Human Rights

"Treat Them Like Dogs"

Col. Janis Karpinski, the highest-ranking officer demoted in connection with the torture scandal, speaks out about what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison.
In April 2004, a secret Pentagon report concluded that U.S. soldiers had committed "egregious acts and grave breaches of international law" at Abu Ghraib. Since the photos first appeared, no senior Bush administration officials have been reprimanded for what happened at Abu Ghraib. Seven soldiers have been convicted for their role in the detainee abuse. Last month Lynndie England was sentenced to three years in prison. In January, Specialist Charles Graner was sentenced to 10 years. The highest ranking military officer reprimanded was Brigadier General Janis Karpinski who was commanding officer at the prison. She was demoted to colonel in May. She oversaw all military police in Iraq and was the first female ever to command soldiers in a combat zone. This is an abridged transcript of her interview.

AMY GOODMAN: Col. Janis Karpinski has just published a book about her experience. It's called One Woman's Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story. How did you end up at Abu Ghraib?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Abu Ghraib was one of 17 prison facilities that we were responsible for in Iraq. The units deployed from January throughout 2003 up 'til about April of 2003 to conduct a prisoner of war mission. The units are trained to do prisoner of war operations, and a prisoner of war camp was established in Iraq, very close to the Kuwait border. So, the units -- the unit members, the soldiers, all believed that they were going to come home after victory was declared on the First of May when the President arrived on the aircraft carrier. They allowed me to deploy to Iraq to join my units, to take command of the units, although I was told that the majority of the units, the soldiers, would be coming back home because the mission was complete.

When I arrived in Kuwait, I was told that the units were going to be staying for an additional two months, because we were assigned a new mission for prison restoration and training, assisting the prison's experts up at Ambassador Bremer's headquarters in Baghdad, with training Iraqi guards to conduct prison and detention operations. So we relocated. There was never any discussion about whether we were properly equipped or prepared to take on this mission. It was simply assigned to us, and very quickly the two-month extension became a four-month extension, and then it became 365 days, boots on the ground, for all of the units that were deployed.

So, soldiers were sent to war with the full expectations that they would be home in six months or less, as they were repeatedly told at the mobilization stations in the United States, and once they were there, they couldn't get out. The extension took them six additional months, tremendous impact on reserve and National Guard soldiers, in particular, but nonetheless, this was the mission. They went forward to different locations in Iraq and took on this new detention operation -- mission.

Abu Ghraib was the largest of our facilities. It was located in the Sunni Triangle. It was never a good location for any kind of detention operations, let alone the largest detention operation and then, subsequently, the interrogation center for Iraq. We were being mortared every night at that location. We received no combat support for force protection to prevent any of those attacks from occurring, and the unit that was out there doing that mission, that particular mission at Abu Ghraib, was not equipped with any kind of combat platforms to give adequate protection to prisoners or soldiers.

It was -- Abu Ghraib, there was long discussions about using Abu Ghraib at all, because of its notoriety, because of the history, because of the thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives there under Saddam. But we did agree to use it as an interim facility and holding Iraqi criminal prisoners. And that was our introduction to Abu Ghraib.

AMY GOODMAN: How many M.P.s, military police, were under your command?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: 3,400 soldiers were under the 800th Military Police Brigade, and probably 2,400 of them, 2,500 of them were military police personnel.

AMY GOODMAN: And how many prisoners were there?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: At Abu Ghraib alone, the prisoner population did reach over 7,000 by the end of -- nearing the end of 2003, but we processed over 40,000 prisoners during the course of the time that the 800th M.P. Brigade was responsible for prisoner operations. In 16 other facilities and at Abu Ghraib, while it was under the control of the 800th M.P. Brigade, there were no infractions. Interrogations were not being conducted. They were basically interviews that were being conducted by the military intelligence interrogators at that time, and it changed considerably during and after General Miller's visit.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about General Miller. Who is he?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: General Miller was sent to visit Iraq by Secretary Rumsfeld and the Undersecretary Cambone. And they came -- General Miller came to visit from Guantanamo Bay. He was the commander of detention operations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and he was sent to assist the military intelligence interrogators with enhancing their techniques. And he brought with him the techniques that were tested and in use at Guantanamo Bay. And he brought a team of about 20 people, 22 people with him to discuss all aspects of interrogation operations, and actually, he did an in-brief. I was invited to participate or to attend to listen to his in-brief, because he was working almost exclusively with the military intelligence people and the military intelligence interrogators while he was there.

But we owned the locations that he was going to visit, and he ultimately selected Abu Ghraib to be the focus of his efforts, and he told me that he was going to make it the interrogation center for Iraq. He used the term, he was going to "Gitmo-ize" the operation and use the M.P.s to assist the interrogators to enhance interrogations and to obtain more actionable intelligence. I explained to him that the M.P.s were not trained in any kind of interrogation operations, and he told me that he wanted me to give him Abu Ghraib, because that's the location he selected.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the dogs? Is that when the dogs were introduced?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Shortly after his visit, he -- again, he was spending most of his time with the commander of the Military Intelligence Brigade, Colonel Pappas. In his in-brief, his introduction when he first arrived there with his team, he responded to one of the interrogators, the military interrogator's question, and he was listening to the comments, the criticisms that they were doing these interviews and they were not obtaining really valuable information, so he was there to assist them with different -- implementing different techniques to get more actionable intelligence.

And one of the interrogators just asked the question about what he would recommend that they could do immediately, because they thought that they were doing a pretty good job with identifying the people who may have additional value or more military intelligence value, and General Miller said -- his first observation was that they were not -- they were being too nice to them. They were not being aggressive enough. And he used the example at Guantanamo Bay that the prisoners there, when they're brought in, that they're handled by two military policemen. They're escorted everywhere they go -- belly chains, leg irons, hand irons -- and he said, "You have to treat them like dogs."

AMY GOODMAN: You were there when he said this?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes, I was there when he said that. And he said, "They have to know that you are in charge, and if you treat them too nicely, they won't cooperate with you. And at Guantanamo Bay, they earn -- the prisoners earn every single thing they get, to include a change of color of their jumpsuits. When they get there, they're issued a bright orange jumpsuit. They're handled in a very aggressive, forceful manner, and they earn the privilege of transitioning to a white jumpsuit, if they prove themselves to be cooperative."

And I raised my hand. I was just there as a guest. I was not a participant, but I said, "You know, sir, the M.P.s here don't move prisoners with leg irons and hand irons. We don't even have that equipment. We don't have enough funding to buy one jumpsuit per prisoner, let alone an exchange of colors." And he said, "It's no problem. My budget is $125 million a year at Gitmo, and I'm going to give Colonel Pappas all of the resources he needs to do this appropriately."

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Colonel Pappas ran the prison within the prison, is that right? He ran something called the "hard site"?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: He ran the interrogation operations within the prison, that's correct. And it was -- Cell Block 1A and 1B were the two maximum security wings of the hard site, and during General Miller's visit, either at his order or at his request, General Miller told -- instructed Colonel Pappas to get control of Cell Block 1A.

AMY GOODMAN: Treat the prisoners like dogs. That explains the leashes and making prisoners bark?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: It seems to be consistent with those photographs, yes, with the dog collar, the dog leash and un-muzzled dogs. And, in fact, those techniques have appeared in several memorandums that have been signed by senior people.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking about General Geoffrey Miller, coming from Guantanamo to Iraq, to the Abu Ghraib prison, the biggest of the prison facilities. You were in charge of it and all of the prison facilities in Iraq.

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: And he said he was there to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib. We have heard the stories out of Guantanamo. We now certainly know what happened at - some of what has happened at Abu Ghraib, in Cell Blocks 1A and 1B, only because soldiers themselves took photographs, not clear what has been happening throughout Iraq.

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there any reason to believe this hasn't happened in the other facilities that you oversaw?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, there were only - interrogation operations were only taking place - at prisons under my control, interrogations were only being conducted at Abu Ghraib, and they were only being conducted in interrogation facilities built specifically for interrogations at Abu Ghraib. There was what they called "Interrogation Facility Wood" and "Interrogation Facility Steel." The pictures, although they were - when they were released, it was widely reported that this was during interrogation operations. In fact, it was not during interrogation operations. These pictures were being staged and set up at the direction of contract interrogators, civilian contract interrogators, for the use in future interrogations.

AMY GOODMAN: Contract interrogators. What companies?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: There are several. Several of the contractors that were in some of the pictures were with Titan Corporation. There has been sworn statements saying they came from "OGA," other government agencies, and CACI. I can only say that the ones that I saw in the photographs were identified as being from Titan Corporation. Now, they were - my experience with Titan Corporation was that they were providing translators, and again, in some of the information that's been released in the ACLU documents, we know that some of the translators were given the opportunity to become interrogators without any training whatsoever in interrogation operations.

AMY GOODMAN: But General Miller had said he wants to blur the bright line between military police and military intelligence, that the military police were to take the prisoners to military intelligence.

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Your people were to be brought - Were you in charge of military intelligence?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: No, not at all, and the Military Intelligence Brigade Commander did not work for me. He ran the Interrogation Brigade -- the Intelligence Brigade, and he ran interrogations, which was a function at Abu Ghraib.

AMY GOODMAN: Lynndie England, Charles Graner were yours?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: They were. They were assigned to a subordinate company, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you start to understand what was happening?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: About the situation at Abu Ghraib, I was first informed by an email that I received on classified - what they call "classified traffic." I opened it up late one night on the 12th of January of 2004. And it was from the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division. He sent me an email and said, "Ma'am, I just want to make you aware, I'm going in to brief the C.G.," meaning General Sanchez, "on the progress of the investigation at Abu Ghraib. This involves the allegations of abuse and the photographs." That was the first I heard of it.

I did not receive that email or phone call or a message from General Sanchez himself, who would ultimately attempt to hold me fully responsible for this, but from the C.I.D. Commander. And I was alarmed at just that short email. I was not in Baghdad at the time. I was at another location very close to the Iranian border, so we made arrangements to leave at the crack of dawn to drive down to Abu Ghraib to see what we could find out about this ongoing investigation and went through the battalion over to Cell Block 1A. The people who would normally be working on any shift were not working. The sergeant that I spoke to said that their records had been seized by the investigators, and they started a new log to account for prisoners, make sure that their meals were on time, those kind of things, and he pointed out a memo that was posted on a column just outside of their small administrative office. And the memorandum was signed by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. And said - it discussed interrogation techniques that were authorized. It was one page. It talked about stress positions, noise and light discipline, the use of music, disrupting sleep patterns, those kind of techniques. But there was a handwritten note out to the side. And this was a copy. It was a photocopy of the original, I would imagine. But it was unusual that an interrogation memorandum would be posted inside of a detention cell block, because interrogations were not conducted in the cell block.

AMY GOODMAN: This was the command of Donald Rumsfeld himself?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about the techniques?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: The techniques that were allowed. And there was a note - handwritten note out to the side of where the list of tactics, interrogation tactics were. It said, "Make sure this happens." And it seemed to be in the same handwriting as the signature. That's what I could say about the memorandum.

AMY GOODMAN: People understood it to be from Rumsfeld?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes, they certainly did. And I never heard a word - I did - certainly did see the reference to photographs in the original email, but when I asked the soldier, when I asked the sergeant, when I asked the commanders out at Abu Ghraib, what did they know about, they knew nothing about it. They had heard that there were some photographs, but they did not know any specifics.

AMY GOODMAN: Had the Red Cross been to visit?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: They had been and had been in all of our facilities routinely. We welcomed them. They made good recommendations, and they filed reports. Now, the report that I saw the first week of December of 2003 was dated October of 2003. And it had - it mentioned in the report, the I.C.R.C. report, that they had been to Cell Block 1A and saw prisoners that were in isolation, solitary confinement for 72 hours, and they saw a prisoner who was telling them that he was being made to wear women's underwear on his head.

So, I was at what they call a 'night briefing,' an update. And after the update was finished - this was at Camp Victory, at the headquarters, and it was in the evening. And I started to leave when the update was finished, and one of the military intelligence officers said, "Ma'am, do you have a couple of minutes? We need to talk you to about the I.C.R.C. report." So I said, "Sure."

And then suddenly, all of these people that wanted to discuss this report were around me to include the Military Intelligence Brigade Commander, the senior legal advisor to General Sanchez, Colonel Warren, another person from the legal office, two of the M.I. officers, and they - I said "What I.C.R.C. report are you talking about?" And Colonel Warren handed it to me, and he said, "We need you to review this so you can sign it." I said, "I'm not in charge of the prison now. Why isn't Colonel Pappas signing it?" And Colonel Warren said, "Well, this is an earlier report, and we don't want to call attention to the fact that we have transferred the prison to the M.I."

AMY GOODMAN: To military intelligence.

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: To military intelligence. Why? I mean, they're coming out there to visit. What -

AMY GOODMAN: They had already removed you?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: They had removed Abu Ghraib from my command, yes, and turned it over to command of the military intelligence.

AMY GOODMAN: But all of the other prisons you were still in charge of?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Still in charge of.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was, the month?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: This was December of 2003.

AMY GOODMAN: December 2003.

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: It was after Thanksgiving, and Colonel Warren was there. And he had been on leave, so he came back in early December. So, that's how I could frame the recollection. And I saw - I flipped through this report, and I said, "Where has this been? Why are you handing it to me now?" And he said it must have been re-routed or routed incorrectly.

Well, I believe today that they intervened. They knew that that report was coming, and they kept it from me specifically, because there was this mention in that report of seeing a prisoner who was in solitary confinement for 72 hours, not unusual, but that he was naked - and they provided a blanket to him so they could speak to him - and that there was a prisoner who was reporting that he was being made to wear women's underwear on his head. So I said, "What is this comment about a prisoner wearing women's underwear on his head?" And one of the officers from the Military Intelligence Brigade said, "Oh, ma'am, I told the commander to stop giving the prisoners the catalogs from Victoria's Secret because they would be making things like this up." And they all laughed, And I said, "You know, I don't think that the I.C.R.C. would find that funny, and why did they go into a prisoner who was supposed to be in solitary confinement?"

So now the conversation became - that was the focus of it. 'This is what we want to say in the response. We want to tell them that a prisoner who is put in solitary confinement is put there for a specific reason, and if you interrupt that process, you lose the value of that confinement.' It was no longer on the accusations that were reported in that report. So, Colonel Warren then said to me, "Don't worry, ma'am, we're already working on a response. We just need you to sign it." I said, "Does Colonel O'Hare," my JAG officer, who had been completely reliable in reviewing responses to the I.C.R.C. reports - I said, "Has he seen this?" And he said, "Well, probably not." And I said, "Well, I want a copy of the report, and I'm going to take it back to him."

And when I went back out to my operations center that night following that meeting, I said to him, "Jim, did you see this report?" He took a look at it, he said, "Absolutely not, but I'll find out about it." Within a couple of minutes he came back in to me, and he said, "We're going out to Abu Ghraib tomorrow, because apparently there's going to be a meeting discussing the response to this report, and on how they plan to form the response." So, it took several attempts for them to get it right, because he would not advise me to sign a report that said that I was aware of this before, or that -

AMY GOODMAN: But ultimately, you did sign?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: I did sign a report, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Responding - well, there was a response that was necessary. We responded in a very timely manner to all of the I.C.R.C. reports.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn't the I.C.R.C. also report about ghost detainees? Who are ghost detainees?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: We were directed on several occasions, and directed through the CJTF-7, through General Fast or General Sanchez, by - the instructions were originating at the Pentagon, from Secretary Rumsfeld, and we were instructed to hold prisoners without putting their - giving - assigning a prisoner number or putting them on the database, and that is contrary to the Geneva Conventions. We all knew it was contrary to the Geneva Conventions. And we were told that this - these instructions were being given by Secretary Rumsfeld, and -

AMY GOODMAN: Who told you that?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Colonel Warren and General Barbara Fast, the intel officer for General Sanchez, and General Sanchez himself. And we were told that these instructions were for specific individuals, and they were a special case. And we would hold them without assigning a prisoner number until they were - until an order was given on how to handle them.

AMY GOODMAN: So that the International Committee of the Red Cross would not know that they exist, would not ask to see them?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Correct. Now, they didn't - the I.C.R.C. would not look for specific prisoners unless there was a reason or a number provided to them, for example, and because there was no communication between prisoners and family members, at least not from Abu Ghraib, because security detainees, as we were told, they fit into a different category. So, it would be unusual for the I.C.R.C. to be looking for a specific prisoner by a prisoner number. They would come in, and they would look at conditions, they would talk to individuals. Sometimes they would randomly select numbers, but the purpose of not putting them on any database is to keep them from being known.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Colonel Janis Karpinski. She was the Commanding General of Abu Ghraib, a Brigadier General. She is the only one of the generals to have been demoted for the scandal at Abu Ghraib for the torture. If the I.C.R.C. could get this information, the International Committee of the Red Cross, about abuse -- they were outsiders coming in. You're an insider. Why couldn't you get the information?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, because interrogation operations are separate and apart. I visited all of my prison facilities as often as I could get to them. I spoke to prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: But you were based at Abu Ghraib.

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: I was not based at Abu Ghraib. I was based over at Camp Victory and later on in our assignment in Iraq, they - General Sanchez actually cut an order to move me out of Baghdad completely to another location, as I mentioned, closer to the Iranian border. He wanted me away from the situation. He wanted me away from the possibility of finding out about what was going on in interrogations. So, he incrementally moved me farther away, took Abu Ghraib away from me, then moved me out of Baghdad completely.

AMY GOODMAN: Once General Miller came and said the things that you objected to -- "Treat the prisoners like dogs" -- you knew, though, that the word had gone out, right, to the military intelligence and that the military police were supposed to be involved, at least in taking the prisoners to military intelligence. Did you put word out to those under you that you objected to this?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes, as a matter of fact. It's not exactly clear when the military police were going to be used to enhance these interrogations. We knew that at Guantanamo Bay there were 800 military police personnel to handle 680 prisoners, so they had two M.P.s to escort every prisoner they had there at Guantanamo Bay. In the middle of Iraq, in the middle of the Sunni Triangle at Abu Ghraib, we had fewer than 300 M.P.s to guard over 7,000 prisoners, so there was no opportunity to escort them -

AMY GOODMAN: And these prisoners, I.C.R.C., what, estimates 90% of them weren't charged. These were - they come from raids of homes, thousands of people just swooped up and brought in, according to whose command? Ultimately, who was responsible for that?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, that would be under General Sanchez, because his division commanders in each area of responsibility were assigned specific individuals that were from their area of responsibility. For example, Tikrit, and that would be the division commander in that area, and they would identify the individual, they'd identify the location, and then it would be up to that division commander to put together a plan to go out and capture that individual.

AMY GOODMAN: So, 90% of the people at Abu Ghraib, though, not charged, brought in, just being held indefinitely.

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: And I think it's important to separate the category of detainees that we're talking about. 90% of the security detainees, these so-called terrorists, associates of terrorists or individuals who may have information about terrorism, they are tagged as security detainees, and they're the ones who are being subjected to interrogation.

The other part of the population is the Iraqi criminal population, small - small crimes, non-violent crimes, looting, missing curfew. We had an effective release policy in place with my signature to release these prisoners after they had served an appropriate amount of time. And even in those cases, probably 75% or 80% of those individuals didn't have a piece of evidence in their file that would hold them or convict them in a U.S. court, but the security detainees, there was no release process - effective release process in place for them.

AMY GOODMAN: The Geneva - the ghost detainees, is this the only time you believe you broke the Geneva Conventions?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, I will tell you that all of the prison facilities were right on the line, not in terms of how the prisoners were being treated, but the conditions were very austere. We were keeping prisoners in the outside camps only for as long as we needed to because the temperatures were 120 degrees, 140 degrees by noontime, so I would say that we were very close to being in violation of fair treatment and humane treatment of detainees.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever speak directly to Donald Rumsfeld?

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: No, I - Yes, he came to visit, and I expressed my concerns about the conditions in the prisons. I spoke directly to Ambassador Bremer nearly every week. I spoke to General Sanchez at least once every week, reported it in the updates and the night time briefings to General Wojdakowski, who was the deputy at CJTF-7, about the lack of funding, even the basic supplies: a basin for washing, a change of clothing, and the funding that was supposed to come from the prisons department at Ambassador Bremer's headquarters. We never saw one-tenth of the funds that we were supposed to receive. So, we were close to violating, but not for abuse or torture.

AMY GOODMAN: The ghost detainees, though -

COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: - was the first violation.

For the rest of the interview, click HERE.
Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!
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