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Covered Up Abuses

Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the Pentagon's investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, revealed that he believed high-level military officials knew about the abuses at the Iraqi prison.

In an interview with The New Yorker, Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the Pentagon’s investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, revealed that he believed high-level military officials, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, knew about the abuses at the Iraqi prison, but Taguba had been unable to write about it because his inquiry was narrowly focused on the 800th Military Police brigade stationed at the prison. “I suspected that somebody was giving them guidance, but I could not print that,” Taguba told reporter Seymour Hersh. Though there have been a dozen government investigations and multiple reports by international human rights groups, responsibility for the grisly abuse at the military prison has yet to reach beyond the soldiers stationed at the prison. Despite reports like Taguba’s, which described the abuse as “systemic,” true accountability up the chain of command has yet to occur.

  • Officials up the chain of command knew of what was happening at Abu Ghraib. In his dicussion with Hersh, Taguba has become the first general to assert that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the army commander in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib abuses, “knew exactly what was going on” at the prison. According to Taguba, “in the fall of 2003 — when much of the abuse took place — Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and witnessed at least one interrogation.” In June 2004, The Washington Post reported that Sanchez had “approved letting senior officials at” Abu Ghraib “use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water on detainees whenever they wished.” In a FBI memo obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, similar techniques are said to have been authorized by an executive order from President Bush with the explicit direction that “certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted.” Taguba also asserts that Rumsfeld’s testimony to the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th in which he claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse until right before his testimony, “was simply not true.”
  • The Pentagon acted to protect a high-ranking official from blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Hersh also found at least one incident of the Pentagon protecting a higher-up involved in the detainee policy at Abu Ghraib. In 2003, the Pentagon transfered Maj. Gen. Geoffery Miller from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, where he was tasked “to survey the prison system there and find ways to improve the flow of intelligence.” One of Miller’s key recommendations was that the military police should be utilized in “setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees.” After the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib surfaced in 2004, the Pentagon opened an inquiry into complaints about similar abuse at Guantanamo. The officer in charge of the investigation, Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, concluded that Miller “was responsible for the conduct of interrogations that I found to be abusive and degrading.” Schmidt formally recommended that Miller be “held accountable” and “admonished” for his role in the abuse, but that recommendation was rejected by Lieutenant General Bantz J. Craddock, a senior aide to Rumsfeld, who “absolved Miller of any responsibility for the mistreatment of the prisoners.” Despite his apparent role in the implementation of abusive interrogation techniques in both Guantanamo Bay and Baghdad, Miller was the officer chosen to restore order at Abu Ghraib a month after Taguba’s report was filed.
  • The actions at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have hurt the credibility of America in the world. Taguba believes that the policies put forth by Rumsfeld and his aides have hurt America in the world. “The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects — ‘We’re here to protect the nation from terrorism’ — is an oxymoron,” says Taguba. “He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them. And they’ve dragged a lot of officers with them.” Indeed, the abuses uncovered at Abu Ghraib have gone a long way toward harming America’s credibility and moral authority in the world, but steps can be taken toward restoring them. In 2004, the Center for American Progress released a series of recommendations demonstrating how “President Bush can take steps to prove America’s credibility and show the world he takes the issue seriously.”  Taguba’s recent revelations should serve to remind America that more vigilant action is still needed to ensure that the outrageous abuses at Abu Ghraib never again happen under American jurisdiction.