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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 August, 2004, 01:04 GMT 02:04 UK
Abu Ghraib reports re-ignite debate

By Nick Childs
BBC Pentagon correspondent

Two new reports, and two new versions of what happened at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld has escaped direct blame, but the row rumbles on
One was the strategic overview from the Schlesinger panel, led by former US Defence Secretary James Schlesinger.

The other from the US Army - the Fay report, named after one of the chief investigators, Maj Gen George Fay - was a more nuts and bolts look at what both reports say amounted to 44 incidents of abuse.

Both reports lay most of the blame for what went on in Abu Ghraib at the feet of the soldiers involved and their local commanders. But neither of them stops there.

Each in different ways points a finger of criticism higher up. And that is what has reignited the political debate over Abu Ghraib.

Tantamount to torture

According to the Fay report, 23 military intelligence personnel and four civilian contractors participated in or encouraged abuse at Abu Ghraib, some of which amounted to torture.

27 military intelligence personnel accused
8 personnel knew of abuse but did not act
Senior commanders at fault
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Six other military intelligence soldiers and two contractors failed to report abuse, it said. That is in addition to the seven military police reservists who have already been charged.

"We discovered serious misconduct and a loss of moral values," according to Gen Paul Kern, who oversaw the investigation.

Disciplinary action will likely follow in these cases. There may be others who could face action, including the commander of the military intelligence unit at Abu Ghraib.

But how far up the chain of command the ripples of all this will reach is not clear.

The Fay report says senior officers like the former commander in Iraq, Lt Cdr Ricardo Sanchez, may be responsible for some of the problems at Abu Ghraib, but are not directly culpable.

It is a distinction some outside the military may find hard to accept.

Rumsfeld debate rages on

And the earlier Schlesinger panel went further, for the first time taking aim in the Pentagon itself.

"There was chaos at Abu Ghraib," according to James Schlesinger, the chairman.

He said the abuses captured on camera there were freelance activities by the soldiers involved. He accused them of sadism.

But the panel said civilian and military leaders in the Pentagon were indirectly responsible for failures of oversight, confused policy, and a lack of resources at the prison.

It found that the uniformed military - commanders and staff officers in the field and in Washington - bore more responsibility than the Pentagon's civilian leaders for not preventing the abuses.

And, according to Mr Schlesinger, it would be wrong for Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign.

"His resignation would be a boon to all of America's enemies," Mr Schlesinger said.

Indeed, the panel praised Mr Rumsfeld's response to the prisoner abuse scandal. One of the panel members, retired air force Gen Charles "Chuck" Horner, said he was a hero in this affair.

But that is not how many see it. Indeed, the problems of Abu Ghraib are, for some, an indictment of a war plan for Iraq that allowed for too few troops, and did not prepare enough for the post-war environment.

That, they blame on Donald Rumsfeld.

And that is exactly how the Democratic presidential contender, John Kerry, saw it, calling again for the defence secretary's resignation.

That is unlikely to happen. It would be too damaging to the Bush administration's position on Iraq.

But it is still an open question as to where the buck will ultimately stop on Abu Ghraib.


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