Members of Congress from both parties called Sunday for additional
investigations into the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal to determine whether
responsibility lies higher up the chain of command than with the seven Army
reservists who are facing criminal charges.
"We need to take this up as far as it goes, and we need to do it quickly,
" Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
He and other lawmakers were responding to two magazine reports suggesting
that top-level administration officials made recommendations on interrogation
policy that could have contributed to abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
The New Yorker is reporting in its May 24 edition that Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld secretly approved a plan to use harsh interrogation methods on
prisoners in Iraq. Members of Congress said they wanted to inquire further
into the report, even though the Pentagon has labeled it "outlandish,
conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture."
And the May 24 edition of Newsweek says a memo written by White House
Counsel Alberto Gonzales after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks may have
established the legal foundation that contributed to abusive treatment.
Newsweek reported that in January 2002, Gonzales wrote to President Bush
that in his judgment, the post-Sept. 11 security environment "renders obsolete
(the Geneva conventions') strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners
and renders quaint some of its provisions."
Secretary of State Colin Powell "hit the roof" when he read the memo,
according to the magazine, and fired off his own note to the president,
warning that the new rules "will reverse over a century of U.S. policy and
practice" and have "a high cost in terms of negative international reaction."
Powell, interviewed Sunday on "Meet the Press," said he did not recall
the Gonzales memo but added: "I have always said that the Geneva accord is an
important standard in international law and we have to comply with it."
At the White House, spokesman Allen Abney offered a general response to
the Newsweek report.
"We are a nation at war and we are a nation of laws," Abney said. "Our
most important responsibility is to protect the American people and we act in
an appropriate manner to protect that responsibility. It is the policy of the
U.S. to comply with all of our laws and treaty obligations."
Abney said the United States was bound by the Geneva conventions in Iraq.
The New Yorker article, written by Seymour Hersh, suggests that the roots
of the prisoner abuse scandal lay in a decision approved last year by Rumsfeld
to expand a classified operation for aggressive interrogations that was
originally approved for use with al Qaeda operatives.
As the Iraqi insurgency grew, the article said, Rumsfeld and the
Pentagon's undersecretary for intelligence, Stephen Cambone, expanded the
scope of the program to include prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a high-security
prison outside Baghdad. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, knew about that expansion, according to the article.
Pentagon officials ridiculed the report.
"This story seems to reflect the fevered insights of those with little,
if any, connection to the activities in the Department of Defense," spokesman
Lawrence Di Rita said Saturday.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told the German TV network ARD
on Sunday that "as far as we can tell, there's really nothing to the story."
Sunday, members of Congress said the Hersh report needs to be
investigated on Capitol Hill.
"I think there's been a lack of accountability up the chain," Sen. Carl
Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said
on CBS' "Face the Nation." Seven reservists in a military police unit face
criminal charges in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Some of the
reservists are arguing that they were carrying out orders from superiors. The
first court-martial is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Baghdad.
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle