May 2, 2004

General Suggests Abuses at Iraq Jail Were Encouraged


New York Times

WASHINGTON, May 1 — The Army Reserve general whose military police officers were photographed as they mistreated Iraqi prisoners said Saturday that she had been "sickened" by the pictures and had known nothing about the sexual humiliation and other abuse until weeks later.

But the officer, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski of the 800th Military Police Brigade, said the special high-security cellblock at the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, where the abuses took place had been under the tight control of a separate group of military intelligence officers who had so far avoided any public blame.

In her first public comments about the brutality — which drew wide attention and condemnation after photographs documenting it were broadcast Wednesday night by CBS News — General Karpinski said that while the reservists involved were "bad people" and deserved punishment, she suspected they were acting with the encouragement, if not at the direction, of military intelligence units that ran the special cellblock used for interrogation.

Speaking in a telephone interview from her home in South Carolina, the general said military commanders in Iraq were trying to shift the blame exclusively to her and the reservists.

"We're disposable," she said of the military's attitude toward reservists. "Why would they want the active-duty people to take the blame? They want to put this on the M.P.'s and hope that this thing goes away. Well, it's not going to go away."

She said the special cellblock, known as 1A, was one of about two dozen in the large prison and was essentially off limits to soldiers who were not part of the interrogations.

She said repeatedly in the interview that she was not defending the actions of the reservists who took part in the brutality, who were part of her command. She said that when she was first presented with the photographs of the abuse in January, they "sickened me."

"I put my head down because I really thought I was going to throw up," she said. "It was awful. My immediate reaction was: These are bad people, because their faces revealed how much pleasure they felt at this."

But she said the context of the brutality had been lost, including the fact that the military police officers involved represented only a small fraction of the nearly 3,400 reservists who reported to her from 16 different prisons and similar locations around Iraq.

She said she was also alarmed that little attention has been paid to the military unit that controlled Cellblock 1A, where her soldiers guarded the Iraqi detainees between interrogations.

She said that the floor space of the two-story cellblock was only about 40 feet by 20 feet, and that military intelligence officers were in and out of the cellblock "24 hours a day."

"They were in there at 2 in the morning, they were at 4 in the afternoon," said General Karpinski, who arrived in Iraq last June and who was the only woman to hold a command in the war zone. "This was no 9-to-5 job."

The photographs of American soldiers smiling, laughing and signaling "thumbs up" as Iraqi detainees were forced into sexually humiliating positions provoked outrage just as the American military was seeking to pacify a rising insurgency and gain the trust of more Iraqis before turning over sovereignty to a new government on June 30.

General Karpinski, who has returned to South Carolina and her civilian profession as a business consultant, said she visited Abu Ghraib as often as twice a week last fall and had repeatedly instructed military police officers under her command to treat prisoners humanely and in accord with international human rights agreements.

"I can speak some Arabic," she said. "I'm not fluent, but when I went to any of my prison facilities, I would make it a point to try to talk to the detainees."

But she said she did not visit Cellblock 1A, in keeping with the wishes of military intelligence officers who, she said, worried that unnecessary visits might interfere with their interrogations of Iraqis.

She acknowledged that she "probably should have been more aggressive" about visiting the interrogation cellblock. She stressed that she had received no reports from any of her commanders of possible prisoner abuses in the cellblock.

After the first allegations of abuse circulated earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior American commander in Iraq, ordered sweeping inquiries into whether any commanders — including General Karpinski — should be held responsible. He also ordered a review of policies and procedures at all of the prisons controlled by occupation forces in Iraq.

The administrative review, known in the military criminal justice system as an AR15-6, was completed March 1 by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who had assembled a team of officers trained in military detention. The report was approved by his superior, Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of American ground forces in the Middle East, and forwarded to General Sanchez on April 4.

The finding documented the abuses illustrated by the photographs circulating this week, as well as other problems in the military's detainee system in Iraq.