More than a few bad apples

By Mark Follman

Published January 17, 2005 3:16PM (EST)

Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr. was sentenced on Saturday to 10 years in prison for his role in the various abuse and torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. In his defense, Graner apparently failed to prove that higher-ups authorized the behavior, but in light of some testimony in Graner's case, higher-ranking officers may inevitably be prosecuted, reports the New York Times.

"Several witnesses at the Graner trial testified that Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the highest-ranking military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, and Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, the head of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at the prison, had either known about or specifically encouraged tactics like using dogs to threaten detainees. The two men were among five officers recommended for discipline in a Pentagon report in August, which said they bore responsibility for what happened even though they were not directly involved in abuse.

"That report implicated 29 other military intelligence soldiers in at least 44 cases of abuse from July 2003 to February 2004, including one death, beatings, using dogs to threaten adolescent detainees, and having prisoners stripped naked and left for hours in dark, poorly ventilated cells that were stifling hot or freezing cold."

In response to Graner's guilty verdict, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, offered a blunt view of the chain-of-command issue: "Whatever Charles Graner did, however heinous his acts may have been, we believe he is taking the fall for the architects of a policy that empowered him to torture and abuse those being held at Abu Ghraib."

Still, rattling the highest ranks of power and holding prominent military and political leaders accountable for what went down at Abu Ghraib may remain out of reach. Lawyers for the low-ranking soldiers who have been charged in the abuse scandal remain skeptical that higher-ups will ever be charged, reports the Times. "The higher up they go, the more problems they have with people leading to the Pentagon," said Harvey Volzer, who represented Megan Ambuhl, who was discharged from the military as part of a plea bargain in the Abu Ghraib abuses. "Pappas gives them Sanchez, and they don't want that. Sanchez can give them Rumsfeld, and they don't want that."

"Rumsfeld can lead to Bush and [Alberto] Gonzales," added Volzer, "and they definitely don't want that."

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but others are likely never to fall -- even if they're looking plenty ripe.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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