Martialing Evidence

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 2 2004 6:49 AM

Martialing Evidence

All three papers lead with new revelations about what now appears to be the systematic torture of at least 20 Iraqi prisoners by six to 10 Army reservists (who possibly acted under the direction of military intelligence and CIA employees). The New York Times fronts, and the Los Angeles Times teases, the slaying of five Westerners by gunmen in a Saudi engineering office.

In February, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba wrote an internal Pentagon report on the abuses that occurred on cellblock 1A of the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh (who 30 years ago broke the Mai Lai story) obtained a copy. (The magazine also publishes more pictures.) Taguba found "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" on the block, including Abner Louima-style sodomizing of prisoners; pouring cold water and chemicals on naked bodies; threatening detainees with rape and dog attacks; hitting them with chairs and broomsticks; and locking them in isolation without food, water, or a toilet for three days. Hersh concludes:

The picture [Taguba] draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.

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Taguba's report led to a military investigation of the 372nd Military Police Company, which staffed the cellblock. Seventeen soldiers in the company have been suspended, the WashingtonPost and LAT report, and six now face courts-martial. (The LAT says the Pentagon may make the proceedings public.) The woman in charge of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, was relieved of her command. According to the  Post, the Pentagon yesterday named a former military intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, to review procedures for questioning inmates in Iraqi prisons. 

Karpinski and at least one of the reservists facing court-martial defend themselves in the papers. Karpinski tells the NYT that she oversaw 16 prisons and 3,400 reservists. She did not visit cellblock 1A on the advice of military intelligence officers—whom, she adds, also denied the Red Cross access. The family of Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, one of the MPs charged with wrongdoing, gives all the papers copies of e-mail and letters sent by him in December, which portray military intelligence officers and contractors as masterminds of the torture. (1A was the only one of Abu Ghraib's two dozen cellblocks that was reserved for interrogations—which were overseen, the Post reports, by the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.)

In Yanbu, a Saudi city on the Red Sea, four gunmen walked into the Houston subsidiary of a Swiss engineering firm. They killed at least five Westerners, including two Americans, and dragged a Westerner behind them in a getaway car. They were shot dead by Saudi security after several gunfights. The engineers had been helping to upgrade an oil refinery.

Members of the new Marine-installed Iraqi battalion in Fallujah celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Post reports. The rag-tag 1st Battalion of the Fallujah Brigade now has between 160-300 members; the rest will be recruited from Fallujah's streets, battalion members tell the paper. The Marines acknowledged that some 1st Battalion members may have been shooting at Marines just a few days ago but argued that hiring locals is the most effective way to round up the 200 foreign fighters in the city. In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt warned that 1st Battalion commander Jassim Mohammed Saleh has yet to undergo a background check. Outside Fallujah, the Marine general who chose Saleh says that the former Republican Guard leader has in fact been vetted. The LAT reports inside that Saleh's co-commander is a former director of Iraqi military intelligence who fell out of favor with Saddam Hussein. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq Friday and Saturday.

The highest court of the United Methodist Church ruled yesterday that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching," the Post reports inside. The ruling reverses a local decision allowing a Seattle lesbian to become a minister but by itself carries no enforcement power. Based on past denominational votes, Methodists against gay clergy likely command a sizable majority. They will now move to give the ruling teeth.

The NYT runs a lengthy profile of a George Steinbrenner who is kinder and gentler—at least in his own estimation. Steinbrenner, 73, hasn't fired a general manager since 1990 or a coach since 1994. He is now known to cry, whisper about his own mortality, and forget things. (Although he can still recite the starting lineup of the 1947 Notre Dame football team, he often calls his secretary by his mother's name.) The piece concludes that, ultimately, he's still the same hard-driving S.O.B. that New Yorkers love to love and love to hate. Or as Reggie Jackson puts it, "I've never seen him sick, never seen him sneeze, never seen him have a cold or anything. Probably because even germs are scared of him."

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City. He is on the clinical faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.