Former Abu Ghraib MP
Monday, January 23, 2006 2:30 PM
Former Abu Ghraib MP Megan Ambuhl, wife of jailed soldier Charles Graner, was online Monday, Jan. 23, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss her interview in The Washington Post, her assertion that the pattern of abuse at Abu Ghraib was well established and her campaign for his release.
Interview: Former Abu Ghraib Guard Calls Top Brass Culpable for Abuse , ( Post, Jan. 23, 2006 )
Read Megan Ambuhl 's Web site, Support MP Scapegoats.
The transcript follows.
Pacifica, Calif.: Do you believe that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller should be prosecuted or held accountable in some official manner for many of the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib and other locations in Iraq?
It now appears clear through multiple sources that he was a major influence in the increased harshness of interrogation tactics.
Megan Ambuhl: Thank you and yes. The Pentagon keeps referring to their investigations on what happened, yet when one advising holding General Miller accountable(Schmidt Report), they decide at that point that no, maybe they wont take follow these investigations. What is wrong with an independent investigation, what is their to fear in the truth? They started at the bottom when what they should have done was start at the top.
Fairfax, Va.: First of all I'd like to say thank you. If brave people like yourself continue to speak out we may shame the President and Republican controlled Congress into finally having an independent investigation into this shameful behavior. My question is about women prisoners. Were there many, were they kept separate, and did you see any incidents of women being tortured; also were the questioning methods the same? Thanks again; you have the support of many Americans.
Megan Ambuhl: Thank you and this is important because all of the women were housed on my side of the tier and no they were never tortured. Many were only their because their family member was being searched for, which I believe is some kind of violation. They were kept in the middle of children, military holds, the worst prisoners from around the prison, yet they were allowed many small things to make their stay their at least a little better.
San Francisco, Calif.: It appears that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Ricardo Sanchez were deeply involved in determining how detainees were to be interrogated in Iraq. Reports have stated that a very large majority of Iraqis detained were,in fact, detained in error.
How important is it do you believe for our standing in the world that those in charge be held accountable, no matter their rank or position in the civilian hierarchy?
Megan Ambuhl: Thank you, I believe that is needs to be said that if 85% of the detainees at Abu Ghraib were innocent, than the other 15% were on Tier 1. Especially the detainees who planned and carried out riots in an attempt to take MP's hostage and kill them. The other detainees who planned and rioted became military intelligence holds and there was every right of the MP's to believe the same would occur with the group that form the basis for the charges.
If anyone is going to be held accountable, then everyone should, and all of the MP's should have been afforded the opportunity to present all the evidence in their defense.
More importantly, the soldiers sentenced to 3,8, and 10 years for this is much more harsh than any other sentence handed down for about 70 similar cases where soldiers were facing the same or more prison time.
Arlington, Va.: Dear Ms. Ambuhl: I have great sympathy for anyone put in the situation you experienced. Twenty years ago, I was a civilian Army employee in a stateside job. During an office discussion of the My Lai massacre, a major who had been in Vietnam told us that Army officers and enlisted men were now being told that while they could be punished for refusing to carry out an order, they were under a legal/moral obligation to refuse to carry out an illegal order. They were also told that "I was following orders" was not an acceptable defense for your actions. Did your unit get any similar training?
Megan Ambuhl: HI, thanks, I do not believe that the unit received this training. There was a lot of confusing around the time of deployment and many soldiers did not receive all of the training but the unit was certified and sent to Iraq.
From basic training onward it is pretty much reinforced from drill sergeants screaming in your face to regular sergeants out in the field that questioning your orders and not doing what you are told will not only get you killed but your battle buddy as well.
New soldiers spend a lot of time having this reinforced with PT, details no one else wants, more PT. I remember early in the deployment a soldier was screamed at and punished for moving a Humvee without permission.
washingtonpost.com: Why didn't you report the abuse sooner? You mentioned in regard to the pictures that you weren't "sneaking around pretending this wasn't going on." Did you at any point try to report this to a superior within Abu Ghraib?
Megan Ambuhl: I did not have to, my NCOIC, SSG Frederick and CPL Graner both complained about this to numerous people as did CPT Fishback in his situation and you see in all cases that these questions/complaints were turned aside or ignored. All the superiors knew, and you see how many of them plead the 5th at CPL Graner's trial. I believe that speaks volumes.
If you look at my Web site you will see a counseling statement from the OIC of the prison telling him what a good job he is doing, etc..
It is hard to understand in a situation like this were soldiers are getting killed around you and everyone you talk to from colonels on down say do what you are told, where do you turn to next. Maybe we should have kept going on to Congress, but at some point you trust your Chain of Command, as is hammered into you to do.
Washington, D.C.: What was the command climate like in your unit? The Taguba report and other anecdotal reports make it sound like the leadership was inept and ineffectual. Why was your unit caught up in this and other units in similar conditions resisted pressures to maltreat prisoners?
Megan Ambuhl: I believe that we had a very weak Chain of Command. We were a combat support company sent to do an EPW mission with no training at all while EPW units were in Kuwait pulling guard duty. Doesn't make much sense and almost makes you wonder if we were sent there on purpose.
The unit before us was an EPW unit and had a stronger Chain of Command I believe.
The one time I saw our MP chain of command challenge our MI chain of command was when there was a chemical weapon brought on to the tier with the detainees it was found around.
When our MP chain of command found out, they came in in their chemical gear and tested it to make sure it wasn't leaking, as it was in some sort of container, wrapped up in just a trash bag. We were told absolutely do not get it wet, and it was stored in a damp prison supply room that water regularly got into.
The MP chain of command rose all kinds of protest to the MI people in charge about us having to house a chemical weapon, but at the end of the day it stayed where it was and we brought our chemical gear with us to work until it was removed, when MI was done with it. So they didn't have much say even when they did try.
Abiquiu, N.M.: As a former member of army military intelligence, I know that when a low ranking MI officer walks into a room, he or she can move a higher ranking officer to do almost anything.
Is this the problem in your situation .... MI people influencing how to interrogate Iraqi prisoners?
Megan Ambuhl: Thanks, not only did the MI soldiers not were their tops most of the time, but when they did, there was no rank on their DCU tops. So even if we were looking for rank, we had no clue.
This was their tier, their detainees, their show, and we were just their to set the conditions and that was pretty much what we knew from the beginning.
Houston, Tex.: How much training did the MPs have before their posting in Iraq? Was that a factor in the treatment of detainees?
Megan Ambuhl: Yes we received a lot of training for combat support missions as that was the type of unit we were. We received very little EPW training, I believe one class on the use of a shotgun, and one on riot control.
There were EPW units available to do the mission.
But we were MP and we went where we were told but at least they should have given us the training we needed and the resources.
I believe that there was an effort to shape us into something like Guantanamo Bay with out the proper procedures, training, supplies, amount of soldiers, medical back up and when it failed we were left alone to answer for the wrongs of putting a prison in the middle of Baghdad, and broader than that we somehow became guilty for what has gone wrong in the war
Arizona Bay, Ariz.: Any thoughts on this countries current president and his administration?
Megan Ambuhl: Thanks, I would just like to say, even if a little off topic that is seems a little scary when there is one party(regardless of which party) in control of two branches of government, there is little to no accountability.
Again, why not have an independent investigation? I can live with the results of an independent investigation because I know that the results will be far different from what we have seen in the military's investigations of itself
Pittsfield, Mass.: I would say that if the events transpired as you say your situation is unjust no one should be put into a no win position.
My questions are these:
How many guards were deployed to the prison during your tour? I ask because only a small amount were actually charged. Was that because they interpreted the protocols differently than you and therefore did not act in the same manner or were there a much broader system of wrong acts not account for?
Also weren't you in violation of the UCMJ with your relation ship with your now husband?
Are you saying that the Army never taught you what an illegal order entails?
Megan Ambuhl: I say that there was a concerted effort to lay the blame at the feet of a "few bad apples". There was a amnesty period about 2 days after the investigation started where soldiers could get rid of anything they shouldn't have, including pictures.
CPL Graner's squad leader had pictures on his computer and these were erased by CID.
If the investigators wanted to know who knew they would have lined everybody up and confiscated every single computer on FOB Abu Ghraib.
When soldiers tried to speak out, they were threatened with charges and their security clearances were taken away, etc.. It became pretty clear what the investigators wanted and thus the unit who could have stoop by their soldiers and backed them up walked away to save their own backsides.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Megan. My son was over there at the same time you were there and had to deliver prisoners to Abu Ghraib. I would like to know who you find to be most culpable for the situation. And, could you talk about how comments such as "capture (Osama bin Laden) dead or alive," "bring it on," and the indiscriminate use of the word "terrorist" affected young and inexperienced soldiers. Did those words as applied to prisoners in Iraq affect the manner in which our army handled Iraqis? Thanks for your service.
Megan Ambuhl: Thank you and your son for his service.
At the time I was hearing things like, "Breaking this detainee will save lives," and "Breaking this guy will have global implications" from civilian contractors.
Things like this and what your son was hearing definitely affected how the detainees and Iraqi's were handled. It was pretty much thought that we were dealing with terrorist and enemy combatants, no matter what the admin is saying now or what six word phrase Rumsfeld dreamt up.
Not only do words and phrases affect young soldiers but watching how their older NCOs deal with Iraqis would have left a big impression as well. I read a case were a young soldier questioned hitting a detainee with a block of wood, not at Abu Ghraib, and his NCOIC told him this is pretty much the way we do it, get used to it, and pretty soon you will be doing it too, or something close to that.
Fort Myers, Fla.: Charles Graner said: "the Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'" Why should he ever be let out of prison?
Megan Ambuhl: He did not say that, that was a misquote and he should be let out now because he and the others in prison have served more prison time than any other soldier sentenced for similar cases in over 70 examples I give on my Web site, http://www.supportmpscapegoats.com/, including murders.
West Babylon, N.Y.: Hello and thank you for taking our questions. When you say you were told to use "aggressive" techniques with Iraqi prisoners, were you ever given specific examples of aggressive techniques to use? Where did these orders come from?
Megan Ambuhl: Yes and these came from the MI handles, the civilian contractor handlers, OGA, whoever was in charge of the particular detainee.
Laugh and point at his penis while naked, run him into things, showers all the time, strip him all clothing, bedding, diet manipulation, cut his clothes off with a knife, etc..
Washington, D.C.: Are you aware of what may be contained in the mysterious additional pictures/documents from Abu Ghraib?
Megan Ambuhl: Thanks, certainly not any pictures of sodomy and rape. It just shows more soldiers, medics, some pictures of what detainees did to themselves(which were taken to get them transferred to a mental hospital and then were used against the MP's) stress positions, etc.
Alexandria, Va.: Compare the max sentence CPL Graner received and PFC England and the max sentence of three years Chief Warrant Lewis Welshofer is facing for killing a Iraqi prisoner..how many cases are there where you get less time in prison for murder than "the seven bad apples" got for following orders??
Megan Ambuhl: Thanks, a lot and the 3 years I believe is only his max, he has not been sentenced yet.
there are about 10 murder cases where the sentences were 3 years or less.
the abuse cases number about 60+ with similar situations and while facing the same or more jail time than the "bad apples" all received sentences of 1 year or less.
and let me just say I am not judging their situations, I have had enough of people judging mine without all the facts, just point out these sentences are way to high
San Anselmo, Calif.: Why do you think most (all?) of the guards were willing to accept a plea-bargain. Who told them that they didn't have a chance?
Megan Ambuhl: Well, trials aren't necessarily about the truth and so much of the information was not allowed into the trials. The Army holds all the cards when it comes to a court-martial and their conviction rate, in fact for most of the services, is in the 80 or 90% range.
If all the information was allowed to come out, no doubt things would have turned out differently, but people had to make their own decisions for their own personal reasons.
Hyattsville, Md.: Were you/your unit given specific orders to perform some of the humiliating acts that were captured on film and broadcast around the world? If not, who came up with those ideas?
Megan Ambuhl: Thanks,
some of the techniques were told to us and became sort of a standard operating procedure, detainees who came in as military intelligence holds were to be stressed out with PT and other stuff like that.
Some of the pictures you saw were actual control techniques in a situation out of control and one guard pulling from civilian experience to fit into what was nothing like an American prison. an expert witness on use of force was not allowed to testify by the military judge at the CPL Graner's trial and so none of that was ever explained and served to cut the legs out from under his defense.
Washington, D.C.: Had any of the enlisted soldiers in Abu Ghraib completed the education and pass bar exams in their respective states that would have qualified them to interpret the law regarding what is appropriate and inappropriate treatment of detainees? I'm convinced that the White House knew well in advance that the outcome of confusing the issue of torture would be that some military people close to the fight would overstep the law, which would be applied after the fact.
Megan Ambuhl: Thank you, and I have to agree with that.
Plus you must consider that these MI soldiers were coming over from Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan deployments where these tactics were allowed.
The MI soldiers at Abu Ghraib signed papers say they understood they could use these harsher interrogation tactics from General Sanchez's Oct. 10th memo and the MP's were told they were housing enemy combatants and terrorists.
It is clear how the same tactics were approved all over the place and only after the fact was there this scramble to distance Iraq and what was allowed politically to what was approved on the ground.
Sims, N.C.: Megan, Thanks for your time and honesty. It is great to finally hear the unspun truth. How can we best support the troops still serving? According to Karl Rove he continues to keep the war going as long as it will produce votes.
Megan Ambuhl: Well, I know that most troops know that the support is great, the packages and letters that reach the soldiers over there are wonderful and give them a taste of home.
I would say that there is nothing wrong with questioning this war, it does not in any way diminish what the soldiers are doing and they actually spend a lot of time concentrating on their mission. Talking about it, debating it, that's what makes this country great.
Syracuse, N.Y.: Thank you for taking questions.
Did you ever feel sorry for the prisoners being humiliated in this manner? Did you ever feel personally that as a human being, or as an American, that this is something that did not seem right and you wished it was not being done? Or were you of the mindset, that this was something you were being directed to do.
Megan Ambuhl: Thank you, I felt like this was the job I was given and I didn't have the luxury to feel anything while my fellow soldiers who had to go outside the wire were coming back missing body parts from IEDs or dead. We did not do this without instruction and we did not wait until everyone went to bed and it happened on all shifts.
Who I did feel sorry for were other detainees who had mental issues who we couldn't get help for until we finally showed pictures of what they were doing to themselves and us.
New Britain, Conn.: I served as an MP in Baghdad the same time you were there. Although our missions involved combat patrols and not prisons, we had specific instructions to treat all prisoners captured in a humane, respective way. As an MP, I was in the same chain of command as you were, and I find it difficult to believe that our SOP's were so different than yours. It seems that some of your comments are politically motivated, who is helping you in your fight to exonerate your husband?
Megan Ambuhl: I am working to set the truth straight now by myself and if my political opinion slipped in, then it is a part of how this case has shaped me seeing as how much truth was twisted to make it seem like we did this on our one.
If you had an SOP then you were lucky, because they started writing ours after the investigation started,even though SSG Frederick asked numerous people about this. The one and only page we had to go by was our Rules of Engagement. SSG Frederick told me(in the fall of 03) that a prison at home would have an SOP that was taller than him, over 6' and we had one page and many verbal instructions.
I applaud what you did on your combat support missions, and we did those missions as well in Hillah, but this was a completely different mission.
Springfield, Va.: During your tour of duty at Abu Ghraib, where were the senior NCOs and company/grade officers who could have/should have presented this mess?
Megan Ambuhl: They were standing around, approving of this stuff; there was the NCOIC who was on the block every single night, and OIC who I believe never even received a letter of reprimand and who is now back at work in Congress.
Notice at the trial of CPL Graner, almost all of the MP and MI Chain of Command invoker their Article 31 rights, which you actually invoke to avoid self-incrimination, and not because your tired of answering questions.
Atlanta, Ga.: Do you deny that Cpl Graner committed the acts he was convicted of? if not, what's your argument for his release? 'just following orders' isn't a very sympathetic argument in this case.
Megan Ambuhl: We all took responsibility, unlike our Chains of Command and civilian leadership. I am not trying to say we are completely blameless, and none of us every has said that. Looking back, I wish I had called Josh White in Oct of 03 along with my reps and Senators.
However, in light of what has come out, and what hopefully we can still get out, the sentences were excessive and should be reduced.
There is comparable extenuating and mitigating facts from this case to all the other cases where the most time received in those cases was 1 year. It is a big leap to give a PVT convicted of maiming, false statement, assault, maltreatment and facing 15 years received a reduction in rank. the list goes on
Megan Ambuhl: Thank you all very much for allowing me a chance to answer some of your questions. I hope I have shed a little light on the what has been a one-sided affair to date.
Please check out my Web site at http://www.supportmpscapegoats.com/ to see more of the true nature of what went on and sign the petition to get clemency for not on Charles Graner, but Lynndie England, Ivan Frederick, and all the other MP scapegoats.
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