Opinion

Seven severely reprimanded in Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal

WASHINGTON—Seven Army officers and non-commissioned officers have been severely reprimanded for failing to prevent the abuse of Iraqi prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, a senior Pentagon official said Monday.

The official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said six of the officers and non-commissioned officers received the most severe reprimands possible—an administrative action that will almost certainly finish their careers in the Army. A seventh received a somewhat milder reprimand.

The reprimands were the first disciplinary actions in the case. Pictures taken at the prison showed detainees stripped naked, forced to simulate sex acts and apparently threatened with electrocution.

The seven officers and sergeants who received the administrative punishments weren't accused of abuse. They were deemed responsible for failing to properly train, discipline and control the actions of the military police pulling guard duty in Abu Ghraib. The Pentagon didn't disclose their names.

Six other Army Reserve military police soldiers face court-martial trials on charges that they abused and tortured Iraqi prisoners held in Abu Ghraib, where Saddam Hussein once kept, tortured and killed thousands of prisoners.

The reprimands grew out of an investigation requested by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of American forces in Iraq, and conducted by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. The investigation looked into the command climate that allowed the prisoner abuse to take place. The seven officers and NCOs will not face any further punishment.

The Pentagon official said the allegations of American MPs abusing and torturing Iraqis, who were in a special section of the prison where military intelligence agents were conducting interrogations, first came to light in January and have been under intensive investigation ever since.

He added that at least five investigations are under way or just concluding. They are the criminal investigation launched Jan. 14 with the seizure of evidence by Army Criminal Investigation Division agents; Taguba's chain of command investigation; an Army inspector general investigation and inspection of all American-operated detention facilities in Iraq; an assessment of military intelligence interrogation procedures ordered by the Army chief of intelligence, or G-2; and a special assessment of Army Reserve training procedures ordered by the commander of all Army Reserve forces.

"There are a lot of eyes on this problem," the official said. "This is about leadership, training and discipline. This is about something that violates all human dignity and will not be tolerated in our Army."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush on a Midwest campaign swing on Monday that Bush called Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "to discuss the strong actions and steps that the military is taking to address matters in the prison system in Iraq and prevent prisoner abuse." He said Bush wanted "to make sure that appropriate action was being taken against those responsible for these shameful, appalling acts."

The commander of the Army Reserve 800th MP Brigade responsible for Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, has hired a lawyer. She appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday and declared that she knew nothing about the abuse while it was going on.

The Pentagon official said Karpinski's brigade, which includes the unit guarding the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the 320th Military Police Battalion, has returned to the United States and has been demobilized. It was replaced by two active Army military police brigades, the 16th MP Brigade from Fort Bragg, N.C., and the 89th MP Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas.

Bryan G. Whitman, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said, "While it is possible for a small number of individuals to tarnish us all, it also has to be remembered that it was another soldier who brought all this to light because he saw things he knew were wrong and reported them."

The ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said she was writing Rumsfeld to request Taguba's report "and an immediate briefing on specific steps the military is taking to punish wrongdoers and prevent further acts of abuse at all military prisons."

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