Generals Testify in Iraqi Prisoner Abuse
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KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner has vowed to uncover all of the facts surrounding the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, “no matter where they lead, no matter how embarrassing.” Over the past two weeks, he has called four public hearings and brought in 17 military and Defense Department witnesses to try to determine whether there was knowledge or approval of the abuse higher up the chain of command.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers testified that no such approvals came out of the Pentagon. And Gen. Antonio Taguba conducted an investigation of the abuses, but it did not extend beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib prison. So today, the committee called on three generals whose authority spans from the Pentagon to the prison. As CentCom commander, Gen. John Abizaid oversees all military operations in the Middle East.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: And abuse has happened. Abuse has happened in Afghanistan, it’s happened in Iraq, it’s happened at various places. I think the question before us: Is there a systemic abuse problem with regard to interrogation that exists in the central command area of operations?
KWAME HOLMAN: Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is in charge of coalition forces in Iraq.
LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: As a senior commander in Iraq, I accept responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib, and I accept as a solemn obligation the responsibility to ensure that it does not happen again.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who spent 16 months as commander of facilities housing suspected al-Qaida detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and recently became deputy commander for detainee operations in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib prison.
MAJ. GEN. GEOFFREY MILLER: In the first 30 days of my opportunity to work in this capacity, I was able to visit every facility and talk to virtually every leader and soldier who are involved in this. I’ll tell you that there is strong, positive, dynamic leadership throughout this chain of command.
KWAME HOLMAN: But there were questions about whether interrogation policies suggested by General Miller might have precipitated the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Miller was sent from Guantanamo to Iraq last August, to find better ways to extract intelligence from the Iraqi prisoners. This morning, Arizona Republican John McCain asked what role Miller had recommended for the military police guarding the Iraqis.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: One of those recommendations was — and I quote from his recommendations — “it is essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees.” Am I accurate so far, General Sanchez?
LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: Yes, senator.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: General Miller?
MAJ. GEN. GEOFFREY MILLER: Yes, sir, you are.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Does this lead you to believe that your orders were misinterpreted?
MAJ. GEN. GEOFFREY MILLER: No, sir. The leadership that received the recommendations throughout the JTF had a clear understanding of the recommendations that we made in those three areas of intelligence — fusion, interrogation and humane detention — that laid out those requirements, that laid the basis that they must be in concert with the Geneva Convention, and gave recommendations from our experience about how those three functions could be done successfully.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: There must have been a breakdown somewhere?
MAJ. GEN. GEOFFREY MILLER: Sir, in my estimation, it is a breakdown in leadership on how that — follow-on actions may have occurred. But I was not present at that time, so it would be difficult for me to give a…
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: General Sanchez, I guess my question is better directed to you: Were those orders misinterpreted?
LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: Sir, I do not believe those orders were misinterpreted. The procedures that General Miller and I had discussed, that he had recommended, were very detailed. And it very clearly stated that MPs were involved in passive enabling of those operations, and had no involvement in the conduct of interrogations.
MAJ. GEN. GEOFFREY MILLER: The recommendation was that they conduct passive intelligence gathering during this process, and by that, that meant to observe the detainees, to see how their behavior was, to see who they would speak with, and then to report that to the interrogators so the interrogators could better understand the attitude, the human dynamic, of the detainee as he would come into the interrogation booth.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed recited several methods listed in a controversial army document called “Interrogation Rules of Engagement.”
SEN. JACK REED: “Sleep management: 72 hours. Sensory deprivation: 72 hours.”
KWAME HOLMAN: West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd wondered who approved the list.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Did the secretary of defense have to approve these rules?
SPOKESMAN: Sir, I….
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: …To your knowledge?
SPOKESMAN: In the Central Command I have not forwarded anything to the Pentagon for approval with regard to rules of engagement.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: I’m not asking you what you forwarded to the Pentagon. To your knowledge, did the secretary of defense have to approve these or did he approve these rules of engagement– to your knowledge– the secretary of defense?
COL. MARK WARREN: Senator, if I might …
KWAME HOLMAN: Col. Mark Warren, a Pentagon lawyer under General Sanchez’s command, weighed in.
COL. MARK WARREN: There is no requirement that the Department of Defense review or approve the methods that we used. As Generals Abizaid and Sanchez have said, we are operating in a combat environment. The commanders have the authority to approve…
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: All right, if there is no requirement, to your knowledge, did the secretary of defense approve these rules of engagement?
COL. MARK WARREN: Sir, to my knowledge, no.
KWAME HOLMAN: Colonel Warren later added that the rules listed would not necessarily violate the Geneva Conventions. All the questioning about methods of interrogation troubled Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: You’ve been asked about what about sleep adjustment or sleep management for 72 hours. Those, as I read this document, this is a restrictive document to say anything, that such an action must be… have the direct approval of the commanding general. Is that the way you understand it, General Sanchez?
LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: Sir, that’s the way I read that document also, sir.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: And was it you — are you the commanding general, or who was the commanding general referred to?
LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: That referred to the commanding general CJTF-7, that’s me, sir.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: And so, the system was set up to restrict these kind of activities. They can never be done, even though, as Colonel Warren, the JAG officer, said could be acceptable under– some of them, at least– could be acceptable under the Geneva Convention, they had to make a written report and request to you before any of those could be used?
LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: That is exactly right, sir.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: And were any of these ever approved by you?
LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: Sir, the only approvals that I ever had at my desk was for continued segregation beyond 30 days, and there were 25 of those who were approved. I never saw any other method come to my level requesting approval.
KWAME HOLMAN: General Abizaid did not deny a story Democrat Carl Levin cited from today’s Wall Street Journal, that the Red Cross reported to the military abuses of Iraqi prisoners as early as last November.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: Sometimes commanders at the lowest level get the report and they work on it confidentially. And I think what we’ve got to do is have a system that, when there is something that comes to the attention at any level of command, that it not be worked through at the lower level but that it surface all the way up through the chain of command.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Abizaid had this response to Robert Byrd’s question about a New York Times story that claimed the Army last year tried to restrict Red Cross visits to Iraqi prisons.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: Sir, I never approved any policy or procedure or requirement to do that.
KWAME HOLMAN: But after all of the public testimony, Maine Republican Susan Collins said she still wasn’t sure exactly happened at Abu Ghraib prison.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I remain unclear about the answers to some very basic and critical questions, questions such as who really was in charge of the prison, and what was allowed in the treatment of the prisoners.
SPOKESMAN: Our doctrine is not right. It’s just not right. I mean, there are so many things that are out there that aren’t right in the way that we operate for this war. This is a doctrinal problem of understanding where you bring, what do the MPs do, what do the military intelligence guys do, how do they come together in the right way? And this doctrinal issue has got to be fixed if we’re ever going to get our intelligence right to fight this war and beat this enemy.
KWAME HOLMAN: Several times, the generals said they could not answer questions about ongoing prisoner abuse investigations in public. At midday, the committee and the generals went to a separate hearing room for a closed session.