Marjorie Cohn / t r u t h o u t | Interview – 2005-08-27 23:47:31
MC: So the prisoners who were being tortured or abused at Abu Ghraib – were they all convicted criminals?
JK: No, because up until the mid part of August or the third week of August, 2003, I would say 95 percent of our prisoner population were Iraqi criminals, and the majority of them were nonviolent criminals. Then, directed by the CJTF-7, the divisions undertook these aggressive raids and these operations targeting specific individuals who were either terrorists, suspected terrorists, or known associates of terrorists. And they were called “security detainees.” This is a new category of prisoner. So they were bringing them into Abu Ghraib, and again, no coordination with the commander (me) or my battalion commander out at Abu Ghraib. They were just flooding Abu Ghraib every night from the end of August onward with 15 prisoners, 30 prisoners, 8 prisoners, 60 prisoners, whatever it would be. So the population exploded from what it was, about 1200 at the end of August. In September and October we took in at least equal that number. So by the end of September, we had more than 3,000 prisoners. And by the end of October, we had over 6,000 prisoners. And the CJTF-7 headquarters did not care if we had food for the prisoners, if we had accommodations for the prisoners, if we had jumpsuits for the prisoners or anything.
But the most pronounced difference was when Miller came to visit. He came right after Rumsfeld’s visit. Miller was there the next day. And he stayed for about ten days to work with the Military Intelligence commander, the Military Intelligence staff officer, General Fast, and the commander of the Military Intelligence committee, Colonel Pappas.
And he said that he was going to use a template from Guantánamo Bay to “Gitmo-ize” the operations out at Abu Ghraib. He didn’t spend much time with me, but he wanted to see me before he went down to brief General Sanchez when he was getting ready to leave. And that was when he was using these strong-arm techniques with me. He said, “Look, we can do this my way or we can do this the hard way.” I mean, first of all, we’re on the same side! And he knew, and I said to him, “Sir, I don’t know who told you I was going to be difficult. What I’m doing is telling you Abu Ghraib is not mine to give to you. It belongs to Ambassador Bremer. It is going to be turned over to the Iraqis.” He said, “No, it is not. I want that facility and Rick Sanchez said I can have any facility I want.”
So, I mean, I was telling him the truth. Miller obviously had the full authority of somebody, you know, likely Cambone or Rumsfeld in Washington, DC. And right after, during Miller’s visit, Colonel Pappas, the MI Brigade Commander, asked me if he could have full control of Cellblock 1-A because all of the people being held in there were really these security detainees.
The prisons experts down at Coalition Provisional Authority objected because it had been the CPA money that had restored those jail cells. I explained that these were higher-value guys and that they needed to be segregated. So they said okay. And we turned the Cellblock 1-A over to Colonel Pappas. And then shortly after that, within a week, they asked for Cellblock 1-B. And Miller probably coached … I don’t know. I do know that Miller had this harebrained idea that he was going to bring in these milvans – you know what milvans are?
JK: Milvans are all metal and they’re picked up at a port. Usually, they’re either put on the back of a big tractor or trailer truck. Sometimes you’ll see these heavy trains at the port lifting up these metal boxes. Those are the equivalent of milvans. You can ship them and then they’re picked up with a moving device, wherever they’re going to.
So Miller had this idea that they could import hundreds, if not thousands, of these milvans, modify them with bars and such, and make them individual prison cells, similar to what they had done down at Guantánamo Bay, apparently.
So I said to General Miller – just on that point alone – I said, “Look sir, we can’t even get building materials up here, basically or efficiently. Where do you think they’re going to import all these milvans and get them down here to Abu Ghraib?” He said, “It’s no problem. We’ll use Turkey, we’ll use Jordan. We have the answer.” Okay. Well, there’s not one milvan that’s been shipped to Abu Ghraib even to this day.
Nonetheless, he wasn’t there, and he didn’t have, like so many of these people … General Cody can sit in Washington, DC now, as the Chief of Staff of the Army and can pontificate about how it should be. But he wasn’t there. He was not in the middle of this disaster and this chaos. And the efforts of the Military Police soldiers, they were just so incredible, because every one of our facilities was undermanned, ill-protected, and managed by the seat of their pants.
MC: Taguba suggested that you didn’t pay sufficient attention to what was going on under your command. But you said you were waved off by Military Intelligence and the CIA. Who waved you off?
JK: General Miller did first, and then General Fast, as his representative, even though General Miller has claimed repeatedly and under sworn testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was simply an advisor in Iraq; he had no authority to direct anybody to make changes or to do anything differently.
However, when he left, Colonel Pappas, General Sanchez and the Provo Marshall for General Sanchez, I think – a guy by the name of, he was a Colonel, his name was Sanwalt [sp?] – they were copying, cc-ing, General Miller on all the reports of anything to do with interrogation or detention operations. So if he was just an advisor, why were they keeping him so much in the loop? And then when I went to General Fast, after I heard that the prison had been turned over to the Military Intelligence brigade for complete command and control —
MC: Who turned it over to the Military Intelligence?
JK: General Fast went to the Operations Section of the headquarters, CJTF-7, and told them to cut an order transferring control of the prisons from the Military Police to the Military Intelligence. There was no coordination with me or Colonel Pappas. There was no discussion about chain of command or anything else. General Fast, who was not a commander, ordered them to do it in the Operations Section at Sanchez’s headquarters, and they did it. And they cut an order and transferred the prison.
MC: And now, who waved you off? When were you waved off?
JK: When I found out, I wasn’t even in Iraq at the time. And when I came back they told me that the prison was transferred under the control of the Military Intelligence. So I went to Sanchez first, and his deputy went in to tell General Sanchez that I was there and I needed to see him, and the subject was the transfer of the prison. General Sanchez would not see me, but he told his deputy or his – I think it was his SGS or his executive officer – he was a full colonel – he told me to go see General Fast, that she had the details. So I went to General Fast, and General Fast pointed to the order. Pointed to the order! Held it up, pointed to the order and said it’s a done deal.
MC: So then you were not allowed to go to that cellblock?
JK: No, there was never a restriction on me going to that cellblock or anywhere else at Abu Ghraib, ever. I was not allowed to go to Abu Ghraib or anywhere else during the hours of darkness. Nobody was allowed to; the roads were too dangerous. We were just starting to see the beginnings of these roadside bombs and IEDs and everything. So the headquarters said unless it was life-threatening and they gave permission, there was no travel during the hours or darkness.
MC: And that’s when the torture went on?
JK: And that’s when the torture was taking place, right.
MC: So if you had wanted to go at night, you couldn’t have done it?
JK: Right. That’s correct.
MC: When did you find out that this torture was going on?
JK: Well, I really didn’t find out – I found out that there was an investigation, and I found out about that, not from General Sanchez, not from General Fast, not from anybody at the headquarters. I found out from the Commander of the Criminal Investigation Division – a guy by the name of Marcelo. He was a full Colonel. And he sent me an e-mail. We had another mission that was close to the Iranian border and I was up there. It was about an hour and forty-five minutes outside Baghdad, two hours outside of Baghdad. So I opened my e-mail when I came back from a meeting with the leadership element of this group up there, and it was close to midnight. I opened the e-mail and I said, “What is this all about?” And the e-mail said, “Ma’am, just want to let you know I’m about to go in and brief the CG on the progress of the investigation out at Abu Ghraib. This is the one involving allegations of abuse and the pictures.” That was it.
MC: That was the first you heard?
JK: That was the first I heard, and that was on the twelfth of January of 2004. That was the first I heard. I left the next morning, I didn’t know anything about it. I asked my aide, I asked my Operations Officer, and nobody knew anything about it, and everybody was equally shocked, stunned. So we left at daybreak the next morning and drove back into Baghdad and went right out to Abu Ghraib. And we tried to talk to some of the people out there who would have known.
Well, all of the people who worked the night shift were already removed from their positions out there and were taken over to the headquarters, the CJTF-7 headquarters. I was never allowed to speak to them. I never exchanged a word with them, because I was told by Colonel Warren, the JAG officer for General Sanchez, that they weren’t assigned to me, that they were not under my control, and I really had no right to see them.
The people who were working in Cellblock 1-A at the time that I went out to Abu Ghraib didn’t know anything about it. They were completely in the dark about anything. I said, “What’s this about photographs?” And the sergeant said to me, “Ma’am, we’ve heard something about photographs, but I have no idea. Nobody has any details, and Ma’am, if anybody knows, nobody is talking.” I said, “Okay, let me see the logs. Let me see the books.” He said, “They took everything. The Criminal Investigation division took everything.” I said, “Well, what do you have?” and he pointed to this pole right outside the little office that they were using, and he said, “Well, they left this.”
It was a memorandum signed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, authorizing a short list, maybe 6 or 8 techniques: use of dogs; stress positions; loud music; deprivation of food; keeping the lights on, those kinds of things. And then a handwritten message over to the side that appeared to be the same handwriting as the signature, and that signature was Secretary Rumsfeld’s. And it said, “Make sure this happens,” with two exclamation points. And that was the only thing that they had. Everything else had been confiscated.
So I tried to get information. I talked to Colonel Pappas. I talked to the Battalion Commander. I talked to the chain of command, the Military Police chain of command. Nobody knew anything, nobody – at least, that’s what they were claiming. The Company Commander, Captain Reese, was tearful in my office and repeatedly told me he knew nothing about it, knew nothing about it.
But in a plea bargain, later on, after Taguba, Captain Reese said that not only did he know about it, but he was told not to report it to his chain of command, and he was told that by Colonel Pappas. And he claimed that he saw General Sanchez out there on several occasions witnessing the torture of some of the security detainees.
So, the first time I even got any kind of clarification on what these photographs were was the 23rd of January. The criminal investigator, Colonel Marcelo, came into my office. It was about eight o’clock at night, nine o’clock at night. And he called me and he was asking if I was there, would I be there, and I said yes. He said, I have some photographs I want to show you.
So when I saw the pictures I was floored. Really, the world was spinning out of control when I saw those pictures, because it was so far beyond and outside of what I imagined. I thought that maybe some soldiers had taken some pictures of prisoners behind barbed wire or in their cell or something like that. I couldn’t imagine anything like what I saw in those photographs.
So then Colonel Marcelo said me, “Ma’am, I’m supposed to tell you after you see the photographs that General Sanchez wants to see you in his office.” So I went over to see him, and he, I told him, you know, before I even saw the photographs, I was preparing words to say in a press conference – to be up front, to be honest about this, that an investigation is ongoing and there are some allegations of detainee abuse.
Well, he said, “No, absolutely not. You are not to discuss this with anyone.” And I should have known then, and I know that Sanchez was hopeful for a four-star promotion even then, in January of 2004. And I thought that it had probably most to do with the election coming up in November of 2004, and that this could really move the Administration out of the White House if it was exploited. So naively, I just thought, you know, they’re going to let this investigation go and they’re going to handle it the way it should be handled.