Iraqi prisoner abuse testimony begins

WASHINGTON — The general who investigated the abuse of Iraqidetainees testified Tuesday that the “egregious acts of violence”by U.S. military guards represented a dramatic breakdown inleadership and discipline by soldiers and commanders at the AbuGhraib prison.

The facility, located approximately 20 miles west of Baghdad,occupies 280 acres with over two miles of security perimeter and 24guard towers. Built by British contractors in the 1960s, Abu Ghraibis a virtual city within a city with a capacity to detain15,000.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said he found no evidence of specificorders directing soldiers to commit such acts, but he disagreedwith a senior Pentagon civilian over who was in charge of U.S.military police at the prison.

The hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee leftuncertain whether guards at Abu Ghraib, and perhaps other detentioncenters in Iraq, felt pressure to help extract information fromprisoners about the insurgency, weapons of mass destruction, tiesto terrorist groups or other issues of urgent interest to top Bushadministration officials.

Several Republican and Democratic senators said there wereindications that top commanders created an atmosphere thatencouraged soldiers to violate military law and Geneva Conventionrules governing the treatment of prisoners.

Sen. John Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the SenateArmed Services Committee, said some of the photos of naked Iraqisin humiliating poses were meant as threats and weren’t the resultof spontaneous cruelty.

“These youngsters didn’t understand the nuances of Muslimculture to have, as some people say, staged those photographs,which, I understand, were going to be shown to the prisoner’sfamily by way of threat, unless he came forward with some valuableinformation,” Warner said.

Warner asked Taguba to explain in “your own soldiers’ language”how the abuses occurred.

“Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down,lack of discipline, no training whatsoever, and no supervision.Supervisory omission was rampant,” Taguba replied.

The hearing came as an Islamic militant group released video ofan American civilian being beheaded. The group, which claimed anaffiliation with al-Qaida, said the killing was in response to theAbu Ghraib abuses.

Tuesday’s testimony and the beheading in Iraq sustainedattention on a scandal that has rocked the Bush administration andtriggered demands from Democrats for Defense Secretary DonaldRumsfeld’s resignation. While Republicans continued to stop shortof that, some made it clear they haven’t ruled it out.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an Air Force reservist and formermilitary prosecutor, said anyone in the chain of command could beheld accountable.

“The people who are in charge of maintaining good order anddiscipline, the people who are in charge of making sure there wereenough troops available and the culture did not exist the way itdid, they are candidates for prosecution for dereliction of duty…. Who knows how far that will go,” Graham said.

But Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., ridiculed the attention the abusecase is getting and attacked the victims of the abuse.

“They’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Manyof them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we’reso concerned about the treatment of those individuals.”

Photographs of U.S. soldiers harassing naked Iraqi detaineeshave caused an international uproar. Additional photographs, whichofficials say are far worse than anything made public so far, areexpected to be available to lawmakers for private inspection onWednesday. Pentagon officials are trying to determine whether tomake those public.

Senators also heard from Undersecretary of Defense forIntelligence Stephen Cambone, who oversees the Pentagon’s militaryintelligence operations, and Gen. Lance Smith, the deputy commanderof U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq.

Under questioning by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the panel’ssenior Democrat, Taguba and Cambone contradicted each other onwhether guards were under the control of military intelligence.Taguba wrote in his report that such a practice was “notdoctrinally sound.”

“Is that your conclusion?” Levin asked.

Taguba, shifting uncomfortably in his chair, said: “Yes, sir,because the order gave (a military intelligence colonel) tacticalcontrol of all units that were residing at Abu Ghraib.”

Cambone disagreed, contending that the colonel didn’t haveauthority over military police.

The issue is significant because several of the seven militaryguards facing courts-martial in the abuse cases have said theyacted under orders or suggestions from military intelligencepersonnel.

“I cannot help but suspect that others were involved,” said Sen.Susan Collins, R-Maine. “That military intelligence personnel wereinvolved, or people further up the chain of command, in suggesting… to these guards specific types of abuse that were designed tobreak these prisoners.”

(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Sumana Chatterjeeand Jonathan Landay contributed to this report.)