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What went wrong at Abu Ghraib

A top-down push for harsh interrogation techniques comes to light, as investigations into Iraqi prisoner abuse continue.

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Roughly two months after the scandal became public, a picture is emerging of an atmosphere at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in which commanders there knew at a minimum of the potential for serious abuses, but put the imperative to gather intelligence ahead of the need for oversight.

Evidence has been growing of a systematic effort at the upper levels of the Defense Department in the past two years to stretch harsh interrogation techniques to their furthest legal limits, while selectively applying the Geneva Conventions.

"They wanted to get the information any way they could," said one senior military intelligence officer who requested anonymity. He worked at Abu Ghraib when some of the abuses occurred, from beatings to the use of unmuzzled dogs, that have now been seared into public consciousness through photographs.

An Army investigation by Maj. Gen. George Fay, expected early next month, is focusing on whether military intelligence personnel were responsible for abusive treatment of detainees in Iraq. Overall, the Army over the past 18 months has opened 42 investigations into the death or assault of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Already, interviews with members of military intelligence and police units who served at the prison suggest that abuses did not simply result from a handful of low-level soldiers in the facility's loosely supervised and undermanned military police force. So far, only seven such soldiers have been charged in the case.

Instead, as details emerge of the physical abuse and deaths of scores of Iraqi and Afghan detainees in US military custody, other documents and reports suggest a contributing factor was the top-down weakening of military standards of humane prisoner treatment as part of the Bush administration's drive for intelligence in the war on terrorism.

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