WASHINGTON, Reuters

A high-level panel investigating U.S. military detention operations has concluded that top Pentagon officials and the military command in Iraq contributed to an environment in which detainees were abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a defense official said on Tuesday.

The independent Pentagon panel headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger found that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to exercise proper oversight over confusing detention policies at U.S. prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba, the official said.

But the official, who asked not to be identified, stressed that the four-member group, scheduled to release its report later on Tuesday, did not conclude that Rumsfeld or military leaders directly ordered abuse such as stripping prisoners naked and sexually humiliating them in a scandal that has drawn international condemnation.

The official confirmed a report in the New York Times on the Schlesinger panel’s findings that also said it concluded that the military’s Joint Staff at the Pentagon – which is responsible for allocating forces – did not recognize that Abu Ghraib guards were overwhelmed by an influx of detainees during violence in Iraq.

The Times said the report also criticizes the top general in Iraq at the time, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, for not paying close enough attention to the problems at Abu Ghraib.

Reed Brody, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, said the report did not go far enough.

“They are talking about management failures when they should be talking about who in the Pentagon and the military command ordered, approved or tolerated the torture of detainees.”

“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 said.

Seven U.S. Army reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company have already been accused of humiliating and in some cases beating and photographing Iraqi detainees at the infamous prison near Baghdad, once used as a torture chamber by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, the highest-ranking of the seven, reached a deal with Army prosecutors after agreeing to plead guilty to some of the charges at a pretrial hearing in Mannheim, Germany, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

In Mannheim, a U.S. military judge also ruled that Rumsfeld could not be forced to testify in the court martial of another sergeant charged in the abuse.