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Independent Panel on Abu Ghraib Is Urged

Senator, former military officers and rights group say reports on prisoner abuse have been narrow.

September 09, 2004|Emma Schwartz | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An independent panel similar to the Sept. 11 commission should be appointed to investigate the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison because stacks of reports released so far have provided only "bits and pieces" of the picture, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday.

In a separate announcement, a human rights group and eight retired generals and admirals made the same demand, saying the reports were too narrowly focused to look at all agencies involved or investigate upper levels of command.

"I think we've given a sufficient time and opportunity for the Department of Defense," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said. "I think it's about time that we have another investigation that's complete and thorough."

The pressure for a broad, independent inquiry came on the eve of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today on the two most recent Pentagon reports on the prisoner abuse scandal. Together, the documents sketch a portrait of widespread abuse involving a greater number of individuals and institutions than initially thought.

An investigation by Army Maj. Gen. George R. Fay and Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones looked into the role of military intelligence soldiers and officers at Abu Ghraib, the U.S.-run prison outside Baghdad, recommending charges or other action against 41 people in addition to seven reserve military police soldiers charged so far. Another panel, headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, reviewed the role of top Pentagon officials in the scandal.

Reed said that a key unanswered question was the origin of the practice of keeping prisoners off formal logs and prison records for intelligence purposes, known as holding "ghost" detainees. He challenged whether lower-level soldiers and officers could have devised the practice on their own.

"There's been this persistent drumbeat that this is just a few corrupt soldiers in the prison," Reed said. "But that doesn't really fit when you're talking about 'ghost' detainees who are in and out of the prison, who are moving out and about."

The senator also questioned why the CIA had no formal agreement with the U.S. military command in Iraq and why interrogators felt inordinate pressure from "higher headquarters."

"Well, what's the higher headquarters, what's this inordinate pressure?" Reed asked.

The various reports amount to "a patchwork quilt of investigations," retired Rear Adm. John Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general, said at a news conference organized by Human Rights First, a committee of lawyers. None of the reports has addressed the interaction among all the branches and units involved, said Elisa Massimino, director of the rights group's Washington office.

She acknowledged that creation of a panel faced an uphill battle in an election year, with Congress' attention elsewhere. But, she said, "we need to ensure that this can't happen again."

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