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Sunday, September 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:36 A.M.
Warnings about prisoner abuse in Cuba and Iraq ignored, book says
By John H. Cushman Jr.
WASHINGTON Senior military and national security officials in the Bush administration were repeatedly warned by subordinates in 2002 and 2003 that prisoners in military custody were being abused, according to a new book by a prominent journalist.
Seymour Hersh, a writer for The New Yorker magazine who earlier this year was among the first to disclose details of the abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, makes the charges in his book "Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib" (HarperCollins), which is being released tomorrow.
Hersh asserts that a CIA analyst who visited the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in the late summer of 2002 filed a report of abuses there that drew the attention of Gen. John Gordon, the deputy to Condoleezza Rice, the White House national-security adviser. But when Gordon called the matter to her attention and she discussed it with other senior officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, no significant change resulted.
Hersh's account is based on anonymous sources, some of them secondhand, and could not be independently verified.
Although a number of senior officials were briefed on the analyst's findings of abuse, the high-level White House meeting did not "dwell on" that question, but rather focused on whether some of the prisoners should not have been held at all, the book says.
A White House official confirmed yesterday that this meeting was held and reiterated that the focus, when the matter was referred to Rumsfeld, was on whether people were being improperly held.
Hersh also says that a military officer involved in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq learned of the abuses at Abu Ghraib in November 2003 and reported it to two of his superiors, Gen. John Abizaid, the regional commander, and his deputy, Lt. Gen. Lance Smith.
"I said there are systematic abuses going on in the prisons," the unnamed officer is quoted as telling Hersh. "Abizaid didn't say a thing. He looked at me beyond me, as if to say, 'Move on. I don't want to touch this.' "
Hersh also writes that FBI agents complained to their superiors about abuses at Guantánamo, as did a military lawyer, and that these complaints, too, were relayed to the Pentagon.
Hersh's thesis is that "the roots of the Abu Ghraib scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists" who have been charged so far, "but in the reliance of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on secret operations and the use of coercion and eye-for-eye retribution in fighting terrorism."
In particular, Hersh has reported that a secret program to capture and interrogate terrorists led to the abuse of prisoners.
In a statement posted on its Web site, the Pentagon said: "Based on media inquiries, it appears that Seymour Hersh's upcoming book apparently contains many of the numerous unsubstantiated allegations and inaccuracies which he has made in the past based upon unnamed sources."
The statement added that several investigations so far "have determined that no responsible official of the Department of Defense approved any program that could conceivably have authorized or condoned the abuses seen at Abu Ghraib."
Hersh gained notice in 1969 when he revealed the massacre of Vietnamese civilians by Americans at the village of My Lai.
Soldier sentenced in prison abuse scandal
BAGHDAD, Iraq A U.S. soldier broke down in tears yesterday as he admitted abusing inmates at Abu Ghraib prison, receiving a lighter sentence in return for his testimony against others charged in the scandal.
His lawyer said Cruz, a Reservist whose father was a Cuban immigrant and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, was suffering from stress after having been wounded in a mortar attack that killed his sergeant a month before the abuse occurred.
Prosecutors accused Cruz of forcing naked prisoners to crawl along the floor and later handcuffing the men together.
"There is no way to justify it," Cruz, from Plano, Texas, said after pleading guilty to conspiracy to mistreat subordinates and mistreatment of prisoners at the grim, walled prison in western Baghdad in October. "I accept full and complete responsibility."
Cruz, assigned to the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion, was sentenced to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad-conduct discharge.
The others charged so far have all been low-ranking enlisted soldiers whose attorneys contended their clients were acting under instructions of intelligence agents and civilian contractors.
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