WASHINGTON—The general who investigated the abuse of Iraqi detainees testified Tuesday that the "egregious acts of violence" by U.S. military guards represented a dramatic breakdown in leadership and discipline by soldiers and commanders at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said he found no evidence of specific orders directing soldiers to commit such acts, but he disagreed with a senior Pentagon civilian over who was in charge of U.S. military police at the prison.
The hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee left uncertain whether guards at Abu Ghraib, and perhaps other detention centers in Iraq, felt pressure to help extract information from prisoners about the anti-U.S. insurgency, weapons of mass destruction, ties to terrorist groups or other issues of urgent interest to top Bush administration officials.
Several Republican and Democratic senators said there were indications that top commanders created an atmosphere that encouraged soldiers to violate military law and Geneva Convention rules governing the treatment of prisoners.
Sen. John Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said some of the photos of naked Iraqis in humiliating poses were meant as threats and weren't the result of spontaneous cruelty.
"These youngsters didn't understand the nuances of Muslim culture to have, as some people say, staged those photographs, which, I understand, were going to be shown to the prisoner's family by way of threat, unless he came forward with some valuable information," Warner said.
Warner asked Taguba to explain in "your own soldiers' language" how the abuses occurred.
"Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down; lack of discipline; no training whatsoever, and no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant," Taguba replied.
The hearing came as an Islamic militant group released video of an American civilian being beheaded. The group, which claimed an affiliation with al-Qaida, said the killing was in response to the Abu Ghraib abuses.
Tuesday's testimony and the beheading in Iraq sustained attention on a scandal that has rocked the Bush administration and triggered demands from Democrats for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. While Republicans continued to stop short of that, some made it clear they haven't ruled it out.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an Air Force reservist and former military prosecutor, said anyone in the chain of command could be held accountable.
"The people who are in charge of maintaining good order and discipline, the people who are in charge of making sure there were enough troops available and the culture did not exist the way it did, they are candidates for prosecution for dereliction of duty. ... Who knows how far that will go," Graham said.
But Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., ridiculed the attention the abuse case is getting and attacked the victims of the abuse.
"They're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."
Photographs of U.S. soldiers harassing naked Iraqi detainees have caused an international uproar. Additional photographs, which officials say are far worse than anything made public so far, are expected to be available to lawmakers for private inspection on Wednesday. Pentagon officials are trying to determine whether to make those public.
Graham said the photos raise suspicions about the motives behind the abuse.
"People would love it to be (abuse by just a handful of military guards), but I am not buying it. ... Some of these photos seem to be too elaborate," Graham said.
Senators also heard from Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, who oversees the Pentagon's military intelligence operations, and Gen. Lance Smith, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq.
Under questioning by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the panel's senior Democrat, Taguba and Cambone contradicted each other on whether guards were under the control of military intelligence. Taguba wrote in his report that such a practice was "not doctrinally sound."
"Is that your conclusion?" Levin asked.
Taguba, shifting uncomfortably in his chair, said: "Yes, sir, because the order gave (a military intelligence colonel) tactical control of all units that were residing at Abu Ghraib."
Cambone disagreed, contending that the colonel didn't have authority over military police.
The issue is significant because several of the seven military guards facing courts-martial in the abuse cases have said they acted under orders or suggestions from military intelligence personnel.
Senators questioned whether Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who formerly ran the military detention center at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, attempted to apply the less-restrictive standards used to question terrorism suspects in Guantanamo to Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib. Miller has been quoted as saying he wanted to "Gitmo-ize" the Iraqi interrogation system, a reference to the military's acronym for Guantanamo, GTMO.
"This `Gitmo-ization' is a concern because I think everybody knew what Gitmo-izing meant," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "In Gitmo they are not treated according to the Geneva Convention for the treatment of prisoners of war."
Cambone said that while standards may differ at Guantanamo and Iraq, both require the humane treatment of prisoners. He said Miller's recommendations were simply that guards share information with interrogators.
"I cannot help but suspect that others were involved," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "That military intelligence personnel were involved, or people further up the chain of command, in suggesting ... to these guards specific types of abuse that were designed to break these prisoners."
Taguba said witnesses at Abu Ghraib said some of the interrogators were civilian contractors or members of "other government agencies," a euphemism that usually refers to the Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA Inspector General's Office has opened an investigation into whether there was CIA involvement in the abuse cases at Abu Ghraib, an agency spokesman said Tuesday. The CIA inspector general's office is already probing agency involvement in the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan and two captives in Iraq.
The CIA spokesman said that "only a handful of detainees" at Abu Ghraib were of interest to CIA officers, but some had been held in the cellblock where abuses took place.
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Sumana Chatterjee and Jonathan Landay contributed to this report.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-ABUSE
GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): USIRAQ-ABUSE, 20040511 USIRAQ Cambone