As the courts-martial of U.S. rank and file military personnel who acted as guards at Abu Ghraib prison continue, new documents indicate that responsibility lies farther up the chain of command. They provide further evidence that an independent investigation into the abuses by a bipartisan panel of retired military and civilian judges is needed.

Classified annexes to the so-called Taguba report into prisoner abuse at Abu Gharib, obtained by U.S. News and World Report, portray a total breakdown in leadership up and down the chain of command. The article in this week’s issue, by Edward T. Pound and Kit R. Roane, paints a sobering picture of a senior military command, led by Lt. Gen Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of multinational forces in Iraq. Senior officers were deaf to pleas for adequate resources, and uninterested in hearing about a shortage of guards and guns and a prison “spiraling out of control.”

Abandoned by the chain of command.”

  • “There seemed little interest from the top brass in providing the prison facility with what it needed to get the job done. None of the top commanders wanted to hear about the lack of prison guards, lack of guns for MPs or floodlights to bathe the compounds at night and prevent escapes, almost a constant threat at Abu Ghraib.”
  • Senior military officers, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then commander of multi-national forces in Iraq, refused repeated pleas to provide adequate resources to improve conditions at the prison.
  • “[Gen.] Sanchez also gave the military intelligence officers more resources – something he didn’t do for the 800th MP Brigade, according to Brigadier General Janis Karpinski [commander of the 800th MP Brigade] and others – in his drive to obtain more intelligence from detainees.” When Gen. Sanchez finally took action, his decision to place control of the prison in the hands of military intelligence led directly to an environment where “soldiers just ran wild.”

Prosecution of earlier abuses might have prevented Abu Ghraib.

  • “The problems there (Abu Ghraib), the newly available documents show, had their roots months earlier at another U.S.-run detention center in southern Iraq called Camp Bucca. Evidence showed that MP s viciously attacked prisoners there.”
  • “‘I’m convinced that what happened [at Abu Ghraib] would never have happened if’ the Camp Bucca cases had been prosecuted, Maj. Michael Sheridan, who worked at Abu Ghraib, told General Taguba.”

Chaotic and dangerous environment.”

  • “Riots, prisoner escapes, shootings, corrupt Iraqi guards, unsanitary conditions, rampant sexual misbehavior, bug-infested food, prisoner beatings and humiliations, and almost-daily mortar shellings from Iraqi insurgents pretty much sums up life at Abu Ghraib.”
  • “E-mails copied to the higher chain of command, show a frantic attempt to simply get the detainees at Abu Ghraib edible food. Dinenna [Maj. David Dinenna of the 320 MP Battalion] pressed repeatedly for food that wouldn’t make prisoners vomit. He criticized the private food contractor for shorting the facility on hundreds of meals a day and for providing food containing bugs, rats, and dirt.”

See the report by the Center for American Progress that includes concrete recommendations for beginning to repair the damage caused by the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

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