Correction to This Article
A Jan. 23 article about former Abu Ghraib prison guard Megan Ambuhl should have said that a noncommissioned officer gave Ambuhl her first tour of the Iraq prison. The story article said that "an enlisted officer" gave her the tour.

Former Abu Ghraib Guard Calls Top Brass Culpable for Abuse

Ambuhl, back home in Centreville, said officials told her and other MPs to use aggressive tactics against detainees.
Ambuhl, back home in Centreville, said officials told her and other MPs to use aggressive tactics against detainees. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 23, 2006

Stepping into the Abu Ghraib prison for the first time, Megan Ambuhl was stunned. There were naked men in dusty cells, male prisoners wearing women's underwear, others hooded and shackled in contorted positions to metal railings.

An enlisted officer giving her a tour of the U.S. facility in October 2003 pointed to a group of detainees chained to a cell. He said the bars had often "been decorated like a Christmas tree," with prisoners as ornaments.

"He explained it was a military intelligence tactic," Ambuhl said in a recent interview, speaking publicly for the first time since the Abu Ghraib prison abuse was disclosed nearly two years ago. "He said it was to break the detainees that were being interrogated. It was clear it was a military intelligence facility. As I saw it, I thought that if they were doing it, it must be all right for them to be doing it."

One of the original seven military police soldiers singled out by the Pentagon for their roles in abusive techniques, Ambuhl is speaking out because she believes the truth has been obscured by high-ranking officials intent on covering up a policy of abuse. Though her defense differs little from the arguments made previously by the defendants' attorneys, Ambuhl's first-person description of the macabre world of Abu Ghraib provides a vivid perspective on how things went out of control at the prison outside of Baghdad, a place where there were few rules and little guidance. Her account also shows that some of the abusive tactics were in place when the MPs arrived at the prison.

Ambuhl has since married one of her fellow MPs -- Charles A. Graner Jr., the man the military has labeled the ringleader of the abusers -- and is on a mission to secure his release from prison.

Now out of the Army, punished with a reduction in rank and a fine for dereliction of duty but no prison time, Ambuhl says the military's top brass have dodged responsibility for what was going on at the prison by scapegoating her and other low-ranking soldiers.

By the time of her tour in 2003, Ambuhl had been in the Army reserves for about a year. She realized she was walking into something she clearly did not understand. Her unit, the 372nd Military Police Company, had been trained to do combat support jobs, not detention. She was ordered to work the night shift and said she asked few questions because she did not know what questions to ask.

Ambuhl says she and other MPs used aggressive techniques against detainees because that is what military intelligence soldiers and civilian interrogators told her to do.

She described a "roster board" that included which military intelligence "treatment" to give to certain detainees and said trainers from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, taught the MPs how to put detainees in "stress positions." She said military intelligence officials told them to keep detainees naked, embarrass them or make them exercise until they reached exhaustion.

"We were told to handcuff people in uncomfortable positions, to put people on [Meals Ready to Eat] boxes, to pour cold water on them, to make them do physical training," said Ambuhl, who worked the night shift on Tier 1B. "We did what we were told to do."

That defense has not worked well for several of the MPs charged with abuse, most notably Graner, who worked the night shift on Tier 1A, alongside Ambuhl. Graner is serving a 10-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Ambuhl married Graner last April after his conviction, sending marriage documents to him to sign in prison. The Army has prevented them from meeting or even speaking, alleging that they are co-conspirators.


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