Cambone's Contradictions

Cambone's Contradictions

Cambone's Contradictions

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 12 2004 4:19 AM

Cambone's Contradictions

The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Post all lead with Senate testimony during which the Army general who first investigated the Iraq prisoner abuses attributed them to a "failure in leadership." Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said that while only a few guards appeared have actually carried out the abuses, "they were probably influenced by others, if not necessarily directed specifically by others." He said that while abuse was not an overt policy, he agreed that it was "systemic." The New York Times and USA Today lead with the release of a video from Iraq showing the beheading of an American hostage, Nicholas Berg. An Islamist Web site that posted it attributed the killing to Musab al-Zarqawi, a jihadist that the U.S. has long said is behind attacks in Iraq. The murderers said it was revenge for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Berg had been missing since early April and was an independent telecom contractor.

As the LAT and NYT headline, Taguba and a top Pentagon official sitting next to him contradicted each other about who was in charge at Abu Ghraib. Taguba said that the top commander in Iraq—against Army doctrine—gave military intel people final control. The Pentagon official, undersecretary for intelligence Stephen Cambone, said the order put military intel in charge of the prison "facility," not the guards.

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Taguba and senators noted that the abuses came in the fall after the then-commander of Guantanamo Bay visited Abu Ghraib and suggested "special operating procedures" to "Gitmo-ize" the prison and help guards "set the conditions" for interrogations. That general, Geoffrey Miller, is now head of the Iraqi prison system, and his trip was recommended by Cambone. The Journal notes that the Pentagon hasn't explained exactly what procedures Miller suggested.

The NYT says U.S. troops are fighting Moqtada Sadr's militia in the holy city of Karbala, and at one point last night attacked a mosque the guerrillas had been using. The Times says the U.S., which is working with Iraqi forces, appears to have the support of city leaders, who want Sadr gone. Meanwhile, the area's newly installed governor said he's worked out a tentative peace deal with Sadr that apparently includes the U.S. not arresting him. The LAT quotes the region's U.S. commander saying Sadr's militia could be integrated into a new security force.

The NYT fronts an interview with an Afghan police colonel who was mistakenly arrested last year and says he was beaten and sexually abused by U.S. interrogators. "I swear to God, those photos shown on television of the prison in Iraq—those things happened to me as well," said the cop. Afghan human rights officials said the man told them the same story after he was released last fall. There have long been reports of abuse in U.S. prisons in Afghanistan. "We were all beaten, without exception," one former prisoner told Human Rights Watch, which issued a report in March about abuses. According to one source in the report, soldiers called one prison "Camp Slappy." The report also said that some prisoners appear to have been stripped naked and then photographed.

The Post fronts word that as expected President Bush slapped sanctions on Syria, citing ties to terrorism. The NYT says the sanctions go beyond what Congress has mandated, but the WP says they're basically symbolic, noting that the sanctions have exemptions for everything from food to cellphones.

Back to Cambone ... The undersecretary of defense insisted that the abuses may be nothing more than a few misguided guards. "I still don't know that there is a significant issue here," he said. A Post editorial retorts:

The Bush administration still seeks to mislead Congress and the public about the policies that contributed to the criminal abuse of prisoners in Iraq. Yesterday's smoke screen was provided by Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Mr. Cambone assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that the administration's policy had always been to strictly observe the Geneva Conventions in Iraq; that all procedures for interrogations in Iraq were sanctioned under the conventions; and that the abuses of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison were consequently the isolated acts of individuals. These assertions are contradicted by International Red Cross and Army investigators, by U.S. generals overseeing the prisoners, and by Mr. Cambone himself [...]

If President Bush and his senior officials would acknowledge their complicity in playing fast and loose with international law and would pledge to change course, they might begin to find a way out of the mess. Instead, they hope to escape from this scandal without altering or even admitting the improper and illegal policies that lie at its core. It is a vain hope.

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.