WASHINGTON – In sometimes heated and emotional exchanges,members of the Senate Armed Services committee Wednesday grilled three top generals about prisoner abuse in Iraq.
“Systematic problems existed at the prison that led to the events there,” said Gen. John Abizaid,commander of U.S. Central Command. “We were shocked,disgusted and disappointed at the images of abuse,and we will take appropriate action.”
Abiziad appeared before the committee with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez,commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq,and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller,deputy commander for detainee operations,who took over supervision of the prisons after the abuse was discovered.
The session with three top generals who returned from Iraq for it is the third in a series of hearings about the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. The generals appeared in Washington on the day that the first soldier pleaded guilty in the abuse case in Iraq and three others were arraigned.
In an effort to discover exactly where orders authorizing abuse came from,committee members asked the generals intense questions about the rules of engagement and chain of command.
Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz.,said that,in a report given by soldiers who had been interviewed about the abuse,the soldiers said they were “under direct orders by military personnel to rough up prisoners to get them to talk.”
Abizaid quickly denied involvement in any command to abuse prisoners.
“These images are not the kind of thing that we thought were happening out there that this chain of command would have condoned,” Abizaid said. “I don't believe that the culture of abuse existed during my command.”
Sanchez defended military leaders by saying,“Such behaviors as the ones shown at Abu Ghraib are inconsistent with our values.”
Sen. Jack Reed,D-R.I.,pointed out that a USA Today article said Sanchez personally ordered certain types of abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
“It is true that it is printed in the article,” Sanchez said,“but it is not true that I ordered that abuse.”
The military is investigating 75 abuse cases,including homicide cases that stem to 2002 in Afghanistan,Abizaid said.
“The allegations of abuses of Iraqi detainees has shocked the nation and our armed forces,” said Sen. Carl Levin,D-Mich. “The committee's hearing this morning is part of our continuing efforts to investigate and find out the full extent of these abuses and how the could have happened.”
The photographs of prisoners include graphic images of hooded naked men forced to lie in piles on top of each other,men restrained by leashes and prisoners who appear to have been beaten to death.
Sen. John W. Warner,R-Va.,the committee chairman,said that the treatment of these men is “counter to every human value that we as Americans have learned from childhood.”
Warner pointed directly to the generals,charging them to take responsibility and be held accountable for what went on in Iraq.
“It is imperative that at some point in time,you face the American public and face the world,” he said.
During the hearing,Warner announced that a staff member had just told him that another disk containing images of abuse has been located.
Although the hearing was primarily focused on the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners,Abizaid reminded the committee of the reason the United States is in Iraq in the first place.
“Our enemies kill without remorse,” he said. “They are patient and despicable. We should not kid ourselves about the violence ahead.”