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Top US Generals Take Responsibility for Iraqi Prisoner Abuse - 2004-05-19

Top U.S. generals in Iraq took responsibility for the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal Wednesday and vowed the matter would be investigated thoroughly up the chain of command.

In an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, blamed the abuse scandal on what he called "systemic problems" at the Abu Ghraib prison, but he said he did not believe there had been "a pattern" of abuse there.

?It is clear there were some breakdowns in procedures, in access, in standards of interrogation, in confusion between the roles of what the military intelligence people were doing versus the military police,? he said. ?And there was clearly criminal misconduct that took place.?

General Abizaid said some 75 prisoner abuse cases have been investigated in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. He said some homicide cases have yet to be completed.

The hearing came as Army Specialist Jeremy Sivits was sentenced in Iraq to a year in prison and discharged from the military in the first court-martial in the scandal.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, told the Senate panel there may be additional criminal charges as a result of the ongoing investigations. ?We have already initiated courts martial in seven cases and there may very well be more prosecutions,? he stated.

General Sanchez said he had issued several directives making clear prisoners were to be treated humanely, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

General Sanchez was responsible for putting military intelligence personnel in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison. He said the decision was made to protect the prison and not related to interrogations.

Investigators are looking into whether military police were operating under orders from military intelligence when they conducted abusive behavior toward prisoners.

Committee chairman Senator John Warner announced during the hearing that the Pentagon discovered another computer disk containing more photographs of abuse and said lawmakers would be allowed to see them.

Photos released to the media of U.S. soldiers humiliating and abusing prisoners in other ways prompted international outrage.

Meanwhile, General Abizaid said the level of violence in Iraq is expected to increase after the June 30 handover of power to the Iraqi people. ?The situation will become more violent, even after sovereignty, because it will remain unclear what is going to happen between the interim government and elections,? he noted.

Elections are expected in December or January.

General Abizaid said the United States may have to deploy more troops after the handover.

General Abizaid added that he may have underestimated the number of U.S. troops required to deal with an intensifying insurgency earlier this year, but he said adjustments were made. He expressed hope the United Nations would send troops once sovereignty is returned to the Iraqis.