US general blames abuse on poor leadership
The head of U.S. detention centers in Iraq said Saturday the military has no plans to close the Abu Ghraib prison and blamed the abuse of detainees there on poor leadership and disregard for the rules.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller said the United States does intend to cut the number of prisoners to help improve conditions but added that "we will continue to conduct interrogation missions at the Abu Ghraib facility."
Six prison guards are facing criminal charges for alleged abuse of Iraqi prisonerss, and one has already been charged.
U.S. President Bush vowed Saturday that "we will learn all the facts and determine the full extent of these abuses. Those involved will be identified. They will answer for their actions."
Bush said all prison operations in Iraq will be reviewed "to make certain that similar disgraceful incidents are never repeated."
Miller said he visited all 14 prison facilities in Iraq to review procedures and that an Army team of 31 specialists was in the country retraining prison guards, a process that would last until June 30.
"We will ensure that we follow our procedures," he said. "It is a matter of honor. We were ashamed and embarrassed by the conduct of a very, very small number of our soldiers...On my honor, I will ensure that it will not happen again."
Miller said the "alleged abuses and abuses we have discovered from the investigations appear to be due to leaders and soldiers not following the authorized policy and lack of leadership and supervision."
Miller insisted that Iraqi prisoners were now being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and that interrogation teams were following Army guidelines while trying to get "the best intelligence as rapidly as possible."
"I am satisfied that that system is following the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and assisting the coalition in providing actionable intelligence to help us win this fight for the freedom of Iraq," he said.
He said earlier in the week that he would halt or restrict some interrogation methods, especially eight to 10 "very aggressive techniques," including using hoods on prisoners, putting them in stressful positions and depriving them of sleep. He said those methods are now banned without specific approval.
Miller said there were no plans to close Abu Ghraib and that if orders are received to close the lockup, the military would probably shift the mission to another facility, Camp Bucca, south of Basra. Abu Ghraib was a notorious prison under Saddam Hussein where detainees were routinely tortured and sometimes executed.
Miller, the former commander of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, led a 30-member team to Iraq in August and September that focused on ways of sharpening interrogation procedures.
In a report on the Abu Ghraib scandal, Maj. Gen. Anthony Taguba wrote that the team recommended "that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees."
Some military police at the prison have said they were instructed to "soften up" the prisoners before interrogation.
"There was no recommendation ever by this group ... that recommended that the military police become actively involved in the interrogation," Miller said.
Miller said he recommended that guards should monitor prisoners closely and pass on information to interrogators.
Military police "should be involved in passive intelligence collection," Miller said.
One of the soldiers facing charges, Spc. Sabrina Harman, said she and other members of the 372nd Military Police Company took direction from Army military intelligence officers, CIA operatives and from civilian contractors who conducted interrogations.
In an interview by e-mail from Baghdad, Harman told The Washington Post it was made clear that her mission was to break down the prisoners.
"They would bring in one to several prisoners at a time already hooded and cuffed," Harman said. "The job of the MP was to keep them awake, make it hell so they would talk."
Harman, 26, is one of two smiling soldiers seen in a photo taken at Abu Ghraib as they stand behind naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners stacked in a pyramid.
Miller said that in part he used his experience at Guantanamo to help reshape the interrogation process.
Miller has said that by the end of his stint at Guantanamo in March, intelligence tips had increased dramatically and that about three-quarters of the 600 detainees had confessed to some involvement in terrorism and many had exposed former friends. The detainees there were largely suspected of ties to the Taliban or the al-Qaida terror network.
Miller said he had a "high level of confidence" that proper procedures were now being implemented in Iraq.
"We may make honest mistakes ... but there will be no mistakes of moral turpitude," he said.