WASHINGTON - Six U.S. soldiers have received career-ending reprimands for their roles in the alleged abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, and a seventh has received a letter of admonishment, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.
The punishments were ordered by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commands U.S. troops in Iraq.
The seven soldiers, who were not identified, include supervisory officers and noncommissioned officers. They were not accused of taking part in the prison abuses but of failing to properly oversee the treatment of Iraqi prisoners.
Criminal charges have been lodged against six other soldiers - Army Reserve members from the 372nd Military Police Company, based near Cumberland.
The disciplinary action yesterday came to light as U.S. officials and military commanders sought to paint the burgeoning prison abuse scandal as an isolated case.
The Bush administration also worked to control what threatens to become a crisis in U.S.-Arab relations at a highly sensitive time in Iraq.
"The shameful actions of a few do not represent the 99 percent of our men and women in uniform who are performing superbly and representing the United States with honor and distinction," McClellan said.
Congressional leaders demanded a secret briefing from Defense Department officials - to be held today with the Senate Armed Services Committee - on what the military is doing to respond to the charges.
"These allegations of mistreatment, if proven, represent an appalling and totally unacceptable breach of military conduct that could undermine much of the courageous work and sacrifice by our forces in the war on terror," said Sen. John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the committee.
Congressional leaders have yet to call for their own investigation, but several House and Senate aides left open the possibility that they might do so.
The officers who received administrative reprimands were from the 800th Military Police Brigade, which oversaw the 372nd Company, based in Cresaptown, Allegany County.
The military has launched five separate inquiries into the conditions at the prison and the larger questions of U.S. detainee policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and the training of military intelligence personnel and reservists, said Larry Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman.
One of those investigations resulted in a scathing report, obtained by The Sun, which concluded that U.S. soldiers had committed "egregious acts and grave breaches of international law" at the Abu Ghraib prison. The report, which is classified, identified two military intelligence officers and two civilian contractors as being "directly or indirectly" responsible.
Still, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. spokesman in Iraq, denied the report's finding of a broad failure of leadership.
"It was a very small group of people and a small number of incidences," Kimmitt told CNN.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday on Fox television, "We should demonstrate to the Arab world that this is urgent. This is the single most significant undermining act that's occurred in a decade in that region of the world, in terms of our standing."
For now, Congress wants the Pentagon to take the lead in investigating the allegations.
"We don't have the resources to go over there [to Iraq] and look at this ourselves - we have to rely on [the Defense Department] and what they've done," said Harold Stavenas, a spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.