Col. Janis Karpinski, the Former Head of Abu Ghraib, Admits She Broke the Geneva Conventions But Says the Blame "Goes All the Way to The Top”
Karpinski, the highest-ranking officer demoted in connection with the torture scandal, speaks out about what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison. She discusses:
How the military hid "ghost detainees" from the International Red Cross in violation of international law;
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller calling for the Gitmoization of Abu Ghraib and for prisoners to be "treated like dogs";
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's secret memos on interrogation policies that hung on the prison’s walls;
The military’s use of private (and possibly Israeli) interrogators;
Her dealings with the International Red Cross;
Why she feels, as a female general, she has been scapegoated for a scandal that has left the military and political leadership unscathed; and
Calls for Donald Rumsfeld, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Alberto Gonzalez and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller to be held accountable for what happened. [includes rush transcript - partial]
The White House and CIA are urging Senators to exempt CIA officers from a proposed ban on torture. According to the New York Times, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss met with Senator John McCain to urge him to rewrite the Senate’s proposed ban on torture. Three weeks ago the Senate voted 90 to 9 to ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any detainee held by the government. Cheney reportedly said the CIA needed to be exempt because the president needs maximum flexibility in fighting the so-called war on terrorism.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has released new documents this week that indicate at least 21 detainees have been murdered at U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ACLU came to the conclusion after obtaining reams of released Pentagon documents. According to the group, the documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.
Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU said, “There is no question that U.S. interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable.”
We look at the Iraqi prison at the center of the U.S. detainee abuse scandal – Abu Ghraib. It was here where the infamous photos of detainee abuse were taken: A hooded Iraqi man was forced to stand on a box with electrical wires connected to various parts of his body. Naked Iraqis were stacked on top of each other. U.S. military personnel posed with Iraqi corpses. And Iraqi detainees were held on leashes.
In April 2004, a secret Pentagon report concluded that U.S. soldiers had committed "egregious acts and grave breaches of international law" at Abu Ghraib. Since the photos first appeared, no senior Bush administration officials have been reprimanded for what happened at Abu Ghraib. Seven soldiers have been convicted for their role in the detainee abuse. Last month Lynndie England was sentenced to three years in prison. In January, Specialist Charles Graner was sentenced to 10 years. The highest ranking military officer reprimanded was Brigadier General Janis Karpinski who was commanding officer at the prison. She was demoted to colonel in May. She oversaw all military police in Iraq and was the first female ever to command soldiers in a combat zone.
Col. Janis Karpinski, former Brigadier General and author of "One Woman’s Army : The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story"
AMY GOODMAN: Today, Janis Karpinski joins us for the hour here on Democracy Now! And she has just published a book about her experience. It's called One Woman's Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story. Colonel Janis Karpinski, welcome to Democracy Now!
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Good morning. Glad to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. How did you end up at Abu Ghraib?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Abu Ghraib was one of 17 prison facilities that we were responsible for in Iraq. The units deployed from January throughout 2003 up ’til about April of 2003 to conduct a prisoner of war mission. The units are trained to do prisoner of war operations, and a prisoner of war camp was established in Iraq, very close to the Kuwait border. So, the units -- the unit members, the soldiers, all believed that they were going to come home after victory was declared on the First of May when the President arrived on the aircraft carrier. They allowed me to deploy to Iraq to join my units, to take command of the units, although I was told that the majority of the units, the soldiers, would be coming back home because the mission was complete.
When I arrived in Kuwait, I was told that the units were going to be staying for an additional two months, because we were assigned a new mission for prison restoration and training, assisting the prison's experts up at Ambassador Bremer's headquarters in Baghdad, with training Iraqi guards to conduct prison and detention operations. So we relocated. There was never any discussion about whether we were properly equipped or prepared to take on this mission. It was simply assigned to us, and very quickly the two-month extension became a four-month extension, and then it became 365 days, boots on the ground, for all of the units that were deployed.
So, soldiers were sent to war with the full expectations that they would be home in six months or less, as they were repeatedly told at the mobilization stations in the United States, and once they were there, they couldn't get out. The extension took them six additional months, tremendous impact on reserve and National Guard soldiers, in particular, but nonetheless, this was the mission. They went forward to different locations in Iraq and took on this new detention operation -- mission.
Abu Ghraib was the largest of our facilities. It was located in the Sunni Triangle. It was never a good location for any kind of detention operations, let alone the largest detention operation and then, subsequently, the interrogation center for Iraq. We were being mortared every night at that location. We received no combat support for force protection to prevent any of those attacks from occurring, and the unit that was out there doing that mission, that particular mission at Abu Ghraib, was not equipped with any kind of combat platforms to give adequate protection to prisoners or soldiers.
It was -- Abu Ghraib, there was long discussions about using Abu Ghraib at all, because of its notoriety, because of the history, because of the thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives there under Saddam. But we did agree to use it as an interim facility and holding Iraqi criminal prisoners. And that was our introduction to Abu Ghraib.
AMY GOODMAN: How many M.P.s, military police, were under your command?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: 3,400 soldiers were under the 800th Military Police Brigade, and probably 2,400 of them, 2,500 of them were military police personnel.
AMY GOODMAN: And how many prisoners were there?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: At Abu Ghraib alone, the prisoner population did reach over 7,000 by the end of -- nearing the end of 2003, but we processed over 40,000 prisoners during the course of the time that the 800th M.P. Brigade was responsible for prisoner operations. In 16 other facilities and at Abu Ghraib, while it was under the control of the 800th M.P. Brigade, there were no infractions. Interrogations were not being conducted. They were basically interviews that were being conducted by the military intelligence interrogators at that time, and it changed considerably during and after General Miller's visit.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about General Miller. Who is he?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: General Miller was sent to visit Iraq by Secretary Rumsfeld and the Undersecretary Cambone. And they came -- General Miller came to visit from Guantanamo Bay. He was the commander of detention operations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and he was sent to assist the military intelligence interrogators with enhancing their techniques. And he brought with him the techniques that were tested and in use at Guantanamo Bay. And he brought a team of about 20 people, 22 people with him to discuss all aspects of interrogation operations, and actually, he did an in-brief. I was invited to participate or to attend to listen to his in-brief, because he was working almost exclusively with the military intelligence people and the military intelligence interrogators while he was there.
But we owned the locations that he was going to visit, and he ultimately selected Abu Ghraib to be the focus of his efforts, and he told me that he was going to make it the interrogation center for Iraq. He used the term, he was going to “Gitmo-ize” the operation and use the M.P.s to assist the interrogators to enhance interrogations and to obtain more actionable intelligence. I explained to him that the M.P.s were not trained in any kind of interrogation operations, and he told me that he wanted me to give him Abu Ghraib, because that's the location he selected.
AMY GOODMAN: You're both generals?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes. He was a two-star.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the dogs? Is that when the dogs were introduced?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Shortly after his visit, he -- again, he was spending most of his time with the commander of the Military Intelligence Brigade, Colonel Pappas. In his in-brief, his introduction when he first arrived there with his team, he responded to one of the interrogators, the military interrogator's question, and he was listening to the comments, the criticisms that they were doing these interviews and they were not obtaining really valuable information, so he was there to assist them with different -- implementing different techniques to get more actionable intelligence.
And one of the interrogators just asked the question about what he would recommend that they could do immediately, because they thought that they were doing a pretty good job with identifying the people who may have additional value or more military intelligence value, and General Miller said -- his first observation was that they were not -- they were being too nice to them. They were not being aggressive enough. And he used the example at Guantanamo Bay that the prisoners there, when they're brought in, that they're handled by two military policemen. They're escorted everywhere they go -- belly chains, leg irons, hand irons -- and he said, “You have to treat them like dogs.”
AMY GOODMAN: You were there when he said this?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes, I was there when he said that. And he said, “They have to know that you are in charge, and if you treat them too nicely, they won't cooperate with you. And at Guantanamo Bay, they earn -- the prisoners earn every single thing they get, to include a change of color of their jumpsuits. When they get there, they're issued a bright orange jumpsuit. They're handled in a very aggressive, forceful manner, and they earn the privilege of transitioning to a white jumpsuit, if they prove themselves to be cooperative.”
And I raised my hand. I was just there as a guest. I was not a participant, but I said, “You know, sir, the M.P.s here don't move prisoners with leg irons and hand irons. We don't even have that equipment. We don't have enough funding to buy one jumpsuit per prisoner, let alone an exchange of colors.” And he said, “It's no problem. My budget is $125 million a year at Gitmo, and I'm going to give Colonel Pappas all of the resources he needs to do this appropriately.”
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Colonel Pappas ran the prison within the prison, is that right? He ran something called the “hard site”?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: He ran the interrogation operations within the prison, that's correct. And it was -- Cell Block 1A and 1B were the two maximum security wings of the hard site, and during General Miller's visit, either at his order or at his request, General Miller told -- instructed Colonel Pappas to get control of Cell Block 1A.
AMY GOODMAN: Treat the prisoners like dogs. That explains the leashes and making prisoners bark?
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: It seems to be consistent with those photographs, yes, with the dog collar, the dog leash and un-muzzled dogs. And, in fact, those techniques have appeared in several memorandums that have been signed by senior people.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Colonel Janis Karpinski, once Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the only one of the high-level officers who has been demoted in the Abu Ghraib scandal. She has written a book about her experience called One Woman's Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story. We'll be back with Janis Karpinski in a minute.