BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military command on Sunday denied a report that the top U.S. general in Iraq was present during some interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison (search) and witnessed some of the abuse of Iraqi inmates.
The Washington Post, in a story first released on its Web site Saturday night, said a military lawyer stated at an open hearing April 2 that Capt. Donald J. Reese told him that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez (search) and other senior military officers were aware of the abuse at the prison.
The military lawyer, Capt. Robert Shuck, represents Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II (search), one of seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company facing criminal charges for abusing Iraqi inmates. Reese is the company commander.
"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," the U.S. military said in a statement. "This report is false."
Sanchez stands by his testimony before Congressional committees that he was unaware of the abuses until he ordered an investigation into the allegations in January, according to the statement.
Although Sanchez ordered the investigation in January, the scandal did not break open until late April, when CBS' "60 Minutes II" broadcast photos of American guards abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners who were naked except for hoods covering their heads, including a group stacked in a human pyramid.
Those photos triggered worldwide outrage and raised doubts about America's commitment to building a society based on democratic and respect for human rights after toppling Saddam Hussein.
Sanchez told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he did not receive a Nov. 6 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross detailing abuses at Abu Ghraib until two months later.
During testimony Wednesday in Washington, Sanchez told the Senate committee that he ordered an investigation "as soon as I learned" of the reported abuses at the prison and within days of receiving the initial report, "I directed suspension of key members of the chain of command of the unit responsible for detainee security at Abu Ghraib," Sanchez said.
The Post reported that a transcript of the April hearing at Camp Victory in Baghdad shows Capt. John McCabe, the military prosecutor, asking Shuck, "Are you saying that Captain Reese is going to testify that General Sanchez was there and saw this going on?"
"That's what he told me," Shuck replied, according to the transcript cited by the Post. "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."
According to the Post, Shuck also said at the April hearing that Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, supervisor of 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, what the accused was doing."
Col. Jill Morgenthaler, public affairs officer in Baghdad, said the transcript of the April 2 hearing would not be released.
U.S. military officials have said there is no evidence that Sanchez or other senior military officers were aware of the prisoner abuse while it was happening. Prison officials have blamed the abuse on low-level military police, some of whom have maintained they were just following orders.
On Wednesday, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits became the first soldier convicted in the scandal. He received the maximum penalty of a year in prison, a bad conduct discharge and reduction in rank to private. Six other members of the 372nd Military Police Company, a Reserve unit from Maryland, also face court-martial.
Three of them -- Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick and Spc. Charles Graner Jr. -- will appear at a hearing in Baghdad on June 21.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the military said in a Dec. 24 confidential response to the Red Cross that many Iraqi prisoners were not fully covered by the Geneva Conventions protecting the rights of prisoners of war.
The letter, signed by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, said part of the fourth Geneva Convention allows the military to treat prisoners considered security risks differently than POWs, the Times said.
Karpinski commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade, which supplied the soldiers who guarded prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Her letter specifically referred to the fourth convention's Article 5, which was introduced to cover people such as spies and saboteurs.
The ICRC says prisoners detained as security risks lose their rights to correspondence, to receive aid packages, to religious assistance and to be visited by the ICRC.
However, those prisoners do not lose their rights to humane treatment and medical care, the ICRC said.
In its letter, the military said there were "clear procedures governing interrogation" to ensure humane treatment.
A Red Cross spokesman in Geneva said Sunday he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of the military response.