Bush Administration Obstructs Investigations into Abu Ghraib

Abu Ghraib, Stonewalled

June 30, 2004 | New York Times

While piously declaring its determination to unearth the truth about Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration has spent nearly two months obstructing investigations by the Army and members of Congress. It has dragged out the Army’s inquiry, withheld crucial government documents from a Senate committee and stonewalled senators over dozens of Red Cross reports that document the horrible mistreatment of Iraqis at American military prisons. Even last week’s document dump from the White House, which included those cynical legal road maps around treaties and laws against torturing prisoners, seemed part of this stonewalling campaign. Nothing in those hundreds of pages explained what orders had been issued to the military and C.I.A. jailers in Iraq, and by whom.

It took the Pentagon more than two weeks to appoint a replacement for Maj. Gen. George Fay, who had to be relieved of the task of investigating the military intelligence units at Abu Ghraib because he was not senior enough to question Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander in Iraq. The process underscored the inability of the military to investigate itself at this level. The Pentagon named someone of high enough rank — just barely. That officer is a three-star general, as is General Sanchez. He will have to get up to speed before questioning General Sanchez, and the Pentagon will undoubtedly stall again when the new investigating general, inevitably, needs to go yet higher.

The Pentagon has also not turned over to the Senate the full report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who conducted the Army’s biggest investigation so far into abuses at Abu Ghraib. The Pentagon has still not accounted for the 2,000 pages missing from his 6,000-page file when it was given to the Senate Armed Services Committee more than a month ago; the missing pages include draft documents on interrogation techniques for Iraq. The committee’s chairman, Senator John Warner, said last week that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had assured him that he was working on the problem. Mr. Warner’s faith seems deeply misplaced.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s handling of another issue, the Red Cross reports on Iraq, is the most outrageous example of the administration’s bad faith on the prison scandal. The Bush administration has cited Red Cross confidentiality policies to explain its failure to give up the reports. The trouble is, the Red Cross has repeatedly told the administration to go ahead and share the agency’s findings with Congress, as long as steps are taken to prevent leaks.

On May 7, the Senate armed services panel asked Mr. Rumsfeld for these reports on widespread abuse in the military prisons in Iraq; one of the reports had already appeared on the Internet. Mr. Rumsfeld assured the committee that he would turn them over, if the Red Cross agreed. Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides have not handed over the reports — 40 in all, including 24 from Iraq. Over the weeks, the Pentagon has assured increasingly angry senators that it was negotiating with the Red Cross, and then offered the rather absurd claim that it was still “collecting” the documents.

In fact, the International Red Cross gave its consent within 24 hours of Mr. Rumsfeld’s empty promise, and has repeated it several times.

In late May, Kevin Moley, the American ambassador to the international organizations based in Geneva, invited the head of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, to “express any concerns” his organization had about giving the documents to Congress. Dr. Kellenberger replied that it was never a problem as long as the documents were kept confidential. Given the administration’s habit of selective disclosure, however, Dr. Kellenberger insisted that all of the reports, not just some, be sent to Congress, in their entirety. He has also asked for an inventory of what is shared.

Still, the Pentagon told Senator Warner’s committee that it had not worked out an arrangement. On June 15, Christophe Girod, head of the Red Cross delegation in Washington, wrote to Senator Edward Kennedy, a leader in the fight to get the prison reports, that the decision “lies with the U.S. authorities.” He confirmed that the Red Cross had given the Pentagon permission to hand over the documents in early May.

Last Thursday, members of the Armed Services Committee attended a closed-door briefing with the Pentagon, ostensibly on the Red Cross reports. But the briefers did not turn over any documents; they merely showed the senators reports on Guant?namo Bay that had no bearing on Iraq.

The Senate is now in a two-week recess. In one of the few signs of life on Capitol Hill on this issue, Mr. Warner promises to resume his hearings after the recess. But even the Red Cross in Geneva has got it figured out: the administration has no intention of cooperating. It’s time for the Republican majority in Congress to stop covering for the White House and compel the administration, by subpoena if necessary, to turn over all documents relating to Abu Ghraib — starting with those Red Cross reports.

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