GWEN IFILL: Today's report on the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal found that poor training, ineffectual leadership and ignored warning signs all contributed to the now well-documented abuse that occurred there. But who in the end was responsible?
With me to tackle that and other questions are two members of the commission behind today's report: Its chairman, James Schlesinger, who served as defense secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford, and Tillie Fowler, a former Republican congresswoman from Florida. Today you described, Mr. Schlesinger, the abuse, the chaos that was Abu Ghraib. You talked... you described it as kind of an animal house environment.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Just the night shift.
GWEN IFILL: Just the night shift at Abu Ghraib. Based on your investigation, what do you think created this?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: The night shift was off on its own. It was an abhorrent and horrifying crowd. One has got to understand that all of the pictures that have appeared in the press have nothing to do with interrogation.
That was just the night shift having fun and games, or as one of the participants said, "We were only having a little fun." That was totally separate from policy. There is no policy that endorses or encourages this kind of behavior.
GWEN IFILL: But your goal in this report was to find out what was the environment that allowed that to happen?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: And what did you just conclude?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: The environment that allowed that to happen reflected very poor leadership at Abu Ghraib and at the brigade level.
And inattention or not-sufficient attention at the CJTF, the combined joint taskforce level, and given the discovery of the discrepancies between what we needed at Abu Ghraib in terms of resources and particularly military police, there was a failure further up the chain of command to provide the necessary level of resources. That, however, is quite different from the abuses.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Fowler, when we talk about further up the chain of command, how far are we talking about?
FORMER REP. TILLIE FOWLER: Well, in our report we have a section of command responsibility. We're looking at the military chain of command because these were the people in operational control there. And we were very disappointed to see that... and we call into question the activities of generals as well as colonels -- they were fighting a war, but they also had these attention operations that came under their command, and that they did not supervise them properly. They didn't have them supervised properly, manned properly. They didn't get the proper resources for them and they really just weren't paying close attention to what was going on there.
And so we do -- we questioned Gen. Sanchez, because he had the ultimate responsibility over these. We questioned Gen. Karpinski, Col. Papas, Gen. Fayette. We document in our report some of the questions about their ineffective really leadership and their failures of leadership and their failures of supervision and discipline.
GWEN IFILL: And you had two interviews with Secretary Rumsfeld, but you don't conclude that it goes that far?
FORMER REP. TILLIE FOWLER: No, there is a great difference between policy in the Pentagon and operational control in the field. And we do have a section in our report on the policies that were promulgated by the Pentagon and how some of those ended up inadvertently migrating to Iraq when they were not supposed to. They were set very clearly for Guantanamo. The secretary set out a very clear policy in April of '03 that was to only apply to Guantanamo but people migrated and with them went some policies.
But this was not the cause of what happened in Abu Ghraib. What happened in Abu Ghraib, as the secretary said, that was an anomaly. No matter what policies have been in place or procedures, no matter how clear they had been, that would probably have happened anyway unless you had better leadership because you had a handful of people who were sadistic people, who had no morals, who were there to entertain themselves and then to, you know, do this with prisoners.
They were not there to interrogate prisoners. The prisoners there that they were performing these actions with were not of any interrogation value at all. But you had leadership who should have known what was going on. These occurred over a three-month period.
And if someone in leadership had known what was happening, the general in charge of the prison, the colonel in charge of the military intelligence brigade, and they are responsible for knowing what their troops are doing. Then this could have been stopped at an earlier point.
GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about Gen. Ricardo Sanchez you alluded to a moment ago. You both have -- you write that he should have taken more forceful action in November when he fully comprehended the depth of the leadership problems at Abu Ghraib. How could he have done that?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: The hint there is he could have replaced the commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade rather than admonishing her, which he did.
GWEN IFILL: Janice Karpinski?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Gen. Karpinski. He felt at the time that the leadership was inadequate; he urged her to perform more effectively, but given the fact that this was a combat zone, probably more forceful action would have been appropriate.
GWEN IFILL: Was there an overall view that there should be a tougher effort made to break these prisoners, to get to toughen the interrogation against them after Major Gen. Jeffrey Miller came to visit from Guantanamo and advised them on the tactics that had been used on al-Qaida prisoners there and Taliban prisoners there?
And now a new memo has surfaced which I believe the wording was that military intelligence officers said the gloves are coming off, gentlemen, regarding these detainees. We want these individuals broken. Was that an atmosphere that was created that brought this about, as well?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think that there was a contributing element after the spike in U.S. casualties attained in the summer of 2003. We wanted better intelligence, but the pressures there should have been resisted at the local level. There is no doubt that they wanted better intelligence. But there is no need for abuses. Those are not accepted and certainly the sadistic behavior on the night shift had nothing to do with interrogation.
One must recognize that those people that you see portrayed in the pictures, none of them were intelligence targets, and none of them were appropriate targets for interrogation.
GWEN IFILL: But once an atmosphere has been created which allows for tougher behavior toward these prisoners, didn't that allow people further down the food chain...
JAMES SCHLESINGER: There was sufficient confusion that contributed to the overall pattern of abuse, and what happened on the night shift was extracurricular. I don't think you can blame it on anything else.
GWEN IFILL: There also was... there were questions raised, Ms. Fowler, in your report, about lack of training, lack of resources. Can you elaborate on that?
FORMER REP. TILLIE FOWLER: Well, the 800th Military Police Brigade was supposed to have had a training exercise before they shipped out. That was canceled. Then due to what was happening in the war in Iraq, some went earlier, some went later. They didn't go as a unit. They went at different times. They didn't have some of the equipment they were supposed to have -- didn't come with them.
So it was a combination of errors that occurred as this military police brigade went over. They thought they were going over to conduct attention exercises in a benign environment, primarily, you know, with different people. They ended up having in the prison there -- Abu Ghraib started out as a prison designated by Amb. Bremer to hold prisoners, criminals - not prisoners of war but criminals, thieves, et cetera.
Then the military decided that it would also hold prisoners of war. So there was this unique combination of prisoners in that prison and poorly trained, poorly resourced military police to handle it. There was roughly one military policemen to every seventy-five or eighty prisoners, whereas in Guantanamo it's one to one.
At one point in time Abu Ghraib had 8,000 prisoners in it, so it was definitely understaffed, undermanned, under resourced. And we question in there why some of the people in command, as this became obvious, and it became worse, did not go and ask for more resources. There were other places they could have gone, either pulling out other assets within the country or pulling people from out of the United States over why the command there not seek further resources to help bolster that military police brigade.
GWEN IFILL: How widespread was this abuse? I know that your charge was Abu Ghraib...
JAMES SCHLESINGER: No, no. We had the whole front and Abu Ghraib was indeed unique in special aspects, particularly the night shift that we have discussed. But abuse was much wider than that. There are 300 cases of abuse in Afghanistan, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: So why are we focusing on Abu Ghraib, because of their pictures?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: That has certainly gotten a lot of attention, but in addition, most of the abuse did take place at Abu Ghraib. And a lot of the abuse elsewhere took place at the point of capture; at the point of capture, the passions are running high. There is not justification but a better understanding of abuse at the point of capture than back in detention.
GWEN IFILL: Another interesting observation you made in your final report today was that in failing to plan for the outcome of a war that they didn't expect, quicker than expected victory, military victory, a rise of an insurgency, they also... when facts on the ground shifted, the facts at the prison did not shift to meet that. How did that affect what we saw?
FORMER REP. TILLIE FOWLER: Well, again, as I pointed out earlier, as they saw this continuing rise in the prison population as the insurgency grew and more and more people were arrested and brought in, then the commanders there should have taken action to bring in more resources and they did not.
Gen. Karpinski did personally communicate a request, but nothing we can find was done in writing. Nothing went up the chain really to...
JAMES SCHLESINGER: It was the wrong chain, too.
FORMER REP. TILLIE FOWLER: It was the wrong chain. Exactly. There was a confused chain of command there..
GWEN IFILL: What do you mean by "the wrong chain"?
FORMER REP. TILLIE FOWLER: Well, she reported to a ... I mean, you have got all these acronyms, and that group had been sent back to Fort MacPherson, Georgia. Meanwhile, you had that combined joint taskforce run by Gen. Sanchez there. So one had operational control; one had tactical control. It was very confusing who was in control really and who to go to for what. Now they're combined.
Major General Miller is there in charge of all of this. It's not... you go somewhere else. He has got 1,900 I think now military police running this as opposed to what they had before. Again, even though there was this war going on, this insurgency that was growing, the people who were in charge of the detention facilities needed to have done a better job of getting better resource for those facilities.
GWEN IFILL: Go ahead.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: There is one thing that should be added. The problems of interrogators and particularly of interpreters -- Rumsfeld kept saying, I don't want to be the world's jailers. Get them out of here. Nonetheless, there were too few interrogators to take care of the detainees to interrogate them, aside from the ones, the criminals who were abused on the night shift.
But there were even fewer qualified interpreters. So few as there were, the interrogators did not have enough interpreters to move people out. The goal here is to question them. If they have no problems, get them out of the system.
GWEN IFILL: Were you satisfied at all in your investigation about whatever became of the reports that were done by the International Committee for the Red Cross?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: We feel that the ICRC report of November should have caused alarm bells to go off. It did not.
GWEN IFILL: Why do you think that was?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: The command that received it said that they regarded it as incredible.
GWEN IFILL: They just didn't believe it, in other words?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: They just brushed it off. And it should have caused alarm bells. One of our recommendations is that the ICRC reports should bring an immediate response and information going to the top.
Now, I should say about the ICRC that it is essentially an auditing function for detainees, but the ICRC tends to regard itself as the supreme court of humanitarian law, and seeks to impose upon the United States rules and customs that the United States has specifically rejected. And in that regard, we need to have a further conversation with the ICRC. But their reports about the treatment of detainees should have been attended to much more effectively and much more promptly.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Fowler, let me ask you finally about whether there is any chilling effect that arises out of these disclosures. We now know and have seen through these photographs what happened at Abu Ghraib.
We know through your report kind of the confused lack of line of command and responsibility which contributed to that. How do we know that that doesn't have a chilling effect on current ongoing terror investigations?
FORMER REP. TILLIE FOWLER: Well, this is one thing we had been hearing from the field, that there is a chilling effect right now, that these interrogators out there and MI personnel are really afraid. Are they going to ask questions or do something that's going to cause them trouble down the road? And we do -- interrogations serve a very valid purpose. We need the information. As you've seen from the 9/11 report, so much of the information they have in their report came from interrogations of prisoners, whether in Guantanamo, Afghanistan or Iraq.
We need good interrogations to occur. The thing is we need clear rules, which right now I think they're fairly clear but need to maybe be clarified more. But these people in the field need to know these are rules that they can operate by. And if they operate by them, then they will be protected, because we do have to get this information. But we need do it in a humane way that meets the policies of the United States.
GWEN IFILL: Tillie Fowler and James Schlesinger, thank you both very much.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Thank you.
FORMER REP. TILLIE FOWLER: Good to be with you.