baghdad. The Post obtained a copy of the audiotape last week, and it was transcribed yesterday.

In the transcript, Shuck said Reese was disturbed by the military intelligence techniques.

"He noted that there were some strange doings by the [military intelligence]," Shuck said. "He said, 'What's all this nudity about, this posturing, positioning, withholding food and water? Where's the Geneva Conventions being followed."

'Not a secret'
Shuck noted that the abusive tactics used in Tier 1A of Abu Ghraib were not a secret.

"All of that was being questioned by the chain of command and denied, general officer level on down," Shuck said. "Present during some of these happenings, it has come to my knowledge that Lt. Gen. Sanchez was even present at the prison during some of these interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse by those duty [non-commissioned officers]."

Reese, 39, a reservist from Pennsylvania who works as a window-blind salesman in civilian life, did not testify that day because he had invoked the military version of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Reese, who did not respond to an e-mail sent to him in Iraq yesterday, has not been granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. He did provide a sworn statement to military investigators early in the case, but he did not say that Sanchez was aware of the abuses.

Gary Myers, the civilian attorney for Frederick, said he is asking the military to add investigators to his legal team so he can track down Reese and other witnesses, several of whom have been reassigned to military posts throughout Iraq. Myers said he will also request that immunity be granted to a number of military personnel who he said have first-hand knowledge of what took place in Tier 1A.

"We intend to seek immunity for a myriad of officers who are unwilling to participate in the search for the truth without protecting themselves," Myers said yesterday. "We are definitely interested in talking to Captain Reese."

Attorney Paul Bergrin, who represents another of the charged MPs, Sgt. Javal S. Davis, said the soldiers were simply following the lead of military intelligence officers.

"There are no ifs, ands or buts," Bergrin said. "They did order it. They were told consistently, 'Soften them up; loosen them up. Look what's happening in the field. Soldiers are dying in droves. We need more intelligence . . . '

"Nobody put it in writing; no one's going to be stupid enough for that. My client went to Sergeant Frederick and questioned him: 'Should we be following these orders?' And Sergeant Frederick said, 'Absolutely. We're saving American lives. That's what we wear the uniform for.' "

The hearing at Camp Victory took place several weeks before the story broke into public view with the airing of abuse photographs on April 28 on CBS's "60 Minutes II." Chain-of-command responsibility has now become a key unanswered question in the scandal.

"All we have now is the government reacting after the fact with a bunch of pictures and want to whitewash this and accuse six enlisted soldiers of misconduct and yet hide the fact of what was condoned at the time," Shuck said during the hearing.

Responsibility and accountability
Sanchez told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that he was "horrified at the abusive behavior" at Abu Ghraib.

"We must fully investigate and fix responsibility, as well as accountability," for the abuses, Sanchez testified. "I am fully committed to thorough and impartial investigations that examine the role, commissions and omissions of the entire chain of command -- and that includes me. As a senior commander in Iraq, I accept responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib, and I accept as a solemn obligation the responsibility to ensure that it does not happen again."

Sanchez visited the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade's operation, which encompassed Tier 1A at Abu Ghraib, at least three times in October, according to Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, who was in charge of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq as commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade. That month, the serious abuses documented in published photographs -- naked detainees shackled together, a guard posing with a prisoner on a dog leash -- began.

In an interview yesterday, Karpinski said the number of visits by a commanding general struck her as "unusual," especially because Sanchez had not visited several of the 15 other U.S. detention facilities in Iraq.

Karpinski has said that she is being used as a scapegoat for the command failures at Abu Ghraib.

The general, a reservist from South Carolina, said she was not present during Sanchez's visits because her brigade had surrendered authority over that part of the prison to intelligence officers. She said she was alerted as a courtesy while the three-star general was planning to travel to the prison. Karpinski added that Sanchez might have visited without her knowledge after the intelligence officers were given formal authority over the entire prison on Nov. 19.

"He has divisions all over Iraq, and he has time to visit Abu Ghraib three times in a month?" Karpinski asked yesterday. "Why was he going out there so often? Did he know that something was going on?"

Sgt. Samuel Provance, a military intelligence soldier who worked at Abu Ghraib, told The Post that enormous resources began to pour into the interrogation operation in October and November. Provance said new personnel -- including some from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- came in suddenly to beef up interrogations.

Karpinski said the resources arrived after Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then commander of the U.S. military prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, visited Abu Ghraib between Aug. 31 and Sept. 9. She said Miller told her he wanted to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib's operation because the intelligence gathering there was not producing the desired results. Miller has said he never used that phrase.

"I think General Miller's visit gave them ideas, inspired them, gave them plans, told them what they were succeeding with in Gitmo," Karpinski said. She added that intelligence officers were "under great pressure to get more actionable intelligence from those interrogations."

Karpinski said she believes that intelligence officers were central to the abuses because the MPs arrived in mid-October at the prison, just weeks before serious abuses began. The general also said she believes officers in the military intelligence chain of command knew what was going on, and that Sanchez later tried to shift the blame to her unit, in January, after an MP reported the abuse and provided photos to military investigators.

"I didn't know then what [Sanchez] probably knew, which was that this was something clearly in the MI, maybe that he endorsed, and he was already starting a campaign to stay out of the fray and blame the 800th," Karpinski said. "I think the MI people were in this all the way. I think they were up to their ears in it. . . . I don't believe that the MPs, two weeks onto the job, would have been such willing participants, even with instructions, unless someone had told them it was all okay."

'Rules of engagement'
On Wednesday, Pentagon officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that a female Army officer identified only as "Captain Woods" drafted a set of interrogation "rules of engagement" used in Iraq. Those rules had been posted at Abu Ghraib by October, and became public during hearings into the abuses at the prison.

The list shows two sets of procedures -- those approved for all detainees and those requiring special authorization by Sanchez. Among the items requiring approval from Sanchez were techniques such as "sensory deprivation," "stress positions," "dietary manipulation," forced changes in sleep patterns, isolated confinement and the use of dogs.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said at a May 12 hearing that some of those techniques went "far beyond the Geneva Conventions." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld countered that they all had been approved by Pentagon lawyers.

Wood was the head of the military intelligence unit that controlled the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib. On Friday, the New York Times reported that Wood's unit developed aggressive rules and procedures while it was stationed in Afghanistan and imported them to Iraq.

During last week's hearing, Sanchez noted that the military has initiated seven courts-martial against those involved, and more charges may be brought.

"The Army Criminal Investigation Division investigation is not final, and the investigation of military intelligence procedures by Major General [George D.] Fay is also ongoing," Sanchez testified.

Sanchez said he issued policies in September that required soldiers to conduct all interrogations in a "lawful and humane manner with command oversight." In October, he said he distributed a memo titled, "Proper Treatment of Iraqi People During Combat Operations." He said he reissued the memo on Jan. 16 after learning about the abuse allegations, and later issued policies emphasizing the need to treat all Iraqis with dignity.

Correspondent Scott Wilson in Baghdad and staff researcher Margot Williams contributed to this report.