Generals Testify on Iraqi Prisoner Abuse
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MARGARET WARNER: What did the generals add to our understanding of what went wrong at Abu Ghraib? For that, we turn to two members of the Armed Services Committee, whom you’ve just heard, Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, and Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat.
Welcome to you both. Senator Sessions, what did today’s testimony from the generals add to your understanding of who or what was responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: I’m not sure it added anything. It certainly confirmed that the leadership, General Sanchez and General Abizaid had issued clear directives not to do these kind of activities, not to abuse prisoners in this direction and in this way.
And eventually at some lower level it occurred. I think it further clarified that the defense department officials in Washington certainly weren’t involved in these activities. And the generals, in general, were honest and direct and admitted that there were shortcomings in this very difficult time of combat and post-combat activities.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Reed, did you come to the same conclusion that today established one, that these generals were not responsible, and two that the higher civilian leadership at the Pentagon was not?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, I share Senator Collins’ conclusion that there’s still many questions that are unanswered. There’s still a question of really what policy for interrogation applied.
General Sanchez maintained that he never approved the policy which last week the Department of Army presented to us as his policy.
And yet Colonel Warren, the jag officer, indicated that a young captain in the facility had promulgated a policy, the one that General Sanchez didn’t recognize and it was posted on bulletin boards where apparently it was operational.
So there are still serious questions about how the policy evolved and responsibility for senior leaders to making sure that the right policy, whatever that was, was a policy that was in place in the prison. So I left with many questions.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you…
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: Can I respond to that?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, go ahead, Senator Sessions.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: In defense of General Sanchez, he issued a written directive and a captain at the company level summarized it into the chart that was shown. In fact, the chart explicitly at several points said you must follow the Geneva Conventions. You could not touch a prisoner or harm him in any way and said that any areas that weren’t close to the Geneva Convention margins had to be approved in writing by General Sanchez. He said he never saw that summary chart but he didn’t say he did not not issue the order.
SEN. JACK REED: In fact what he said was that was not his policy — that his policy did not contain any of the techniques that were listed in that chart posted in the prison. There is a real serious question about how techniques that apparently General Sanchez did not approve wound up not only on the wall in that prison but apparently from the pictures we’ve seen, many things like that were conducted by military police officers.
MARGARET WARNER: The other thing that happened last fall in addition to those rules being posted, which I gather they were in October, was in September, as we just mentioned in the set-up report, that was when General Miller came from Guantanamo and made some recommendations about how to regularize and better extract information from detainees. You had General Miller there today and Senator Sessions, I’ll begin with you. Do you feel that was a factor in any way?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: I believe General Miller had a great reputation on how you handle a situation in Guantanamo and improved the situation in Iraq.
I think it is proven to be a total dead end to suggest that his coming to Iraq had somehow led to these abuses to occur. There is no evidence of that.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Reed, your view on that?
SEN. JACK REED: I believe senator, excuse me, that General Miller was selected to go to Iraq by leaders in the Pentagon. Secretary Cambone indicated he encouraged the trip because of experience at Guantanamo, a place where the Geneva Convention does not apply.
I find it curious that he would maintain that his only advice was to be humane and to have the MPs conduct passive observation, if you will, of prisoners, when in fact he described as Senator McCain pointed out, that they had to prepare them for interrogation. That’s not a passive activity. Again, I think there are many questions that are outstanding.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Reed, staying with you for a minute. Were you better able to understand today after today’s testimony, who was really in charge at Abu Ghraib? I mean General Abizaid, and I’m going to quote him, he said “There was confusion between the roles of military intelligence and military police at that prison.”
SEN. JACK REED: I think there was a great deal of confusion as to who was actually in charge. I think it was just not between military police and military intelligence.
There were indications there were agents from other agencies of the government, presumably Defense Intelligence Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, that they had access to that facility. And it is unclear what instructions they had and what policies they might suggest, maybe in error, but suggest were in effect in that prison. So it’s still extraordinarily confused.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Sessions, it was General Sanchez who said today that he had put this Colonel Pappas, head of the military intelligence unit in what he called tactical control of the prison. Do you think that was a factor at all?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: I don’t think that was a factor at all. And the misbehavior that occurred in the sense that this is never acceptable under any conditions and no officer should ever approve this kind of activity. There was some confusion, I agree with Senator Reed, apparently, as to roles of the military intelligence and to the roles of the military police.
And I believe that the report that will soon be out by the general who is investigating military intelligence aspect of it is important. We need to know just how many of those may have been involved in misbehavior, illegal behavior, and I’m hopeful that that report will clear the air on that question.
MARGARET WARNER: But what I’m asking you, is do you think that General Sanchez’s decision to put military intelligence in some sort of control of the prison contributed to that confusion?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: It could have. I just don’t know. It could have. But, you know, I talked to a number of professional military officers who tell me that people, the commander of the MP brigade was in command of those people for their training and their discipline, whereas the perimeter and other aspects of the facility were under the military intelligence. So they should not have been confusing but apparently it may have been.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Reed, I’d like to ask about another thing that I don’t believe came up in the open hearing today. I didn’t hear it but I know you had a closed one.
That was the piece by Seymour Hirsch in the New Yorker in which he says that what happened is sort of an unintended expansion of what was really a covert program with tough interrogation methods used elsewhere in the world against al-Qaida, really top level al-Qaida suspects. And that Rumsfeld’s office direction, somehow that whole approach was imported to Iraq at some point when they became frustrated at the lack of intelligence they had about the insurgency. Have you looked into that? Do you think there is any truth to that?
SEN. JACK REED: I have no information that would substantiate or corroborate those allegations. I think it has to be looked into. It is a very serious charge. It can’t be ignored. But I have no specific information at this time that would add any credence to the report.
MARGARET WARNER: And Senator Sessions?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: No, neither do I. But I would note that both generals, General Abizaid and General Sanchez said they were unaware of anything of that kind.
MARGARET WARNER: So Senator Reed, are you convinced that the military is going to pursue all of this wherever it leads — however high it leads, the responsibility for what happened?
SEN. JACK REED: I think, particularly with the leadership of Senator Warner and Senator Levin in the hearings that we’re holding is that this is an issue now that cannot easily be dismissed or ignored, and I believe that it will be followed to its conclusion.
And General Abizaid has indicated that. He is an officer of great integrity and great dedication, and I believe it will be done.
But I don’t think it might have been done as quickly or as effectively without the kind of attention that has been brought to it by the media and also by Senator Warner in these hearings
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Sessions?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: I wouldn’t agree with that. I think the military started the first day they heard about it. They commenced a criminal investigation. They suspended officers from command. They commenced a major investigation of the entire detention system, and they announced it just within a few days of the public that they were doing so.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think this is going to be pursued wherever it leads?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: Yes, they were pursuing it before the Congress, ever dawned on Congress what was occurring there. They’re going to do that. But maybe it’s helpful that the American people have seen the top officials in the Pentagon and our top generals coming to testify about it certainly distracted them.
But also I think after anyone watch this hearing, I think to date they would have to say that it looks very much like what we thought from the beginning, that it was a lower level abuse of orders and directions.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, Senator Sessions, what also seemed to come out today was that the early warning system that sort of is built into the enforcement of the Geneva Conventions, which is letting the International Red Cross come in and look at things and submit private reports, that that did break down. Would you agree with that, that it did break down and why?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: The Red Cross was allowed in. I think they did 26 different visits. They met with lower commanders. They issued some reports that General Abizaid said, frankly, some did not get to his desk. And they had to change the procedure on that in subsequent times. So I think the handling of the reports, they admitted were not well, but until later on, they were given almost unlimited access of the prisons.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Reed?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, the system did break down and I think one reason is that senior commanders didn’t take the International Red Cross’ activities seriously. These reports were made in a confidential basis. They were sent to the CentCom headquarters, they were dealt with in a routine fashion and frankly had the attention of the senior command brought immediately to the reports, I think they would have taken effective steps to try to stop what later became much more serious abuses.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Reed, Senator Sessions, thank you both.
SEN. JACK REED: Thank you.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: Thank you.