WASHINGTON -- The Army has cleared four top officers, including the three-star general who commanded all US forces in Iraq, of all allegations of wrongdoing in connection with prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, officials said yesterday.
Lieutenant General Ricardo A. Sanchez, who became the senior commander in Iraq in June 2003, two months after the fall of Baghdad, had been faulted in earlier investigations for leadership lapses that may have contributed to prisoner abuse. He is the highest-ranking officer to face official allegations of leadership failures in Iraq, but he has not been accused of criminal violations.
After assessing the allegations against Sanchez and taking sworn statements from 37 people involved in Iraq, the Army's inspector general, Lieutenant General Stanley E. Green, concluded that the allegations were unsubstantiated, said the officials who were familiar with the details of Green's probe.
Green reached the same conclusion in the cases of two generals and a colonel who worked for Sanchez.
The officials who disclosed the findings spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress has not yet been fully briefed on Green's findings and the information has not yet been publicly released. Green had scrutinized the actions of Sanchez and 11 other officers.
Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib were physically abused and sexually humiliated by military police and intelligence soldiers in the fall of 2003. Photos of some of the abuse created a firestorm of criticism worldwide.
Congress has hotly debated the question of accountability among senior Army and Defense Department officials who were in positions of responsibility on Iraq detention and interrogation policy. Some Democrats have accused the Pentagon of placing all blame on low-ranking soldiers.
In a statement yesterday that did not mention specific cases, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, Republican of Virginia, said that as soon as all Pentagon assessments of accountability are complete, he will hold a hearing ''to examine the adequacy of those reviews" and to hear senior civilian and military officials address the issue.
Warner said he strongly agrees with one investigation report that concluded last year that commanders should be held accountable for their action or inaction and that military as well as civilian leaders in the Pentagon ''share this burden of responsibility."
The office of Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, declined to comment.
Some have said the blame should rest with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, although none of the 10 investigations done so far has concluded that he was directly at fault.
Asked about public expectations of punishment for senior officers associated with Abu Ghraib, the Army's chief public affairs officer, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, said the Army went to great lengths to make its investigations thorough and fair.
In an interview yesterday, three senior defense officials associated with the Green investigations cited mitigating circumstances in the Sanchez case, including the fact that his organization in Iraq, known as Combined Joint Task Force 7, initially was short of the senior officers it required. They also cited other complicating factors, including the upsurge in insurgent violence shortly after Sanchez took command. The three officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Sanchez has been at the center of the Abu Ghraib controversy from its start. He issued a policy on acceptable interrogation techniques on Sept. 14, 2003, and revised it Oct. 12, about the time the abuses were occurring. The Army inspector general found in an investigation last year that the policies were subject to misinterpretation by soldiers.
Sanchez remains commander of the Army's Fifth Corps, based in Germany.