Abu Ghraib: Double Standard Continues

Col. Thomas M. PappasMore than half of the U.S. Army Military Intelligence soldiers who were allegedly involved in various forms of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison believed that their actions were sanctioned by Army supervisors.

This fact was a central finding of the report last year by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and Maj. Gen George R. Fay. That inquiry, ordered to investigate intelligence failures in Iraq and Abu Ghraib, is both revealing and indicting. It is also painfully illustrative of the criminal failures of the Army's MI leadership on the ground in Iraq since mid-2003.

The pervasive corruption and lack of command responsibility is not going to be attenuated to by the courts-martial of a handful of junior enlisted soldiers, many of whom were not even assigned intelligence duties at the prison sites.

Abu Ghraib will not be relegated to its proper place in history until the DOD or Army hold the feet of the senior leaders involved to the fire. A year after the abuse scandal broke, no one in the Army has been holding his breath while waiting for them to suddenly stand up, admit their failures and take responsibility for what they had enabled and caused at Abu Ghraib.

When the most senior Department of Defense leaders, particularly Sec. Def. Donald Rumsfeld, have the power to determine who is and who is not amenable or protected by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, why should uniformed military leaders step in and admit wrongdoing? As well, when junior enlisted soldiers can be banished off to Leavenworth prison for stepping on detainee's fingers and toes, what do the senior officers have to worry about?

The failures of command enabled an atmosphere that anything imaginable was acceptable at Abu Ghraib prison. The unimaginable, indeed, did occur: abuse, inhumanity, torture, murder and the attempted concealment of those crimes.

On Wednesday, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, finally received punishment for his responsibilities at Abu Ghraib. However, it was a non-judicial, administrative punishment, and the unfairness of how his case was handled will likely send shock waves through the ranks, particularly among enlisted soldiers. Pappas' punishment is profoundly illustrative of a deep-rooted double standard that has been applied to all investigations concerning Abu Ghraib.

According to the Jones/Fay report on intelligence failures, Pappas and his second-in-command, Lt. Col. Steve Jordan, both "bear responsibility for those things that happened and the soldiers underneath them." Either by omission or commission, both men enabled the "Animal-House" environment in Abu Ghraib prison to flourish.

Even though Pappas was found to be derelict in his duties, as of this writing he still commands the 205th MI Brigade.

There is nothing ambiguous about Pappas' authority and accountability as a leader: He was responsible for the lives of hundreds of U.S. Army soldiers. He was responsible for military intelligence operations in Abu Ghraib prison, and he was responsible for the health and welfare of prisoners in specific MI custody. No less important a responsibility, Pappas and his subordinates were responsible to produce "actionable intelligence" concerning the worsening terrorist-backed insurgency in the fall of 2003.

In a flippant and glib statement to Maj. Gen. Anthony Taguba, when the initial AR 15-6 administrative investigation into Abu Ghraib was underway, Pappas said, "I had no visibility over the operations" once prisoners left the confines of the interrogation rooms, "nor did I concern myself with it, perhaps I should have."

There were other things at which Pappas perhaps should have done a better job. During the course ofthe Taguba investigation, Pappas also stated, "LTC Jordan was a loner who freelances between Military Police and Military Intelligence, and I must admit that I failed in not reining him in." 

In so stating, Pappas admitted that his own second-in-command was beyond his control. Far beyond, it ultimately turns out!

Jordan was so out of control that in May 2004, Spc. Benjamin Heidenreich, a junior technical intelligence soldier assigned to prisoner escort and guard duties within the 205th. MI Brigade at Abu Ghraib, personally admitted to another soldier (my source) that he and Jordan had teamed up to physically abuse and beat a detainee. I subsequently received four lengthy videotapes in which Heidenreich and numerous named other enlisted soldiers, by their own admission on the footage, are practicing up for beating Iraqi detainees.

The video was taken in the confines of Abu Ghraib prison. A happy handful of enlisted male members of the 205th MI Brigade employ feet, hands, Kevlar helmets, M-16 rifles and knives as they "wild" while practicing for the real thing. They repeatedly and viciously assault a stuffed sleeping bag and a chair.

The tone of command tolerance and abuse-enabling that was set by Col. Pappas' shortcomings as an Army officer and commander is appalling! His inaction is further illustrative of a gross breakdown in leadership and responsibility on the part of senior Army leaders.

The specific charges against Pappas consisted of failing to ensure that his interrogators were adequately trained and supervised in intelligence gathering.He was also cited as derelict in his duties in that he authorized interrogators to employ the use of military working dogs to menace, coerce, and manipulate detainees without the approval of his superior officers. This action clearly falls into the purview of torture.

Pappas willingly acquiesced to an offer from Maj. Gen. Bennie Williams for administrative censure. Who wouldn't, particularly when they know how culpable they really are? His punishment was a letter of reprimand and an $8,000 administrative fine.

With this, it is obvious that Pappas' 24-year career as an intelligence officer has come to an embarrassing end. Certainly, for the good of the future of military intelligence and the Army, another rotten commander is gone.

However, this leads me to ask, what about all the soldiers – officer and enlisted – who served under his corrupt leadership and miserable command failure? Why are "only" junior enlisted soldiers the only ones behind bars?

I am not buying the cover-up, particularly when peers in the Army and sister-services are allowed to investigate their rank-equal peers. I am not the only person who refuses to accept this scam for a minute.

I am convinced that the Pentagon and Bush administration have – by deliberate acts or deliberate inaction – protected and coveted the senior-ranking officers who are just as guilty as Pappas. The end of this grisly story is that Pappas just happened to be the one who did their bidding down at the "get-dirty" level, and in the end, was content to fall on his sword in an effort to further protect his superiors.

After all, an $8,000 fine and piece of paper are much better than a 10-year sentence at Leavenworth. Just ask Pvt. Charles Graner.

J. David Galland

J. David Galland is Deputy Editor of DefenseWatch and the Founder and President of "Bound & Overwatch-The Military Observer". He can be reached at [email protected]. Please send Feedback responses to [email protected].

On the photo: Col. Thomas M. Pappas

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Author`s name Marina Lebedeva