A dissent from within the ranks
Last month, when Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba detailed Army abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq for the Senate Armed Services Committee, it was something of a love feast. Senators nearly fell over one another extolling his "service to this country." But Taguba is no hero to Capt. Lisa Weidenbush, the operations officer for the 800th Military Police Brigade, which ran the prison and took the brunt of his criticism.
In a scathing 25-page analysis sent to the armed services panel, she takes Taguba to task for "false" and "misleading" statements. Her report, obtained by U.S. News, does not challenge Taguba's findings of abuse but says he failed to tell the whole story. Among other issues, Weidenbush says, Taguba wrongly blamed the brigade for holding off-the-books "ghost" prisoners, for failures of the Coalition Provisional Authority's prisons department, and for some prisoner escapes that were the fault of another outfit. "I submit that the report was a conclusion in search of an investigation," she said in a cover letter, "and not an investigation seeking truth."
Weidenbush's critique is extraordinary: Army captains don't usually rip two-star generals. But friends say the 20-year Army veteran is a gutsy officer who speaks her mind.
Taguba declined comment. A spokesman, Col. Rick Thomas, said Taguba's report "accurately reflects the information accumulated" during his inquiry. Last month, Taguba blamed failed leadership and lack of training and discipline for the abuses. He said that guards who roughed up prisoners acted alone but were influenced by intelligence personnel who conducted interrogations. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, a reservist, commanded the 800th MP Brigade. In an interview, she said she and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, did not get along. "It is my opinion," she said, "that Taguba unfairly blamed me because he was hitching his wagon to Sanchez's star."
Weidenbush was not criticized in Taguba's report. In her analysis, she says the brigade performed well in handling a "monumental" task, which involved much more than running Abu Ghraib and 15 other detention facilities. The brigade, she said, suffered from personnel shortages and lack of support. In one harsh passage, she said that Sanchez "knowingly put soldiers at risk" by not providing correctional training for the brigade, despite concerns about lack of training expressed by brigade leaders before assuming the prisons mission in June 2003. In conclusion, Weidenbush said that others in the brigade feared reprisal if they spoke out. "However, since I risked my life for our country," she said, "I could do no less than risk my career" for the reputation of the soldiers who fought next to her.
Excerpts from the Weidenbush report are available at www.usnews.com. -Edward T. Pound
This story appears in the June 21, 2004 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.