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Senator, 8 retired military officers seek independent probe of prisoner abuse in Iraq

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a former Army Ranger and respected member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined eight retired generals and admirals Wednesday to call for an independent investigation into the abuse of prisoners in Iraq.

"We need to get an independent inquiry because we have not yet established, in a credible way, the complete picture and we have waited now for months," Reed said in a conference call with journalists.

To date, the Army has launched more than four dozen reviews, inspections and assessments of the treatment of detainees. It also has conducted more than 200 investigations into specific allegations of criminal abuse and homicide. The House and Senate armed services committees are scheduled to review some of the most recent investigations Thursday.

According to the Defense Department, there were 44 incidents of abuse at Abu Ghraib, a sprawling prison complex northwest of Baghdad, as well as 11 confirmed incidents of abuse elsewhere in Iraq; eight in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and three in Afghanistan.

Appearing at a separate news conference Wednesday, retired military leaders highlighted what they believed are some of the most critical shortcomings of these investigations. "None of them is sufficiently comprehensive or independent to effectively identify and recommend how to address any underlying causes of such widespread abuse," the former military leaders wrote in a letter addressed to President Bush.

Also on Wednesday, the human rights advocacy group Human Rights First released a report called "Getting to Ground Truth," which examined the major investigations.

Among the crucial gaps cited by both groups are the use of "ghost" detainees who were hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the role of CIA agents in detainee abuse and the extent to which guidance from the Pentagon's leadership, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, may have contributed to the mistreatment.

Knight Ridder has reported that the Army used unorthodox interrogation techniques in Afghanistan and Iraq and had a written policy for holding detainees in secret. A recent investigation by Army generals found that the interrogation practices of the CIA "led to a loss of accountability at Abu Ghraib."

"The guidance became more confused and obscure," said retired Brig. Gen. James Cullen, a former chief judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals. "You have to be very cautious at the senior levels what kind of message you send to the field."

Other signatories to the letter to Bush included retired Adm. John Hutson, who was the Navy's judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000; retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Hoar, former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command; retired Brig. Gen. David Brahms, who served as the Marine Corps' senior legal adviser from 1983 to 1988; retired Maj. Gen. John L. Fugh, former judge advocate general of the U.S. Army; retired Adm. Lee F. Gunn, a former inspector general of the Department of the Navy; retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Gard; and retired Army Brig. Gen. Richard Omeara.

A Defense Department official said the results of some investigations are pending, including one by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church, the Navy inspector general. The results from that investigation are supposed to be released in September and are expected to fill in the gaps left by other investigations.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.