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Wednesday, May 5

Skelton demands GAO probe of prisoner abuses in Iraq

By Pamela Brogan | GNS

WASHINGTON - The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee has asked the General Accounting Office to probe the role of private security contractors in Iraq.

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri said a GAO investigation is urgently needed because private contractors in Iraq may have been involved in abusing Iraqi prisoners. The widening scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad involves alleged abuses by military police and at least one private contractor.

``I want to know about the entire spectrum of contractors, how they are used, how many, and what they are paid,'' Skelton said. Rep. Victor Snyder, D-Ark., joined Skelton in seeking a probe by the GAO, which conducts investigations requested by congressional lawmakers.

Skelton also has asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for details about how contractors are disciplined and how criminal accusations against them are handled. Skelton said the scandal ``sours,'' but doesn't ruin, U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq.

An internal 53-page Army report posted on National Public Radio's Web site documents ``numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses'' inflicted on several Iraqi prisoners.

The Army is investigating 10 prisoner deaths, mostly in Iraq, and 10 other cases involving assaults on prisoners.

The deaths of two Iraqi prisoners have been ruled homicides. In one of those cases, a soldier was court-martialed and discharged from the Army. The other homicide involved a CIA contract interrogator and has been referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Skelton also called on President Bush to apologize to the Iraqi people for prisoner abuses by members of the U.S. military police between October and December of last year. Those abuses were detailed in the internal Army report.

``He should apologize because he's the commander in chief and the head of the chain of command,'' Skelton said.

Bush told Arab television Wednesday that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was ``abhorrent,'' but he did not apologize. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, head of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, did apologize Wednesday to the Iraqi people.

At least 60 private security companies employ 20,000 people working in Iraq, Rumsfeld told Skelton in a May 4 letter. Rumsfeld said the private security contracts are worth about $147 million.

Most of the firms' employees do not work directly for the U.S. government, Rumsfeld said. He said the contractors provide personal security for civilians and guard non-military buildings and convoys.

Skelton first requested information about private contractors in Iraq following the March killings of four security workers in Fallujah.

He said Wednesday he has asked Rumsfeld to testify before the House Armed Services Committee - possibly this week - to answer questions about the prison abuse scandal.