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General testifies he didn't see Red Cross report for 3 months

Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON - The top U.S. general in Iraq said yesterday that he did not see a report that the International Committee of the Red Cross issued in November detailing abuses at Abu Ghraib prison until three months after the military received it. His assertion raised questions about how seriously military leaders regarded the initial allegations.

The officer, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is "fully committed" to investigating the chain of command responsible for Abu Ghraib, adding, "And that includes me."

Sanchez's testimony that allegations of prisoner mistreatment did not reach him when they surfaced in the fall - two months before the military began investigating abuse at Abu Ghraib - led some senators to argue that the military was unresponsive to such allegations.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of military police at the prison, attended a November meeting at which officers who included two of Sanchez's top aides - his deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, and his legal counsel, Col. Mark Warren - discussed the Red Cross report. Karpinski said through her attorney, Neal Puckett, that she was told "not to worry" about the report and that the legal staff would prepare a response.

The Red Cross investigators reported that some of the male Iraqi detainees had to wear women's underwear because not enough men's underwear was available, something they found humiliating. The Red Cross asked for an immediate explanation.

"The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was 'part of the process,'" the Red Cross committee wrote in the report, which was released in February.

Puckett said Warren, who testified yesterday that Red Cross reports were handled "in a haphazard manner," was in the room at the November meeting when a military officer made light of Iraqi detainees wearing women's underwear.

The officer said, "I told them not to order at Victoria's Secret," Puckett said.

The product of a surprise Red Cross visit to Abu Ghraib in October, the report said naked Iraqi detainees were kept in darkness in empty concrete cells, sometimes for days. Others were subjected to threats, insults, sleep deprivation and tight handcuffing, the investigators said.

Sanchez said that not until February did he see the Red Cross report. Such information typically "would come in at the lowest level," he said. He then changed the procedures, Sanchez said, so that allegations of prisoner mistreatment from the Red Cross go directly to him.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, said the failure to send the report to Sanchez was evidence that the way the military has handled reports of prison mistreatment from the Red Cross is "broken."

"We believe that systemic problems existed at the prison that may have contributed to events there," Abizaid said. "We will follow the trail of evidence wherever it leads."

Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, briefly interrupted the session to announce that another disc of photographs of prisoner abuse, containing 24 images, had surfaced. The Pentagon is working to determine the authenticity of the images, 13 of which it said have been seen in the international news media. No further details about the new photos were disclosed.

Both generals told the committee that the sexual humiliation and physical abuse documented in the pictures appeared to be an isolated incident at what Sanchez called a "dysfunctional" prison.

After the hearing, the witnesses, including Abizaid, Sanchez and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, deputy commander of detention operations in Iraq, met behind closed doors with the committee in a classified session that lasted about an hour.

Under intense public questioning from senators, the two generals denied having fostered an atmosphere in their commands, given orders or set policies that could have led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Problems existed in the detention system in Iraq, Sanchez said. But he said the abuses seen in the pictures "are not the kind of thing that we thought was happening out there that anyone in the chain of command would have condoned or allowed to be practiced."

With violence increasing in Iraq last year, Sanchez said, military leaders were under pressure to get information from detainees to aid in the war effort.

But he denied having approved "interrogation rules of engagement" that were posted on a wall at Abu Ghraib and surfaced on Capitol Hill last week. The "rules" included the use of military dogs, stress positions and sleep deprivation among the techniques that could help extract information from detainees.

The list was issued by a captain, Warren said, and was intended not to encourage their use but to make clear that such methods could be used only if soldiers got permission from their commanding general.

It included techniques that "could never be approved, that frankly could never reasonably be requested," Warren said.

Sanchez defended a decision he made in November to shift command of Abu Ghraib from Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, to Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.

The Army report that detailed the abuse at the prison, written by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, noted as a factor contributing to the abuse the confusion among military police guards and intelligence personnel about who was in charge.

Military police guards, Taguba said, should not have been answering to a military intelligence commander.

Sanchez said he put Pappas in charge of the prison not to command military police guards or to oversee day-to-day operations but solely to defend the prison from attacks.

Taguba also criticized a recommendation made by Miller, then the commander of detention operations at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that military police guards "be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees" there.

Taguba, whose report quoted several soldiers as saying military intelligence officers had asked them to "soften up" detainees so that they might break during interrogations, said Miller's recommendation violated Army doctrine.

Miller denied that his recommendation was to use military police guards to abuse prisoners. He said he advocated having them do "passive intelligence-gathering" so they could give military intelligence a better sense of "the human dynamic of the detainee as he would come into the interrogation booth."

Abizaid denied that he had created an atmosphere in which abuse could occur.

"How can you explain the culture of abuse that was allowed to develop in a prison system under your command?" asked Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat.

"I don't believe that culture of abuse existed in my command," Abizaid responded. "I believe that we have isolated incidents that have taken place."

Sun staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

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