May 03, 2004

American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go?

The incredible shrinking _resident's Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs, Gen. Dick Mires says he knows there is a
report on an internal army investigation, but he has
read it yet, it "hasn't made it" up to him yet. But
that shouldn't be surprising coming from a man who, in
one of the most chillingly Orwellian moments in this
Orwellian time, was insisting that the ceasefire was
holding in Fallujah even as SeeNotNews was airing live
images of a fierce Fallujah fire fight...Tragically,
this story is just beginning to unfold. Hopefully, it
will not be pinned on subordinates...Hersh promises
more...The candidacy of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mekong
Delta) is becoming more poignant, and more destined
with every painful day that passes...

Seymour Hersh, New Yorker: Taguba, in his report, was
polite but direct in refuting his fellow-general.
“Unfortunately, many of the systemic problems that
surfaced during [Ryder’s] assessment are the very same
issues that are the subject of this investigation,” he
wrote. “In fact, many of the abuses suffered by
detainees occurred during, or near to, the time of
that assessment.” The report continued, “Contrary to
the findings of MG Ryder’s report, I find that
personnel assigned to the 372nd MP Company, 800th MP
Brigade were directed to change facility procedures to
‘set the conditions’ for MI interrogations.” Army
intelligence officers, C.I.A. agents, and private
contractors “actively requested that MP guards set
physical and mental conditions for favorable
interrogation of witnesses.”

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May 3, 2004 | home

American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go?
Issue of 2004-05-10
Posted 2004-04-30
In the era of Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib, twenty miles
west of Baghdad, was one of the world’s most notorious
prisons, with torture, weekly executions, and vile
living conditions. As many as fifty thousand men and
women—no accurate count is possible—were jammed into
Abu Ghraib at one time, in twelve-by-twelve-foot cells
that were little more than human holding pits.

In the looting that followed the regime’s collapse,
last April, the huge prison complex, by then deserted,
was stripped of everything that could be removed,
including doors, windows, and bricks. The coalition
authorities had the floors tiled, cells cleaned and
repaired, and toilets, showers, and a new medical
center added. Abu Ghraib was now a U.S. military
prison. Most of the prisoners, however—by the fall
there were several thousand, including women and
teen-agers—were civilians, many of whom had been
picked up in random military sweeps and at highway
checkpoints. They fell into three loosely defined
categories: common criminals; security detainees
suspected of “crimes against the coalition”; and a
small number of suspected “high-value” leaders of the
insurgency against the coalition forces.

Last June, Janis Karpinski, an Army reserve brigadier
general, was named commander of the 800th Military
Police Brigade and put in charge of military prisons
in Iraq. General Karpinski, the only female commander
in the war zone, was an experienced operations and
intelligence officer who had served with the Special
Forces and in the 1991 Gulf War, but she had never run
a prison system. Now she was in charge of three large
jails, eight battalions, and thirty-four hundred Army
reservists, most of whom, like her, had no training in
handling prisoners.

General Karpinski, who had wanted to be a soldier
since she was five, is a business consultant in
civilian life, and was enthusiastic about her new job.
In an interview last December with the St. Petersburg
Times, she said that, for many of the Iraqi inmates at
Abu Ghraib, “living conditions now are better in
prison than at home. At one point we were concerned
that they wouldn’t want to leave.”

A month later, General Karpinski was formally
admonished and quietly suspended, and a major
investigation into the Army’s prison system,
authorized by Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez,
the senior commander in Iraq, was under way. A
fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker,
written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not
meant for public release, was completed in late
February. Its conclusions about the institutional
failures of the Army prison system were devastating.
Specifically, Taguba found that between October and
December of 2003 there were numerous instances of
“sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu
Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of
detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by
soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and
also by members of the American intelligence
community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P.
Battalion, which reported to Karpinski’s brigade
headquarters.) Taguba’s report listed some of the

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric
liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked
detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a
chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing
a military police guard to stitch the wound of a
detainee who was injured after being slammed against
the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a
chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using
military working dogs to frighten and intimidate
detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance
actually biting a detainee.

There was stunning evidence to support the
allegations, Taguba added—“detailed witness statements
and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic
evidence.” Photographs and videos taken by the
soldiers as the abuses were happening were not
included in his report, Taguba said, because of their
“extremely sensitive nature.”

The photographs—several of which were broadcast on
CBS’s “60 Minutes 2” last week—show leering G.I.s
taunting naked Iraqi prisoners who are forced to
assume humiliating poses. Six suspects—Staff Sergeant
Ivan L. Frederick II, known as Chip, who was the
senior enlisted man; Specialist Charles A. Graner;
Sergeant Javal Davis; Specialist Megan Ambuhl;
Specialist Sabrina Harman; and Private Jeremy
Sivits—are now facing prosecution in Iraq, on charges
that include conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty
toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault, and indecent
acts. A seventh suspect, Private Lynndie England, was
reassigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after
becoming pregnant.

The photographs tell it all. In one, Private England,
a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is giving a
jaunty thumbs-up sign and pointing at the genitals of
a young Iraqi, who is naked except for a sandbag over
his head, as he masturbates. Three other hooded and
naked Iraqi prisoners are shown, hands reflexively
crossed over their genitals. A fifth prisoner has his
hands at his sides. In another, England stands arm in
arm with Specialist Graner; both are grinning and
giving the thumbs-up behind a cluster of perhaps seven
naked Iraqis, knees bent, piled clumsily on top of
each other in a pyramid. There is another photograph
of a cluster of naked prisoners, again piled in a
pyramid. Near them stands Graner, smiling, his arms
crossed; a woman soldier stands in front of him,
bending over, and she, too, is smiling. Then, there is
another cluster of hooded bodies, with a female
soldier standing in front, taking photographs. Yet
another photograph shows a kneeling, naked, unhooded
male prisoner, head momentarily turned away from the
camera, posed to make it appear that he is performing
oral sex on another male prisoner, who is naked and

Such dehumanization is unacceptable in any culture,
but it is especially so in the Arab world. Homosexual
acts are against Islamic law and it is humiliating for
men to be naked in front of other men, Bernard Haykel,
a professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York
University, explained. “Being put on top of each other
and forced to masturbate, being naked in front of each
other—it’s all a form of torture,” Haykel said.

Two Iraqi faces that do appear in the photographs are
those of dead men. There is the battered face of
prisoner No. 153399, and the bloodied body of another
prisoner, wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice.
There is a photograph of an empty room, splattered
with blood.

The 372nd’s abuse of prisoners seemed almost routine—a
fact of Army life that the soldiers felt no need to
hide. On April 9th, at an Article 32 hearing (the
military equivalent of a grand jury) in the case
against Sergeant Frederick, at Camp Victory, near
Baghdad, one of the witnesses, Specialist Matthew
Wisdom, an M.P., told the courtroom what happened when
he and other soldiers delivered seven prisoners,
hooded and bound, to the so-called “hard site” at Abu
Ghraib—seven tiers of cells where the inmates who were
considered the most dangerous were housed. The men had
been accused of starting a riot in another section of
the prison. Wisdom said:

SFC Snider grabbed my prisoner and threw him into a
pile. . . . I do not think it was right to put them in
a pile. I saw SSG Frederic, SGT Davis and CPL Graner
walking around the pile hitting the prisoners. I
remember SSG Frederick hitting one prisoner in the
side of its [sic] ribcage. The prisoner was no danger
to SSG Frederick. . . . I left after that.

When he returned later, Wisdom testified:

I saw two naked detainees, one masturbating to another
kneeling with its mouth open. I thought I should just
get out of there. I didn’t think it was right . . . I
saw SSG Frederick walking towards me, and he said,
“Look what these animals do when you leave them alone
for two seconds.” I heard PFC England shout out, “He’s
getting hard.”

Wisdom testified that he told his superiors what had
happened, and assumed that “the issue was taken care
of.” He said, “I just didn’t want to be part of
anything that looked criminal.”

The abuses became public because of the outrage of
Specialist Joseph M. Darby, an M.P. whose role emerged
during the Article 32 hearing against Chip Frederick.
A government witness, Special Agent Scott Bobeck, who
is a member of the Army’s Criminal Investigation
Division, or C.I.D., told the court, according to an
abridged transcript made available to me, “The
investigation started after SPC Darby . . . got a CD
from CPL Graner. . . . He came across pictures of
naked detainees.” Bobeck said that Darby had
“initially put an anonymous letter under our door,
then he later came forward and gave a sworn statement.
He felt very bad about it and thought it was very

Questioned further, the Army investigator said that
Frederick and his colleagues had not been given any
“training guidelines” that he was aware of. The M.P.s
in the 372nd had been assigned to routine traffic and
police duties upon their arrival in Iraq, in the
spring of 2003. In October of 2003, the 372nd was
ordered to prison-guard duty at Abu Ghraib. Frederick,
at thirty-seven, was far older than his colleagues,
and was a natural leader; he had also worked for six
years as a guard for the Virginia Department of
Corrections. Bobeck explained:

What I got is that SSG Frederick and CPL Graner were
road M.P.s and were put in charge because they were
civilian prison guards and had knowledge of how things
were supposed to be run.

Bobeck also testified that witnesses had said that
Frederick, on one occasion, “had punched a detainee in
the chest so hard that the detainee almost went into
cardiac arrest.”

At the Article 32 hearing, the Army informed Frederick
and his attorneys, Captain Robert Shuck, an Army
lawyer, and Gary Myers, a civilian, that two dozen
witnesses they had sought, including General Karpinski
and all of Frederick’s co-defendants, would not
appear. Some had been excused after exercising their
Fifth Amendment right; others were deemed to be too
far away from the courtroom. “The purpose of an
Article 32 hearing is for us to engage witnesses and
discover facts,” Gary Myers told me. “We ended up with
a c.i.d. agent and no alleged victims to examine.”
After the hearing, the presiding investigative officer
ruled that there was sufficient evidence to convene a
court-martial against Frederick.

Myers, who was one of the military defense attorneys
in the My Lai prosecutions of the nineteen-seventies,
told me that his client’s defense will be that he was
carrying out the orders of his superiors and, in
particular, the directions of military intelligence.
He said, “Do you really think a group of kids from
rural Virginia decided to do this on their own?
Decided that the best way to embarrass Arabs and make
them talk was to have them walk around nude?”

In letters and e-mails to family members, Frederick
repeatedly noted that the military-intelligence teams,
which included C.I.A. officers and linguists and
interrogation specialists from private defense
contractors, were the dominant force inside Abu
Ghraib. In a letter written in January, he said:

I questioned some of the things that I saw . . . such
things as leaving inmates in their cell with no
clothes or in female underpants, handcuffing them to
the door of their cell—and the answer I got was, “This
is how military intelligence (MI) wants it done.” . .
. . MI has also instructed us to place a prisoner in
an isolation cell with little or no clothes, no toilet
or running water, no ventilation or window, for as
much as three days.

The military-intelligence officers have “encouraged
and told us, ‘Great job,’ they were now getting
positive results and information,” Frederick wrote.
“CID has been present when the military working dogs
were used to intimidate prisoners at MI’s request.” At
one point, Frederick told his family, he pulled aside
his superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry
Phillabaum, the commander of the 320th M.P. Battalion,
and asked about the mistreatment of prisoners. “His
reply was ‘Don’t worry about it.’”

In November, Frederick wrote, an Iraqi prisoner under
the control of what the Abu Ghraib guards called
“O.G.A.,” or other government agencies—that is, the
C.I.A. and its paramilitary employees—was brought to
his unit for questioning. “They stressed him out so
bad that the man passed away. They put his body in a
body bag and packed him in ice for approximately
twenty-four hours in the shower. . . . The next day
the medics came and put his body on a stretcher,
placed a fake IV in his arm and took him away.” The
dead Iraqi was never entered into the prison’s
inmate-control system, Frederick recounted, “and
therefore never had a number.”

Frederick’s defense is, of course, highly
self-serving. But the complaints in his letters and
e-mails home were reinforced by two internal Army
reports—Taguba’s and one by the Army’s chief
law-enforcement officer, Provost Marshal Donald Ryder,
a major general.

Last fall, General Sanchez ordered Ryder to review the
prison system in Iraq and recommend ways to improve
it. Ryder’s report, filed on November 5th, concluded
that there were potential human-rights, training, and
manpower issues, system-wide, that needed immediate
attention. It also discussed serious concerns about
the tension between the missions of the military
police assigned to guard the prisoners and the
intelligence teams who wanted to interrogate them.
Army regulations limit intelligence activity by the
M.P.s to passive collection. But something had gone
wrong at Abu Ghraib.

There was evidence dating back to the Afghanistan war,
the Ryder report said, that M.P.s had worked with
intelligence operatives to “set favorable conditions
for subsequent interviews”—a euphemism for breaking
the will of prisoners. “Such actions generally run
counter to the smooth operation of a detention
facility, attempting to maintain its population in a
compliant and docile state.” General Karpinski’s
brigade, Ryder reported, “has not been directed to
change its facility procedures to set the conditions
for MI interrogations, nor participate in those
interrogations.” Ryder called for the establishment of
procedures to “define the role of military police
soldiers . . .clearly separating the actions of the
guards from those of the military intelligence
personnel.” The officers running the war in Iraq were
put on notice.

Ryder undercut his warning, however, by concluding
that the situation had not yet reached a crisis point.
Though some procedures were flawed, he said, he found
“no military police units purposely applying
inappropriate confinement practices.” His
investigation was at best a failure and at worst a

Taguba, in his report, was polite but direct in
refuting his fellow-general. “Unfortunately, many of
the systemic problems that surfaced during [Ryder’s]
assessment are the very same issues that are the
subject of this investigation,” he wrote. “In fact,
many of the abuses suffered by detainees occurred
during, or near to, the time of that assessment.” The
report continued, “Contrary to the findings of MG
Ryder’s report, I find that personnel assigned to the
372nd MP Company, 800th MP Brigade were directed to
change facility procedures to ‘set the conditions’ for
MI interrogations.” Army intelligence officers, C.I.A.
agents, and private contractors “actively requested
that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for
favorable interrogation of witnesses.”

Taguba backed up his assertion by citing evidence from
sworn statements to Army C.I.D. investigators.
Specialist Sabrina Harman, one of the accused M.P.s,
testified that it was her job to keep detainees awake,
including one hooded prisoner who was placed on a box
with wires attached to his fingers, toes, and penis.
She stated, “MI wanted to get them to talk. It is
Graner and Frederick’s job to do things for MI and OGA
to get these people to talk.”

Another witness, Sergeant Javal Davis, who is also one
of the accused, told C.I.D. investigators, “I
witnessed prisoners in the MI hold section . . . being
made to do various things that I would question
morally. . . . We were told that they had different
rules.” Taguba wrote, “Davis also stated that he had
heard MI insinuate to the guards to abuse the inmates.
When asked what MI said he stated: ‘Loosen this guy up
for us.’‘Make sure he has a bad night.’‘Make sure he
gets the treatment.’” Military intelligence made these
comments to Graner and Frederick, Davis said. “The MI
staffs to my understanding have been giving Graner
compliments . . . statements like, ‘Good job, they’re
breaking down real fast. They answer every question.
They’re giving out good information.’”

When asked why he did not inform his chain of command
about the abuse, Sergeant Davis answered, “Because I
assumed that if they were doing things out of the
ordinary or outside the guidelines, someone would have
said something. Also the wing”—where the abuse took
place—“belongs to MI and it appeared MI personnel
approved of the abuse.”

Another witness, Specialist Jason Kennel, who was not
accused of wrongdoing, said, “I saw them nude, but MI
would tell us to take away their mattresses, sheets,
and clothes.” (It was his view, he added, that if M.I.
wanted him to do this “they needed to give me
paperwork.”) Taguba also cited an interview with Adel
L. Nakhla, a translator who was an employee of Titan,
a civilian contractor. He told of one night when a
“bunch of people from MI” watched as a group of
handcuffed and shackled inmates were subjected to
abuse by Graner and Frederick.

General Taguba saved his harshest words for the
military-intelligence officers and private
contractors. He recommended that Colonel Thomas
Pappas, the commander of one of the M.I. brigades, be
reprimanded and receive non-judicial punishment, and
that Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the former
director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing
Center, be relieved of duty and reprimanded. He
further urged that a civilian contractor, Steven
Stephanowicz, of CACI International, be fired from his
Army job, reprimanded, and denied his security
clearances for lying to the investigating team and
allowing or ordering military policemen “who were not
trained in interrogation techniques to facilitate
interrogations by ‘setting conditions’ which were
neither authorized” nor in accordance with Army
regulations. “He clearly knew his instructions equated
to physical abuse,” Taguba wrote. He also recommended
disciplinary action against a second CACI employee,
John Israel. (A spokeswoman for CACI said that the
company had “received no formal communication” from
the Army about the matter.)

“I suspect,” Taguba concluded, that Pappas, Jordan,
Stephanowicz, and Israel “were either directly or
indirectly responsible for the abuse at Abu Ghraib,”
and strongly recommended immediate disciplinary

The problems inside the Army prison system in Iraq
were not hidden from senior commanders. During
Karpinski’s seven-month tour of duty, Taguba noted,
there were at least a dozen officially reported
incidents involving escapes, attempted escapes, and
other serious security issues that were investigated
by officers of the 800th M.P. Brigade. Some of the
incidents had led to the killing or wounding of
inmates and M.P.s, and resulted in a series of
“lessons learned” inquiries within the brigade.
Karpinski invariably approved the reports and signed
orders calling for changes in day-to-day procedures.
But Taguba found that she did not follow up, doing
nothing to insure that the orders were carried out.
Had she done so, he added, “cases of abuse may have
been prevented.”

General Taguba further found that Abu Ghraib was
filled beyond capacity, and that the M.P. guard force
was significantly undermanned and short of resources.
“This imbalance has contributed to the poor living
conditions, escapes, and accountability lapses,” he
wrote. There were gross differences, Taguba said,
between the actual number of prisoners on hand and the
number officially recorded. A lack of proper screening
also meant that many innocent Iraqis were wrongly
being detained—indefinitely, it seemed, in some cases.
The Taguba study noted that more than sixty per cent
of the civilian inmates at Abu Ghraib were deemed not
to be a threat to society, which should have enabled
them to be released. Karpinski’s defense, Taguba said,
was that her superior officers “routinely” rejected
her recommendations regarding the release of such

Karpinski was rarely seen at the prisons she was
supposed to be running, Taguba wrote. He also found a
wide range of administrative problems, including some
that he considered “without precedent in my military
career.” The soldiers, he added, were “poorly prepared
and untrained . . . prior to deployment, at the
mobilization site, upon arrival in theater, and
throughout the mission.”

General Taguba spent more than four hours interviewing
Karpinski, whom he described as extremely emotional:
“What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony
was her complete unwillingness to either understand or
accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th
MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor
leadership and the refusal of her command to both
establish and enforce basic standards and principles
among its soldiers.”

Taguba recommended that Karpinski and seven brigade
military-police officers and enlisted men be relieved
of command and formally reprimanded. No criminal
proceedings were suggested for Karpinski; apparently,
the loss of promotion and the indignity of a public
rebuke were seen as enough punishment.

After the story broke on CBS last week, the Pentagon
announced that Major General Geoffrey Miller, the new
head of the Iraqi prison system, had arrived in
Baghdad and was on the job. He had been the commander
of the Guantánamo Bay detention center. General
Sanchez also authorized an investigation into possible
wrongdoing by military and civilian interrogators.

As the international furor grew, senior military
officers, and President Bush, insisted that the
actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the
military as a whole. Taguba’s report, however, amounts
to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the
failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The
picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army
regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely
violated, and in which much of the day-to-day
management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army
military-intelligence units and civilian contract
employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting
intelligence, including by intimidation and torture,
was the priority.

The mistreatment at Abu Ghraib may have done little to
further American intelligence, however. Willie J.
Rowell, who served for thirty-six years as a C.I.D.
agent, told me that the use of force or humiliation
with prisoners is invariably counterproductive.
“They’ll tell you what you want to hear, truth or no
truth,” Rowell said. “‘You can flog me until I tell
you what I know you want me to say.’ You don’t get
righteous information.”

Under the fourth Geneva convention, an occupying power
can jail civilians who pose an “imperative” security
threat, but it must establish a regular procedure for
insuring that only civilians who remain a genuine
security threat be kept imprisoned. Prisoners have the
right to appeal any internment decision and have their
cases reviewed. Human Rights Watch complained to
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that civilians in
Iraq remained in custody month after month with no
charges brought against them. Abu Ghraib had become,
in effect, another Guantánamo.

As the photographs from Abu Ghraib make clear, these
detentions have had enormous consequences: for the
imprisoned civilian Iraqis, many of whom had nothing
to do with the growing insurgency; for the integrity
of the Army; and for the United States’ reputation in
the world.

Captain Robert Shuck, Frederick’s military attorney,
closed his defense at the Article 32 hearing last
month by saying that the Army was “attempting to have
these six soldiers atone for its sins.” Similarly,
Gary Myers, Frederick’s civilian attorney, told me
that he would argue at the court-martial that
culpability in the case extended far beyond his
client. “I’m going to drag every involved intelligence
officer and civilian contractor I can find into
court,” he said. “Do you really believe the Army
relieved a general officer because of six soldiers?
Not a chance.”

Posted by richard at May 3, 2004 02:12 PM