A top military intelligence commander who worked at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said Thursday that abuse of detainees at the facility was not part of an official interrogation strategy and instead represented "unacceptable behavior."
Capt. Carolyn A. Wood spoke publicly for the first time at a preliminary court hearing here, testifying via telephone that her military intelligence unit did not encourage the sexual humiliation and physical abuse of detainees that touched off an international scandal. Wood said her command -- and other senior officers in Iraq -- signed off on some controversial interrogation tactics but said that such methods were carefully applied and never involved physical contact.
Wood said she approved of using physical training exercises and stress positions to wear down detainees at least once or twice between August and December of 2003, but she said she never had a request to keep a detainee naked or to use humiliation. She said she was floored when she saw photographs that implicated several soldiers in the abuse of naked and shackled detainees.
"Words can't describe my reaction," Wood testified in a call from Arizona, where she is based. "I was shocked. I was very disappointed. I was outraged."
But Wood said at least one of the officially approved methods of harsh interrogation -- the use of muzzled military dogs -- appears to have been misapplied. She said Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, told her he was bringing in the dogs shortly before she left the base, and photographic evidence and statements from dog handlers at Abu Ghraib indicate that unmuzzled dogs later were used to frighten detainees during interrogations. The dogs were brought within inches of detainees' faces, and at least one detainee was bitten.
When asked whether the use of unmuzzled dogs would be inappropriate, Wood said: "Yes, I believe it would. But it would have to be very close and unmuzzled."
Capt. Brent Fitch, a staff judge advocate and Pappas's legal adviser, testified that he saw one or two requests each week for deviations from the standard set of interrogation tactics, requests that needed approval from Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then the highest-ranking U.S. officer in Iraq. Fitch said military intelligence officials also kept International Committee of the Red Cross investigators from seeing certain prisoners at Abu Ghraib on a "temporary" basis, using a provision of the Geneva Conventions that allows them to secretly hold detainees for a "real imperative necessity." He said about eight such prisoners were kept from the ICRC during a visit in December.
Four members of the military intelligence unit at Abu Ghraib testified during the third day of a preliminary court hearing for Pfc. Lynndie R. England, 21, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company who is charged with abusing detainees at the prison last year. Military prosecutors presented evidence that military intelligence did not condone abusive behavior, but there was scant evidence Thursday that England played much of a role in it.
England's face has become synonymous with the abuse, as the picture of her holding a detainee on a leash has thrust her into the spotlight. But evidence Thursday again pointed to Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. as a leader of the abuses. England has been characterized as a lackadaisical administrative clerk who was enamored of Graner and spent many late nights hanging around the prison's Tier 1 to be with him.
Special Agent Tyler Pieron, who investigated the abuse, testified that Graner "was the ringleader of the abuse."
Defense attorneys for seven MPs charged with the abuse have said military intelligence ordered the MPs to soften up the detainees, but Pieron said he could not confirm those claims.
" 'They told us to do it,' " Pieron said the MPs told him. "We never could find out who 'they' was. There was no one they could say who told them to do it."
Wood said that she does not believe that any military intelligence soldiers instructed the MPs to abuse prisoners, but she did acknowledge that the interrogators kept their identities concealed while on the cellblock.
Spec. Israel Rivera, a military intelligence soldier who witnessed some of the abuse, disclosed another irregularity at the prison: He said MPs smuggled in a local resident named Ali, who set up a restaurant and cafe. There, Rivera said, the man illegally sold liquor and ran a prostitution ring until intelligence officers had him removed.