Military intelligence officers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq directed military police to take clothes from prisoners, leave detainees naked in their cells and make them wear women's underwear, part of a series of alleged abuses that were openly discussed at the facility, according to a military intelligence soldier who worked at the prison last fall.
Sgt. Samuel Provance said intelligence interrogators told military police to strip down prisoners and embarrass them as a way to help "break" them. The same interrogators and intelligence analysts would talk about the abuse with Provance and flippantly dismiss it because the Iraqis were considered "the enemy," he said.
The first military intelligence soldier to speak openly about alleged abuse at Abu Ghraib, Provance said in a telephone interview from Germany yesterday that the highest-ranking military intelligence officers at the prison were involved and that the Army appears to be trying to deflect attention away from military intelligence's role.
Since the abuse at Abu Ghraib became public, senior Pentagon officials have characterized the interrogation techniques as the willful actions of a small group of soldiers and a failure of leadership by their commander. Provance's comments challenge that, and attorneys for accused soldiers allege that the techniques were directed by military intelligence officials.
In an interview, Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, the commander of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq at the time of the alleged abuse, claimed that military intelligence imposed its authority so fully that she eventually had limited access to the interrogation facilities. And an attorney for one of the soldiers accused of abuse said yesterday that the Army has rejected his request for an independent inquiry, which could block potentially crucial information about involvement of military intelligence, the CIA and the FBI from being revealed.
Provance was part of that military intelligence operation but was not an interrogator. He said he administered a secret computer network at Abu Ghraib for about six months and did not witness abuse. But Provance said he had numerous discussions with members of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade about their tactics in the prison. He also maintains he voiced his disapproval as early as last October.
"Military intelligence was in control," Provance said. "Setting the conditions for interrogations was strictly dictated by military intelligence. They weren't the ones carrying it out, but they were the ones telling the MPs to wake the detainees up every hour on the hour" or limiting their food.
The 205th Military Intelligence Brigade's top officers have declined to comment publicly, not answering repeated phone calls and e-mail messages. Provance, a member of the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion's A Company, signed a nondisclosure agreement at his base in Germany on Friday. But he said he wanted to discuss Abu Ghraib because he believes that the intelligence community is covering up the abuses. He also spoke to ABC News on Sunday for a program that was to air last night.
Provance was interviewed by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay -- who is looking into the military intelligence community's role in the abuse -- and testified at an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a pretrial hearing, for one of the MPs this month. But Provance said Fay was interested only in what military police had done, asking no questions about military intelligence.
Gary R. Myers, a civilian lawyer representing one of seven MPs charged in the alleged abuse, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, said his client does not claim he was ordered to abuse detainees, just that military intelligence outlined what should be done and then left it up to the MPs.
"My guy is simply saying that these activities were encouraged" by military intelligence, Myers said yesterday. "The story is not necessarily that there was a direct order. Everybody is far too subtle and smart for that. . . . Realistically, there is a description of an activity, a suggestion that it may be helpful and encouragement that this is exactly what we needed."
Myers says he fears that officials are covering up the involvement of senior military officers, and that military officials have dissected the investigation into several separate inquiries run by people who have potential conflicts of interest. Earlier this month Myers asked Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of the Army's III Corps in Iraq, to order a special "court of inquiry" to offer an outside, unbiased look at the scandal, as was done when a U.S. Navy submarine collided with a Japanese fishing boat near Hawaii in 2001.
In a short letter dated May 5, Metz declined. Provance said when he arrived at Abu Ghraib last September, the place was bordering on chaos. Soldiers did not wear their uniforms, instead just donning brown shirts. They were all on a first-name basis. People came and went.
Within days -- about the time Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller paid a visit to the facility and told Karpinski, the commanding officer, that he wanted to "Gitmo-ize" the place -- money began pouring in, and many more interrogators streamed to the site. More prisoners were also funneled to the facility. Provance said officials from "Gitmo" -- the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- arrived to increase the pressure on detainees and streamline interrogation efforts.
"The operation was snowballing," Provance said. "There were more and more interrogations. The chain of command was putting a lot of resources into the facility."
Even Karpinski, who commanded the facility as the head of the 800th MP Brigade, had to knock on a plywood door to gain access to the interrogation wing. She said that she had no idea what was going on there, and that the MPs who were handpicked to "enhance the interrogation effort" were essentially beyond her reach and unable to discuss their mission.
It was about that same time that Karpinski felt that high-ranking generals were trying to separate military intelligence away from Abu Ghraib and the military police operation, so it would be even more secluded and secret. Karpinski said in a recent interview that she visited three sites in and around Baghdad with military intelligence officials who were scouting a new compound.
"They continued to move me farther and farther away from it," Karpinski said. "They weren't extremely happy with Abu Ghraib. They wanted their own compound."