A Gulf War veteran and Army reservist, Karpinski served as Brigadier General in charge of the 800th Military Police Brigade in Iraq, where she supervised detention operations at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. She was in command of Abu Ghraib when the abuses began there. As a result of the Army's investigation into the prison abuse scandal, Karpinski was given a letter of reprimand, relieved of her command, and demoted to colonel. To date, she is the most senior officer to be punished in the scandal. In this interview, Karpinski recounts how as the insurgency in Iraq escalated, the military was pressured to produce actionable intelligence. She describes a visit from a team from Guantanamo, headed by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, and says Gen. Miller told her, "We're going to change the nature of interrogation out of Abu Ghraib." Karpinski suggests that the individuals court-martialed in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse did not come up with the tactics seen in the notorious photographs on their own. "I know, with no doubt, that these soldiers didn't wake up that morning and say: 'Hey, let's go screw with some prisoners tonight,'" she tells FRONTLINE. "… Lynndie England surely did not show up in Iraq with a dog collar and a dog leash." This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on Aug. 5, 2005.
In your book you describe that drive from Kuwait into Iraq, that first time you went in. Give me your sense of what it was like to drive up that road.
Well, it doesn't make any difference what anybody expects. I've traveled in the Middle East before. I've been in Kuwait, and I've been in other parts of the Middle East. But, it was completely different than what I expected.
As soon as we crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq, there was a prevalence of fear. There was dust and heat. I mean, you can't see it, but I could feel it from everybody we passed, from everybody we stopped and spoke to from the units, there was this fear. It was almost like a lingering feeling that this was not over yet. They weren't convinced that the fight had really moved into or up to closer to Baghdad or in other parts of Iraq. And I didn't get the impression from soldiers that they felt completely safe.
Along the road there were broken down-vehicles, there were abandoned vehicles, there were burned out vehicles. And there were berms along certain parts of the main supply routes, MSRs, as they were called. And not the whole way, but there was berming where some of the engineer equipment, or troops that were moving through had bermed up some of the sand. And on the other side of those berms, there were very often people that were shooting RPGs or a variety of weapons.
Iraqis, or the remaining opposition. Everybody called them Iraqis, but nobody really knew if they were border crossers, or if they were just disgruntled people, or fearful people, or whoever they were, but they were not of the coalition. This was the opposition.
So in spite of the fact that the war was allegedly over, there was not a feeling of peaceful operations taking hold. It was the leftover, the carcasses of the vehicles and the houses that had been hit initially in that first push through from Kuwait through Iraq. But, it was not anything like what I saw in Baghdad. As we got closer, as we approached the city probably from well, 45 to 50 kilometers outside of Baghdad, the destruction was everywhere. And if you passed a gas station that was actually operational, a fuel station, the lines were miles long waiting for people to get gas. …
Take me to that first meeting with Gen. [Ricardo] Sanchez [shortly after you arrived in Iraq].
… My predecessor brought me in to meet Gen. Sanchez, and he was a rather unpleasant person. And maybe up until that point Gen. Sanchez did not even realize that the new military police brigade commander was a female, because from the jump it was an insult to him that he had to rely very heavily on a general officer, commander of a Reserve unit to do this critical mission, and then you layer on top of that this insult to a warrior's instinct that it's a female. So he was not a very pleasant personality. Whether that had anything to do with me or not he'll never say, but that was my first impression.
He was not full of information. He was very sketchy. He said that he needed us there several days before, [and] when we were going to get up there, we were going to be working with the people down at the Coalition Provisional Authority to restore the jails and the prisons and get these criminals off the streets.
... There was no discussion about whether we were equipped or whether we had the right number of people or anything else. It didn't seem to be a concern to him, or a consideration. ...
Tell me a little bit about the preparedness of the unit.
Before I was selected for a promotion to brigadier general, and before I was selected to command the 800th Military Police Brigade, I was already serving full time as the chief of staff for the 81st Regional Support Command, which was the Army Reserve's largest support command. … So I know what the standard was for our units.
We wouldn't let units leave if they were ill equipped or ill prepared or inappropriate for the position that they were filling. And then three months into it, about March timeframe, they came up with this what I've come to call a harebrained scheme about cross-leveling people to fill vacancies. So if you have a unit that's authorized [for] 150 soldiers, and 50 of those soldiers now ... are not qualified -- maybe they're not trained; maybe they have a medical limitation; maybe they have a personal problem, situation, whatever…
Well, in the interest of getting these units pushed out the door, the chief of the Army Reserve and the chief of the National Guard Bureau decided that this cross-leveling scheme would work, and they would bring in soldiers with those qualifications to fill vacancies in these units. Well, right from the jump, that goes contrary to what the Army has always been about, and that's working together as a unit, as a team, in cohesion.
Units were being pushed out of the mobilization stations for deployments, and there was a minimum requirement. The unit was obviously not going to be at 100 percent, but they could not deploy if they were [at] less than 92 percent strength, qualification, appropriate fields, those kind of things. And equipment was not a consideration for some of these locations. Like I said, I know what our standard was in our units, but I saw once I got into the theater that the standard was clearly lacking in some of the other locations. …
The 800th MP Brigade eventually had the same size area of responsibility as Gen. Sanchez. But he had a component of toys. He had a full aviation brigade; he had all of the up-armored equipment he needed; he had all of the combat firepower he needed; he had divisions all over the place. We didn't have any of those things.
You have to plug into a mother ship, for lack of a better expression, the mother ship being CJTF-7 [Combined Joint Task Force Seven]. Well, when we got to Baghdad, the door was closed, and they never opened it. They never embraced us or welcomed us or anything; never made us feel like we were an important component of the team.
You were like the poor stepchild.
We were. And their justification for that was all of the obvious and probably many things that I'm not and hope never to be aware of. But we were a Reserve brigade. We had Reserve and National Guard units. We had military policy personnel assigned. We had the security and detention operation as a mission. We could have become a drain on their resources. So what did they do? They just denied us any access to the resources. ...
Although every single day I was requesting from the CJTF-7 funding, support, forced protection most importantly, it fell on deaf ears. And the deputy commander, Gen. Sanchez's deputy, said to me many times: "You're just not a priority, Janis. Your units are securing Iraqis, bad guys. Some of them were shooting at us a couple of months ago. You're not a priority. My priority is taking care of my units first." I said: "I'm one of those units, too, sir. My soldiers deserve the same attention that the other soldiers are getting."
At one point he tried to reason with me: "You see, you're a Reserve brigade. We have limitations on what we can give to you, but we're trying. We're trying to support you." Well, meanwhile down in Kuwait, the headquarters down there wasn't interested in supporting us at all. "You belong to the CJTF-7 now." So we were the brigade that was not only the stepchild, but we were caught in the middle between people at the senior level who didn't like each other. And they didn't care what our eventual outcome was, of success or failure.
Do you have any special training in prison warden work?
No. My battalion was prisoner-of-war operation. We were very successful. They had a long history of success. They were deployed during the first Gulf War. I was not the battalion commander at the time, but the soldiers were well trained. I had been out on these training exercises many times during the course of five years to see units in the field, to watch what they were doing, to know what they were capable of doing and to deploy with my own units, to practice the mission. ...
… We drove out there -- and again, you, it was even more extraordinary driving on this main supply route from the Coalition Provisional Headquarters, out to the Green Zone, out to Abu Ghraib over miles of the most dangerous MSR [main supply route] in the theater. We did occasionally see Bradleys or heavy combat firepower, but at that time there was no developing IED or roadside bomb problem to worry about. Our main concern was people that might be popping up over the berm and firing an RPG or a hand grenade at some of the vehicles.
You're already on edge; your stress level is up considerably; the awareness is unbelievable, how fine-tuned and extreme it becomes. And we got to Abu Ghraib, and I can see, [driving] down the MSR, I can see this huge wall that seems like it goes on for acres. And in fact, it did. And that was the key point of using Abu Ghraib at all. There was this 20-foot-high wall; for the [most] part, at least where we could see from that side, approaching Abu Ghraib, it was not breached. In other facilities, the locals, when they were looting the facilities, they actually removed sections of the walls before they started looting the interiors of these different jails and prisons. But Abu Ghraib, this 20-foot wall was intact. And it was huge. …
You could see three towers. And I said, "Oh, well, they've got good visual." And they said, "Nobody's in the towers because people are shooting at them from the outside." And I said, you know, "It's not a secure area?" "Well, not yet."
So I get to the facility. We go inside, and other than this 20-foot wall, I can tell you that there was nothing at Abu Ghraib that was intact. From the minute we went into the entry control point, with a couple of MPs [military police] standing there controlling access to the extent that they could, everything was rubble. There was huge chunks of concrete; there was rebar; there was metal; there were pieces of metal sheeting and roofs and glass everywhere. It was almost like a disguise from this outside wall that what you were going to see inside was something that resembled a prison.
Some structures were still standing. but everything had been looted or blown to bits or carted off. The doors of all the cells had been removed. The most difficult problem was that the infrastructure [was] out at Abu Ghraib: Water was looted or destroyed; the electrical pipes had been pulled down, and they looted the cooper wire out of the infrastructure. There was no light; there was no running water. There was nothing out there that was working at all. This company, the only the communication they had was their radio systems in their military vehicles.
They were holding a couple of hundred prisoners that were largely, probably 99 percent, Iraqi criminals -- nonviolent crimes, but they had been policed up by the divisions and then turned over to Abu Ghraib, waiting for transfer to other facilities in Baghdad as they became available. ...
We did get them some financing from the Coalition Provisional Authority to begin some of this cleanup work and everything. Two weeks later -- I'd been back several times -- but two weeks later was the first time that I said, "You know, this is really unbelievable." It was like they were using snow shovels to remove the rubble to certain locations.
Tell me about the buildup from a couple of hundred prisoners that day, up until it gets to whatever it gets to -- 8,000? How fast was the ramp-up in terms of population?
July, August, we had incoming prisoners. By and large, the vast majority of them were nonviolent Iraqi criminals caught moving, stealing gas, stealing a car, missing curfew, whatever it might be. And there [was] occasionally a violent prisoner that was arrested and had probably been released when Saddam opened all the jails up and released everybody in October, November of 2002. But by and large they were nonviolent, just disrupting combat operations, so turned over.
July and August, our prisoner population was probably total, in all of our 17 facilities, including the 300 remaining prisoners of war, was less than 2,000, with average intake of about 150 a week, 400 or 500 during the course of the month, and largely because, when the divisions policed these guys up in the course of their operations, they could make a decision that this was a bad guy or this was somebody that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At the end of August -- again, without coordinating with anybody in the 800th MP Brigade, let alone the brigade commander-- the CJTF-7 made assignments to the divisions to undertake these raids to target specific individuals that were either terrorists, associates of terrorists or who had information about terrorists. And the reason for that was because, largely, they had that operation where the 101st got Uday and Qusay [Hussein, Saddam's sons] and the henchmen, and they exploited a lot of the information that they were able to obtain from that site. And so they turned over lists of people, divided it by the division sectors, and the divisions undertook these operations.
So on the 26th or whatever it was of August of 2003, in the dead of the night, these helicopters arrive and turn over 35 "security detainees" to Abu Ghraib. They were able to take them in because they had outside camps set up, and they needed to be isolated from the Iraqi prisoners. And my battalion commander is calling me frantically, saying: "Did you know anything about this? Why are we getting these people?" "No, didn't know anything about it. Let me see what I can find out." And this was going to continue, according to the deputy commander at CJTF-7. These were raids, and by the time that all of the raids were completed, it might be 1,500 or 2,000. …
This relatively new tag on these inbound detainees was "security detainee," which meant they would always remain under the control of the Coalition forces. They could not be housed near or with the criminal element that we were housing, principally, out at Abu Ghraib. And some of them were terrorists, and they were bad, bad people.
The exclusive military interrogation teams that we had out at Abu Ghraib at the time -- there was three or four of them. Each one was three individuals, and they did what they call an immediate interview. So with each one of these 35 security detainees that was coming into Abu Ghraib, they interviewed them, and in the course of just over 24 hours, they said all but two could be released. These two, for some reason in the interview there was information that developed that yes, they might in fact be really terrorists or have more information about where Saddam was, or whatever.
So every night I had a briefing over at the headquarters, and I briefed that we were going to release 33 of these people. And the deputy turned on me, and he said: "You are not to release anyone. Who told you to release anybody?" And I said: "I got that from the interrogators. They said they have no further intel value." And he shouted to get somebody from the intel section, and this captain comes running over there, and he launches into this, almost a tirade, against this captain, that he is not to release to anybody; he does not have the authority. If one person is released in error or if he finds out about it, he's going to come after him and take his head off. "Do you understand me, Captain?" And of course the captain is nodding yes, that he understands completely.
And then when he was dismissed, the deputy turns around and explains to me in a very calm demeanor that we can't release any of them because they might go back and tell their friends, and that could compromise the whole operation. And I said, "Thirty-five is one thing, sir, but if we're going to be required to hold several thousand --" It didn't make any difference. By the end of September, our prisoner population at Abu Ghraib alone had increased by 3,500.
So we charted July and August, and we were briefing every week [about] the increasing prisoner population and the ongoing efforts of restoring other jails that we could transfer prisoners, these Iraqi criminals, to. Abu Ghraib was not in a location for a prison operation. There are hostile communities on three sides of Abu Ghraib. The other side was farmland. And they were beginning to shoot mortars into Abu Ghraib. It's in the middle of the Sunni Triangle, and you don't run detention operations in the middle of a combat zone. You just don't do it. ...
Now, when we get these security detainees in, and family members know that "My brother Abdullah is not a terrorist. And they policed him up. All he was doing was returning a car or visiting his friend," or whatever the circumstances were, they're going to find out. And they knew that these prisoners were being held at Abu Ghraib, so they're launching attacks. They know that the person or the people who are being held are being held unfairly, and nobody seemed to care.
There were limitations put on the information about security detainees. They were not entitled to any visitations. Their names did not have to be entered on the database. That information did not have to be released to family members. It was a long list of everything that was contrary to what military police and soldiers are trained about. And it was a departure from all of the procedures we had been following all along. And by the end of October, the prisoner population of security detainees out at Abu Ghraib far outnumbered the Iraqi criminal element out there. And it was 5,000 or 6,000. ... We had about 360 military police personnel. ...
Where was the authority coming from? Who seemed to be in charge of these "special" detainees?
It was all coming from this ill-conceived plan by the CJTF-7 to find Saddam, to get more actionable intelligence, to do whatever it took through interrogations, to get the information that they wanted. I don't know if anybody believed, if Gen. Sanchez or Ambassador [Paul] Bremer believed, that if they found Saddam they would find Osama bin Laden. I don't know, because nobody ever included me in a meeting. Nobody ever said: "Does this make sense? Is this practical?"
In fact, despite our attempts to make things more manageable in all of these facilities, Gen. Sanchez kept assigning us more missions, requiring further spreading-thin of resources. ...
… How much do you know about what the interrogators are getting, are trying to get, are aiming for in this process of grabbing these detainees?
Well, I will tell you from my experience there, we had one or two military interrogation teams at several of our locations. ...We had the fewest number out at Abu Ghraib because [initially] we weren't holding any security detainees. They were [there] in case there was somebody that came in that maybe had a tattoo or some kind of a mark or was a known associate. Then the interrogation teams would kick right in and do their interview.
But they were, as I said, exclusively military members, and they were doing their job. They were doing it very well. They all belong to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. That was commanded by Col. Thomas Pappas. And they were spread all across Iraq in different facilities to do their thing.
I saw very little of what they actually did in terms of an interview or an interrogation. And the only reason I know that they were getting any kind of results was because they made a recommendation. They passed it to one of my battalion commanders that these prisoners could be released or they could be held in the general prisoner population as opposed to being held exclusively with the security detainees.
Now, they were of the like mind with the military police, because if you bring in prisoners, no matter who they are, detainees or Iraqi prisoners, and you hold them together for any longer than a couple of hours, they're all going to be saying the same story when you interview them, because they've had a chance to protect each other and build the story as they want to tell it.
So it was very important that these interrogation teams would do these interviews, these hasty interviews right away, and make an immediate determination. And they were very efficient. I would say that without hesitation. ...
But after these raids started to take effect, the military intelligence brigade commander was ordered by Gen. Sanchez to bring more interrogation teams to Abu Ghraib. So he removed them from different missions, wherever they were, and brought them to Abu Ghraib.
And then Gen. [Geoffrey D.] Miller's team visited. And in the course of his visit and subsequent to his visit, there were more interrogation teams showing up. But they, by and large, were not military members. They were contract interrogators. And repeatedly, from the military interrogators, from Col. Pappas, from his staff officers, repeatedly I heard that they were not getting any really viable information from any of them. The vast majority of them -- some estimates started at 75 percent; my estimate would be much higher, about 90 percent of them -- were innocent of any terrorism or related activity.
Did you feel the imperative to get information about the insurgency? Was it coming to Sanchez from Washington? Did it come to you? Did you pass it on?
From the security detention side of the hustle, I had concerns because the military intelligence brigade commander and a few of his senior staff officers would tell me, would share with me, that there was so much pressure being put on Col. Pappas to get more actionable intelligence. And it wasn't just pressure from Gen. Sanchez, who, on several occasions, put his finger in Col. Pappas' chest and told him, in no uncertain terms, he wanted the information, and he was holding Pappas responsible for getting it. ... He was under tremendous pressure to make these interrogations work. …
Col. Pappas, who never did an interrogation himself and never worked in interrogations before, was being held responsible for finding [Saddam]. ...
[Was military intelligence a kind of] different animal?
Military intelligence has a different objective. Their objective, their goal is to get information to the commander on the battlefield. And in this case, it was to get information to the commander of the CJTF-7 in an effort to get this situation in Iraq under control -- this growing insurgency, Saddam still on the loose, widely suspected that he was orchestrating all of this insurgent activity.
The military police, on the other hand, are trained, and were trying to take care of prisoners, get them medical attention if necessary, treat them fairly and humanely, in compliance with Geneva Conventions. And so the way that it's supposed to work, by doctrine, is that interrogators will come and request a particular prisoner, and then take them out to a separate interrogation facility to do their thing, and never the two shall mix.
The military police know that when they sign that individual out, he's in good health. He has no signs of bruising or anything else, and has not eaten for 24 hours or has eaten too much in 24 hours -- whatever the circumstances might be, and they put that in a log. [They then] turn the prisoner over to an interrogation team, who then remove them to an interrogation facility. And whatever goes on in an interrogation facility goes on in an interrogation facility. They come back, and they turn the same prisoner over to the military police personnel, who make any notes if there's any signs of bruising or beatings or anything. But they do a complete shakedown and make sure that the person hasn't picked up a weapon or an implement en route, and they put him back in the cell.
[Before Gen. Miller's visit] did that line get blurred? Was there pressure from Pappas, [Gen. Barbara] Fast and others to have the MPs do things, soften people up, segregate them, deal with them in a separate way?
There was no pressure. There was no blurring of the lines. I looked at the logbooks when I went out to these different facilities. And remember that most of our prisoners at Abu Ghraib were being held in these outside compounds. So one prisoner would not be taken out, beaten up and returned that way, and the whole compound not get excited about it.
These events and the photographs occurred exclusively in Cellblock 1A, and some in 1B. But the majority of it took place in Cellblock 1A. And that was under the control of Col. Pappas and the military intelligence interrogators from the beginning of September, in the course of Miller's visit. …
Oh, absolutely they were. Because they were having these video teleconferences from the Pentagon with General Sanchez.
Tell me about this.
And I never sat in on one of them. But afterwards, he would be particularly ornery. And, you know, people that did sit in on the conferences said that Gen. Sanchez was getting beat up by Rumsfeld, or he didn't have correct answers. They were becoming very impatient. And he was using Col. Pappas' name a lot in those video teleconferences, so.
He being Sanchez. … They'd have these video teleconferences where they would call and ask, you know, "What are the interrogations producing?" Because the mindset apparently at that time -- and it was prevalent down at Coalition Provisional Authority and over at the headquarters -- the mindset was that these insurgents were increasing. The insurgency was increasing in activity because Saddam was still influencing them. And even they expected with the demise of Uday and Qusay and the henchmen, that it would start to unfold, that, you know, it would start to collapse.
That didn't happen. In fact, it got worse. So there must have been legitimacy to this prevailing attitude that you get Saddam, and this war is now going to start to turn in our favor. It was ridiculous because clearly some of the people that were learning how to shoot an RPG effectively didn't have anything to do with the Fedayeen.
And unfortunately, some of those people would be arrested and brought in. But in the initial interview, they were determined to be just simple Iraqi criminals. So they would be turned over to the Iraqi criminal element compound. It appeared that the military interrogation teams, as good as they are, as good as they were, they were not prepared or trained to determine who was an insurgent or who was a guerrilla, or who was a foreign fighter. They could not distinguish the small differences between a Syrian or a Yemeni or a Saudi and an Iraqi. No fault of their own -- people that are there now still can't do that. And of course the insurgency has become more effective than ever. …
What did Sanchez say he was [bringing in Gen. Miller] for?
He never told me. But his operations officer told me that this team was coming to assist with the interrogation operations. And I said, "Hey, if it means that they're going to be able to release more of these security detainees, fine with me." But he said, "Well, apparently, they're very successful down at Guantanamo Bay." And I said, "Yes sir. He has over 800 MPs to guard 600 prisoners down there, so our numbers are a little bit different. We have 8,000 prisoners, and we have 380 MPs to guard them." So he goes: "Well, you make a good point. Make sure you tell him that." ...
[What happened at your first meeting with him?]
… It was during that meeting that he used the expression that he was going to "Gitmoize" the operation. And military intelligence, they were all listening and pay attention and taking notes. And occasionally, I'd look across the room, and I'd see somebody roll their eyes or, you know, look down at their notepad.
Because I was thinking, he's going to learn in the next couple of hours that Iraq is not like Guantanamo Bay. We have people shooting at us here. We are not in full control of Abu Ghraib or anywhere else in this country yet. He's going to learn that very quickly. But this is not the kind of person that you can tell that to. He's sure of everything, and he clearly has all the answers.
One of the military interrogators said: "If we could do something quickly -- because we think we're doing what we know how to do -- our belief is that some of the people don't have any information, so putting them back in the box to get more information is fruitless. What would you recommend that we do to enhance our efforts immediately? Is there anything you could recommend -- you know … a fix, quick fix?"
And he said: "Well, there are no quick fixes, but I can tell you this. Just in talking to Gen. Fast, your boss, you're too nice to the prisoners. They don't know that you're in charge. And you have to be tough with them. Down at Guantanamo Bay, we are in charge from the minute the prisoner is captured and turned over to us, and they know that we're in charge. They never move anywhere without belly chains and leg irons and hand irons. They are given an orange jumpsuit. The rules that they follow are black and white, and they are escorted everywhere they go by two military police soldiers."
My hand refused to stay down, and I said: "Sir, our circumstances here in Iraq are different. You have 800 military police personnel to guard 650 prisoners [at Guantanamo], and we have 380 military police personnel to guard more than 4,000."
And he said: "You can take control in an easy way, and this is the way you do it, that they know that you're in charge. Everything that they earn" -- and he used that expression at that time. "You have to treat the prisoners like dogs. If you treat them, or if they believe that they're any different than dogs, you have effectively lost control of your interrogation from the very start. So they have to earn everything they get. And it works.
"This is what we do down at Guantanamo Bay. They come in; they're escorted everywhere; they're treated very aggressively. They have an orange jumpsuit. And they don't like those orange jumpsuits, because they see people in white jumpsuits and different-colored jumpsuits, and they want to be in that category. But they have to earn it. And if they're cooperative, and if they follow the rules, the first thing that they can earn is a white jumpsuit or a two-piece garment. ... It's actually a class structure." ...
I said: "Sir, we don't have enough money and enough funding for one jumpsuit alone, let alone exchanging colors of jumpsuits. We don't have hand irons and leg irons and belly chains. They're not moved that way. We don't have the ability to do those things you're doing down in Guantanamo Bay."
And he completely waved me off. He said, "It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter." He said, "My budget is $125 million a year at Guantanamo Bay, and I'm going to give Pappas all the financial resources he needs to make this happen."
I'm thinking, this is one Army, right? We can't [find] $25 to buy soap for prisoners in a prison in Baghdad, and he's going to give them $125 million to buy leg irons and hand irons and different-colored jumpsuits? Have at it, you know?
So I was pretty much turning him off to this idea. I believed, very naively, that he was going to discover in the course of his assistance visit that life was different in Iraq. And you could not turn a switch and get supplies and everything else delivered. But you want to do this? You want to Gitmoize the operation? Go forth and do great things. ...
But only one time during the course of the 10-day visit did I see Gen. Miller. He had visited a couple of our facilities. He went over to where the deck of cards were being held. I learned from Gen. Miller afterwards, when he was getting ready to go down and brief Gen. Sanchez, that he'd visited those facilities to determine which one would be the best location to centralize interrogation operations. So he made the determination that he wanted Abu Ghraib.
How does he tell you that?
... The day that he was getting ready to go down to brief Gen. Sanchez, he summoned me and told my operations officer that I couldn't bring a whole crew. I could bring my command sergeant major to talk about troop issues, and I could bring the operations officer. But he wanted to brief me from the visit, and he was going down to talk to Gen. Sanchez about his decisions.
So we go over to the briefing, and he's got his whole team assembled on one side of the conference table, about 20 of them. He's in the middle, and directly opposite from him, there were three places there for me, my operations officer and my command sergeant major. So we sit down, and I remember saying to my major, "We're kind of outnumbered here."
So he says: "OK, we've been here for 10 days, and we've seen a lot, a lot. And I want you to give me Abu Ghraib."
Just like that?
Just like that. I said to him: "Sir, Abu Ghraib is not mine to give you. It doesn't belong to me." So he says, "OK, everybody out, out." And simultaneously, his whole team stood up on that side of the table and left, as if it was planned. My guys, on the other hand, are sitting there looking at me. And I said, "Go on." And the command sergeant major says, "Ma'am?" And I said, "Just wait outside the door." …
I spoke up first. I said: "Look, sir, I don't know who told you I was going to be difficult. I'm not being difficult. Abu Ghraib is not mine to give you. It belongs to Ambassador Bremer. It belongs to the Coalition Provisional Authority. We're just doing detention operations out there." I started to [tell him] about the interim facility, and he said, "I don't care." He said, "Rick Sanchez. Rick Sanchez said I could have any facility I wanted, and I want Abu Ghraib." He said to me, "We can do this my way, or we can do this the hard way."
I wanted to say to him: "You know, we're on the same team here. What do you mean, the hard way?" I said: "Sir, if Ambassador Bremer says to turn Abu Ghraib over to you for interrogation operations, I'm not going to stand in the way. But it is not my facility. I don't have the authority to give it to you." And he didn't care. He clearly had the authority to take and use whatever facility he so chose to centralize interrogation operations.
He said he was going to use the MPs out there. They were going to know how to assist the interrogators. I said: "Sir, they're not trained to do interrogations. As I told you in your in brief, they don't move prisoners with leg irons." He said, "It's going to change." He said, "I'm leaving training materials with the commander, and we're going to change the nature of interrogation out at Abu Ghraib." … They wanted to blur the lines and then make them disappear altogether. …
He said that he had already started on this plan to bring these MILVANs [military-owned containers for transporting cargo] in to make individual cells out at Abu Ghraib. Now I'm thinking, we've got several thousand prisoners out there. How are you going to bring in all of these MILVANs, and where are they coming from? We couldn't even get building materials safely up from the port at Um Qasr, and he's going to bring in thousands of these MILVANs to build prison cells? …
I thought, they're going to somehow turn this around to us and say: "Well, it's your responsibility. They're prison cells, so find a way to make this work." Well, now all of a sudden, we're what, supposed to be a transportation brigade? So all of those fears were being processed through my mind. But it was this complete unawareness of what the obstacles were in Iraq, throughout Iraq -- not of my making, not of my doing, and I certainly knew that I didn't have the resources to fix it either. ...
After Miller has left, is Sanchez going easier on Pappas?
No, he is not. And in fact, Gen. Fast is now a far more frequent visitor out to Abu Ghraib and spending a lot of time with Col. Pappas and the interrogation teams. And there's more people arriving. Every day, there's more people arriving out at Abu Ghraib to be interrogators, and they either had experience in Afghanistan or down at Guantanamo Bay. Many of them were personally selected by Gen. Miller and sent to Iraq. ... Many of them were contractors.
I have to tell you that, at the time, number one, that wasn't my lane, so I wasn't paying attention. But I saw a lot more civilians. I thought they were all translators arriving out at Abu Ghraib, because my experience with the contractors up until that point was that they were all translators. ...
The number of security detainees coming into Abu Ghraib was growing enormously large. We were still working on transferring our Iraqi criminals out to other facilities, and we were very successful with that. So there was more interrogation teams, more resources showing up at Abu Ghraib, and they were still not getting the results from any of the interrogations.
Largely, in these outside compounds that were built for 500 people, by October and November, some of those compounds were over 500 people. So that's the number that were being held out there. Mortar fire as becoming more accurate, coming more often.
Many of my units at that time were leaving in November and December. So I had to bring a company up from another facility. They had been working with the multinationals down near Najaf. And that particular unit was already under strength. They were down to about 70 percent personnel strength, but it was the only company we had that had any kind of longevity left in the theater. They would not be due to rotate back to the United States until March, or at the latest April of 2004. …
So they come up to replace a 160-[person] military police company. They send about 60 soldiers up to replace this company. Their briefing is, Cellblock 1A and B is largely under the control of the military intelligence, and it's people that are higher value or might have higher value in the information that they have. The outside compounds are pretty much under control, but they're overcrowded. The brigade is working on getting the release procedures stepped up. It's the best we can do.
So the experienced company that has far more personnel resources, they rotate home, and in comes the 372nd Military Police Company, at 50 percent strength at best, and not very happy because they know they're moving into a far more dangerous location as opposed to where they were.
Who's in that group?
At the time that this unit came up and got their briefing, Staff Sgt. [Ivan L. "Chip"] Frederick was in that group. [Pfc.] Lynndie England was in that group, [Spc. Megan] Ambuhl, [Sgt.] Javal Davis, all of the players photographed in those photographs that were released. ...
Sgt. [Charles] Graner was not in the original group that came up to Abu Ghraib. He in fact a week later was summoned up to Abu Ghraib away from his personnel security mission that he was doing for the multinationals, and brought up to Abu Ghraib specifically to work on the night shift in Cellblock 1A and B. …
[What happened with this company? Was it] the "midnight shift at animal house"?
Well, I think that that was the spin that was put on what happened to cause these photographs to be taken. I believe that they were instructed by some of the other people in those photographs, or by people outside of the window of the photographs. I don't know who it would have been, but there's some likely possibilities.
People that were under tremendous pressure to get more actionable intelligence, then through the chain of command might give instructions to do whatever you need to do to get that information. It's open to interpretation: What do you mean by "do whatever we need to do"?
Now, you have some contractors, some civilians who are not under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, who have been sent there specifically to do interrogation work with great liberties to get more actionable intelligence, some of them sent specifically, identified and sent specifically by Gen. Miller because of their success in other locations.
So they have inflated egos perhaps, and now they're facing the night shift of these prisoners with suspected more information than what they're sharing. And all the gloves come off. "Do whatever we need to do." So somebody, being one of these very seasoned contract interrogators, comes up with an idea that that when we bring a detainee in who's going to be subjected to interrogation, we have to spend six, eight hours working through this and trying to get to the starting point.
A photograph would be very helpful. Sit this individual down in the interrogation room. First picture that pops up on the computer, a laptop computer, or projected on a wall is this pyramid of naked prisoners. And you say: "Maybe you'll recognize somebody in here. Start talking, or tomorrow night you're on the bottom of the pile." You cut to the chase. And in interrogation, it saves valuable hours, valuable effort. And you get what you want, maybe anyway.
So, well, we need some pictures taken first. You take a personality similar to a Graner, and you say: "You know, you guys have done a great job up to this point. Sleep deprivation has worked, and they're really talking now. But we need you to do something else." And now you have photographs. Now, it takes an extraordinary mistake to put yourself in a photograph with these acts being set up or conducted.
But I can tell you that these soldiers, these MPs -- Lynndie England was not even an MP, nor was one of the other soldiers. He was a mechanic. OK, they were brought over there specifically to work with these, setting up these photographs and everything. Lynndie England might have been over there for a variety of reasons, but they were brought over there specifically that night. And I know, with no doubt, that these soldiers didn't wake up that morning and say: "Hey, let's go screw with some prisoners tonight. Let's take some pictures. Let's violate everything we know to be decent and correct and fair." Lynndie England surely did not show up in Iraq with a dog collar and a dog leash.
So those items either came from previous experience at other locations with interrogations, or other people with bizarre ideas brought those pieces of equipment independent of any instructions. But somebody who understood what humiliation is to an Arab person designed these techniques. And military police personnel do not study the Arab mind. But my guess is that interrogators should or do; at least they know more, maybe from previous experience or otherwise. But somebody instructed this group of people on the night shift to do these things, and if they made them believe that it would take them out of Abu Ghraib or out of Iraq a day, even one day sooner than what the plan was, that would be incentive enough to get them to do it. I can't tell you specifically, because even though I've been held accountable for all of those soldiers' behavior, I never had the chance to speak to any one of them from when those pictures first surfaced. ...
In November … the prison, by order, was transferred from control of the military police brigade to the military intelligence brigade.
So it was taken from you?
Yes, it was. And again, no discussion, no "Sit down; this is how it's going to change; this is why we're doing it." None whatsoever. I was not even in Baghdad when that decision was made. That decision was made by Gen. Fast. Gen. Fast went to the operations section of the headquarters. She was a staff officer. She wasn't a commander. No discussion with either Col. Pappas or myself.
And when the prison, by official order, was transferred under the control of the military intelligence brigade, ... it blurred the lines completely. You have a military intelligence commander in charge of all the operations, including detention, out at Abu Ghraib. And not only did he not have any idea about interrogations before he was placed in the middle of it, but he certainly had no idea whatsoever of detention operations or how military police personnel think. ...
The effect of this on a soldier, on an MP, any of them, is what?
… They fall back to their basic chain of command. A solider will talk to a squad leader, who will talk to a platoon sergeant, who will talk to the first sergeant, who will talk to the battalion commander, and on and on and on. Some of those people were missing. They didn't have a squad leader, or they didn't have a platoon sergeant. Or the platoon sergeant was being split into a million different places out there at Col. Pappas' instruction and being used in a variety of ways. So soldiers are trying to manage, and they're designing the rules that they're going to follow as they're following them -- whatever works. ...
We could not travel after dark, so I was not allowed to go out to Abu Ghraib or any other facility after dark. Col. Pappas was living out at Abu Ghraib at the time. He relocated out there at the instructions of Gen. Miller. So you have a colonel on site who is walking around, but likely knows anyway what's going on with interrogations. …
So maybe there was a plan to make some of the photographs, but they didn't want to get Col. Pappas involved or implicated or whatever. I don't know that from Col. Pappas, and I certainly don't know that from any of the people that were holding the cameras. But it was allegedly or apparently by design, a specific night, specific hours, when these kind of activities would be conducted, because there was no chance at all of Gen. Karpinski dropping in, because they knew that there were restrictions placed on travel after the hours of darkness. ...
When do you discover [what was really going on at Abu Ghraib]?
Sadly ... I didn't find out that anything was awry or amiss at Abu Ghraib until the 12th of January. I was at our other location, near the Iranian border, and I came back from a meeting with the leaders of that organization, and it was very close to midnight. But I made a habit out of checking my classified e-mail traffic, and I opened it up, and there was an e-mail in there from the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division [CID], and he was colonel. And the e-mail said, "Ma'am, just wanted to let you know I'm going in to brief the CG [Commanding General] " -- meaning Sanchez -- "on the progress of the investigation out at Abu Ghraib. This involves the allegations of detainee abuse and the photographs."
That was the first I heard of it. I didn't hear about it from Gen. Sanchez, the person who was going to accuse me of being irresponsible in the future. I didn't hear about it from Gen. Fast; I didn't hear about it from Col. Pappas; I didn't hear it about it from my battalion commander. Nobody in my brigade, in the operations center, knew anything about this ongoing investigation. So at daybreak the next day, we were on our way to Abu Ghraib to get some details or background. "What investigation? What ongoing? What photographs?"
What happened? Did you get a pit in your stomach? Your heart leaped to your throat?
Yes. I said, "This is what happens," in my mind, and I even said it out loud in so many words to my operations officer. ..."This is unbelievable. This is what happens when you transfer a prison under the control of people who have a different goal in mind." That was what I thought.
What was the goal?
The goal for the military intelligence people is to get information that will save soldiers and units from further attacks. And they don't really care about humane treatment of prisoners. ... They looked at the MPs to handle the medical, the food, the showers, the logistics of the operation. Were not interested in it at all. Again, it was a second-class priority, a third-class priority. ...
[How did the constant pressure to produce more intelligence affect the] company of MPs in 1A and 1B?
... In March they were scheduled to rotate back home to begin their redeployment from Kuwait. And they got down to Kuwait, and they were told that they weren't going anywhere, that they had been extended for 120 days. And those soldiers believed that they were going to be sent back up to Abu Ghraib, that they were going to be housed in a separate building on the grounds of Abu Ghraib to continue this detention mission, and that by design there was going to be a mortar attack, and they were all going to be killed, so all of the evidence of this investigation was going to be conveniently removed.
When they got notice of that extension, that's when those disks with the photographs made their way back to the United States and then found their way into the media channels. But I remember specifically sitting there at night, in January, reading that e-mail on the computer. And it was like a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach, saying, "This has gone terribly wrong." And [I] imagined that they had taken some pictures of prisoners behind the wire or behind the cell doors. Didn't have the details in that e-mail about what the photographs were all about, and never heard anything about the photographs until I saw them on the 23rd of January.
And I was absolutely shocked. People said, "Well, couldn't you imagine?" No, I couldn't imagine that the MPs were participating in any of this, that they -- I mean, I was just dumbfounded. ... And I only saw about a dozen of the photographs. But my office was spinning, I felt like the walls were closing in on me. It was unbelievable. And then the CID commander said to me, "And I'm supposed to tell you to go and see Gen. Sanchez after you see the photographs."
So I thought, you know, this is not going to be fun. And I was right. But it wasn't nearly what I expected from him, either. He hardly exchanged one word with me. ...
Somehow it became OK to make soldiers, PFCs at the specialist level, my responsibility. The rest of the chain of command that's a time-honored tradition of the Army goes away. I am held accountable for soldiers that I've never had a chance to exchange one word with or find out from them themselves what happened. And in fact was told by the JAG [judge advocate general] officer sitting in that room that night that I wasn't allowed to speak to them because they weren't under my control.
… I come into [Gen. Sanchez's] office and he's sitting on one side of the table, and I sit down at the other side, and he puts his hand on top of a piece of paper and turns it like this and pushes it at me. He doesn't even discuss it with me. And he is saying that the ongoing investigation has revealed that soldiers are misbehaving, but he's already removed them from their positions out there, and they're under his control at Camp Victory. Of the individuals that he mentions in the letter, he wants me to do an assessment of their leadership abilities and turn that report over to his deputy, Gen. Wodjakowski, the next day, within 24 hours. And he is admonishing me to take control of my brigade -- which is, by the way, spread all over the entire country of Iraq at 17 different prison facilities. …
Did you know you were going to get tagged right at that moment?
No, because I still, unfortunately, had this inherent trust in the system; that fine, do the investigation, and it's going to open up, and you're going to find out that of those 32 boots [in the photographs], there were contractors, there was military intelligence, that people may have known about this, but certainly not me, and the investigation is going to show that, because I believed at that time that the investigation was under the control of the Criminal Investigation Division, who was very thorough, and let the chips roll where they may. ...
Did you have any idea how big this would all play in the United States?
... I left Kuwait around the middle of April 2004, the 10th or the 11th or something like that. And I did so after a meeting with Gen. [David D.] McKiernan, when he said to me, "There was mistakes made, sure, but they weren't necessarily your mistakes. ... I would be very careful about discussing it until the investigation is completed, especially with those soldiers that you're so concerned with."
He said, "Look, there's a great future for Janis Karpinski in the Army Reserves." And he said, "Travel safe," and "There's a lot of lessons to be learned from this, and you can share that with other people."
When did you know that the administration's response was that it was the midnight shift at the animal house, that it was a bunch of rogue soldiers, enlisted people, that it was Col. Pappas and you and really never going to be [higher], at least in the short term? When did that dawn on you?
When I left Fort Benning [in Georgia] -- I had to go there to complete my demobilization process. And I was on leave, because I had accumulated leave in the time that I was on active duty. And I returned to my home in South Carolina. And it was 10:00 at night I guess. I get a phone call from my sister in New Jersey, and she says, "Do you have on 60 Minutes?" I said, "No, I don't watch the show." She said, "Turn it on." I said, "No, I don't watch it." She said, "Turn it on; you're on it."
And I turned it on, and here they were, talking, showing some of the photographs. And the only person's name that they mentioned in conjunction with those photographs was mine: "These soldiers belong to a company under the control of Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, a reservist from" wherever. And I remember sitting in the dark, watching that TV set, saying, "You have got to be kidding."
They did this. It was by design. They waited until I was back in the States, before I had even an inkling of going to the press to talk about any of this. ...
What happened to you? What did they do to you?
Oh, they just blamed me for everything -- silenced me, or attempted to silence me. Accused me of shoplifting in October of 2002 and used that as the reason to vacate my promotion to brigadier general, and have made me out to be a worthless, incapable leader. At the very beginning they were trying to make it appear like I had somehow crawled out from the back of a cave and said, "Make me a general, and I'll go to Iraq and fight this war." Baloney. I earned my promotions. I earned my promotions because I took the toughest jobs and was completely dedicated to the purpose of the Army Reserves and to the Army. And my soldiers throughout my career know that. I never had a bad day, ever, that involved a soldier.
And they can do whatever they want. They could make it appear any way they want. I will not be silenced, and I will continue to tell the truth. And I will continue to ask how they can continue to blame seven rogue soldiers on the night shift, when there is the preponderance of hard information from a variety of sources [that] says otherwise.