The U.S. general who was in charge of running prisons in Iraq told Army investigators earlier this year that she had resisted decisions by superior officers to hand over control of the prisons to military intelligence officials and to authorize the use of lethal force as a first step in keeping order -- command decisions that have come in for heavy criticism in the Iraq prison abuse scandal.
Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, head of the 800th Military Police Brigade, spoke of her resistance to the decisions in a detailed account of her tenure furnished to Army investigators. It places two of the highest-ranking Army officers now in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, at the heart of decision-making on both matters.
Karpinski has been formally admonished by the Army for her actions in Iraq. She said both men overruled her concerns about the military intelligence takeover and the use of deadly force.
Each man contests portions of her account, which appears in the classified annex to the Army's internal probe into the abuse and torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Her account was described by a U.S. government official to The Washington Post and confirmed by her attorney.
Karpinski's account surfaced on the same day another officer accused by the Army of wrongdoing in the scandal, Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum, released an official rebuttal stating that Abu Ghraib perpetually lacked key resources and personnel, and that the leadership above him was almost entirely unresponsive to his requests for help.
Phillabaum wrote that military police assigned to the prison were not properly trained in the Geneva Conventions or detention operations, but that training alone would not have prevented the abuses, which he said were committed by a few soldiers.
He also said that in one instance, a female guard under his command took "vigilante justice" -- using physical force against a male prisoner who she believed had assaulted Jessica Lynch, an Army private captured by Iraqi soldiers and later rescued by U.S. troops during the war.
Karpinski said the decision about transferring control of the prison to military intelligence officials was broached at a September 2003 meeting with Miller, who was then in charge of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, known colloquially as "Gitmo." Miller had come to Iraq at the insistence of top political officials in the Pentagon, who were frustrated by the meager intelligence coming from prisoners. Two weeks ago, he was appointed to reform the U.S.-run prisons in Iraq.
Karpinski, the first female general officer to lead U.S. soldiers in combat, was a beleaguered field commander trying to cope with what she and others have described as constantly shifting assignments, poor living conditions and near-daily mortar attacks on Abu Ghraib.
Karpinski recalled that Miller told her he wanted to "Gitmo-ize" the prison -- a concept that critics have said opened the door to the use of aggressive interrogation techniques suited to loosening the tongues of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo, not Iraqis in a common jail. Miller said through a military spokesman yesterday that he does not recall using the word "Gitmo-ize."
Undersecretary of Defense Stephen A. Cambone said yesterday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the concept has been misunderstood, and that all the Pentagon had in mind was "a cooperative attitude, team-building, call it what you will, between" intelligence interrogators and military police to produce more and better information.
According to Karpinski's account, the surrender of authority to military intelligence did not go over easily. "This prison is not mine to give you," she said she told Miller. He responded, according to Karpinski's account: "You own the MP's [military police] and you supply them." Karpinski replied that "it belongs to the CPA," or Coalition Provisional Authority.
Then, she told investigators, Miller said to her, "We will do this my way or the hard way," and asked that the room be cleared so the two were alone.
He then said, according to Karpinski's account: "I have permission to take any facility I want from General Sanchez. We are going to get Military Intelligence procedures in place in that facility because the Military Intelligence isn't getting the information from these detainees that they should. . . . We are going to send MP's in here who know how to handle interrogation."
Miller said through a military spokesman that he never made those comments, but he did not provide his own account of the meeting.
Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who conducted the Army's internal probe of the abuses from mid-January to the end of February, said in his report that the shift of responsibility, which was formalized on Nov. 19, 2003, produced "clear friction and a lack of effective communication" between commanders.
As a result, he said, "coordination occurred at the lowest possible levels with little oversight by commanders." Taguba also concluded that having a military intelligence officer in command of military police units in charge of running a prison was "not doctrinally sound due to the different missions and agenda assigned to each of these respective specialties."
With regard to the use of lethal force to keep order at Abu Ghraib, the International Committee of the Red Cross, in a private February 2004 report given to Sanchez, said that military police had repeatedly engaged in "excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty, resulting in death or injury."
The ICRC said this was a violation of the Geneva Conventions, making it a war crime.
According to Karpinski's account, it was Sanchez who decided in November 2003 to loosen the military's rules of engagement so that the guards would be freer to use lethal force at the outset of any disturbance. His decision came in a meeting with Karpinski that both officers recall, but Sanchez -- who was asked to comment by The Post -- yesterday gave a different account.
The backdrop for their discussion was a riot at Abu Ghraib on the afternoon of Nov. 24, organized by prisoners distressed at the lack of proper food and clothing, their isolation from any family contact and their indeterminate detentions. In the melee, nine U.S. soldiers were injured, three detainees were killed by military police and nine other detainees were wounded.
"It was raining rocks and boulders," said Sgt. William Savage Jr., 41, who was assigned to a guard tower. "It was unreal," he said in an interview with The Post. "I had never seen anything like that before. It was so out of control that we had to use regular rounds" and not just rubber bullets.
On the same day, a military police officer was inadvertently shot when guards learned that a detainee had a pistol in his cell and an "ad-hoc extraction team" of military police and intelligence officials searched for it, according to Taguba's report. He ruled that inadequate procedures, ineffective rules of engagement, poor training and an unclear relationship between the two types of personnel contributed to the incident.
Karpinski told Taguba that Sanchez expressed disappointment to her that the guard force had not used lethal firepower from the outset to put down the riot. She said yesterday through her lawyer that Sanchez said, "I'm tired of this MP mentality; I want them to shoot first and use nonlethal force later."
Karpinski told Taguba that she had objected, saying that it would violate the rules of engagement for military police, which require using lethal force only after trying other methods and obtaining command approval. She also said it would be dangerous for police to carry weapons with lethal ammunition among inmates, according to her account.
She said Sanchez told her in the presence of a military lawyer that "I don't care about the rules of engagement," and went on say, "If the rules of engagement are a problem, then change them." According to her account, a Sanchez deputy attending the meeting told her: "There isn't any difference if they are throwing rocks or MRE's [Meals Ready to Eat]. They are armed. Use lethal force."
Sanchez, through a spokesman at U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad yesterday, denied saying he did not care about the rules of engagement, and said the point of the conversation was to correct Karpinski's misunderstanding that the rule of "graduated response" required military police to put rubber bullets in their weapons and use those first. Sanchez advised her that the police could put deadly ammunition in their weapons and use it from the outset, the spokesman said.
"They changed their rules of engagement, I believe four times, to use lethal, and then, to nonlethal, [and] to lethal force based on the level of the events," Taguba testified yesterday, referring to the U.S. military command in Iraq. "I believe the last time they changed that rules of engagement . . . was in November of last year. That's contained in one of the annexes that we have."
Col. Marc Warren, a senior legal adviser to Sanchez, said the shift in question "was a clarification to ensure that soldiers knew that when threatened with serious bodily harm or loss of life, that you could immediately use deadly force" instead of following "the general policy that we use graduated force and use deadly force only as a last resort."
In its February report, the Red Cross said 23 detainees had been shot during disturbances or attempted escapes at Abu Ghraib and two other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq between May and November 2003. It said that "non-lethal measures could have been used to obtain the same results and quell the demonstrations or neutralize persons. . . . Since the beginning of the conflict, the ICRC has regularly brought its concerns to the attention" of the U.S. force in Iraq.