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Report steers clear of interrogators' boss

By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN, Times Senior Correspondent
Published May 8, 2004

A scathing report on prisoner abuse in Iraq found that U.S. military intelligence interrogators set "physical and mental conditions" for questioning inmates that contributed to the shocking acts of abuse.

But except for one brief mention, the 55-page report contains nothing about the role of the top military intelligence officer in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast. As head of intelligence for the U.S. command in Baghdad, Fast was in charge of interrogators at Abu Ghraib, where prisoners were beaten, sodomized and photographed in sexually degrading positions.

Experts contacted by the St. Petersburg Times say strict adherence to military protocol - and a possible reluctance to delve too far into intelligence operations - have kept Fast out of the spotlight even as her boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, faces blistering criticism and calls to resign.

That the investigation into prisoner abuse was conducted by a major general may be one reason why Fast, an officer of equal rank, apparently has undergone little scrutiny, one expert says.

"The military is very conscious of rank - if you want to investigate a major general you need a lieutenant general," said Larry Korb, a former Navy captain and assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

"I think when they appointed a major general they never assumed it was going to go much higher - they figured it was basically a bunch of out-of-control young reservists and didn't realize the extent to which they had a problem, not the least of which was who was in charge."

Korb said he was amazed at the murky lines of authority at Abu Ghraib, which technically was run by military police, but where certain cell bocks were controlled by military intelligence officers, CIA officials and civilian contractors.

"I worked in the Pentagon, I spent four years in active duty and 20 in the reserves but I've never seen such a command-relations structure where it's so unclear who's reporting to whom," said Korb, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

The investigation focused on abuse of prisoners by members of the 800th Military Police Brigade, led by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski from last July until she was reassigned in January. The report, by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, severely faulted Karpinski's leadership and found that the reservists under her command were poorly trained and supervised.

However, the report also says military intelligence officers set the conditions for "favorable" interrogation of prisoners, including instructions on how to "loosen up" inmates so they would talk.

In a sworn statement, one reservist said prisoners "were made to do various things that I would question morally." Another said "MI" - military intelligence - "would tell us to take away their mattresses, sheets and clothes."

Over Karpinski's apparent opposition, military police units at Abu Ghraib were under the command of Col. Thomas Pappas, whose 205th Military Intelligence Brigade came under Fast's oversight.

"This effectively made a military intelligence officer, rather than a military police officer, responsible for the MP units conducting detainee operations at that facility," the report says. "This is doctrinally unsound due to the different missions and agendas assigned to each of these respective specialties."

The report recommended Pappas be reprimanded for failing, among other things, to ensure his soldiers followed the Geneva Convention on humane treatment of prisoners of war.

Pappas was among those "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuse at Abu Ghraib," the report said.

But Korb, the former assistant secretary of defense, said "it's a legitimate question" why the investigation stopped at Pappas' level and didn't examine the role of his superiors, including Maj. Gen. Fast, head of intelligence in Iraq.

"Whenever Rumsfeld and Myers (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) get around to reading this report, they should say, "Okay, we need to get this major general involved because obviously someone was telling Pappas what to do,"' Korb said.

An investigation into intelligence practices in Afghanistan and Iraq, including at Abu Ghraib prison, was begun April 23 by Maj. Gen. George Fay, the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence.

In Taguba's report, the only mention of Fast refers to her position as "detainee release authority," in charge of deciding which inmates accused of crimes against the coalition could be released.

According to Karpinski, who was formally in charge of Iraq's prison system, those detainees made up 60 percent of the prison population and were the fastest-growing segment. However, Karpinski told investigators, Fast "routinely" denied recommendations to release inmates who were no longer deemed a threat and clearly met the requirements for release.

Karpinski further complained that "the extremely slow and ineffective release process has significantly contributed to the overcrowding of the facilities," Taguba's report said.

As head of intelligence in Iraq, Fast would have been responsible for intelligence officers working inside Abu Ghraib. She also "would have been very interested in the interrogation reports coming out of that prison," says Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst for Jane's Consultancy.

"Information from the prisoners is very valuable to the intelligence community so the intelligence community is going to have someone in that the prison system," he said.

Under standard procedures, "very high-ranking" officers like Fast and Karpinski would have agreed between themselves who would be responsible for what in the prisons.

"Where it could have gone wrong," Heyman said, "is that the CIA could have wandered in and said, "Hey, we're going to park ourselves with the intelligence people' and the intelligence people didn't tell the prison system."

The scant mention of Fast in the report is likely because Taguba was told to focus on the role of the military police, not military intelligence.

"His report at the end of the day will be straight down the parameter he was given," Heyman said, "but the report is probably 20 percent of what he knows."

Neither Taguba nor Karpinski, who was the only female commander in Iraq, could be reached for comment. Fast declined to respond to an e-mailed list of questions because "an interrogation investigation is in process. It would not be appropriate at this time to answer the questions," according to a colonel who replied on her behalf.

Unlike Karpinski, whose military career probably will end because of the scandal, Fast still appears to be highly regarded and remains on active duty in Baghdad.

Fast, 50, graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in education and has a master's degree in business administration from Boston University. Before her current assignment, she was director of intelligence for U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, and deputy commander of Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

Last month, the Pentagon announced Fast will return to Fort Huachuca - to head the Army Intelligence Center.

The fort's Web site described the center as "focused on leading, training, equipping and supporting the world's premier corps of military intelligence professionals - imbued with a warrior spirit, self-discipline and mutual respect."

- Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at

[Last modified May 8, 2004, 01:29:08]

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