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Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez

Career of General in Charge During Abu Ghraib May End 

ERIC SCHMITT / New York Times 5jan2005

 

 

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, at Camp Victory in Baghdad in 2004. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, at Camp Victory in Baghdad in 2004.

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, Jan. 4 — The Army career of Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the American commander in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, is coming to an end.

General Sanchez has told senior Army officials that he plans to retire, probably this summer, rather than face a bruising Senate confirmation fight over any new assignment, said two senior officials who were granted anonymity because General Sanchez has not made his decision public. As recently as last summer, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was considering elevating General Sanchez to the four-star command overseeing the military's operations in Latin America. The general's promotion would have showcased the nation's highest-ranking Hispanic officer and his compelling personal story of growing up poor in southern Texas and using the military as a bootstrap out of poverty.

But the legacy of Abu Ghraib and its photographs of prisoner mistreatment that prompted worldwide outrage dogged General Sanchez and ensured that any promotion would ignite a political storm on Capitol Hill over holding senior military officers and top Pentagon officials accountable for the misconduct.

"It's a question of simply not being able to get by Senate confirmation," said one Army general, adding that Pentagon officials feared that nominating General Sanchez for a new job would "stir up too much political bad news in an election year."

Friends and colleagues say that General Sanchez, who currently commands the Army's V Corps in Germany, decided in recent weeks that the political climate in Washington would not improve for him, and resigned himself to leaving the Army after 33 years of service. Army officials said he could step down from V Corps in the coming months and serve in a brief interim job if it did not require Senate confirmation.

The independent panel that investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004, headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, found that General Sanchez had been derelict in overseeing detention in Iraq.

A classified portion of a second report, by three Army generals, said that General Sanchez approved the use of some severe interrogation practices in Iraq that had been intended to be limited to prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan. By issuing and reviewing rules for interrogations in Iraq three times in 30 days, General Sanchez and his legal advisers sowed such confusion that interrogators acted in ways that violated the Geneva Conventions, the report said.

General Sanchez and his deputies consistently maintained that the only practices they authorized for use in Iraq were consistent with the Geneva Conventions, which cover the care and treatment of detainees.

Last year, General Sanchez was cleared by the Army inspector general of the allegations contained in the Schlesinger report, prompting supporters like Mr. Rumsfeld and General Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, to express optimism that the military had put the abuse scandal behind them. But Abu Ghraib had not faded away.

General Sanchez's awkward position was laid bare this week when he led a farewell ceremony for nearly 700 V Corps soldiers who will take over the military headquarters staff here from the XVIII Airborne Corps on Jan. 19. "A daunting task lies ahead; I have no doubt you are well trained," General Sanchez, dressed in his helmet and body armor, told soldiers at a ceremony in Heidelberg on Tuesday, Stars and Stripes reported. "The country's on the verge of a civil war."

But instead of leading his V Corps staff into Iraq, General Sanchez will stay behind in Germany to receive 4,500 other soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who formerly commanded the First Cavalry Division in Baghdad, will take the corps headquarters staff to Iraq.

The unusual command arrangement has fueled speculation here over the fate of General Sanchez, who was the top American commander in Iraq in December 2003, when American troops captured Saddam Hussein, and when the insurgency boiled over in the spring of 2004.

"It's odd but it's not insurmountable," said one senior Army officer here. In Washington, General Sanchez's plans remained a mystery to most Army officials. "The Army has received no formal request for LTG Sanchez's retirement," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the Army's chief spokesman, said in an e-mail message. "Retirement decisions are not a public matter unless revealed by the individual involved." General Brooks added, "The Army leaders do have confidence in LTG Sanchez."

General Sanchez said in an e-mail message on Wednesday that "it is inappropriate for me to make any specific comment on my future plans at this point." To retire at his current three-star rank, General Sanchez must win Senate approval, usually a rubber stamp for senior commanders. But it is unclear whether any senator would object.

The general's life story reads like a pitch-perfect script for an Army recruiter. As a 6-year-old, he worked as a dry cleaner's delivery boy to supplement the welfare payment that supported his Mexican-American family in Rio Grande City, Tex., a few miles from the border that his paternal grandfather first crossed in the early 1900's. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school.

"I guess I never realized that I was that poor," he told The New York Times in an interview in 2004. "We just thought we were fortunate because we were in America."

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/05/international/middleeast/05military.html?hp=&pagewanted=print 4jan2006

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