Commanders Responsible for Abu Ghraib

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Commanders Responsible for Abu Ghraib

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has got to be kidding. It turns out that only those rogue enlisted men and women and one woman general are to blame for the horrifying treatment of prisoners and detainees of the Iraqi war, according to Lt. Gen. Stanley Green, the Army inspector general.

He cleared four senior army officers of any responsibility for the abuse of prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison after reviewing the results of 10 separate inquiries into the prison abuse, some of which the world was able to view though photos.

In effect, his report is the final word unless there are some brave members of Congress who are willing to investigate the role of the military higher-ups who gave the green light for the severe interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody.

The responsibility ultimately lies with President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel, who decided that the Geneva Conventions on Humanitarian Treatment of Prisoners of War didn't apply in the "war on terrorism."

Among the military hierarchy, only Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, an Army reserve officer who commanded the military police unit at Abu Ghraib, has paid a price. Karpinski, who was relieved of her command and given a written reprimand, claims she is a "scapegoat" and plans to fight the charge.

The military has targeted 125 individuals with either criminal or administrative charges in connection with 350 cases of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. Six low-ranking servicemen have been convicted or pleaded guilty to abuse-related charges.

In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Karpinski pointed to the role of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had been sent from his duty at the Guantanamo Bay, prison -- known as "gitmo" -- to Iraq where his orders were to "gitmoize" Abu Ghraib. Miller told officers there "to treat the prisoners like dogs."

Green exonerated Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who headed the command in Iraq from June, 2003 to July, 2004. Green said charges against Sanchez and three of his senior deputies were "unsubstantiated."

So once again it's those GI renegades whose imaginative abuse of prisoners ran to nakedness, stacking nude men in a pyramid, and using leashed dogs to intimidate during questioning.

Bush has said he was opposed to torture. Fine. But the proof of the pudding is for him to issue an executive order against torture and to announce that the United States will again abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Civil rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, are appalled at the Green report.

Human Rights Watch has called on Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the roles of all U.S. officials "who participated in, ordered, or had command responsibility for war crimes or torture."

The human rights group also called for a bipartisan probe -- similar to the 9/11 commission investigation -- to look into the roles of Bush, Rumsfeld and former CIA director George Tenet.

"We believe that if the U.S. is going to wipe away the stain of Abu Ghraib, it needs to investigate those at the top who ordered or condoned abuse, and to come clean on what the president has authorized and repudiate once and for all the mistreatment of detainees in the war on terror," said Reed Brody, Human Rights Watch special counsel.

He said the fact that you have the same kinds of abuses going on in three different theaters (Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo) suggests that the responsibility is higher up.

The civil rights groups said the military appears to be incapable of investigating itself.

The Army inspector general's report follows one by Vice Adm. Albert Church, the Navy inspector general, who said he found no pressure from the chain of command that led to the prison abuses. Most of the Church report was classified but he found "no single, over arching explanation of the abuses."

Brody called it another "whitewash."

Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director, denounced the latest Army inquiry giving the topside of the Pentagon a clean bill of health. "The government cannot ignore the systemic nature of the torture that implicates the military chain of command to the very top," he said.

Oh, yes, it can. It already has done so.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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