Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller arrived in Baghdad in September with one urgent mission: Improve the intelligence gathered from Iraqi detainees in 16 Army-run prisons, including Saddam Hussein’s favorite, Abu Ghraib.
Saddam was still on the run, and commanders desperately needed information on him and on a growing insurgency that was killing American troops daily. The recommendation was to “Gitmo-ize” interrogations, or bring them more in line with practices at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Gen. Miller, who ran the Guantanamo Bay compound for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, advocated centralizing military intelligence interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Cellblocks 1A and 1B, which served as the prison’s maximum-security wing, became home to a relatively modest number of insurgents thought to hold a wealth of facts on the enemy.
“He wanted all the interrogation teams in one location,” said Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, an Army reserve military police officer (MP) who served as warden for all 16 prisons as commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade. “They were putting a lot of pressure on the interrogation teams to get more information.
“The problem was he had 800 MPs to guard 600 prisoners [in Guantanamo]. We had 130 MPs for about 8,000 detainees,” Gen. Karpinski told The Washington Times yesterday.
Gen. Miller now runs the Army’s Iraq prison system.
What followed in those two cell blocks was three months of abusing prisoners by MP guards and interrogation teams.
Whether the abuse produced the coveted intelligence information is not clear. But publicized graphic photographs of Iraqis forced to form naked pyramids or simulate sex acts has enraged the Arab world and President Bush and have sparked at least six formal investigations.
Army officials say at this point, the abuse seems to have been limited to those two cellblocks that held captured Iraqi insurgents and to incidents at another camp.
Six MPs face criminal charges. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who heads Combined Task Force 7 (CJTF-7) in Baghdad and is up for a fourth star, has reprimanded six officers at the prison and admonished a seventh.
Gen. Karpinski thinks the scandal is rooted in the pressure that Gen. Sanchez’s command exerted on the interrogation teams after he accepted Gen. Miller’s recommendation.
“The combat divisions were being more vigorous going out on raids,” she said. “They wanted to get actionable intelligence.”
To Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who completed an investigative report in March, the scandal can be traced, in part, to training and resources.
“I find that the 800th MP Brigade was not adequately trained for a mission that included operating a prison or penal institution at Abu Ghraib prison complex,” he said in a secret report obtained yesterday by The Washington Times. “I also find … that the 800th MP Brigade as a whole was understrength for the mission for which it was tasked.”
Gen. Karpinski said she would have stopped the abuse had she known about it. For what the Army considers command failures, she has received a written admonishment. She said she remains in command of the 800th MP Brigade, which demobilized as scheduled with members returning to their hometowns.
“She has not been suspended, reprimanded or relieved of her command,” said Neal A. Puckett, her civilian attorney and a former Marine Corps judge advocate.
The one-star general ran a two-tiered prisoner system. The Army housed criminals and some insurgents in 15 detention centers around the California-size country. Gen. Karpinski said the system holds few, if any, classic prisoners of war — that is, Iraqi soldiers captured during the war to topple Saddam. Virtually all of those individuals have been released.
The system also does not house the infamous 55-member “deck of cards” — the most senior Ba’athists, including Saddam. The coalition detains those prisoners in undisclosed lockups.
Abu Ghraib became the hub for what are called “security detainees” — those involved in attacking coalition forces. The 7,000 to 8,000 population is a mix of Ba’ath Party loyalists, former intelligence security officers and criminals who joined an anticoalition cell.
Some are accused of killing American troops.
Of that population, those thought to hold special information on Saddam loyalists and their whereabouts were moved to cellblocks 1A and 1B.
“They wanted to separate the wheat from the chaff,” said Gen. Karpinski, who saw CJTF-7 switch control of Abu Ghraib on Nov. 19 from her MPs to a military intelligence commander.
CJTF-7’s push for “actionable intelligence” meant units such as the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit and the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad were pushing their mobile-intelligence units to vacuum up more Iraqis and bring them to Abu Ghraib. From October to December, the time span when the abuse occurred, the two cellbocks held nearly 200 prisoners.
Interrogations occurred each day. Detainees were questioned by three-member interrogation teams made up of an Army 205th Military Intelligence Brigade officer, a civilian linguist on contract and another agency representative normally from either the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency or the Army criminal investigative command.
The interrogators have been given some leeway to pressure prisoners, such as depriving them of sleep and light.
But the abuse depicted in the photos violates Army regulations, the rules of engagement for Iraq and the Geneva Conventions.
In general, the conventions state that prisoners of war must be treated humanely and not subjected to torture or scientific experiments. They cannot be threatened if they do not talk and cannot be put on public display.
Gen. Karpinski said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) frequently visited Abu Ghraib, including the high-value men in cellblocks 1A and 1B. She said she was aware of only one complaint: a Red Cross team found an Iraqi naked in an isolation cell. He told them that he had refused to talk and that the staff made him wear women’s underwear.
Gen. Karpinski said when the complaint was reported to a senior Army military intelligence commander, he commented, “We have to stop allowing them to order from the Victoria’s Secret catalog.”
Amanda Williamson, the ICRC spokeswoman in Washington, said the group visits Abu Ghraib every five or six weeks.
Mrs. Williamson said it is ICRC policy not to comment on its observations to the press.
She also said, “There are apparently a number of different categories of people detained in Iraq. Some are POWs, and there are some detained in other categories. Nonetheless, the Geneva Conventions clearly prohibit mistreatment.”
Army investigators now have scores of investigations under way. Gen. Taguba’s report highlights a pattern of abuse and some shocking statements from Army noncommissioned officers, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Times.
“[Spc.] Sabrina D. Harman, 372nd MP Company, stated in her sworn statement regarding the incident where a detainee was placed on a box with wires attached to his fingers, toes, and penis, that her job was to keep detainees awake.”
Another MP, Sgt. Javal Davis, said military intelligence officers told him, “Loosen this guy up for us. Make sure he has a bad night. Make sure he gets the treatment.” After some detainees began talking, an officer told him, “Good job. They’re breaking down real fast. They answered every question.”
“The Iraqi guards at Abu Ghraib demonstrated questionable work ethics and loyalties and are a potentially dangerous contingent within the [prison]. These guards have furnished the Iraqi criminal inmates with contraband, weapons, and information. Additionally, they have facilitated the escape of a least one detainee.”