WASHINGTON, June 5 — Disparate inquiries into abuses of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far left crucial questions of policy and operations unexamined, according to lawmakers from both parties and outside military experts, who say that the accountability of senior officers and Pentagon officials may remain unanswered as a result.
No investigation completely independent of the Pentagon exists to determine what led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, and so far there has been no groundswell in Congress or elsewhere to create one.
But on Capitol Hill, even some Republicans have begun to question whether the Pentagon's inquiries are too narrowly structured to establish the causes of the abuses, as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have pledged to do, and then to determine if anyone in the chain of command was responsible for them.
Some House Republicans, bucking their leaders who have said the focus on Abu Ghraib is distracting from the larger effort in Iraq, have joined Democrats in urging a more aggressive review of the investigations. In the Senate, members of both parties said there remained major aspects that fell outside the scope of any of the investigations that are under way — including the role of military lawyers in drafting policy on detainees and the involvement of civilian contractors in their interrogations.
Senator Lindsay O. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he was troubled that the only criminal cases brought so far involved seven low-ranking soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company. He said he believed that there was "command failure at many levels that could be criminally culpable."
Representative Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican and former Air Force officer, was unsparing in her assessment of the House's investigative oversight role to date: "We should be doing this directly and bluntly, and in the House we are not. It's been very disappointing to me."
The top military spokesman in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, this week defended the range and scope of the various military investigations. "We're going to go wide, we're going to go deep, we're going to look under every rock and find out just how far this went," he said.
Dozens of criminal investigations into accusations of abuses against prisoners have yet to be resolved, and some may never be, officials concede. Additional criminal cases stemming from the abuses at Abu Ghraib appear to have been put on hold while a separate investigation is completed into the role military intelligence soldiers may have played there and at other prisons in Iraq — an inquiry whose findings have been delayed at least until July.
In addition to the criminal cases, which have included investigations into the deaths of at least 40 prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has ordered six inquiries or reviews since a soldier came forward in January with evidence of the Abu Ghraib abuses. Two have been completed. The others have narrow focus and limited scope; while in theory they could recommend criminal charges, that is not their focus.
Mr. Rumsfeld, facing criticism over his leadership and calls from some Democrats to resign, last month appointed a four-member panel, led by James R. Schlesinger, a former defense secretary, to assess whether the inquiries are sufficient. That has led some to push for broader inquiries under various authorities, possibly a select committee in Congress, a military court of inquiry, or a panel like the one created to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The commission plans to begin interviews on June 14 at the Pentagon and by teleconference with officers in Iraq. It is building a staff of 25, including several military lawyers on loan from the Pentagon.
One of its members, Tillie K. Fowler, a former Republican congresswoman from Florida, said the commission intended to do a wide assessment, and would probably interview senior military officers, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the ground commander in Iraq. But she also made it clear that Mr. Rumsfeld was not a focus.
"The secretary is an honest, decent, honorable man, who'd never condone this type of activity," she said in a telephone interview, referring to the images of naked, hooded and shackled prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib last fall. "This was not a tone set by the secretary."
Statements like Mrs. Fowler's have prompted some lawmakers and outside legal experts to question whether the Pentagon can be entrusted to investigate itself in a scandal that has badly tarnished the military and the United States.
"They have created a patchwork with cracks in it, and a lot will fall through it," said John D. Hutson, who served as the Navy's judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000 and is now the dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire. "There's no umbrella or overarching investigation that has the power to go wherever it leads."
Mark L. Waple, a civilian lawyer in North Carolina who represented a soldier ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing in the deaths of two prisoners in Afghanistan in 2002, said the Army's criminal investigators were well equipped to investigate individual crimes but less so to look at systemic problems.
According to documents that included investigative reports on the abuses, agents from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command focused intensely on securing known copies of the photographs but were cursory in questioning the role of the chain of command.
"It's easier for law enforcement to investigate the assault in the prison rather than the systemic problem of abuse of prisoners," Mr. Waple said.
Various military inquiries have tried to address some of these problems. The first major one, completed in February by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, concluded that military police at the prison had committed "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses." Despite complaints from lawmakers, the Pentagon still has not provided the Senate with important supporting documents from this report, including information on interrogation procedures at the prison. A second one, headed by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, is examining the role of military intelligence soldiers. After being granted a 30-day extension, he is now supposed to submit the report in July.
Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of American forces in the Middle East, disclosed last month that a preliminary inquiry by the Army inspector general found problems with the training, organization and doctrine regarding military detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he said the inspector general found no "pattern of abuse" of prisoners in the central command's area of responsibility.
However, new figures reported by the Army on Friday showed that the number of criminal investigations into prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan had increased to 85 from 69 a month ago, suggesting more widespread problems.
In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans said they were not ready to accuse the Pentagon of failing to carry out a vigorous inquiry. At the same time, some said there were aspects that were not being explored.
Senator Graham said one was whether military lawyers had raised questions about detainee policies, only to be ignored by the Pentagon's civilian leaders.
Senator Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine, said "one of the critical unanswered questions" is at the heart of General Fay's review. "We really don't have a picture of whether this abuse was the brainchild of a small number of prison guards or whether it was something created or condoned by military intelligence officials," she said.
Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who is on the panel, said: "The real acid test will be how thorough and comprehensive the Fay report is. If it's just confined to the four walls of the prison or the instructions given there, it will create the appearance this is all being slow-walked."
James Ross, the senior legal adviser for Human Rights Watch in New
York, questioned remarks by
"It's very disconcerting to hear the president say it was just a few bad apples, which is a conclusion about how high the case goes," Mr. Ross said. "I don't think we know how high the case goes."
Mr. Hutson, the former Navy judge advocate, said the myriad investigations had blurred the distinction between criminal cases and institutional or bureaucratic problems. He said General Taguba's investigation was thorough, but was not intended to satisfy the requirements for a court-martial.
"I think in a very narrow sense we'll see that justice was done for the seven low-level soldiers, or whatever number it ends up being," he said. "Whether justice is done for the more senior people implicated remains to be seen. I don't hold out great hope that any of these investigations are going to result in that."