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PRISON SCANDAL

Military denies top general saw abuse

BAGHDAD -- The US military command yesterday denied a report that the top American general in Iraq was present during some interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison and witnessed the abuse of Iraqi inmates.

The Washington Post, in a story published yesterday, said a military lawyer stated at an open hearing April 2 that Captain Donald J. Reese told him that Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez and other senior officers were aware of the abuse at the prison.

The military lawyer, Captain Robert Shuck, represents Staff Sergeant Ivan L. ''Chip" Frederick II, one of seven members of the 372d Military Police Company facing criminal charges for allegedly abusing Iraqi inmates. Reese is the company commander.

''There was a news report published May 23, 2004, which suggests that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq, was aware of, and in some instances, present at Abu Ghraib while detainee abuse was occurring," the US 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.

The scandal received worldwide exposure last month when CBS's ''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 an Iraqi society based on democratic values and respect for human rights after toppling Saddam Hussein's regime.

The New York Times reported yesterday 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 Brigadier General 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.

The New York Times reported today, meanwhile, that a military intelligence unit that oversaw interrogations at Abu Ghraib was also in charge of an Afghanistan detention center in which two prisoners died in December 2002. The deaths are being investigated as homicides.

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