| Sanchez: In the line of fire
May 23: A military lawyer for a soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib abuse case stated that a captain at the prison said the highest-ranking US military officer in Iraq was present during some “interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse”, according to a recording of a military hearing obtained by The Washington Post.
The lawyer, Captain Robert Shuck, said he was told that Army Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez and other senior military officers were aware of what was taking place on Tier 1A of Abu Ghraib. Shuck is assigned to defend Staff Sergeant Ivan . “Chip” Frederick II of the 372nd Military Police Company.
(According to the Associated Press, the US military command today branded as false the report that Sanchez was present during some interrogations and witnessed some of the abuse.
Contesting the Post report, the US military said in a statement: “There was a news report published May 23, 2004, which suggests that Lt Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of multinational forces, Iraq, was aware of, and in some instances, present at Abu Ghraib while detainee abuse was occurring. This report is false.”)
During an April 2 hearing that was open to the public, Shuck said the company commander, Captain Donald J. Reese, was prepared to testify in exchange for immunity. The military prosecutor questioned Shuck about what Reese would say under oath.
“Are you saying that Captain Reese is going to testify that General Sanchez was there and saw this going on'” asked Captain John McCabe, the military prosecutor. “That’s what he told me,” Shuck said. “I am an officer of the court, sir, and I would not lie. I have got two children at home. I’m not going to risk my career.”
Shuck also said a sergeant at the prison, First Sergeant Brian G. Lipinski, was prepared to testify that intelligence officers told him the abuse of detainees on the cellblock was “the right thing to do”. Earlier this month, Lipinski declined to comment on the case.
So far, clear evidence has not emerged that high-level officers condoned or promoted the abusive practices. Officers at the prison have blamed the abuse on a few rogue, low-level military police officers from the 372nd, a company of US Army Reservists based in Cresaptown. The general in charge of the prisons in Iraq at the time has said that military intelligence officers took control of Abu Ghraib and gave the MPs “ideas”.
A defence department spokesman yesterday referred questions about Sanchez to US military officials in the West Asia, warning that statements by defence lawyers or their clients should be treated with “appropriate caution”. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the senior military spokesman in Iraq, said Sanchez was unavailable for comment last night but would “enjoy the opportunity” to respond later.
At the April hearing, Shuck also said Reese would testify that Captain Carolyn A. Wood, who supervised the military intelligence operation at Abu Ghraib, was “involved in intensive interrogations of detainees, condoned some of the activities and stressed that that was standard procedure”. The hearing was held at Camp Victory in Baghdad. The Post obtained a copy of the audiotape this past week, and it was transcribed yesterday.
In the transcript, Shuck said Reese was disturbed by the military intelligence techniques.
“He noted that there were some strange doings by the (military intelligence),” Shuck said. “He said, ‘What’s all this nudity about, this posturing, positioning, withholding food and water' Where’s the Geneva Conventions being followed'’”
Shuck noted that the abusive tactics used in Tier 1A of Abu Ghraib were not a secret. “All of that was being questioned by the chain of command and denied, general officer level on down,” Shuck said. “Present during some of these happenings, it has come to my knowledge that Lieutenant General Sanchez was even present at the prison during some of these interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse by those on duty (non-commissioned officers).”
Reese, 39, a reservist from Pennsylvania who works as a window-blind salesman in civilian life, did not testify that day because he had invoked the military version of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.