Cruz's guilty plea will be interpreted in some circles as a cynical deal to keep more senior military and political figures out of the dock.

The question remains: Were the troops acting on their own or following orders from higher up the cain of command?

The army general who headed the notorious prison at the time the abuse came to light, even alleged that the White House or Pentagon had "full knowledge"  of the situation and that it was kept secret as part of an elaborate cover-up.

Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, who has since been suspended from her post, went to the extent of saying US secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld directly authorised Guantanamo-style interrogation tactics.

During enquiries into the prisoners scandal Karpinski maintained that overseeing the treatment and interrogation of Iraqi detainees was "taken out of her hands by higher-ranking officials acting on orders from Washington".

A detailed account given to army investigators by Karpinski in May named two other officers who appeared to have been at the heart of command decisions.

She has claimed that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, and the new US prison chief, Major General Geoffrey Miller, are ultimately responsible for what has happened at Abu Ghraib – including the decision to permit legal force.

'Scapegoats'

Janice Karpinski was suspended
as head of Abu Ghraib prison

Karpinski says the decision to transfer control of Abu Ghraib to "military intelligence officials" came up at a September 2003 meeting with Miller, then in charge of the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. She complained she had been a scapegoat for the scandal after being criticised for a lack of leadership at the prison.

Other reports faulted Pentagon chiefs for being "indirectly" responsible for the abuse.

A commission initially headed by General Fay, but taken over by former secretary of defence James Schlesinger said: "there was indirect responsibility at higher levels in that the weaknesses at Abu Ghraib were well-known and that corrective action could have been taken and should have been taken."

The report cited the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military command in Iraq for leadership failures.

Rights' groups critical

Rights groups, however, criticised that report saying it did not go far enough.

Images of abuse received world-
wide outrage and condemnation*

"They're talking about passive management failures when they should be talking about who in the Pentagon and the military command ordered, approved or tolerated the torture of detainees," Human Rights Watch spokesman Reed Brody said.

"The report does not seem to examine the relationship between Secretary Rumsfeld's approval of interrogation techniques designed to inflict pain and humiliation and the widespread abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo," Brody added.

Rumsfeld admits

Rumsfeld has acknowledged approving harsher interrogation methods for suspects captured in the "global war on terrorism", but said the rules were meant only for the Guantanamo Bay prison and had nothing to do with Iraq.

He said the procedures "were not torture".

Pentagon investigations in recent months have said there have been about 300 allegations of prisoners killed, raped, beaten and subjected to other mistreatment at military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay since the start of the "war on terror".

Medical 'abusers'

US army doctors allegedly
failed to report homicides

US army doctors working at Abu Ghraib have also been accused of helping design abusive interrogations and failing to report homicides.

A British medical journal cited government documents including sworn testimony of detainees and troops. The respected Lancet weekly, in one of its editions in August, outlined a litany of failures to safeguard detainees' human rights at the prison.

"Medical personnel evaluated detainees for interrogation, and monitored coercive interrogation, allowed interrogators to use medical records to develop interrogation approaches, falsified medical records and death certificates, and failed to provide basic healthcare," it said.
  
One of the most startling charges in the article by Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota was that medical personnel collaborated with the military in "designing and implementing psychologically and physically coercive interrogations".


*Photo: Courtesy of Washington Post