General tells Congress army leadership was to blame for mistreatment of Iraqis

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The Independent US

The US army general whose report into the abuse at Abu Ghraib shocked and repulsed the world has blamed the mistreatment of prisoners on a failure of leadership, poor discipline and an absence of supervision.

The US army general whose report into the abuse at Abu Ghraib shocked and repulsed the world has blamed the mistreatment of prisoners on a failure of leadership, poor discipline and an absence of supervision.

While he said there was no evidence that soldiers were ordered to abuse and torture prisoners in preparation for their interrogation, Major-General Antonio Taguba told Congress yesterday that junior troops may have thought that was what they were required to do.

"There was a failure of leadership," he said. "Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down. Lack of discipline, no training whatsoever, and no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant. Those are my comments."

Maj-Gen Taguba's testimony before the Senate Armed Forces Committee came as the Bush administration was locked in talks with the congressional leadership about making available more of the photographs and videos of the abuse at the prison west of Baghdad that have sent shockwaves around the world and flung the White House on to the defensive.

George Bush has already viewed the images, reacting with "disgust and disbelief", according to his spokesman, and there is pressure to release the remainder of them in a controlled fashion before they leak out.

Maj-Gen Taguba also yesterday left open the possibility that members of the CIA, as well as armed forces personnel and civilian contractors employed at Abu Ghraib, were culpable in the abuse. "A few soldiers and civilians conspired to abuse and conduct egregious acts of violence against detainees and other civilians outside the bounds of international laws and the Geneva Convention," he said.

Despite that, he said that his investigation had uncovered no evidence that there were orders being passed down to the Military Police at the prison to mistreat the prisoners as part of a broader plan, even though control of the facility had been handed over to the army's Military Intelligence (MI).

"We did not gain any evidence where it was an overall military intelligence policy of this sort. I think it was a matter of soldiers with their interaction with military intelligence personnel who they perceived or thought to be competent authority that were giving them or influencing their action to set the conditions for successful interrogations operations," he said.

Asked directly by West Virginia's Democratic Senator Robert Byrd who had given the orders to "soften up" prisoners, Maj-Gen Taguba replied: "I did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given to these soldiers to conduct what they did. I believe that they did it on their own volition.

"I believe that they collaborated with several MI interrogators at the lower level, based on the conveyance of that information through interviews and written statements."

The hearings on Capitol Hill are crucial, not only to the likely direction the investigation into the abuse will take, but also the future of the beleaguered Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who appeared before the committee last week. While Mr Bush has publicly defended his senior official, saying that the US owes him a "debt of gratitude", should senior Republican senators demand Mr Rumsfeld's head as the political price to move on from this scandal, it is difficult to see how the White House could resist.

To that end, many on Capitol Hill will be watching the actions of the committee's chairman, Senator John Warner, and John McCain, another senior Republican on the committee.

In regard to Abu Ghraib, a picture has increasingly emerged of control being passed to MI - a decision taken by Major-General Geoffrey Miller, formerly the warden at Guantanamo Bay, who took control of Abu Ghraib late last year with a plan to turn the prison into a hub of interrogation. He placed the military police under the tactical control of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.

Maj-Gen Taguba's confirmation of that yesterday led to a clash with Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defence for intelligence, who said that authority remained with the military police unit assigned to run the prison.

In a further disagreement, Maj-Gen Taguba said it was against army rules for intelligence troops to involve MPs in setting conditions for interrogations.

Mr Cambone said he believed it was appropriate for the two groups to collaborate.

Mr Cambone was asked whether he had knowledge of CIA involvement in the abuse at Abu Ghraib. The CIA inspector general is currently conducting inquiries into the deaths of three prisoners that may have involved agency officers or contractors.

Mr Cambone said: "There were people brought by agency personnel to that place ... There may have been interrogations conducted by the agency personnel while they were there."

TAGUBA'S DAMNING EVIDENCE

In his report, Taguba found that the intentional abuse of detainees by military police personnel included:

* Punching, slapping and kicking detainees

* Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees

* Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing

* Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time

* Forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear

* Forcing male detainees to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped

* Arranging naked male detainees in a pile

* Positioning a naked detainee on a box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis to simulate electric torture

* Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck

* A male Military Police guard having sex with a female detainee

* Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate detainees. In one case a dog bita detainee

* Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.

Taguba regarded as "credible" detainees' reports of guards:

* Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees

* Threatening detainees with a 9mm pistol

* Pouring cold water on naked detainees

* Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair

* Threatening male detainees with rape

* Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell

* Sodomising a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick

Taguba highlighted the testimonies of two Abu Ghraib workers:

Adel Nakhla, a civilian contract translator, described how guards "handcuffed inmates' hands together and their legs with shackles and stacked them on top of each other by insuring that the bottom guy's penis will touch the guy on top's butt"

Neil A Wallin, a medic with the 109th Area Support Medical Battalion, said: "When the male detainees were first brought to the facility, some of them were made to wear female underwear, which I think was to break them down"

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