Lawyers representing soldiers accused of abusing Iraqui prisoners have been permitted their request to question the commander of US forces and other top level military commanders.

The order by U.S. Army judge Col. James Pohl effectively compels the commanders to submit to interviews unless they invoke their constitutional right against self-incrimination.

It names Gen. John P. Abizaid, who heads the U.S. Central Command and supervises operations in the region; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq; Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, Sanchez’s immediate subordinate; Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, deputy commander of detention operations in Iraq; and Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top military intelligence officer in Iraq.

In addition, the order requires others serving under the five Army generals to be made available for interviews.

By allowing the interviews, Pohl appeared to signal a willingness to explore what is emerging as the main line of defense for the seven soldiers accused of abusing and humiliating detainees at Abu Ghraib: that the abusive tactics used at the prison were not only condoned by their commanders but were part of their orders.

Pohl did set a limit, however, on how far he would allow that assertion to be pursued. He rejected defense requests for copies of Justice Department and Pentagon memos on torture and interrogation tactics, although he left open the possibility that he could require the government to turn them over at some point if defense attorneys are able to link what happened in Iraq with policy decisions made in Washington.

In resolving several other discovery requests by the defense, the judge also asked the government to share detainee case files, allow access to detainees at the prison and provide employment records of civilian contractors working as interrogators at Abu Ghraib.

The judge also ordered that Abu Ghraib prison be preserved as a crime scene, though he acknowledged that he has little control over what happens there after June 30, when an interim Iraqi government assumes limited authority from the U.S.-led occupation. President Bush called last month for the prison to be demolished, a suggestion that was quickly rejected by Iraqi leaders.

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