Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Call Ahead

According to a senior Army officer who served in Iraq, "Army officials in Iraq responded late last year to an International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) report of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison by trying to curtail the international agency's spot inspections of the prison.

After the I.C.R.C. observed abuses in one cellblock on two unannounced inspections in October and complained in writing on Nov. 6, the military responded that inspectors should make appointments before visiting the cellblock."

This was counter to the Army's official response that they provided unfettered access to the I.C.R.C. and promptly began an investigation after receiving the initial report. The timeline is less than convincing, however.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, said, "We followed the rules, and we gave unrestricted access to the I.C.R.C., and it validated our operations, actually." Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of Army intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 11, "As soon as we hear about one of those allegations, an investigation should begin right away and we shouldn't wait for it."

The first official report came on Nov. 6, but the Army did not begin an investigation until Dec. 24, more than a month and a half later. In the interim, the Army decided to limit the ability of the I.C.R.C. to make surprise visits, or according to a senior Army officer, "The position that they were taking was that the I.C.R.C. could not have unrestricted access to those particular cellblocks."

The story is reported in today's New York Times.

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