WASHINGTON – The Army general who reported last fall there was no mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison (search) in Iraq also commands the criminal investigators now pursuing the abuse cases, raising concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder (search) was promoted on Oct. 29 to advise senior Army leaders on law enforcement units, including military police, as the service's provost marshal general. The promotion came in the middle of Ryder's trip in which he was looking for management problems and human rights issues at Abu Ghraib and other Iraq prisons.
His report did not document any abuses, such as those shown in photographs just days after his trip. The report did raise broad questions, though, about restraint of prisoners and compliance with the international rules for prisoners of war.
As provost marshal general, Ryder helps set policy for the MPs who guard Iraq prisons. He also retains the command he has had since January 2002 over the Army Criminal Investigation Division (search), whose agents are leading investigations into the activities at Abu Ghraib.
The Army said it is confident Ryder does not need to withdraw from any role in the investigation and that investigators will not be inhibited from reaching conclusions that might affect their boss.
Criminal investigators "have the highest integrity of anyone in the Army. It's ingrained from day one; they feel absolutely unencumbered from command influence," said Ryder's deputy commander, Col. Scott Taylor.
Investigators should have "no worries whatsoever" that their findings might contradict Ryder's report last year that there were no visible abuses at the infamous Iraq prison, Taylor added.
Some military law experts said Ryder's dual responsibility would raise ethical conflicts if abuse investigations at Abu Ghraib focus even partly on Ryder's visit or prison policies issued by his office.
"It's a real complicating factor in my mind," said Walter Huffman, the Army's judge advocate general from 1997 until 2001. "It's obviously unfair to ask a CID agent who has his career and advancement opportunities in the hands of his commanding general to make a finding adverse to General Ryder."
Taylor said Army field investigators typically are promoted by local superiors, not their overall commanding general.
Added Donald G. Rehkopf, a civilian lawyer representing several military clients: "The general rule is, you don't investigate yourself. You bring in someone from the outside if you want a full and fair investigation."
But Michael J. Nardotti Jr., the Army's judge advocate general from 1993 to 1997, said he does not believe Ryder faces imminent legal conflicts "unless the issue gets to the level where there is a more direct link to actions that he personally has taken or by people who have been following his particular direction."
Ryder concluded in his still-classified report Nov. 5 that "there were no military police units purposely applying inappropriate confinement practices," according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press.
Ryder did cite the use of "improper restraint techniques" and "flawed or insufficiently detailed use of force and other standing operating procedures" at some prisons in Iraq, which he did not specify.
Ryder concluded that military police were not asked to help prepare prisoners for interrogations. That determination was contradicted later during a broad investigation into prison abuses by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who said that "it is obvious ... that this was done at lower levels."
Some military police soldiers formally accused of abuse at Abu Ghraib have told Ryder's criminal investigators they were following the orders of intelligence officers and civilian contractors who told them to humiliate prisoners.
Taguba told senators last month that Ryder's criminal investigators have performed "a superb job of investigating several complex and extremely disturbing incidents of detainee abuse."
Grant Lattin, a retired Marine lawyer and former chairman of the military law committee of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, described Ryder's roles in the prison investigation as "one of the inherent problems with military investigations."
"You oftentimes have the same commander who is in charge of investigators is over the people being investigated, and potentially even himself being investigated," Lattin said.