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Army faults leadership for abuse of prisoners

Sun Staff

A massive, systemic failure of leadership helped set the stage for the torture and humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad that has evoked international shock and condemnation.

The Army's prison command structure had confused lines of authority, with scant oversight of subordinate units, and a wide variation in prisoner handling procedures. Riots, shootings and escapes were poorly documented, and commanders rarely visited the prison to check conditions. There was no clear oversight of the two cellblocks where military intelligence units and the CIA questioned prisoners and where the worst abuses occurred.

Those are among the major findings in a harshly critical, 53-page report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba on events at the prison, which was obtained by The Sun.

Army commanders from Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski of the 800th Military Police Brigade on down provided their troops little or no training in the humane treatment of prisoners and failed to respond to recurrent problems within their units, from low morale and improper relationships among soldiers to high rates of officer misconduct, Taguba found.

With little guidance from above, soldiers in some cases improvised prisoner handling procedures, "with reliance on, and guidance from, junior members of the unit who had civilian corrections experience," he wrote.

Commander faulted

And, he said, there was no evidence that the reforms Karpinski occasionally ordered were ever acted on. "Had the findings and recommendations contained within their own investigations been analyzed and actually implemented by BG Karpinski, many of the subsequent escapes, accountability lapses and cases of abuse may have been prevented," Taguba wrote.

"What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers."

In January, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, formally admonished Karpinski for the "lack of clear standards, proficiency and leadership within the brigade," problems Sanchez said were reflected in the abuse of prisoners.

Taguba's report recommends disciplinary action against Karpinski and seven subordinates, including Capt. Donald J. Reese, commander of the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md. It also recommends a reprimand for Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, based in Wiesbaden, Germany, which had oversight over military police at Abu Ghraib.

Six soldiers from the 372nd face criminal charges for a variety of acts, including sodomizing prisoners with broomsticks and forcing naked prisoners to simulate sex - conduct that has provoked international outrage.

An answering machine message at Karpinski's home in Hilton Head, S.C., refers the news media to her lawyer, Neal Puckett, who did not return phone calls yesterday.

In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America, Karpinski, a business consultant when not in uniform, said yesterday that she had no knowledge of the abuses and would have reacted "very quickly" if she had. She said the sections of Abu Ghraib where the abuses took place, cellblocks 1A and 1B, were under the control of military intelligence commanders, who encouraged military police to soften up the detainees for interrogations.

"It was not an MP, military police, leadership issue," Karpinski said. "This was an interrogation and isolation procedure issue, and that was run and orchestrated by a separate command from the military police brigade."

She told Army investigators that the military intelligence officers had given her troops "'ideas that led to the detainee abuse," according to Taguba.

Families of officers in the 372nd said the unit had little support and oversight from commanding officers.

Sue Reese, the wife of Captain Reese, said in an interview Saturday that "all along, he said he felt like they were on their own." She said her husband knew nothing of the abuses.

However, Reese, who Taguba recommended be relieved of command, comes in for withering criticism in the report, which accused him of "failing to properly supervise his soldiers" and "failing to properly establish and enforce basic soldier standards."

The report found "clear friction and lack of effective communication" between Pappas, the commander of the 205th, and Karpinski.

"There was no clear delineation of responsibility between commands, little coordination at the command level, and no integration of the two functions," Taguba wrote. "Coordination occurred at the lowest possible levels with little oversight by commanders."

Taguba said he suspected that Pappas was one of several people "directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib."

Retired Army Lt. Gen William E. Odom, a national security expert at The Hudson Institute in Washington, said the lapses described in the Taguba report amount to "rank amateurism" and a "colossal" failure of leadership that may extend higher than Karpinski and Pappas. Claims of ignorance carry little weight in the military, he said.

"Why wasn't she there looking?" he said. "If a Navy commander drives his ship into a sandbar while he is asleep, he can't say, 'I wasn't aware it was there, I wasn't looking.' What kind of excuse is that?"

But retired Lt. Col. James R. Adams, a Vietnam veteran and past president of the Retired Military Police Association, said the criticism of Karpinski has to be balanced against the fact that reserve commanders often have a harder time getting a grip on the strengths and weaknesses of their subordinates.

"In the reserve situation, it may take a little longer, because you haven't trained with, lived with and worked with these folks like active-duty folks," he said. "And by the time you learn who the good subordinates are and who needs to be gotten rid of, you may have a situation like you do today."

Karpinski took command of the 800th Military Police Brigade in late June.

Resources and staffing

The report said Karpinski was operating in less-than-ideal conditions. She had too few troops to manage the 16 prisons under her command, and Abu Ghraib offered a dispiriting work environment, with no PX, barbershop or dining facility where soldiers could let off steam.

Still, the report questioned Karpinski's use of resources. It noted that she assigned the same number of units - one battalion - to guard the 6,000 to 7,000 detainees at Abu Ghraib as she had to another facility with just 100 detainees.

It also cast doubt on her staffing judgment.

Nearly a year ago, four soldiers in the 320th Military Police Battalion kicked and beat detainees at the Camp Bucca POW facility in southern Iraq. Karpinski agreed with an investigator's recommendation that the four be court-martialed. But she took no steps to remind the 3,400 reservists under her command of the Geneva Conventions on prisoner treatment.

Instead, she kept the 320th's commander, Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum, in charge, even as the unit moved to a more-challenging assignment guarding Abu Ghraib, notorious under Saddam Hussein as a place of torture, rape and murder.

Despite the colonel's "proven deficiencies as both a commander and leader," the report said, Karpinski allowed "Phillabaum to remain in command of her most troubled battalion guarding, by far, the largest number of detainees in the 800th MP Brigade."

Taguba takes Karpinski to task for briefly replacing Phillabaum with another commander without notifying her superiors or the soldiers of the 320th.

"Temporarily removing one commander and replacing him with another serving battalion commander without an order and without notifying superior or subordinate commands is without precdent in my military career," Taguba wrote.

Phillabaum's wife, Pamela Phillabaum of Lansdale, Pa., said her husband knew nothing of the abuses and did his best under trying circumstances.

"He asked the general over and over again for more people," she said. "They needed more manpower there to work the prison. They didn't have enough soldiers."

Sun staff writer Greg Garland contributed to this article.

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