Instant Generals

WaPo — Prison Investigator’s Army Experience Questioned

Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who is leading the Army’s investigation into the role of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities in Iraq, is an insurance company executive who has been on active duty for five years.

Fay, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, was still listed as a managing director of the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies in its 2003 annual report. He was selected March 31 to head the sensitive investigation into intelligence practices and procedures in Iraq, and began work on April 23, said Lawrence T. DiRita, the Defense Department assistant secretary for public affairs.

Pentagon officials, lawmakers and others are looking to Fay to help answer a central question in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal: whether the military intelligence soldiers responsible for interrogating detainees directed or encouraged military police officers to commit the abuse captured in photographs that have roiled the Arab world and damaged U.S. credibility. Fay’s probe into military intelligence follows the widely reported Army investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba that focused primarily on the role of military police.

Two Pentagon officials and one public affairs officer in Iraq said yesterday they could not say who chose Fay to run the inquiry, but one Army official said the orders “were cut by” Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commanding general in Iraq.

I’ve often wondered about this phenomenon myself. How in the world can someone with the combined active duty experience of a junior Regular Army captain be a two-star general? And, if it’s possible to be a competent two-star general with that much service, why not just promote the ones on active duty that quickly? Or, for that matter, why have an active force at all, if we can generate that kind of competence in part timers?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    I wonder if the time I’ve put in watching military programs on The History Channel would be enough for captain’s bars?

  2. Cassandra says:


    That is heresy. If you were on active duty, you’d be in big trouble…

    Somehow officers who drill a few days a month are supposed to be the equivalent of active duty officers who perform the same job 24/7.

    Which leads me to wonder, why even have active duty forces at all? Think of all the money we could save. We could have an entire just-in-time inventory of military personnel.

    Why do we have active duty inspector/instructors stationed with Reserve units?

    Believe me, I am not denigrating the Reserves – we need them and I value their dedication and professionalism. But I have to question the assumption that you can swap out active and Reserve units interchangeably.

  3. Jem says:

    One note about the reserves (this is far from universal, but it does address the competence and capability of the reserve component): for some “reserve personnel”, military service is their full-time employment. I am myself a reserve military officer with over 11 years of active duty service and a few more in the reserves, currently enrolled in a reserve component training course. Many of my peers in the course, ranging in grade from O-4 (Army/Air Force Major or Navy Lieutenant Commander) to O-6 (Air Force Colonel or Navy Captain) not only have substantial active duty service under their belts, they are full-time employees of their units (meaning they work a normal 5-day week AND the weekends when the “part-timers” come in to drill).

    Yes, there are some who reach senior rank while serving minimal active duty time–but they are not that common, and tend to be assigned to roles that leverage their civilian experience rather than emphasize traditional military roles.

  4. James Joyner says:


    I’m presuming you’re talking about what used to be called (maybe still is) an AGR position? Back when I was in the Reserves, those guys were fairly rare–and were usually administrators rather than command personnel.

  5. Cassandra says:

    You have to be careful with “competence and capability” arguments. I think few people would argue that for any person, more time on the job means a better-qualified, more capable employee.

    It’s hard to make the argument in any field that coming in once a month for drill equates to doing the same job full-time. During drill weekend, a lot of time is wasted just getting up to speed and getting people’s minds in the game. This is not anyone’s fault – it is the nature of the beast. It requires significant dedication from the Reserves to overcome – I often wonder how they manage to constantly switch gears between their civilian careers and the demands of their military jobs – it can’t be easy.

    My comment was in no way meant to imply that they are not competent or professional, as I believe I stated. I have the utmost respect for the Reserves – we could not function without them. Equivalence is another issue, and I’m not sure one can make that argument. For one thing, the Reserves don’t get nearly the training time the active forces do, and then they’re expected to perform the same mission in wartime. That’s not a standard that would make sense in industry – why do we expect it to fly in the military?

  6. Jem says:

    They still have AGRs, and some of my peers fall into that category. Others are on extended active duty tours, which is more like what MGen Fay seems to have been doing since 1999. Assuming no other call-ups or voluntary extended active duty assignments, he has active duty time as a company-grade officer and (recently) as a flag officer–about nine years on active duty in all (again, assuming no other call-ups or voluntary long-term assignments, which would add to that total).

    Naturally, in considering his qualifications to conduct an investigation, one should remember that he’ll be coordinating vice doing all the investigating himself (Taguba had several experts on his team, to delve into exactly what the manuals and regs say, provide psychological assessment, etc., right?). I mean, that’s what executives do, in either private enterprise or the military–lead, coordinate, manage, direct, etc. So, depending on what he did in his civilian job, to say nothing of his past five years active duty experience in very senior roles, he may well be eminently qualified for the job he’s been asked to do.

    As for the issue of experience; someone whose civilian and military roles are substantially different obviously has an experience deficit compared to others of similar grade with more active duty time. When the two positions are more similar (as with the United Airlines captain who also flies cargo or tanker aircraft for the Air Force Reserve), the deficit is much smaller–indeed, for the example I just cited (admittedly, a somewhat extreme case),the “part-timer” can often have substantially more experience than the “full-timer”.

    The bottom line is that I don’t think the WaPo article includes enough information to make an informed assessment of MGen Fay’s fitness to lead the investigation. We do know that in LGen Sanchez’s opinion, based on his 30 or so years on active duty, MGen Fay is qualified.

  7. Bill says:


    Fay isn’t commanding anybody. He personally interviewed this soldier and the soldier said he wasn’t interested in the M.I. at fault. Fay was brought in to white wash things, which would have been much more difficult if a regular army officer had been put in charge.