WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - The Pentagon's chief internal watchdog said on Thursday his agency continues to investigate the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, although he declined to give details.
Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz, who leaves his job next week to join a private defense contractor, said his comments last year about the prison abuses having been caused by a few "bad eggs" were taken out of context.
Schmitz made the comment after returning from a trip to Iraq in June 2004, when he also said, "I'm not aware of any illegal orders that came from any leaders."
Asked if he still stood by that assessment, Schmitz told Reuters in a telephone interview that the matter of accountability was still under investigation.
"The next sentence in my comment was, 'We are still investigating and we will hold people accountable,' and unfortunately, we are still looking at some of those issues so I can't really get into that," said Schmitz.
Human rights activists have sharply criticized the Pentagon's failure to take action against top Army officials and others for any role in the abuses.
Publication of photographs showing U.S. forces sexually humiliating and physically abusing Iraqi prisoners at the jail on the outskirts of Baghdad, first made public in April 2004, triggered international criticism of the United States. Since then, numerous other cases of detainee abuse have surfaced.
The U.S. Army in April exonerated Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. An Army investigation found Sanchez and three other senior officers had not committed dereliction of duty and they are not facing criminal or administrative punishment.
But the Army relieved of her command Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who headed the military police brigade at the prison, and demoted her. It also relieved of command Col. Thomas Pappas, the former top intelligence officer at the prison. The Army said both had committed dereliction of duty.
Schmitz leaves his Pentagon job on Sept. 9 to become chief operating officer and general counsel of McLean, Virginia-based Prince Group, which manufactures items on contract and owns Blackwater USA, a security consultant working in Iraq.
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