Prison Guard's Hearing Would Have Been Bedlam

Commentary By Leon Worden
Signal City Editor

Thursday, June 24, 2004

n retrospect, they picked a heck of a week to schedule testimony in the case of Pfc. Lynndie England, the Army reservist who appears in several of the more bizarre prisoner abuse photos.
    Like ships in the night, the Army sent the cancellation notice Monday afternoon while I was in flight to North Carolina for the hearing. I had hoped to learn more details about an Army general's rationale for singling out a Santa Clarita resident as one of four men responsible for a scandal that has threatened the Bush presidency and tarnished America's image.
    With more than 100 news people at Ft. Bragg — unlike Baghdad, where one or two pool reporters are allowed in the courtroom — England's hearing would have turned into bedlam when the Pentagon decided to declassify documents that could have a direct bearing on her case.
    On their face, the 258 pages of Pentagon documents aren't about Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Rather, they outline interrogation protocols that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved in late 2002 and early 2003 for use at Guantanamo Bay, where Geneva convention protections weren't being extended to al-Qaida terrorists.
    Not included was a 12-page report that showed the same policies Rumsfeld approved for use in Cuba — including stripping prisoners naked and intimidating them with military dogs — were authorized for export to Iraq, where Geneva convention protections prohibiting such practices were supposed to apply.
    The 12-page report, detailed Wednesday by USA Today, was the handiwork of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who was in charge of detention operations at Guantanamo Bay last summer when the Pentagon sent him on a 10-day mission to improve on the intelligence that was coming out of Abu Ghraib. Insurgents had just blown up the United Nations compound and killed its emissary; Saddam Hussein was still on the loose; the word "quagmire" was cropping up all over the place.
    Considering Guantanamo Bay's better than 1-1 guard-to-prisoner ratio, it was probably a foregone conclusion that Miller found severe deficiencies in both the interrogation and detention operations at Abu Ghraib, where 300 guards were expected to keep an eye on 6,600 detainees.
    His answer? Integrate the guards with the interrogators. Put military intelligence in charge, and have the MPs "set the conditions" for interrogations.
    "Setting conditions" is military parlance for preparing — some say softening up — prisoners for questioning.
    Army regulations expressly prohibit MPs from doing that.
    Miller, a two-star general, promised Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the three-star commander of coalition forces in Iraq, that "a significant improvement in actionable intelligence will be realized within 30 days" if Sanchez were to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib.
    Did Sanchez act on Miller's recommendations? We know that on Nov. 19, Sanchez gave operational control of the prison, previously an MP function, to the military intelligence officers. And, we know that the military intelligence commander, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, testified that the special interrogation rules that were implemented after Miller's visit called for Sanchez's personal approval whenever interrogators wanted to use dogs or deprive prisoners of sleep and food.
    A month ago, Sanchez told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he never saw, much less authorized, the special interrogation rules. Today the Army is treating Sanchez like he's got the plague. The Army has lined him up for questioning, and after June 30, he'll be stripped of his command in Iraq.
    The 12-page report could prove a career ender for Miller if the senators get mad enough — not because of what it says, but because he looked them square in the eye and said his recommendation was for the guards at Abu Ghraib to conduct "passive intelligence gathering," meaning, if you overhear something while you're standing there, report it.
    That wasn't his recommendation, according to the Army investigator, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba.
    "Miller's team ... stated, 'it is essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internee.'"
    And that, Taguba wrote, "would appear to be in conflict" with Army regulations that say MPs can't "participate in military intelligence supervised interrogation sessions."
    The Pentagon's damage control included a mission from Lt. Gen. Lance L. Smith to the Senate. Smith told senators that Miller merely shared Guantanamo Bay's interrogation methods with the commanders at Abu Ghraib "to use as an example on how they should generate their own operating procedures."
    With Miller's report getting full play in USA Today, the collective "I told you so" is almost audible from the lower echelons — from Janis Karpinski, the one-star general blamed by Sanchez's appointee, Taguba, for the command breakdown; to Pappas, who said he developed the special interrogation rules after meeting with Miller; to Lynndie England and the rest of the "few bad apples" who couldn't have anticipated Tuesday's Pentagon memo saying Rumsfeld had approved 24 interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay, didn't use them all, and never actually meant for them to cross the ocean.
    For good or bad, and maybe both, the guards were na´ve enough to take pictures.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's city editor.