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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2005

The Abu Ghraib whitewash

GIVEN the U.S. military's strict adherence to the chain of command, it is hardly surprising that an investigation of top brass by officers somewhere down the chain would produce anything other than a whitewash.

So it was with the inquiry by the Army's inspector general into the culpability of its top leadership in Iraq for torture and other abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

To no one's amazement, the inspector general cleared Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who had been Army commander in Iraq, and three of his deputies of any wrongdoing or failure of leadership in connection with the ghastly and inhumane mistreatment of inmates at the notorious prison near Baghdad.

Allegations that the senior leaders failed to prevent or stop abuse of Iraqis rounded up in terrorism sweeps were said to be "unsubstantiated."

But at least one independent inquiry, conducted at the behest of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, reached the opposite conclusion.

"We believe that there is institutional and personal responsibility right up the chain of command as far as Washington is concerned," declared former defense secretary James Schlesinger, who headed a four-member advisory panel that reported to Mr. Rumsfeld last August.

Another member of that panel, Tillie Fowler, said "We found fundamental failures throughout all levels of command, from the soldiers on the ground to Central Command and to the Pentagon," said Ms. Fowler, who died March 2. "These failures of leadership helped to set the conditions which allowed for the abusive practices to take place."

The Army, however, plainly had no stomach for tracing responsibility for the abuse any higher than necessary. Indeed, the only top officer left hanging is Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of U.S. prisons in Iraq in 2003 and early 2004.

General Karpinski was suspended from her command soon after the Abu Ghraib atrocities became public in the famous digital photographs and she remains the top officer recommended for punishment.

In short, the main thing that the latest investigation proves is that the Army is incapable of impartially investigating itself.

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