Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners IV
A top Pentagon intelligence officer is leading an investigation into interrogation practices at an Army-run prison where Iraqi detainees were allegedly beaten and sexually abused, officials announced Saturday. The move came amid allegations that military guards abused prisoners at the behest of military intelligence operatives.
The Army Reserve commander who oversaw the prison said that military intelligence, rather than the military police, dictated the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. “The prison, and that particular cellblock where the events took place, were under the control of the MI command,” Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski said in a telephone interview Saturday night from her home in Hilton Head, S.C.
Karpinski, who commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade, also described a high-pressure atmosphere that prized successful interrogations. A month before the alleged abuses occurred, she said, a team of military intelligence officers from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, came to Abu Ghraib last year. “Their main and specific mission was to get the interrogators — give them new techniques to get more information from detainees,” she said.
The naming of Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the former deputy commander of the Army Intelligence and Security Command, to review the methods and procedures used in questioning Iraqi prisoners represents a widening of the probe into conditions at Abu Ghraib, a prison about 20 miles west of Baghdad that was notorious for torture and executions under the government of former president Saddam Hussein.
A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency said Saturday that its inspector general is working with the Pentagon to determine whether the CIA was involved in the abuses, which have drawn international attention. “We are opposed to abusing prisoners in Iraq, and we have found no direct evidence connecting CIA personnel with incidents” of abuse, the spokesman said.
Given that the story has been public for over a month and the Taguba report completed in late February, the timing of this latest move is troubling, appearing to be motivated by the release of Hersh’s piece based on a still-classified report.
An Army Reserve general whose soldiers were photographed as they abused Iraqi prisoners said Saturday that she knew nothing about the abuse until weeks after it occurred and that she was “sickened” by the pictures. She said the prison cellblock where the abuse occurred was under the tight control of Army military intelligence officers who may have encouraged the abuse.
In a phone interview from her home in South Carolina in which she offered her first public comments about the growing international furor over the abuse of the Iraq detainees, General Karpinski said the special high-security cellblock at Abu Ghraib had been under the direct control of Army intelligence officers, not the reservists under her command.
She said that while the reservists involved in the abuses were “bad people” who deserved punishment, she suspected that they were acting with the encouragement, if not at the direction, of military intelligence units that ran the special cellblock used for interrogation. She said that C.I.A. employees often joined in the interrogations at the prison, although she said she did not know if they had unrestricted access to the cellblock.
General Karpinski said she was speaking out because she believed that military commanders were trying to shift the blame exclusively to her and other reservists and away from intelligence officers still at work in Iraq.
“We’re disposable,” she said of the military’s attitude toward reservists. “Why would they want the active-duty people to take the blame? They want to put this on the M.P.’s and hope that this thing goes away. Well, it’s not going to go away.”
General Karpinski said in the interview that the special cellblock, known as 1A, was one of about two dozen cellblocks in the large prison complex and was essentially off limits to soldiers who were not part of the interrogations, including virtually all of the military police under her command at Abu Ghraib.
It’s certainly believable that intelligence interrogations were going on that they didn’t want MPs, let alone Reserve MPs, sitting in on. That the commanding general of the prison system didn’t have the ability to check up on things is more difficult to understand. Karpinski claims to speak Arabic and to have constantly checked in at the prison, making sure everyone was treating the prisoners humanely, and even talking to prisoners. If this was an isolated instance of six soldiers behaving badly, it’s not hard to believe that a cover-up was successful. If it’s some nefarious plot on the part of the intelligence community and thus a widespread policy to break down the resistance of those being interrogated, it would have been awfully difficult for that knowledge not to have become widespread within the prison, both among the MPs and the prisoners.
The truth will come out soon enough, I suppose, but I still find it difficult to believe that this is routine behavior. Even if there were people in command who though this was an effective way to get information and rationalized it as a “means justify the end” situation, this is criminal conduct under the UCMJ and international law. American military officers are college educated and rigorously screened. CIA officers are even more highly trained and screened. For this to be a widespread situation would represent an amazing breakdown in the system, since stopping it would have required only one individual to decide that it was wrong and report it up the chain of command or to Congress.