Marjorie Cohn / t r u t h o u t | Interview – 2005-08-27 23:51:07
MC: Do you think the investigations that have taken place so far have uncovered the truth about this torture and who is responsible?
JK: Absolutely not. The truth has been uncovered, but it’s been suffocated and it has not been released with the results of the investigation. You know, they can say that, McClellan and Rumsfeld can get up on their high horse and say that there’ve been no fewer than 15 investigations that were conducted. But every one of those investigations is under the control of the Secretary of Defense. And every one of those investigations is run and led by a person who can lose their job under Rumsfeld’s fist.
We’re never going to know the truth until they do an independent commission or look into this independently. I don’t know if this has to be a commission. I don’t know what the term is. But I do know that we never would have known the truth about 9/11 if they didn’t appoint an independent commission. And this thing, this thing is not about what happened in Cellblock 1-A on a night shift. And it is certainly not about seven reservists who went crazy one night. This is about instructions delivered with full authority and knowledge of the Secretary of Defense and probably Cheney. I don’t know if the President was involved or not. I don’t care. All I know is, those instructions were communicated from the Secretary of Defense’s office, from the Pentagon, through Cambone, through Miller, to Abu Ghraib.
And those civilian contractors who were imported were not subjected to the same Uniform Code of Military Justice discipline as the soldiers. They were cleared, removed from the face of the earth, and seven soldiers are being held responsible. It was grossly unfair.
MC: Now why do you think the Administration is resisting an independent investigation if it has nothing to hide?
JK: Well, for the same reason that when they started to make noise a couple of weeks ago – McCain, I think, recommended developing a bill or was recommending a bill that would define the limits of how to interview prisoners, would require an international database so family members would know where their loved ones or relatives were being held. And Cheney said he would recommend to the President that any bill that would limit his ability to extract information from terrorists, he would recommend disapproval. And the President has said that he would disapprove any such bill. And it’s consistent with this Administration’s reluctance to get to the truth, because it will reveal that they knew that this was designed at their level and started from the memo under Gonzales and Haynes, I think, is it Haynes?
MC: Yes, Haynes.
JK: And Cambone and all of these people have literally taken control of the inner workings of this Administration. It’s just insane that – does anybody think that Lynndie England came to Iraq with a dog collar and a dog leash, with the idea of putting one around the prisoner’s neck, and having a photograph taken? They were using these photographs to get – to cut to the chase, for lack of a better expression. The plan was to use these photographs to show newly-arriving prisoners: hey, start to talk or tomorrow you’re on the bottom of the pile.
This is wrong to say that this was torture and abuse going on in Cellblock 1-A. It was certainly humiliating to be photographed in such a manner; I don’t disagree with that at all. I’m not trying to justify it. But there were interrogation facilities outside of Cellblock 1-A and B – separate facilities, where the actual interrogations took place. And this Administration surely does not want the details of what went on in those interrogation facilities to be known by the rest of the world.
MC: Do you think the CIA is involved? Did you have any contact with the CIA at all, in terms of their involvement with the interrogations?
JK: Marjorie, I have to tell you that from July onward, even up until December, I wouldn’t say regularly, but it was often, that I encountered somebody from the Task Force, from the CIA, from Special Operations, and by and large, they were professionals. They were absolutely the consummate professionals.
Now I don’t know if they ran separate facilities, and I don’t know what techniques they use. I do know that when they determined that somebody they were holding in one of their facilities no longer had any value and they wanted to turn them over to us, at Abu Ghraib, most likely, they turned them over with full medical records. They turned them over with a whole file of interviews and interrogations, and they turned them over in relatively good health, particularly given the situation. So I think that – this is only my conclusion – but I think that techniques in the right and responsible hands are used appropriately. I mean, I never saw anybody under the control of the Task Force or under the control of the CIA who came in bruised, bloody, beaten, and, you know, stitched together. Occasionally we did see the aftermath of a gunshot wound, but these were higher-value detainees, if there was cross-fire or if there was a bullet, but they treated those kind of wounds. That would be my impression.
However, these same techniques or suggestions of aggressive techniques that were designed, in my opinion – again, I don’t know this first-hand – but all of these reports now would indicate that these techniques were designed and tested and implemented down at Guantánamo Bay and in Afghanistan. And when you take those same techniques and put them in the hands of irresponsible and non-accountable people, like these civilian contractors were, you are combining lethal ingredients. And what happens? You get civilian contractors who have a playground, and they get out of control. And unfortunately, at Abu Ghraib they suck the military into that same playground. There’s no doubt in my mind that they ordered these things to be done.
MC: Who is “they?”
JK: They being the civilian contractors – Titan, CACI. The majority of those contractors were either in Guantánamo Bay or Afghanistan prior to being sent to Abu Ghraib. There were a lot of translators who were working for Titan. Some of them were locally hired, some of them were brought in from the United States. And they were given an opportunity to upgrade their positions to be interrogators – without any kind of formal training whatsoever. So now you have a deadly mix. You have people who have been exposed and who have used these techniques first-hand in other locations. They know that there is no supervision or control. They have been directed, using whatever words, to get Saddam, get the information and get these prisoners to start talking, use more aggressive techniques. So you have allowed people who have no responsibility whatsoever to use techniques that were originally, perhaps originally designed and used by very experienced hands. And it got out of control. It clearly got out of control.
And the reason I didn’t know about it at all is because Sanchez and Fast and that whole operation under Miller – whether he was there or not, he was directing it from Guantánamo Bay and Cambone was directing it from Washington, DC – they didn’t want Janis Karpinski anywhere near those operations. Because they knew from people talking about me, from my record, from my past performances, that I would not have tolerated anything like what was going on in Cellblock 1-A or B. I would not have.
If I had known, if I had heard from a prisoner, if I had heard from an MP, if I had heard from a soldier, if anybody had suggested such a thing, I would have raised the issue. I would have screamed at the top of my lungs until I got somebody to pay attention that this was going on out there. Likely I would have still been held accountable, because they were looking for a scapegoat all along. And I think they found one in me because they could very easily say, “Well, this is a reservist who had Reserve soldiers, and they were just out of control.”
You know, let’s tell the truth here. I’m at least as capable a leader as anybody else in the Army. And I have worked harder and taken the toughest assignments and proved my capabilities in those assignments throughout my career. But Miller wanted to make it appear that I didn’t have the same qualifications because I was a reservist – that these seven soldiers were, you know, out of control on the night shift – because they were reservists.
No, despite the failures of the Administration and the Pentagon to deploy these soldiers with the right equipment and the right training and assign the right mission, these soldiers were doing a great job. In 17 facilities, more than 40,000 prisoners throughout the time, the only photographs and allegations of abuse were in two cellblocks under the control of the Military Intelligence command and designed and incorporated by General Miller during and following his visit to Iraq.
Now how did he cover all that up? Well, guess where he got assigned after he left Guantánamo Bay? He went back to Iraq to be in charge of not only the detention operations but in charge of the interrogation operations as well, at Abu Ghraib and at the high-value detention facility. As far as I know, they were the only two facilities where there higher-value detainees are being held.
MC: Where was that facility, that higher-value detention facility?
JK: It was in Baghdad.
MC: And is he still there?
JK: No, Miller left. He was there from July of 2004 until December, or January of 2005, and then he went to the Pentagon. I think he went in March, actually. Maybe it was March of 2004 through March of 2005. And then when he left Iraq, he was assigned to the Pentagon. And that’s where he is today. He’s the only one who hasn’t been promoted in all of this. But Colonel Warren was fully aware of all this, and in a sworn statement to one of the soldier’s defense counsel, he said that General Karpinski was not aware of any of this because there were measures put in place to prevent her from knowing about any of this.
MC: Who said that?
JK: That was Colonel Warren, the JAG Officer CJ Task Force. He has been recommended for promotion to one-star.
MC: And Sanchez is being recommended for promotion too, right?
JK: I’m not aware of that. But that doesn’t surprise me. I know Rumsfeld has said all along that he thinks that Sanchez is an exceptional officer and should be recommended.
MC: And even though this high-level military investigation recommended that Miller be reprimanded, the Army General rejected the recommendation, is that right?
JK: The Commander of SOUTHCOM rejected the recommendation. Miller has never been reprimanded, not for anything down in Guantánamo Bay.
There was a Captain who was in Afghanistan. She was a Lieutenant at the time, Carolyn Woods. And she was brought over specifically by Fast. Fast recommended her to Miller. Miller brought her over to Iraq specifically to run the interrogation operation. She was linked to those deaths in Afghanistan, where the interrogators were under her control, and she was promoted to Captain. Where is she? She is at the MI school, under General Fast.
I mean there’s a ton of information, and there’s extenuating, not circumstances, but these units were deployed – the Reserve and National Guard units were deployed – with the full understanding, they had orders for 179 days. They were briefed at the mobilization station and deployed with the full understanding that they would be home before the 179 days even expired.
So without any notification whatsoever, without any warning from the Chief of the Army Reserves or anybody else in the Reserve component, they were extended 365 days, just like everybody else in the theater.
However, when you extend an active-component soldier past six months – whether that was their expectation or not – when you extend them, their families are not at risk, because their ID cards are still current, their medical and dental benefits stay current, their housing remains with them, their pay continues.
Reserves and National Guard soldiers rely completely on the orders that they are carrying in their pocket. So they had orders for a 179-day deployment. And when they were extended … it’s not like it is now; the Internet was not available. They didn’t have opportunities to call home. Nobody had a cell phone, of course, that worked from over there or anything. So their first concern was for their families. You know, our orders are going to expire and okay, they’re telling us that we’re going to get an extension eventually but our families will not have ID cards, they will not have medical benefits, they will not have dental benefits. They’re going to be kicked out of their housing, for those who are living on base. They were concerned about the welfare of their families. And there was no way to get notification to them.
So it’s different. There is a different standard. Somebody waved the magic wand and said, “Let’s extend everybody for 365 days because this war is going to go on a lot longer than we thought.”
And in my little corner of the world and my exposure down at the Coalition Provisional Authority, I saw corruption like I’ve never seen before – millions of dollars just being pocketed by contractors. Everything was on a cash basis at the time. You take a request down – literally, you take a request to the Finance Office. If the Pay Officer recognized your face and you were asking for $450,000 to pay a contractor for work, they would pay you in cash: $450,000. Out of control.
And then, Marjorie, in March or May of this year, when Admiral Church presented his investigation findings, he concluded that the Taguba Report was sound. And McCain – Senator Levin said, “Did you interview these individuals? Did you interview Colonel Pappas? Did you interview General Karpinski?” And of course he said no. He took the Taguba Report and relied heavily on that. And McCain said that the Taguba Report has been proven to be flawed and to be incomplete. Did you interview Ambassador Bremer? And Admiral Church said well, no, because I was directed to do this investigation by the Secretary of Defense and it was limited to the Department of Defense units. And the Coalition Provisional Authority and Ambassador Bremer all work for the State Department. And Senator McCain said, “Excuse me, Admiral, but you’re wrong. The Coalition Provisional Authority and Ambassador Bremer worked for the Secretary of Defense.”
MC: He didn’t know that?
JK: He didn’t know that. And neither did we when we were there. Everybody believed that there was a balance between the military and the State Department, and that Ambassador Bremer was working for Colin Powell. And that is untrue.
So now today, 2005, I understand why Bremer fired the whole Iraqi army – because he was working for the Secretary of Defense. There was no State Department influence. There was no balance. It was exclusively under the control of Rumsfeld. And there were contractors who were coming in there, hired. It’s an excellent question, how the soldiers felt about these contractors. The security guys, the bodyguards, and the security firms that were hired to provide security for visiting dignitaries or Congressional delegations – they were all making a minimum of $300 a day. $300 a day. And never left the Green Zone. They escorted the convoys to the front gate, and then the Military Police or the military units would pick up the responsibility from the gate of the Green Zone out. And here you have soldiers who are now responsible for the lives of these delegations, and some of them are making $3,000 a month.
MC: Do you think that the media is really bringing the truth to the people?
JK: You have to search for the truth. And it shouldn’t be that way. It should be reported as truth and not exploited to the advantage of whatever the direction that that outlet is going.
I know those reporters John Barry and Isikoff from Newsweek, and I was shocked when they withdrew that report about the Koran at Guantánamo Bay. I was sure it was true, and I thought, “Who got to them?” They never would have been, you know, half-assed reporting, excuse my expression. You know, I thought, “My gosh, there is no truthful outlet any more.”
And why are the American people turning a deaf ear to this? We had 17 Marines killed over the course of the last three days, less than 72 hours. And there’s still people in Washington that get on, especially Sunday mornings, and they get on these news or these debate programs and they say, “Well it’s only 1800 lives so far” – Only! Only! You know, how dare you say that!
I don’t know what the solution is. I’m not an elected official, but I was there. And it was better when we were there than it is now, because they have, whether consciously or unconsciously or just out of ineptness, they have approached this insurgency with the wrong idea.
General Casey, you know, getting on the news and saying, “Well, if everything continues on track we’ll be able to start a troop draw-down next March.” What exactly are these people smoking?
MC: You don’t think that’s a public relations ploy to get the Republicans in the midterm elections? And how are they going to maintain their 14 permanent bases in Iraq if they pull troops out? They just can’t do that.
JK: Right. And how is that being proven? Well, the insurgents are now responding, as they did right after Cheney’s comment that the insurgency was in its last throes of effectiveness. Okay? And then they responded by killing a whole bunch of people.
So now they come back and Casey says, “Well, if everything continues on track, we should be able to start the troop draw-down by next Spring, early next Spring and into the Summer.” And how is the insurgency responding? It’s like setting up an explosive device and blowing 14 Marines off the face of the earth.
It’s just unbelievable, and was, unfortunately, predictable, on the very elementary level of planning sustainment operations. And I don’t know if it was just absolute ignorance or wishful thinking. And there is a vast difference between them, but either one of them, something was incorporated by the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense, of what they thought that, as soon as they got to Baghdad and pulled those statues down, that everybody was going to be coming out waving American flags and throwing flowers? What kind of ignorance is this?
Iraq was a huge country, and when you have people largely saying, now, “He may have been a dictator, but we were better under Saddam,” this Administration needs to take notice. And at some point you have to say, “Stop the train, because it’s completely derailed. How do we fix it?” But in an effort to do that, you have to admit that you made a few mistakes, and this Administration is not willing to admit any mistakes whatsoever.
MC: You’re writing a book. Do you have a publisher?
JK: Yeah, Miramax. It’s going to be published in November. I didn’t get any kind of correspondence except to chastise me. When I was going out to San Francisco to speak to the University of San Francisco, the law school out there, that was in April, I got a form letter from the Chief of the Army Reserves warning me – warning me – about speaking about Abu Ghraib, and that everything was still under investigation. Well, shortly after I got back, I get a letter saying that he understands that I’m writing a book and I should submit the transcript for review.
And my lawyer responded simply by telling him that I was a private citizen and I don’t fall under the same requirements, which he had to acknowledge, because that’s true. I’m not ignorant, and I’m not going to reveal any classified information in anything I write, but I don’t need to, because the truth is the truth, and it doesn’t have to be classified. It is definitely staggering, but the truth is the truth.
Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.
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