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Memo: Iraq abuse was 'vigilante justice'
Updated: 2004-05-12 09:23

A female Army soldier in the notorious 320th Military Police Battalion meted out "vigilante justice" on Iraqi prisoners she believed had raped former POW Jessica Lynch, according to a letter from her battalion commander obtained by The Associated Press.

Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum, the troubled battalion's commander, leveled the allegation in a rebuttal to charges against his leadership of the 320th, some of whose soldiers were charged with abusing prisoners last fall at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad.

The soldier Phillabaum named, then-Master Sgt. Lisa Girman, 35, called her former commander's description of the incident "completely false" and said Phillabaum was an "incompetent" leader trying to cover up his shortcomings by blaming others.

"It's funny how the leadership continues to point downward," said Girman, a Pennsylvania State Trooper in civilian life. "That night there was no abuse, there was no evidence of abuse."

In an April 12 memo to Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Phillabaum said the soldiers abused the prisoners without the knowledge or encouragement of battalion commanders. Phillabaum gave a copy of the memo to AP.

Phillabaum said Girman and three other MPs from the battalion abused the prisoners after transporting them to Camp Bucca in southern Iraq on May 12, 2003.

"When Master Sgt. Lisa Girman returned to Camp Bucca shortly before midnight, she took vigilante justice against EPW (enemy prisoners of war) that she believed had raped Pfc. Jessica Lynch," Phillabaum wrote.

"Four out of the 10 320th MP Battalion soldiers abused some of the EPWs; a clear indication that the abuse was the responsibility of those individuals acting alone and was not condoned by myself or any leader at Camp Bucca."

On Tuesday, Girman said that, at the time of the incident, she did not know who the prisoners were or whether they had any connection with Lynch, a supply clerk who was wounded and captured by Iraqi forces in the opening days of the war and then rescued from an Iraqi hospital in April 2003.

According to medical records cited in her biography, Lynch also was sodomized, apparently during a three-hour gap she cannot recall.

In Charleston, W.Va., Lynch's attorney, Stephen Goodwin, said she "would not condone the use of what happened to her as a reason to abuse prisoners."

"Jessica would urge that all prisoners of war be treated humanely and appropriately," Goodwin said. "She would not be in favor of any kind of abuse against any prisoner. It is not anything she would approve of."

The four MPs were charged with crimes related to punching and kicking several Iraqis — including breaking one man's nose — while escorting prisoners to a POW processing center in May 2003.

Family members identified the other three soldiers involved as Staff Sgt. Scott McKenzie, 37; Sgt. Shawna Edmondson, 24; and Spc. Tim Canjar, 21 — all from Pennsylvania. The four denied any wrongdoing and said the force they used was necessary to subdue unruly prisoners.

Girman, McKenzie and Canjar were fined and discharged from the Army over the abuses at Camp Bucca. Edmondson agreed to an "other-than-honorable" discharge in exchange for dismissal of criminal charges.

Phillabaum said he acknowledged responsibility "for all actions" taken by the soldiers of the 320th, saying he was "thoroughly embarrassed and humiliated" by being suspended from his duties as the unit's commander.

He said he failed to ensure his soldiers were trained in prison operations and in the Geneva Conventions' provisions for treatment of prisoners of war. Phillabaum also acknowledged failing to properly supervise MPs working in Abu Ghraib's so-called "hard site," where the major abuses of prisoners took place in October and November.

But Phillabaum said he doubted training would have stopped Girman or Spc. Charles A. Graner, an MP indicted in connection with the Abu Ghraib abuse.

"In my opinion, Master Sgt. Girman and Cpl. Graner led acts of abuse in clear violation of any standard of morality. Training alone would not have prevented these acts of abuse," Phillabaum wrote, incorrectly labeling Graner a corporal.

"If I were omnipotent, I would have removed Master Sgt. Girman and Cpl. Graner from their duties and avoided the abuse of prisoners and the disgrace to the nation."

In a report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, Phillabaum is recommended for a reprimand in connection with the Abu Ghraib abuse, captured in pictures of MPs smiling amid naked detainees.

Phillabaum was previously reprimanded in November for failing to take corrective action after several escapes from the prison.

The Taguba report describes Phillabaum as an "extremely ineffective" leader who left day-to-day operations to his second-in-command. Phillabaum was suspended from his duties in January.

In his rebuttal, Phillabaum described his command as an overwhelming task, saying he was chronically short of staff and resources. He described his command as a never-ending series of 18- or 19-hour days without time off.

Phillabaum quoted an Army inspector general who visited the prison in September as saying, "You are the forgotten."

He said the most of the abuse at Abu Ghraib occurred in October, when he was on temporary assignment elsewhere.

"Some acts also occurred in early November 2003 while I was commander," Phillabaum said. "My oversight of operations eliminated the abuse after mid-November."

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