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May 23, 2004
WaPo Uses More Hearsay, Pentagon Issues Denial

In its continuing coverage of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, the Washington Post reports today on statements made by defense counsel that Gen. Ricardo Sanchez may have been present for some of the abuse, and that Gen. Janis Karpinski seems to have switched from defense to offense as a result:

The lawyer, Capt. Robert Shuck, said he was told that Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and other senior military officers were aware of what was taking place on Tier 1A of Abu Ghraib. Shuck is assigned to defend Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II of the 372nd Military Police Company. During an April 2 hearing that was open to the public, Shuck said the company commander, Capt. Donald J. Reese, was prepared to testify in exchange for immunity. The military prosecutor questioned Shuck about what Reese would say under oath.

"Are you saying that Captain Reese is going to testify that General Sanchez was there and saw this going on?" asked Capt. John McCabe, the military prosecutor.

"That's what he told me," Shuck said. "I am an officer of the court, sir, and I would not lie. I have got two children at home. I'm not going to risk my career."

Shuck also said a sergeant at the prison, First Sgt. Brian G. Lipinski, was prepared to testify that intelligence officers told him the abuse of detainees on the cellblock was "the right thing to do." Earlier this month, Lipinski declined to comment on the case. ... At the April hearing, Shuck also said Reese would testify that Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, who supervised the military intelligence operation at Abu Ghraib, was "involved in intensive interrogations of detainees, condoned some of the activities and stressed that that was standard procedure." The hearing was held at Camp Victory in Baghdad. The Post obtained a copy of the audiotape this past week, and it was transcribed yesterday.

While I respect Shuck's status as an officer of the court and believe he's representing the testimony truthfully, the testimony itself seems rather weak. He says that Capt. Reese will testify that Sanchez was present for "interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse," which means that Sanchez may only have witnessed rather routine questioning. It's important to remember that words have meaning, and the "and/or" is an important qualifier. Not only that, but the request for immunity seems pretty strange for someone who hasn't even been charged yet. Why does he need immunity if the commanding officer ordered or condoned the interrogation?

Karpinski, meanwhile, had some pointed words to add about Sanchez:

Sanchez visited the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade's operation, which encompassed Tier 1A at Abu Ghraib, at least three times in October, according to Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, who was in charge of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq as commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade. That month, the serious abuses documented in published photographs -- naked detainees shackled together, a guard posing with a prisoner on a dog leash -- began.

In an interview yesterday, Karpinski said the number of visits by a commanding general struck her as "unusual," especially because Sanchez had not visited several of the 15 other U.S. detention facilities in Iraq. ... The general, a reservist from South Carolina, said she was not present during Sanchez's visits because her brigade had surrendered authority over that part of the prison to intelligence officers. She said she was alerted as a courtesy while the three-star general was planning to travel to the prison. Karpinski added that Sanchez might have visited without her knowledge after the intelligence officers were given formal authority over the entire prison on Nov. 19.

"He has divisions all over Iraq, and he has time to visit Abu Ghraib three times in a month?" Karpinski asked yesterday. "Why was he going out there so often? Did he know that something was going on?"

The Pentagon denies that Sanchez was aware of abuses until after the ICRC report in January:

"There was a news report published May 23, 2004, which suggests that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq was aware of, and in some instances, present at Abu Ghraib while detainee abuse was occurring," the U.S. military said in a statement. "This report is false."

Sanchez stands by his testimony before Congressional committees that he was unaware of the abuses until he ordered an investigation into the allegations in January, according to the statement.

I find Karpinski's comments odd. Sanchez must be able to account for all official visits, and apparently none of them match up to the dates that coincide with the abuses. However, if Karpinski argues that he made unknown, unofficial visits, then whatever documentation he produces on his schedule will be questioned. It seems as though Karpinski's saying that she has no evidence that he witnessed anything but still accuses him anyway -- and hasn't she maintained that she knew nothing about these abuses while she was much closer to the operation?

I'm very skeptical that the Post's article contains anything new that moves the story forward, especially since the transcript that the Post quotes comes from a hearing that took place a month ago.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 23, 2004 10:22 AM

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