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U.S. Commander Orders First Punishment in Abuse of Iraqis

By Thom Shanker and Dexter Filkins

the new york times -- washington

The senior U.S. commander in Iraq has ordered the first punishments in the abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers there, issuing severe reprimands to six who served in supervisory positions at Abu Ghraib prison and a milder “letter of admonishment” to a seventh.

The officers and noncommissioned officers received penalties that likely will end their military careers, although they were not demoted or discharged. They have not been charged with any criminal activity; six subordinates accused of carrying out the abuse already face criminal charges.

“They did not know or participate in any crimes,” a senior U.S. officer in Baghdad said of the officers who received the reprimands, issued by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq. “Their responsibility is to set the standards in the organization. They should have known, but they did not.”

As more details emerged of widespread problems in the detention system in Iraq, President Bush on Monday telephoned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld “to make sure that appropriate action was being taken against those responsible for these shameful, appalling acts,” said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman.

The military’s investigative report into the abuses of detainees in Iraq, by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, described broader problems in the prison system throughout Iraq, as well as pervasive flaws in the leadership, training and morale of military police assigned to guard Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq. It suggested that these problems had contributed to abuses of prisoners over many months, even after earlier instances were reported and punished.

The report found, for example, that after several detainees were beaten at Camp Bucca, another detention site in Iraq, in May 2003, nothing was done to make clear to military police elsewhere that this was not to be tolerated. Soldiers responsible for those earlier abuses were charged and punished late last year.