Senior U.S. officials disagree over Iraqi prisoner abuse

WASHINGTON -- The Army general who investigated prisoner abuse in Iraq disagreed sharply Tuesday with a top Pentagon civilian about who was in charge of the Abu Ghraib complex where the mistreatment occurred.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba told the Senate Armed Services Committee that military police who acted improperly did so "of their own volition." Several senators, however, questioned whether those low-ranking soldiers would have created the sexually humiliating scenarios by themselves.

The committee's chairman, John Warner, R-Va., said it was his understanding that some of the photos, such as one showing an Iraqi prisoner with women's underwear covering his head, were to be shown to prisoners' families "by way of threat unless he came forward with some valuable information."

The hearing unfolded less than two weeks after photos circulated around the world showing Iraqi prisoners forced by their American captors to assume sexually humiliating positions.

The Pentagon will allow senators to see additional photos and at least one video today that have not been publicly released, a Senate Republican aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity,

Under an agreement with the Pentagon, the photos will be available to senators for three hours in a high-security, classified office, the aide said. The senators will not be allowed to make copies of the photos and video, which will be returned to the Pentagon later.

Taguba said that when control of the prison was turned over to military intelligence officials, they had authority over the military police who were guarding prisoners.

But Stephen Cambone, the Pentagon's undersecretary for intelligence, said that was incorrect, that authority for the handling of detainees had remained with the MPs.

That difference underscored the confusion that surrounds the abuse controversy as military investigators attempt to determine if blame should be assigned to more than the 13 soldiers now reprimanded or charged with criminal violations.

It also highlighted an unresolved question linked to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who visited Iraqi prisons in early September, shortly before the reported abuses took place. The question is what Miller meant when he recommended, at the time, that military police become actively involved in "setting the conditions" for successful prisoner interrogations.

Some of the seven MPs who have been charged with abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib have said they believed they were acting on orders from military intelligence personnel who wanted prisoners "softened up" to make them more compliant in interrogations.

Cambone told the committee that Miller meant the MPs should be "collaborating" with the military intelligence soldiers responsible for the interrogations. For example, Cambone said, the MPs could help by telling the interrogators what the prisoners were saying in their cells.

But Taguba said involving MPs in "setting the conditions" for interrogations not only violated Army regulations, but also opened the door for possible misunderstanding on the part of MPs who are trained to keep prisoners safe and secure.