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Military Police Unit Tells Of Duty At Abu Ghraib After Abuse Scandal

By Matthew H. Brown

February 10, 2005
Copyright © 2005 SO FL SUN-SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

FORT BUCHANAN, Puerto Rico · After taking over for the guards at the center of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Army Sgt. Jaime Rodríguez says he can understand how things went wrong.

"I don't blame those guys," said Rodríguez, whose island-based unit returned to Puerto Rico on Wednesday. "It was crazy. There weren't that many of us, and there was a whole bunch of them.

"They should have known right from wrong. But when we got there, we were dealing with 12-hour shifts, we didn't have that much personnel, and at the beginning we didn't get too much support."

Arriving at this Army garrison before dawn Wednesday, 60 beaming members of the 301st Military Police Co. filed off a motor coach and into the arms of tearful family and friends. The soldiers had spent a year in Iraq.

"I'm so glad that he's alive," said Yamira Román, wife of Spc. Marcos Cancel. Their 2-year-old daughter, Yarianie, held a sign in Spanish thanking God for bringing him home.

The soldiers who returned Wednesday were at the Abu Ghraib complex outside Baghdad last year when reports that members of the unit they replaced had physically mistreated and sexually humiliated detainees brought international attention to their mission. The 301st Military Police Co., which earned a total of seven

Purple Hearts for combat wounds and had no fatalities, has not been accused in the abuse, which took place before unit members arrived.

"They did great," said Lt. José Massanet, a platoon leader who took command of the company after Capt. Elmer Rivera was wounded in a mortar attack. "They cleaned up the problem that was created and restored the good name of the military police."

Cancel said the soldiers treated the detainees humanely.

"That's a real fact," he said. "I knew their names and they knew my name. I showed them pictures of my daughter."

Rodríguez described the pressure on the troops, who also guarded terror suspects at Camp Vigilant and helped to transport detainees between facilities. "We had it from the media, from the detainees, from the terrorists," he said. "There was always bombing, with mortars, RPGs and rockets."

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