Taguba Interview: Sanchez 'Good Friend'

By Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, April 24, 2005

*MEDIA—MANDATORY CREDIT: The Signal newspaper of Santa Clarita, Calif.

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba
MG Taguba, 4/20/2005 (Leon Worden / The Signal)
    This interview with Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, the initial investigator of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, was conducted Wednesday evening by Signal Opinion/Multimedia Editor Leon Worden at California State University, Long Beach, following Taguba's appearance there as a guest lecturer.

Signal: John Israel is one of our local residents in Santa Clarita (Calif). A year ago, you identified Israel as one of four people "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib." A year later, we're no closer to knowing why.

Taguba: Only because he was associated with Stefanowicz. Both of those two worked together.

Signal: They worked together, and you felt that (interrogator Steven A.) Stefanowicz was culpable?

Taguba: Yeah. John Israel is — personally, he was there probably because he wanted to do the right thing. But probably his only failing was that he was not trained properly, and obviously he was influenced.

Signal: Given (your) verbiage, "directly or indirectly responsible," would John Israel fall into the "indirectly" responsible category?

Taguba: Well, I did an administrative investigation, so — there was a criminal investigation side of that, so I wouldn't know that.

Signal: But in your mind, when you made the recommendation for there to be an additional 15-6 (inquiry) to determine his culpability, were you thinking of John Israel as "directly" or "indirectly" responsible?

Taguba: Uh, mostly — I wasn't looking at it in that way. I looked at it just more from his association with — as a translator, and whether he should have revealed or reported what he saw.

Signal: You believe he was there and witnessed things that he should have reported?

Taguba: I think so.

Signal: What made you think he was lying?

Taguba: Because of the statements that he made. Witness statements. It was conflicting.

Signal: Do you remember Adel Nakhla?

Taguba: Who?

Signal: Adel Nakhla. He was another Titan translator. He was the one who showed up in some pictures.

Taguba: I didn't see any other pictures.

Signal: Both Israel and Nakhla were about 50. Israel was born in Baghdad, Nakhla was born in Egypt. They were both Christian. So there has been speculation that maybe there was a mix-up between the two. Of course, nobody used their real names over there —

Taguba: Oh, no. Israel — I remember Israel.

Signal: You specifically remember him?

Taguba: Oh, yeah. I didn't see him in any photographs, though.

Signal: There was a little discrepancy in your report —

Taguba: Huh?

Signal: In one place you identified Israel as an employee of CACI (International Inc.) and in another place as an employee of Titan (Corp).

Taguba: He, uh — we took whatever he said out of the tapes. And I didn't know if he was employed by — I do know that Titan group was the ones who hired the translators.

Signal: Right. He did work through them.

Taguba: CACI — some of the kids said that they work for "khaki," which is k-h-a-k-i.

Signal: Yeah, they pronounce C-A-C-I "khaki."

Taguba: Those were so funny — well, I wouldn't call it funny moments, but, God. It was the most horrendous thing I've had to do. But there's still — the Justice Department is still investigating, I think.

Signal: What did you think when you were selected to do that?

Taguba: I thought that this was the — I didn't know what to think. I said — "God."

Signal: Did you think, "Don't make me do that; I'll never work again"?

Taguba: Right, that's — basically what crossed my mind was, this is going to be messy. And there was no way around it. You know, you either had to — gather all the facts and tell the truth. And it would not be very pleasant. And even if — and there's no compromise towards that. I couldn't hide it. Because Al-Jazeera had a story on it already. Yeah. So. That's the matter, where integrity counts.

Signal: Did anybody ever tell you not to take it beyond (Brig. Gen. Janis) Karpinski?

Taguba: What?

Signal: Did anybody ever instruct you not to take the investigation beyond the level of Karpinski?

Taguba: No, no. The scope — as I said in my report, that was the scope of the investigation.

Signal: What was the scope of the investigation?

Taguba: The 800th MP Brigade.

Signal: So you wouldn't have taken it beyond Karpinski?

Taguba: Oh, no. Unless I was given permission and authorization to do so. And I was not given that. That's why I said they ought to have another 15-6, you know?

    The following question was asked by The Signal during the question-and-answer portion of Taguba's lecture to students of Asian and Latino studies at Cal State Long Beach:

Signal: Do you think Gen. Sanchez got a raw deal last year when he was not asked to continue on in Iraq after the transfer of power, like he wanted to? He's the highest-ranking Latino in the Army, right?

Taguba: Right, a three-star. He's also a very good friend of mine, Ricardo Sanchez.
    His time was up, his tour of duty as commander there, from June to June. That's about the time — one-year tour of duty for Army. It's seven months for Marines. There's a disparity of assignments. Seven months for Marines, but the Marines do it twice. So if you go seven months, then you go back to the States and they do it again for seven months. So they get 14 months out of a year. Ours is one continuous year.
    In the case of Gen. Sanchez, he commanded for a year and he's back. So it wasn't as if he was being punished by — it was a normal (tour) of his command over there, and he's back in Germany.
    By the way, he's a — as much as he's a personal friend, he's a great human being. He's a great commander, and I know he's got caught up in the Abu Ghraib case and whatever have you, and all of the unpleasantries that happened with the abuses, but I personally think he'll survive through that and continue to serve. He's a wonderful man. He's a great family man. When I see him, or I see my other Asian-American friends or my Hispanic friends and my African-American friends, we tend not to talk about what we do. We kind of gravitate towards, "How's your kids?" or "How's Marcus? How's Sean? How's Lindsey?" We talk about those topics that we really talk about.
    Because as my daughter once called me, I'm a "ghost dad." Because I was never there. Always being — looking after my career and not being there for soccer games or — so she referred to me as the "ghost dad." And we never say we're going to retire to spend more time with our families. What an oxymoron that is. What an idiotic thing to say. If we didn't have enough time to spend with them in the first place, what would make our kids want to spend time with us? Just kind of the reverse. So we never say that when we retire. ... The military life is a hard life.