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May 4, 2004

Officials Tight-Lipped on Torture Allegations


by Mark Rothschild

The temperature in Washington heated up today as more news about torture in Iraq surfaced.

Perhaps seeking a respite, President Bush escaped Washington, heading for South Bend, Indiana, and a campaign event.

Elsewhere, in response the growing world-wide dismay over the abuses at the Abu Ghraib military prison, U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, recommended issuing memoranda, or letters of reprimand to seven soldiers.

The seven were connected with the abuses at Abu Ghraib military prison. Neither the names or ranks of the seven were disclosed, nor have any charges been brought.

It is not known whether the seven were actively involved in torture or other illegal acts, since the letters of reprimand have not been released to the public.

General Sanchez did not speak to the press directly – A US military official in Baghdad made the announcement for Sanchez.

So far only six US military personnel have actually been charged with criminal acts involving the allegations of widespread and systematic torture at Abu Ghraib.

Although the scope of the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib have been known to investigators since February, no one has yet been punished.

Senior US leaders have not called for the punishment of those ultimately found to have perpetrated the abuse, and it is unclear whether punishment is in the cards at all.

During a press briefing aboard Air Force One today, the President's spokesman Scott McClellan refused to answer unambiguously whether the President wanted to see the guilty punished.

Asked several times by reporters whether the president wants those found guilty of abuse at Abu Ghraib to stay in the armed forces, he repeatedly dodged the question. When he was then asked directly whether the President has instructed Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to insure that "those responsible are punished", McClellen again dodged the question, saying only that they should be held "accountable".

Although the Army top brass denies that there was a systematic "command failure" at the highest levels in Iraq, the widespread reports of sexually explicit photos apparently documenting gang rapes by soldiers of Iraqi women, would seem to indicate otherwise. The identities of some of the rapists are clearly visible and atrocity photos are alleged to have been passed around by Coalition soldiers like trading cards.

A secret Army report completed in February was obtained by the New Yorker magazine. The report says unnamed American agents participated in, "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib. The secret report makes clear that the abuse was "systematic".

Why this information was withheld from February until April has not been explained. Nobody seemed to know what was going on in Iraqi prisons, although the presence of high-level officials of the US government in the Iraqi detention facilities is attested to by the photographic record.

At the Abu Ghraib prison parking lot on Sunday, tearful Iraqi mothers told British reporters about homosexual rapes of Iraqi prisoners. A day earlier in Washington, the top US military man, US General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was doing an interview on ABC TV.

Myers told "ABC This Week", that, "There is no – no – evidence of systematic abuse in this system at all." In the same interview he denied that he has seen the Army’s own secret internal report, even though the report has been in the hands of US General Ricardo S. Sanchez since February.


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Mark Rothschild lives and writes from Los Angeles, California. Comments or questions are welcome.

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