Top US generals in Iraq knew prison abuses last fall
Senior U.S. military officials in Iraq, including two advisers to the top commander there, reviewed a strongly worded Red Cross report detailing the abuse of prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison last November -- but the Army did not launch an investigation into the abuses until two months later.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Gen. Karpinski said officials at first generally disbelieved the Red Cross report. One military intelligence officer at the meeting in late November drew laughs, she said, when he joked, "I've told the Commander to stop giving the Victoria's Secret catalogues to detainees" -- a reference to the Red Cross's complaint that some prisoners were being forced to wear women's underwear on their heads.
The late November events show that top military commanders were alerted to the abuses by the Red Cross earlier than they so far have publicly acknowledged. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified before the Senate recently that officials at the Pentagon learned of the abuses after a soldier alerted them in mid-January. The Defense Department then launched an internal investigation.
Gen. Karpinski has come in for strong criticism in the abuse scandal as the official charged with overseeing Iraq's prison system last fall. The Army's internal report, written by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba after the Pentagon launched its January investigation, criticized her for poor leadership and failure to assume responsibility for abuses that occurred while she was in charge of the prison. She was admonished by her commanding general and is now in command of the 800th Military Police Brigade based out of Uniondale, N.Y.
The Red Cross report came during the same period in which Gen. Sanchez transferred control of Abu Ghraib from Gen. Karpinski to an Army military intelligence commander, in part to improve the collection of intelligence on the growing Iraqi insurgency.
Gen. Karpinski said at that meeting she was told by Col. Warren "not to worry about the response because his officers were working on the response for my review." That was the meeting at which officers expressed disbelief in the allegations, Gen. Karpinski says.
Gen. Karpinski and another officer who attended some meetings in Iraq about the report also said that instead of focusing on the abuses being reported, some military intelligence officers argued that they needed to limit the Red Cross's future access to cell blocks where interrogations were taking place.
The officers worried that agency officials didn't have appropriate security clearances and that their presence could disrupt efforts to put pressure on prisoners by placing them in complete isolation.
Gen. Wojdakowski declined to comment, citing continuing investigations. Col. Warren didn't respond to e-mailed requests for an interview.
The November Red Cross report, described by the agency as a "working paper," followed a mid-October 2003 visit to the prison by agency officials. While there, Red Cross officials saw naked Iraqi detainees being held in total darkness in empty concrete cells. Upon witnessing the mistreatment the Red Cross abruptly cut short the visit and requested an explanation from authorities at the prison, according to a more comprehensive February 2004 report previously obtained by the Journal.
A Red Cross spokesperson confirmed that the agency delivered a working paper to the U.S. military in November and that it received a response in December, but declined to comment on the content of either. An Army officer who reviewed the November report said its description of the Abu Ghraib visit was similar in tone and content to the February report.
The November working paper was one of more than a dozen such reports filed by the Red Cross following visits to U.S. detention facilities in Iraq that began in late spring of 2003. Some of the interim reports praised U.S. officials for improving areas where the Red Cross had previously identified problems, Gen. Karpinski said. Others, like the November report, were harshly critical.
Gen. Karpinski said she responded to most of the Red Cross reports she received. She said she passed the reports and her responses up the chain of command to Col. Warren.
Through much of the fall and winter -- as the insurgency in Iraq was building and some of the worst abuse of prisoners was taking place -- U.S. officials seemed to be looking for ways to increase pressure on detainees to get more information out of them.
Around the same time as the Red Cross's interim report on Abu Ghraib, Gen. Sanchez gave approval for the use of "barking dogs" in the interrogation of a prisoner at Abu Ghraib, according to a government official who has read the still-secret annex to Gen. Taguba's internal report on problems at the prison.
In Senate testimony last week, Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, said, "The rule on dogs, that I'm aware of, is that they can patrol in the areas, but they have to be muzzled at all times."
A coalition spokesman in Baghdad said last night that he couldn't comment on the Taguba report because it is classified.
In October Gen. Sanchez issued a list of harsh interrogation techniques that could be used on prisoners, but only with the general's personal approval. That list included "stress positions" sleep and sensory deprivation, and "presence of military dogs."
Military officials first said that Gen. Sanchez never approved any of the procedures. The Pentagon subsequently said the top commander had approved at least two dozen requests to use some of the techniques against prisoners and turned down at least three requests, officials said.
The New Yorker magazine has published a photograph showing a naked Abu Ghraib prisoner being terrorized by leashed, but unmuzzled military dogs.