The Torture Question
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gen. jack keane (ret.)


Gen. Jack Keane (Ret.) served in the U.S. Army for 37 years and was the Army's vice chief of staff from 1999 to 2003. In the summer of 2002, Defense Department officials, unhappy with the quality of intelligence they were getting from Guantanamo, sent Gen. Keane to conduct an assessment. He tells FRONTLINE that he learned that the military intelligence and military police on the base were not working well together, and he recommended bringing in a single commander to unify the command. His recommendation was accepted, and the assignment was given to Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller. "When Gen. Miller got introduced to Guantanamo Bay, everything just seemed to move into the plus category from the time he got there," Keane says. "Everyone that went down there to look at it saw improvement...." This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 15, 2005.

[How did you first get involved with Guantanamo?]

Well, my involvement with Guantanamo began as vice chief of staff. You're [the] number two guy in the Army, so what the Army's doing is providing support to its operational force, and certainly one of those forces was down in Guantanamo Bay. So I visited down there and took a look at it, and I was not happy with it.

Frankly, we had two functions there, as you well know. One is intelligence operations, and the other one is a custodial function in the sense of police function. And they were not cooperating with each other, and we had two commanders down there who were not working together. I came back and told the chief of service, Gen. [Eric] Shinseki, and I told Gen. [Richard B.] Myers, the chairman of Joint Chiefs, and my recommendation was [to] move them both out of there and let's bring in a single commander; let's make it active component; he has considerably more experience, and we also have somebody in mind who has a lot of operational experience and is very, very good.

What were the implications of them not working together? What practically was the result of that?

Well, you had an intelligence community and a police community that didn't see their objectives as the same, and as a result of that, there was dysfunctionality. And the practical application of it is the police are guarding the detainees, and the interrogators are trying to get information out of them, and the two never work together towards common objectives. And as a matter of fact, they just resented each other, which didn't make any sense. And most of that, in my judgment, came from the top, and we had to solve the problem. It's not that the leaders down there were bad people or anything. I'm not suggesting that. But we just were not working in harmony. We needed one commander in charge.

Were you number two when [it was] decided we'd start sending detainees [to Guantanamo] in the beginning of the Afghan conflict?


We had to take care of the prisoners, protect their rights, [and] at the same time get information and do that in concert with the values of the American people

So why Guantanamo?

I did not participate in the decision of why Guantanamo. I can only surmise why Guantanamo. I think, initially, it's outside the United States; there's going to be less security challenges associated with it because of its complete isolation. It's on an island, so there's a lot of advantages to it. It's not in the theater in the sense that it's another spot in the theater that we're trying to protect. ...

Did the Army want this task? I know the CIA had high-value terrorists. Is this the kind of thing the Army wanted, was trained for, was positioned for, cared about?

I don't think we were looking for the task, but we've done this in the past, and it's one of our functions that we provide on the battlefield. The Army provides theater support for detainees on the battlefield. So we established the detention centers, the prisons, and we have the police and forces to do all that. ...

There were a lot of political battles whether to use the Uniform Code of Military Justice, whether to follow the rules of Geneva. Did you feel that you had clear enough guidance from the president [about] the right rules of the road for the Army to follow down there in the beginning?

I think so. Well, first of all, the execution of the tasks goes through the operational command structure. I think you're probably familiar with that. It's the combatant commander, and then the commander at Guantanamo works for that combatant commander, does not work for us at the Department of the Army headquarters. So all of that guidance, rightfully, goes through them. ...

I think what everybody recognized [was] that what we're dealing with here is very different, because we did not have a nation-state involved here; we did not have uniformed military involved here. We were dealing with non-state actors who, in fact, were terrorists and killers and thugs. And that's the reality of it, so you had to treat them differently. How do you treat them as noncombatants in the sense that they were not uniformed combatants and deal with them and still treat them humanely? Is there a way to do that? And I think putting the lawyers together -- and that was done at levels above us, as a matter of fact -- I think they came up with reasonable solutions that anybody could accept.

So you get down there, and you take a look and it seems like you've got a command structure issue. Are we getting information out of there that was actionable in that first eight, nine months, 10 months?

The feedback that I was getting was that the information initially wasn't as valuable as it could be, and we just had to get better organized for that. One of the things I saw when I was down there as well is we had essentially a four-man team doing the interrogation. We weren't keeping the team together long enough. The FBI was down there for X number of days; the Army was down there for a longer period of time; other agencies were down at different times. This cohesive interrogation team just couldn't stay together long enough to get to trust each other and to really get good at what they were doing. It made no sense. I mean, you had to keep these guys at least six months together as opposed to staying together 30, 45 days.

That was the number one thing that hit me from an interrogation perspective. While the individuals on the team were people of quality, the team itself wasn't as good as it could be, because they just were not staying together. So that got cleaned up once people identified that, and that team stayed together a much longer period of time.

And I think when Gen. Miller got introduced to Guantanamo Bay, everything just seemed to move in the plus category from the time he got there. Everybody that went down there to look at it saw improvement, who had been there before.

... How does Gen. Miller appear on the radar screen?

Gen. Miller appears on the radar screen because he's very well known. A lot of people have confidence in him. He had worked in the Pentagon before he had moved to his assignment in Korea. He was in an operational assignment in Korea doing very good as the operations officer. That's the key staff officer working for the combatant commander and doing, by everybody's account, a great job. And I've known Miller myself for a number of years, and ... I've seen him at different levels of authority and different stress levels, and he's always done just a great job. And when he came to the Pentagon as a staff officer, all of his superiors just felt he'd done a knockdown job. So it wasn't hard to think of Geoff Miller, tough job. ...

[What is Gen. Miller like as a person?]

Well, Miller's a very personable guy. You're going to like him instinctively because he's warm and he's friendly and he's easy to be around. On a professional side, you've got a tough problem to fix, Geoff Miller's going to do it, and he's always going to do it to very high standards, and he's always going to be on the side of right. He's always talking about "what right looks like" -- just a phrase he would always use. So you're going to give Miller a tough mission, and it's going to be done right, and you don't have to concern yourself with it because Miller's doing it. That's my sense of Geoff Miller, having known him for 20-plus years.

What do you mean, "what right looks like"?

Well, very high standards, doing the right thing, never getting on the wrong side of things. Just doing what's right day in and day out, doing tough things, excellence. That's Miller. ...

He's not an intelligence guy, not a prison guy. Does it matter?

We didn't think it did. What we wanted was a very effective leader who has operational savvy; is used to working away from the United States, as this case would be, even though it's on a U.S. base; and [whom] you would be comfortable with having an autonomous function in the sense that his bosses are quite removed from him, and there's no daily supervision going on, certainly. And Miller is that kind of a guy, so it just made sense to us.

Who would have called him? Did you call him?

No. Probably the staff officer that works general officer assignments. … I probably had a meeting with him in my office because I had been down there and made that assessment to Gen. Shinseki and also to Gen. Myers. Now, Gen. Myers, in fairness to him, was already moving in that direction. He could see the dysfunction down there with intel and police, [that it] was not as unified as it could be or should be. So he was already thinking -- he was predisposed when I talked to him about moving towards one unified commander who's going to sit on top of both functions.

And somebody would have said to Miller, or Miller would have known or you would have known, this was a real hot potato?

Oh, yeah, sure. No doubt about that. I don't remember the specifics of the conversation. I think you wouldn't have to say that to Geoff Miller. Anybody would know what that is, and that this thing had to be done right. We had to take care of the prisoners, protect their rights, [and] at the same time get information and do that in concert with the values of the American people, and do it under complete scrutiny and be open about that. In terms of inviting in the agencies that need to look at it, congressional oversight committees are going to be there. Obviously, it's a convenient trip; it's not a difficult place to get to from the United States. It's not like going over to Bagram [Air Base in Afghanistan] or Baghdad, and there's no security issue to speak of. So you're going to have more visitors and more oversight probably than some other functions that are going on in the theater. And he would understand that instinctively. Certainly we understood all of that. ...

[Did you talk to Gen. Miller after he arrived at Guantanamo?]

Well, yeah. I know I talked to him a couple of times just to get a sense of how things was going and what his assessment was. And then certainly his operational commander was doing that a lot more than I was doing it. And I could just tell by the things that he was finding in terms of order and discipline and improving the interrogation function, standardizing it and putting in proper procedures, he was just all over it, as we would say. He was just on top of it, doing what you expect him to do, every single day working those challenges and raising the standards of what the mission was and their ability to accomplish it. And everybody that went down there to look at it after Miller got there just had great confidence in him. I never heard a negative thing out of anybody that visited down there, whether they be a military leader, a congressional oversight. We never had anything come back that was negative on it while he was down there. ...

You find yourself in Iraq a few times, too. What did you see over there?

Well, I've been there a number of times in uniform and out of uniform, and I was there right after the regime was toppled. And what I saw then was a military that had been victorious, a population that was in a huge transition phase of trying to adjust to Saddam Hussein being gone, but there's no definable government that's there for them to look to. And at the same time, there was criminality and some targeted violence against us which I interpreted to be the beginnings of a low-level insurgency. And this was in the June-July time frame; we took the regime down in April.

And in subsequent visits, the insurgency just began to increase in dimension and scale to where it is today. It's a formidable challenge -- make no mistake about it. We've got our hands full. And we were fighting an insurgency. For this military, in this democracy, it's the most difficult type of warfare for us to be involved in, because we are organized, equipped and trained and educated to defeat other militaries, air forces, navies, armies, and we do that better probably than any military has ever done. Even our critics would acknowledge that.

But when it comes to an insurgency and defeating people who are living in and among the people, all of that technology that we have to help us do the other is in a sense disarmed. And we're dealing with a low-tech military capability, but very, very high in motivation, very high in determination. And the kinds of people we're dealing with here are killers and thugs. Very unusual in an insurgency to have absolutely no political agenda other than to return to power. Most insurgents have a political side to them. They're trying to convince the people that their ideology is, in fact, better than the incumbent's, and they're using violence to dramatize all of that, and what they really want is a political solution. Now, these guys we're dealing with here, they have no political ideology. All they want is return of power, so we've got our hands full. Make no bones about it, we do.

So in the assessment of that place and the horrible things that are happening, do you find your way to Abu Ghraib and the prison systems and all that when you were over there?

I did an assessment for Gen. [George] Casey after he first arrived last summer, and I had completed the assessment. I'd gone all over the country. And I didn't go to Abu Ghraib because there had been one investigating team after another looking at it, and he didn't need any help from me on that, and so I chose not to go there. And he called me, and he said, "Jack, I would like you to go up there and take a look at it." He said, "You talk to a lot of people, and you probably should have a frame of reference to what this place looks like."

So Geoff Miller took me up there. He was there, and so we had a good on-site visit and a good discussion of it. The Iraqis were running the actual physical facility at that point themselves. And we had some oversight and support responsibilities, but the Iraqis had been given control of it. We were doing the interrogation, and I focused primarily on that and not so much on the detention function. And I looked at the medical support that we were providing as well, because we had the doctors and nurses up there. And boy, they were a motivated bunch, the doctors and nurses. They've had people mortared there, and they've had some tough situations in terms of battlefield casualties to deal with even though it's a detention center, because the insurgents have always had a focus on it.

... What do you see when you approach it? ...

Well, typical of Iraq, it's in a flat, open area, and I think what you first see is a number of tents that are outside a facility, and that those tents are surrounded by wire and watchtowers, and in those tents are probably the vast majority of the detainees, [and they] are being sheltered in tents. And that's changing over time, but that's what I saw. And then there's a walled facility that looks more like a prison. But typical of Iraq again, it's more horizontal than it is vertical, and it looks old and tired, worn-down kind of a facility. But the motivation of the people working around there from the coalition forces was very high. ...

[Why was Gen. Miller sent to assess detention facilities in Iraq?]

I'm out of the military at that point when that's taking place, so you're probably talking to others who can give you more direct information. But my understanding of it, I think there was a sense that the operation in Guantanamo was a solid operation on every level: the quality of the detention center itself, how it was being run, its efficiency in taking care of prisoners -- it was under a huge scrutiny in terms of oversight -- and then the quality of the interrogation and how that complemented each other, and the fact that there was good information coming out of Guantanamo.

And I think there's always been a nagging frustration, and I picked it up on every visit I've [made] -- to include my last one, by the way, which was just a few months ago. ... It's always been a nagging frustration among the tactical commanders that once they get into the centralized detention center, they don't get any immediate feedback from that particular person who can help them on the particular town or city or village that they're operating in.

And most times the pressure is on; the insurgency's building; we need information, yeah?

Yeah. And so in a sense, they feel like these guys are falling in the proverbial black hole and nothing comes of it. It's probably overstated to a certain degree, but I think there is an element of truth that's running through it, and I think it existed today, as a matter of fact, to a certain degree, despite everybody's best efforts. If they get that information back to a tactical commander so they can make use of it -- I mean, you can imagine what this is like. You're talking about interrogations around the clock, many, many hours a day, thousands and thousands of pages of documentation and tapes of dealing with interrogation and trying to get the information out of there that would help some battalion commander up in Mosul. So this is not an easy task, and it's not something people are being cavalier about and not concerned about. It's just the scale of the task, it interferes, and distance and time and space are factors here. So I think those issues were certainly operating there, that there was this frustration with intelligence that it's not being as responsive.

And there are two different issues. Certainly Guantanamo Bay is a detention intelligence center that's primarily feeding back to the larger war dealing with terrorism, the Al Qaeda radical Islamists, and in and of itself, by its very nature, probably in most cases, doesn't have that degree of specificity that would ever help a Special Forces team operating in Afghanistan or in any other tactical situation anyway. But nonetheless, there clearly was a thought that intelligence was working in Guantanamo. The detention center is working in Guantanamo, and for whatever the reason, we're not getting as much intelligence out of this process system in Iraq.

And certainly anybody looking at it knew how much more complicated it was. There's different levels. It's exponentially, considerably larger than what the operation is at Guantanamo. Probably on any given day, a division commander throughout Iraq is holding more people in his detention facility by X factor than what exists in Guantanamo, much less the centralized facilities, where there's thousands of people being detained. So scale is really an issue, too. ...

So you bring Miller in?

You bring Miller in to take a look at the whole operation. ...

And what does he do? …

I don't know. I didn't play in this decision. You've got to ask the guys who make the decision, but I can surmise. Knowing Miller, this is not hard to figure out, because Miller comes over there -- he doesn't go by himself; he puts a whole team together. I think he had about 20-something people on his team. He had lawyers and behavioral scientists, psychologists. He put together a comprehensive team to go look at this thing to make sure he understood what he was looking at and then make recommendations, coherent recommendations to improve it. And then, of course, he wrote a report on it. So I think -- I'm surmising now -- the military commanders over there are looking at this, and Miller briefs out to them and also to people in Washington, I assume, and they liked what they saw. This is Miller again, completely on top of it, understanding what the problems are and knowing what you need to do to fix it. And it's typical Geoff Miller.

Where are you when you see the photos from Abu Ghraib, and what do you think?

I don't know where I was when I saw those photos, to tell you the truth. I think I was exposed to those photos just like the rest of the American people were exposed to them. I saw them on television, and I saw them in newspapers. I think I had an absolute profound sense of revulsion and disappointment that Army soldiers who represent the United States, a profession I dedicated my life to, could somehow, some way be involved in that kind of despicable activity that was such an assault on people's human dignity when what this institution has always been about is establishing very high values and protecting people's dignity, even though we have to prosecute a war in and around them. ...

The other thing that I think we have to be honest about -- look, the fact is that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, we'll have prisoners someplace, and some of those prisoners will be abused. That's probably a reality. What makes us different, though, as Americans is one, we don't tolerate that behavior. When we find out about it, we do something about it; we hold people accountable for it, and we do everything we can to ensure that it's not going to happen again. We work hard at it. But in every prison in America inside the United States, I would assume that there's some level of abuse that's taking place. The good news is that leaders in those prisons are not going to put up with it; they're going to do something about it, and they're going to reflect the values of the American people. And that's the way the military is behaving as well.

Twelve commissions, reports, whatever, come forward. We've talked to generals; we've talked to people who have done them. Are you satisfied that we've gotten to the bottom of this?

Oh, I think so. Yeah, sure, I definitely do. Look, 37 years of experience here talking: When we have problems like this, it is when there's a group activity and numbers of people are involved in it, not an individual act. But when you have group activity and you know that that activity has been repetitious, invariably there's a huge leadership and discipline failure that's permitting that to happen, because people are not doing what they should be [doing]. One, they don't have the right standards. They're not holding people accountable, and they're not providing the right kind of oversight. This stuff was always happening at night in the wee hours of the morning, by and large. Leaders were not doing their jobs by supervising, oversight, and making certain that things were in as good a shape at 2:00 in the morning as they are at 2:00 in the afternoon. That's the reality of it. And whenever we've had problems with people doing things in groups that are violating our standards in the military, it is invariably a leadership issue at its heart.

And when the Schmidt report says these same kind of things happened at Gitmo under Gen. Miller -- leashes, people [treated] like dogs, the whole thing -- how does that square with what you've just said?

Well, in my own mind, I don't believe for a minute that there was any of this Abu Ghraib activity taking place under Miller's leadership in Guantanamo Bay, where you sort of have the renegade group of people abusing prisoners at 2:00 in the morning and sort of running wild [in] the place.

What that gave you an indication of, if there was abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, one, it would be isolated, and it wouldn't be a systemic problem; [it would be] an individual guard doing something. If people find out about it, they're going to do something about it. Secondly, if there were interrogation techniques that were being used against a prisoner that may give Americans some concern, that probably was thought about. People put their minds on it. That's completely different than this renegade behavior that was taking place.

And then what should happen is, after we look at this thing, [we] put a spotlight on it and see if that behavior is in concert with what we believe our values to be and how we treat prisoners and how we get information out of them. And as I understand, this recent allegation has to do with interrogation techniques and what kind of stress was allowed in terms of introducing it to a particular prisoner. And a lot of people had put their minds on it. That's completely different than a lack of leadership and discipline and an organiz[ation] that is not operating in accordance with proper standards. ...

Did you talk to Gen. Miller?

Yeah, I did.

How's he doing?

He's doing OK. I just had lunch with him a couple of days ago. And where he goes in the future -- the Army certainly has a lot of confidence in Geoff Miller, so much so that they'd like him to move on and take added responsibility as a three-star general. Whether that goes forward or not, or whether Geoff goes forward or not, that remains to be seen. He has some decisions I think he has to make. Whether he wants to stay or whether it's time for him to leave, he's got to make that decision. ...

Do you think your Army guys who were charged with all this, both detention facilities and interrogation, were given clear directions from the civilian authorities? ...

Yeah. Well, I think there's probably some room for some of our people to have been confused about -- I'm talking at the lowest level now -- that are actually handling detainees, because there were a number of changes that took place as I understand it, and so I think it's understandable that maybe at certain times they would be confused about what technique is permissible and what is not. Is a dog permissible, or is a dog not? Or what levels of stress is permissible or not, because we were involved as an institution about that, particularly in Iraq. So that's understandable. But that doesn't have anything to do with this behavior that we dealt with in Abu Ghraib. That behavior is off the charts by anybody's definition, and nobody would tolerate that kind of thing.

Now, I think there was some usefulness that came out of that, as always, when you have problems, because you go in there and you start turning these things over, and you start to see some other things. So you start looking at yourself and saying: "Well, wait a second. There is some confusion here. One day we said X, another day we said Y, and another day we said something else." And to think that everybody is going to be doing that all at the same time and understanding it is probably naive. We all get that. What that forced people to do is go back and look at every single procedure and make certain that the chain of command clearly understood what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and make it very clear what procedure is and how the prisoners are going to be treated. ...

I think those detention facilities are all run much better than they were being run because of this focus. So that I think was helpful. You just hate to see it have to come at that kind of expense.

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posted oct. 18, 2005

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