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KWAME HOLMAN: When allegations surfaced in January of abuse of detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib’s Prison it was Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba who was ordered to investigate. He did, assembling a team that conducted 50 interviews and turned around a nine-volume 6,000-page report in a month.
Taguba’s findings subsequently supported by the unauthorized release of photographs depicting the abuses was summarized in this statement: "Between October and December, 2003, at the Abu Ghraib confinement facility, numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees. This systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force."
General Taguba had not spoken publicly about his report until today when he was called to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Virginia Republican John Warner is committee chairman.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: In simple words, your own soldiers’ language, how did this happen?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Failure in leadership, from the brigade commander on down. Lack of discipline. No training whatsoever. And no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant. Those are my comments.
KWAME HOLMAN: That also was the view of Steven Cambone undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
STEVEN CAMBONE: And I think what we did have here was a problem of leadership with respect to the 372nd Battalion. That was the group that was the MP unit.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Failure of leadership starting at what level?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: That is decidedly more difficult to say, sir. Again, in simple terms you asked. There was clear direction moving down the chain from the secretary to General Abizaid to General Sanchez to those people who were in charge of the military police. That in this case is General Karpinski.
KWAME HOLMAN: Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, a reservist, was commander of military police battalions at several Iraqi prisons including Abu Ghraib and since has been relieved of her command.
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: She is, as best as I understand it, was not frequently present at Abu Ghraib. The place was being mortared and attacked frequently. The local commander was unable to bring order to that place. For that reason, I would argue, General Sanchez looked to Colonel Pappas, the head of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and gave him the responsibility then for taking care of Abu Ghraib as an installation.
KWAME HOLMAN: As commander of military intelligence Colonel Thomas Pappas in effect supervised detainee interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Several Senators, Democrat Carl Levin included, had trouble determining who was in charge at Abu Ghraib, Pappas or Karpinski, at the time the abuses occurred.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Secretary Cambone told us earlier a few minutes ago that the shift in command at the prison did not mean that the military intelligence commander had command authority over the MPs, but your report says the opposite, that the decision to transfer that command to the military intelligence commander did effectively put that commander in charge of the military police. Do you stick by your statement?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Is that to me, sir?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Yes.
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Sir, I did not question the order that was given to Colonel Pappas on the fragmentary order that he received on the 19th of November. That was not under my purview. I did ask him to elaborate on what his responsibilities were.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Your report states that that change in command, quote, effectively made a military intelligence officer rather than an MP officer responsible for the mp units conducting detainee operations at that facility. Is that your conclusion?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Yes, sir, because the order gave him tactical control of all units that were residing at Abu Ghraib.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Secretary Cambone do you agree with that?
STEPHEN CAMBONE: Tactical control is….
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Do you disagree with what the general just said?
STEPHEN CAMBONE: Yes, sir.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Pardon?
STEPHEN CAMBONE: I do. I do not believe that the order placing Colonel Pappas in charge gave him the authority to direct the mps’ activities in direct op com condition.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson followed up.
SEN. BEN NELSON: General Karpinski says that her command was severed by the infusion of military intelligence dealing with certain detainees. Is that accurate or an approximation of her statement?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Sir, I don’t understand where her command authority, her command was severed from Abu Ghraib.
SEN. BEN NELSON: Because others were put in and she was given the instruction Colonel Pappas appeared on the scene and military intelligence, not under her command, were there as well. If her command wasn’t severed, was it at least interfered with in your judgment?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Sir, truthfully, she challenged that.
SEN. BEN NELSON: In what way?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Challenged the authority that was given to Colonel Pappas.
SEN. BEN NELSON: What was the result of the challenge?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Sir, it created a confusion and friction between those two commanders.
SEN. BEN NELSON: So what we have now is confusion, a lack of clarity of command. We’ve got a handful at least of spontaneous abusers as it relates to detainees.
KWAME HOLMAN: And New York Democrat Hillary Clinton continued the line of questioning.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Now we know that General Karpinski has been rightly singled out for appropriate concern about her behavior and her failure of command. But I just want to read to you a comment she made in an interview which I find extraordinary. And I quote, "but when I looked at those pictures and when I continued to see those pictures, I don’t think that there was anything that was improperly done because this wasn’t something that was a violation of a procedure. This was something they were instructed to do as a completely new procedure. I’m not sure that those MP’s had ever been confronted with any instructions like this before."
General Taguba, can you explain for us the disparity between holding this brigade commander completely accountable and the comments that I just read to you in light of the fact that certainly the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade was given tactical control over that prison; can you explain Karpinski’s comment?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Yes, ma’am. During the course of our investigation, there was clear evidence based on my interview of General Karpinski and Colonel Pappas that there was friction between those two commanders in the operation of Abu Ghraib. The distinction was that who was in charge of when and at what time. They could not explain. So that’s the context of the ambiguity of the order that was given to Colonel Pappas.
It was clear that he was directed to the forward operating base commander there for the security of detainees and for its protection. However, General Karpinski challenged that. She noted that in her recorded testimony. Point one. I held her accountable and responsible not exclusively and solely for the abuse cases there at Abu Ghraib but the context of her leadership, the lack of leadership on her part overall in terms of her training, the standards, supervise other omission, the command climate in her brigade. Those were all in totality why I held her accountable and responsible, ma’am.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham who got back to the details of the abuses contained in General Taguba’s report.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: General Taguba, it comes down to this for me. You have one prison that was run differently than other prisons. The photo we see of the detainee on the stool wired up, was that just six or seven people having a good time in a perverted way at that person’s expense? Or was there something deeper going on there and do you know?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Sir, based on the evidence, it was six or seven people that created that type of a scenario or situation.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: To the dog scenario where he see the detainee with two dogs, was that a couple of guards with dogs in a perverted way having a good time or was there something else going on?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: No, sir. The dogs were invited in there according to written statements and collaborated by interviews by the two mp guards.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: The way these people were stacked up in sexual positions in the sexual activity, was that just individual guards or was that part of something else going on?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Sir, those actual acts based again on interviews and statements and collaborated by the detainees’ statements as well.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Part of the defense that we’re going to be hearing about in these court-martials is that the people that were charge… is that the people that we’re charging are going to say this system that we see photographic evidence of was at least encouraged if not directed by others. Do you think that’s an accurate statement?
MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Sir, I would say that they were probably influenced by others but not necessarily directed specifically by others.
KWAME HOLMAN: Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe used his turn in the question rotation to issue a statement concerning the furor that has erupted over the Iraqi detainee abuses.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE: I have to say and I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more out raged by the out rage than we are about the treatment. The idea that these prisoners, you know, they’re not there for traffic violations. If they’re in cell block 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands.
Here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals. I hasten to say, yeah, there are seven bad guys and gals that didn’t do what they should have done. They were misguided, I think maybe even perverted in the things that they did and they have to be punished. They’re being punished. They’re being tried right now. That’s all taking place. But I’m also outraged by the press and the politicians and the political agendas that are being served by this. I say political agendas because that’s actually what is happening.
KWAME HOLMAN: By the time senators returned this afternoon to hear from more witnesses they had learned of the release of video appearing to show an American civilian being beheaded by al-Qaida linked militants reportedly in retaliation for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Chairman John Warner.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I just left the floor, as all of us did, in connection with voting. Senators on the floor in a virtual state of shock about this report about this alleged beheading because it is clear in this report that armed servicemen and women serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world are now… could well be subjected to this type of threat.
KWAME HOLMAN: Major General Ronald Burgess.
MAJ. GEN. RONALD BURGESS: There has been an increase, if you will, in some of the threat reportings. We have followed that. We’ve also been following the foreign press as we followed that. And this incident this last weekend that you’re reading about which occurred on Saturday is one that we are taking a look at to see if we can make a direct correlation to but at this time have not been able to.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon’s panel of army generals told the committee a more detailed report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison should be completed within 30 days.