Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Tom Bowman on Iraqi prisoner abuse

Jace Woods, Baltimore: Why are these soldiers being made out to be thescapegoats in this mess? Their lives will be ruined, and yet there will besome who will benefit greatly from this.

Bowman: It's too early to say that these soldiers will be scapegoats. Theinvestigation is continuing and is now focusing on at least one militaryintelligence unit, the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, whichcontrolled Abu Ghraib. It's commander, Col. Thomas Pappas, has received acareer-ending letter of reprimand. Other criminal charges may be filed.What's still unknown is how high up the chain this scandal will go.

Charlotte Farber, Hampstead: Why does Secretary of Defense Donald H.Rumsfeld feel he can do what he wants? Why didn't he listen to the Red Cross people? I am ashamed for our country.

Bowman: Secretary Rumsfeld is an extremely confident person, who, some say, does not listen to advice. It is rare for him to admit a mistake orapologize, as he did before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He has asmall coterie of advisers he is close to that are bright, ambitious andconvinced what they are doing is right on almost any subject. Astill-unanswered question is how seriously the concerns of the Red Crossand others were taken. Were these concerns passed on? Who handled them?

Megan Brown: How will the scandal impact the war in Iraq?

Bowman: Many officers I talk with are concerned that the prison scandalwill make Iraq an even more dangerous place for soldiers, since thepictures are whipping up even more anger toward Americans. And the officersare bitter that a small number of soldiers have poisoned the well anddestroyed the good work that has been accomplished by other soldiers, suchas building schools and clinics and working with village elders.

Billie, Columbia, S.C.: What is likely to happen to the actual people whoabused the prisoners? It upset[s] me when I read the article about Fort Bragg,which stated that Pvt. Lynndie England is apparently working there and notdetained, brought back because "she was pregnant." I fear that the soldierswho committed abuse will get off because of the excuse, "I was given ordersto do it."

Bowman: It's a bit early to say, and some may agree to plead guilty andcooperate. Those accused will at least get a reduction in rank, and a less-than-honorable discharge. Some may get prison terms of one to severalyears.

John, Bel Air: Why aren't the politicians like U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi andthe other Democrats in as much of an uproar over the brutal killings of thefour Americans a couple weeks back?

Bowman: Only they can answer that question. The difference here, of course,is that the United States has certain standards, even when it comes towarfare. And the stated policy of the United States was to oust Saddam Hussein and pave the way for democracy. High standards are not held byevery soldier, obviously. And many fighters, terrorists or others aroundthe world clearly are barbaric.

Lawrence L. Bennett, Gambrills: When will Secretary Rumsfeld resign?

Bowman: President Bush said publicly that Rumsfeld is doing a good job and will remain in the Cabinet, although opinion is divided in Washington onwhether Rumsfeld can survive. Keep an eye on where the "get tough" policyat Abu Ghraib was approved. So far, a military intelligence colonel has beenimplicated, although he has higher-ups he has to answer to. Will the chainof command stop in Iraq or the Pentagon?

KMartin, Baltimore: Has anyone looked into the possibility that thesephotos are faked? I haven't seen them all, but the ones I've seen justdon't look real to me. I have a very hard time believing that our troopswould act that way, let alone that we would apologize for the behaviorbefore we in fact found out whether the photos were real and undoctored orjust an attempt to discredit the U.S. The U.S. is in the midst of a verytough job and we need to support our government and troops 100 percent, notencourage discrediting them.

Bowman: The Army's criminal investigators authenticated the pictures andseized them directly from the cameras and computers of the soldiers.

Lois Halbert, Mission Viejo, Calif.: Does our government have a Web site[where] we can directly send our comments?

Bowman: I would suggest writing directly to your congressman or your twoU.S. senators.

Joe Smigel, Manchester: Shouldn't Congress also be questioning [Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz? Wolfowitz is to Rumsfeld what Karl Rove is to President Bush.

Bowman: Wolfowitz has not appeared yet to talk about Abu Ghraib but clearlyhe will in the coming weeks. By the way, one other key person we haven'theard from yet is Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. general in Iraq,who approved turning over Abu Ghraib to military intelligence. Officers Italk with say that was a "weird" order to give control of a prison, usuallyrun by MPs, to military intelligence. One officer told me that it showedthe prison was not a detention facility but a collection facility. Why didSanchez take that action? And on whose orders?

Kathy, Severna Park: What I fail to understand, or even believe, is thecontention by the MP unit's chain of command that they did not know of theabuse. As a retired military officer, I was always told that you cannotdelegate responsibility in this situation. They also must regularly visitand/or supervise the troops. Someone please tell me why the juniortroops/soldiers are bearing the brunt, and the senior personnel are not.

Bowman: Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commanded all MPs at the prisons, has received a letter of admonishment for failing to train her troops. Onecolonel and at least one lieutenant colonel have received career-endingletters of reprimand. Other officers may also be implicated. Karpinski saidthat military intelligence was running the prison and no one told her ofthe abuse. But a number of officers say Abu Ghraib shows a remarkablefailure of leadership.

R. Clark, Baltimore: How exactly were the photographs distributed to thepress? How did this all officially begin or get leaked?

Bowman: Army officers and investigators believe that soldiers from the372nd Military Police Company sent some of the photos home via the Internetand they finally found their way to several news organizations. The Armykept a tight lid on their copies at a safe in Baghdad.

Lois Bittinger, Westminster: The Red Cross says they informed U.S.officials of abuse. I would like to know the dates and the official(s) thatany written report was given to.

Bowman: Beginning at least last year, the Red Cross and other organizations notified top U.S. officials both in Baghdad and Washington of the abuses. Among those getting the reports personally were L. Paul Bremer, who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority, Secretary of State Colin Powell,Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Pamela Styles, Columbia: If it is found that the Reservists were onlyfollowing orders, will the ones who gave those orders be held accountableand charged?

Bowman: Stay tuned. Again, the investigation is moving toward militaryintelligence, which supposedly told the MPs to "loosen up" the detainees.

Gerry Ratson, Baltimore: Why didn't the Army assign a different general,one who had no prior involvement, to take over command of the detentionfacilities in Iraq? Why wasn't Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller relieved of hisduties like the other soldiers were and investigated himself? According toThe Sun, Maj. Gen. Miller, the prior CO of the U.S. detention facility atGuantanamo Bay, headed a delegation which visited Iraq in September 2003 toadvise military officers on how to extract intelligence from detainees.

Bowman: Good question. It would have been better, perhaps, to install aprison commander that was somehow not involved in the controversy, even onthe periphery, by suggesting that MPs facilitate interrogations. Still,there is no evidence that Miller was involved in any wrongdoing.

Edward Lollis, Knoxville, Tenn.: Rumsfeld seems paralyzed by proceduresprotecting the legal rights of low-level personnel. Why not just grantimmunity to all such personnel? Then their rights would be protected, andinvestigations could immediately require their cooperation in exposing who-- superiors, military intelligence, contractors -- put them up to theabuses and how far up the chain of command the initiative/knowledgeextended.

Bowman: As the investigation continues, some of those soldiers will likelybe granted immunity to talk about precisely who ordered them to do what.It's interesting that the first court martial is a "special" court martialand not a "general" court martial that is more severe.

Cathy Schoen, Glen Burnie: I would like to know why, since the story ofabuse was learned in January, nothing much has been done and thatsupposedly the White House is just finding this stuff out.

Bowman: The Pentagon was informed of the scandal a day or less after Spec. Joseph Darby turned over a CD with the pictures on it. Gen. John Abizaid,commander of all U.S. forces in the region, told Rumsfeld the next day.Brig. Gen. Kimmitt, also phoned top Pentagon officials and told them of the"horrific" evidence. The Pentagon was desperately worried that the pictureswould leak out before the investigations were concluded. One congressman Ispoke with was told by a reporter about the 60 Minutes II piece the morningbefore it aired. The congressman called the Pentagon and even then was nottold which unit -- the 372nd MP Company -- was involved.

Brian, Hagerstown: When did Rumsfeld know that American forces weretorturing and killing Iraqi POWs?

Bowman: He was personally informed of the Abu Ghraib scandal by Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, less than a dayafter the investigation began, around mid-January.

Charles Seppanen, Irving, Texas: Why are people in Iraq and our governmentwanting to punish our solders for what they supposedly did to the Iraqidetainees? Is it OK for the enemy to torture and kill and rape ours? Whyare our solders not given a medal for what they are doing over there?

Bowman: The Army and the rest of the United States military live and workby high standards that are not shared by all militaries or other "fighters." And they take great pride in that. There are numerous medals being given and Spec. Joseph Darby will likely get one for exposing the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Andrew, Albuquerque, N.M.: When did Bush first find out about possibleabuses?

Bowman: Most likely in mid-January when Rumsfeld learned about it.

James Marr, Chattanooga, Tenn.: Why does the Pentagon continue to refer to"those six" (military members) who screwed up? From the beginning, this hasbeen a total breakdown in military training and protocol, from thelowest-ranking individual who committed these acts, all the way up to thejoint chief of staff who saw the photos in January and did not show thephotos to Rumsfeld or the president. How can the military leaders be soblind to see that there is a much bigger problem than just six individuals?

Bowman: It's now seven. And it appears that the Pentagon leadership eitherdid not understand the scope of the problem, were uncertain how to dealwith it, or were convinced they could ride it out.

Jason, Oakland, Calif.: How come it is almost impossible to see more than three pictures of the prison scandal in Iraq. If there are so many pictures, whyis it so hard for the American people to view them, especially online. Itis our right to see all pictures, to see with our own eyes and make our owndecisions, not let you, the media, decide what we see.

Bowman: There is an ongoing debate now about whether to release all thepictures. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill and some Army officers would liketo see all the pictures get out. No decision has been made. I know the NewYorker magazine likely has some of the pictures on its Web site, as

Betty Bowman Smith, Zellwood, Fla.: Why are women MPs assigned to work in prisons where there are mostly males. I would think that is just asking fortrouble.

Bowman: Women are barred from direct combat roles, such as front-lineinfantry fighting, but are scattered throughout the military, making upabout 15 percent of the force. It's a legitimate question whether it waswise to have women guarding men in a Muslim prison. And it appears therewere few women working there as guards.

Frank DeLuca, D.D.S, Pikesville: Because the abuses are so heinous, has itbeen determined whether the perpetrators were under the influence ofalcohol or drugs?

Bowman: So far, there has been no indication of widespread use of drugs oralcohol associated with the scandal.

Patty Farber, Towson: According to Rumsfeld's testimony Friday, he did notview the photos until "last night," which would have been Thursday, May 6.Could he actually have been one of the last in the world to have seen thesepictures?

Bowman: It's hard to believe, particularly for a man such as SecretaryRumsfeld, who was criticized by some Army officers for micromanaging thewar, down to which units should leave the U.S. and when. While he was toldof the scandal in mid-January and officers were talking of the "horrific"evidence, it's possible he did not wish to see them.

Martin Hernandez, Charlotte, N.C.: I totally disagree with what thesoldiers accused of abuse did, but I disagree more with how the media hascovered it. Is it necessary to plaster this information all over the world?I mean, the ones responsible for the World Trade Center bombings were not"crucified" by their own media and country men. Punish these people butdon't bring down the rest of this country.

Bowman: The Abu Ghraib scandal is an important story for all of us to coverand it is the pictures that are driving it to some extent, particularly ontelevision. Most in the media, congress and the military agree that itshould be thoroughly investigated and those responsible should be punished.I can't speak to how the media in other countries operate, though some arescattered with government "news" organizations. Two of the strengths ofthis country is the free press and the public nature of how thisinvestigation is being handled.

Kit, Madisonville, Ky.: Why isn't the media/public referring to theseincidents as war crimes, which they are, and talking about prison aspunishment instead of reprimands?

Bowman: It is unlikely that any of the allegations, even the two or threedeaths, would rise to the level of a war crime, which I believe has to domore with both the scale of atrocities and government policy. Also, thesesoldiers would be tried by an international court. Most if not all of theallegations are lesser charges, such as mistreatment of prisoners.

Bill, College Park: Is anyone else disturbed by the fact that Americansseem to think it is OK to perpetrate these crimes if given an order to doso? How deep in our society does this sickness go?

Bowman: Some Americans clearly see this abuse as part of the dehumanizing effects of war, while others say the American soldier should be held to the highest standards and such abuse should be dealt with severely.

Rob Netter, Odenton: Lynndie England was previously reported as being aspecialist and now as a private first class. Was the specialist rankpreviously in error by news organizations or was she recently punished forthis abuse or something else and reduced in rank?

Bowman: We have not heard that she has been reduced in rank, since she has just been charged. In the latest release by the Pentagon, her rank is aprivate first class. It's uncertain if military officers in Baghdadinitially were confused by her rank.

John McColgan, Ellicott City: To what extent were Iraqi interrogations andrelated abuses the result of pressure from above to find WMDs?

Bowman: Part of the pressure was undoubtedly linked to the search for WMDas well as finding those responsible for the growing insurgency.

Cathy Schwartz, Baltimore: The Justice Department and the SEC initiated aninvestigation into Titan, Inc., as early as February 2004 for possibleviolation of one or more laws relating to corrupt foreign practices. SinceTitan receives 96 percent of their revenue from the U.S. government, will ourgovernment possibly try to distance itself from the atrocities that tookplace at Abu Ghraib by laying the blame at the feet of these "independent"contractors? It's also funny that their operating profits, which were only$27 million in 2001, are now on the area of $103 million. I wonder whichmembers of the current administration might have sound investments inTitan. Oh, what a tangled web we weave!

Bowman: Good points. It will be interesting to see how the privatecontractors handle their own investigations. Titan was working for the U.S.government, which is the occupier in Iraq and is ultimately responsible.Also, since the Titan civilian contractors don't come under military law,they would have to be charged by the Justice Department if any laws havebeen broken. Also, the liability issue is an interesting one. Can someIraqi detainees sue Titan? How about the U.S. government? It will take anarmy of law professors to figure out the legal questions here.

Jim Mills, Baltimore: Your report on Sunday stated "The Taguba report notedthat the prison was seriously understaffed. Usually one battalion of 600 to800 soldiers, the size of the unit assigned to the prison, is needed tocontrol 4,000 detainees ... "

Bowman: That's right. Throughout the report, Taguba writes of the soldiersbeing stretched too thin and undermanned. It's interesting now that afterthe scandal, the military is reducing the number of prisoners andincreasing the staff.

Joanne Heisel, Columbia: Are there any investigations going on to see ifsimilar abuses are being perpetrated at the U.S. prisons in Guantanamo andAfghanistan? Also, what's happening to the additional photos and videosRumsfeld warned were "even worse" than what we've already seen? Is thePentagon sitting on them? Are the news media trying to get hold of them?

Bowman: Yes, there are investigations looking at both Guantanamo and theNavy brig in Charleston, S.C. Rumsfeld ordered them both last month, beforethe story broke. Also, the Army is investigating its own facilities as wellas 10 cases of deaths and another 10 cases of abuse among detainees in bothIraq and Afghanistan.

A.J., Fallston: I'd like to know who took the pictures of the soldiersabusing the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and how they were released and receivedby CBS?

Bowman: The soldiers took the pictures of each other and likely e-mailedthem to family and friends, who in turn gave them to CBS, Army officialsbelieve.

Carol Watkins, Parkton: What alternate procedures are there if a solidernotes an ethical problem? If a soldier in Iraq felt that his complaintsabout prisoner abuse were ignored by his superiors, could he have gone tothe military chaplain? If he had done so, what could or should the militarychaplain do?

Bowman: It would be best for a soldier to turn to Army criminalinvestigators, which is precisely what Spec. Joseph Darby did. I'm unsurewhat a chaplain could do in the situation and would perhaps have to getpermission from the soldier before going further.

Dora Crawford, Queenstown: We're all appalled by the prisoner abusescandal. However, since the famous "deck of cards" fugitives were arrested,we've not heard a peep about their treatment or conditions. How are theybeing treated, do you think?

Bowman: Most have been captured and are likely being held at a number ofprisons, including one high-security prison at Baghdad InternationalAirport.

Nick Stellhorn, Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Why are reservists guarding prisoners?Why isn't the regular army doing this very high-profile work?

Bowman: Many MPs are in the National Guard and Reserve and there are toofew of them in both the active and Reserve forces. The National Guard, forexample, is retraining some of its artillerymen to become MPs.

Christopher Horner, Ambler, Pa.: Are there any current investigations intotreatment of prisoners/detainees held by private security contractors?

Bowman: The investigation into Abu Ghraib continues and there could becharges against contractors.

Ken Smith, Abingdon: Given that the U.S. military has always covered up itsabuses -- one blatant, horrible example is My Lai in Vietnam -- andapparently is trying to do the same thing with its abuse of prisoners("detainees") in U.S.-run concentration camps ("detention centers"), whatreportorial resources does the press have to alert the public thatcover-ups by the military are in fact taking place? What can reporters doto alert us when they believe a press release by a military source is"smoke and mirrors," a fast shuffle and quickstep to divert us fromlearning the real truth? How can it be that "only a few" people havecommitted abuses in Iraq when the International Red Cross has continuouslyfiled complaints about physical and psychological abuse by Americans forwell over a year now?

Bowman: Oftentimes, such cases of abuse and wrongdoing make their way to the press when someone comes forward, either a soldier, a family member oran attorney. Word of the investigation was publicly released by the Army inJanuary, though there were no details. Such investigations are tightly held.

Marc DeLeonibus, Davidsonville: How will this situation affect Bush'schances for re-election, if at all? Also, will Vice President Cheney comeunder additional scrutiny?

Bowman: No word that Cheney is under scrutiny and it's difficult to say howthis will affect Bush's re-election bid, though there is growing concern inthe public about how the war is being handled.

Mary Hanna, Lihue, Hawaii: Any idea as to how we Americans will ever beable to hold up our heads in front of the world again, wave our flag, andwhich country will want to trade with us? I feel we've done irrefutabledamage to our esteem.

Bowman: This country has weathered numerous scandals and wrongdoing, from the massacres of Indians at Wounded Knee in the 1890s to the Japaneseinternment in the 1940s to My Lai in the 1970s to Abu Ghraib in 2003. Whathopefully sets America apart is the willingness to investigate suchincidents thoroughly and make sure that all those involved are properlypunished. The investigations are ongoing and the courts-martial are aboutto begin. What's still unknown is how high in the chain of command it willgo and whether those implicated may skate.

That's all. Thanks for your questions.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun