Friday, April 08, 2005

Abu Ghraib Officers Claimed They Were Scapegoats

Abu Ghraib Officers Claimed They Were Scapegoats
Documents show that three who served at the prison said they were unfairly singled out.

By Richard A. Serrano
Times Staff Writer

April 8, 2005

WASHINGTON — As the Abu Ghraib scandal was going public a year ago, junior Army officers at the prison in Iraq formally protested that they were being singled out for discipline for the actions of a few rogue soldiers. They also complained that it was unfair for senior military leaders to get away without a blemish on their careers.

According to documents released Thursday by the Army, three reservist prison supervisors wrote to Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, then commander of day-to-day operations in Iraq, to complain that the scandal had ruined their Army careers, yet left supervisors such as Metz and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the head of U.S. military operations in Iraq, basically unscathed.

The three said that they never were properly trained to run a prison, and complained that they were not given written Geneva Convention rules to post at the prison warning against torturing inmates.

They also said Red Cross reports of abuse were kept from them. And they said Sanchez and other top officers never alerted them to shortcomings, despite their numerous visits to the facility, where in the fall of 2003 inmates were being abused and sexually humiliated by Americans.

In the end, seven prison guards, none ranking above staff sergeant — the sixth-lowest rank in the Army — pleaded guilty or were convicted for the abuses. Charges against two others are pending.

An unknown number of prison supervisors, including the three who wrote to Metz, received administrative discipline that effectively ended their Army careers.

Separate from the Abu Ghraib case, the Army has said it has charged 21 soldiers in 11 incidents involving the deaths of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan and is investigating 16 other cases in which prisoners were killed.

However, Pentagon reports have not implicated any top military commanders or civilian Pentagon leaders in the Abu Ghraib abuses or other misconduct problems.

"I accept full responsibility for the actions of the soldiers of the 372nd [Military Police Company]," one junior officer, whose name was blacked out in documents released Thursday, wrote to Metz last year. "I fully agree that I should have done a better job at supervising them." Most of those charged in the Abu Ghraib case were members of the 372nd Military Police Company.

But the officer said it was unfair that others were not held accountable. "Unlike the general officer appointed above me," he wrote, apparently referring to Metz, "I take the responsibility of what my soldiers did. It's easy sitting back as the Monday morning quarterback and second-guessing everything."

The officer concluded, "It's amazing that the entire chain-of-command could be so incompetent."

The records were released as part of a lawsuit initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Abu Ghraib inquiry began in January 2004 but did not become public until last spring. By then, Army officials had begun investigating some of the guards, and military supervisors were meting out administrative discipline for officers.

The Army declined Thursday to comment on the new documents. "We'll continue to hold people appropriately accountable, and we will go wherever the truth leads for as long as it takes," said Lt. Col Jeremy Martin, an Army spokesman.

The three memos to Metz were dated April 12, 2004. On each, the writer's signature was redacted above the notation that he or she came from the 372nd Military Police Company.

One letter said an assessment of prison operations by Army Provost Marshal Donald Ryder during the period of much of the abuse "was never shared" with the military units at Abu Ghraib.

The officer maintained that it was unfair to blame prison supervisors. "The unit had less than two weeks to prepare for the [prison] operation," he said.

But, he added, "a few individuals, conducting criminal activity, left the boundaries of good training and judgment. Recognize their shortcomings and take the appropriate action."

Another writer, who identified himself as a noncommissioned officer-in-charge at the prison, said that if Red Cross memos and other documents had been made available to the prison staff, "corrective action would have been taken, possibly making the duties of the MPs safer and easier, and in turn doing the same for the detainees."

The writer took exception to being disciplined for failing to take action after seeing a guard stomp on a detainee's hand, saying he never saw the prisoner actually being hurt.

"The detainee did not flinch, nor did he cry out in pain as if he had been struck," the officer wrote.

The officer recalled later speaking with the guard who was handling that inmate.

The officer added: "The care and welfare of the detainees were priority to me. The Iraqi people were taught by Saddam [Hussein] to hate the Americans. I wanted to prove to them that we were not the bad guys that he made us out to be."


Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti contributed to this report.