Human Rights

"Treat Them Like Dogs" Part 2

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 the second half of the transcript of her interview.

For the first part of the interview, click HERE.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about prisoner Triple X.

JANIS KARPINSKI: He was a very unusual circumstance. He was captured as a high value detainee, and we believe that when he was captured, of course, you know, he's captured by another agency, but we believed that he was going to be another one of the so-called "deck of cards" detainees.

AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean?

JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, the deck of cards was Saddam and his high-ranking people, and they assigned each one of them to a card, a different card.

AMY GOODMAN: Playing card.

JANIS KARPINSKI: Playing cards. And they called them the "deck of cards" prisoners. And we believed he was going to be one of them, because we had such little information on him. But when he was turned over to my control, we were told specifically to not -- by memorandum, by order from Secretary Rumsfeld, to not enter his name on any database. He was to be referred to only --

AMY GOODMAN: Rumsfeld told you this?

JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes. He sent a memorandum specifically about this individual. He was to be referred to as "Triple X." He was to be held in a separate location apart from any other detainees or any other contact. So, the instructions were very clear, and I -- when I saw the memorandum, I was not in Baghdad when it came in. They were in compliance with that. They kept him at a facility separate and apart from any other contact with anybody. Specific M.P.s were giving him his meals. He had -- he was for all practical purposes isolated or in solitary confinement without being in a confinement cell.

So, when I returned to Baghdad and saw these instructions, I went right to Colonel Warren, who was the legal adviser, and I said, "This is a violation." And he said, "Well, we'll try to get clarification, but this is from Rumsfeld's office." And I said, "It's a violation. You have to put people on the database. And how much longer are we going to be held responsible for him? You take control of him. If you want to violate a Geneva Convention, that's up to you, but I don't want to keep him in one of our camps this way."

AMY GOODMAN: Didn't you sign off on a request to the I.C.R.C. to be exempted from the Geneva Conventions?

JANIS KARPINSKI: No, I did not. An exemption from the Geneva Conventions?

AMY GOODMAN: In cases of military necessity.

JANIS KARPINSKI: No, in the report, the last report that I signed when -- the last report that I referred to before, the only military necessity was the case of isolation, solitary confinement, and that I.C.R.C. representatives would not have access to a prisoner who was undergoing isolation until the terms of that confinement or isolation was completed.

AMY GOODMAN: And you signed off on that.

JANIS KARPINSKI: I did.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, that was asking for an exemption from the Geneva conventions.

JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, it's not actually an exemption. You can put a person in - a prisoner in solitary confinement, and that is a -- as long as they're being treated fairly and humanely and receiving their meals.

AMY GOODMAN: So why did you need any kind of -- why did you need to request?

JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, as I said, that's not really asking for an exemption from it. It was just -- the exemption was that a visit from the I.C.R.C. would not include interrupting solitary confinement.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you regret doing that now?

JANIS KARPINSKI: I regret signing that I.C.R.C. report at all, because it was -- it was held -- you know, you have to have some sense of belief or trust in the people that you are working with. And when -- for example, when they said that it was important to communicate to the I.C.R.C. that interrupting solitary confinement or isolation for 72 hours removes all of the value, and you have to start the process over again. So, in my mind, rather than subjecting a prisoner to another 72 hours of isolation, it made perfectly good sense to not interrupt that process but to speak to the prisoner, if necessary, after that process was completed. But it fell into interrogations, which is why I regret signing that I.C.R.C. report.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you take Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld on a tour of Abu Ghraib?

JANIS KARPINSKI: I did.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you show him how prisoners are held, how they are hung, how they are tied with ropes to metal bars in the ceiling?

JANIS KARPINSKI: No. He came to visit Abu Ghraib. There was a schedule that was reviewed and approved for his time at Abu Ghraib. We were going to walk him through all of the -- we wanted him to see the renovations that had been completed in the cell blocks, those kind of things. He arrived there. He went over to the notorious hanging chambers and torture chambers that were used under Saddam and spent time there, had a look around, received a briefing, and then changed the schedule, said he didn't want to go and see the rest of Abu Ghraib. He wanted some soldiers to be able to come over and have photographs taken with him. So, he never saw the rest of Abu Ghraib.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever see 1A and 1B, the cell blocks?

JANIS KARPINSKI: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your reaction when you saw the photographs, the torture photographs?

JANIS KARPINSKI: When I saw the photographs for the first time, it was the 23rd of January. And remember, this is 11 days after I received that email informing me that there was even an investigation, and in those 11 days, as much digging as I was doing, as much asking as I was doing, there was no conversation at all about the details of the photographs, no meeting with General Sanchez, no discussion about this situation at all. I was not able to speak to Colonel Pappas. He was either told or made his own decision --

AMY GOODMAN: Who was in charge of the military interrogation.

JANIS KARPINSKI: In charge of the Military Intelligence Brigade and the interrogations and, in fact, in charge of Cell Block 1A and B.

AMY GOODMAN: No soldier had ever come to you?

JANIS KARPINSKI: No. And no prisoner. As I said in all of the facilities, I walked through where the cells were. I spoke to the M.P.s. I spoke to the Iraqi guards that were working in some of the facilities. They wanted to be paid more than anything else, because they hadn't been paid. But there were no complaints about torture, abuse, dragging prisoners around, taking their clothes away. Nothing at all.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, when you saw the photographs?

JANIS KARPINSKI: When I saw the photographs, I felt that the world was spinning out of control. I really felt like the walls were closing in on me. I talk about it in the book because it was -- it was so pronounced. I was not prepared in any way to see what I saw in those photographs. I couldn't -- in making the reference to the photograph in the original email, I thought, you know, the M.P.s had perhaps taken a picture of a prisoner in a jumpsuit, several prisoners that they knew their specific names about, anything along those lines, but I could never have imagined when they mentioned photographs that they would be what I saw, that the rest of the world has seen now.

AMY GOODMAN: You took Rumsfeld there in September of 2003, right after Miller had come?

JANIS KARPINSKI: No.

AMY GOODMAN: Right before?

JANIS KARPINSKI: General Miller arrived the next day.

AMY GOODMAN: When General Miller came, he had a team of people with him.

JANIS KARPINSKI: That's correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Does the name Laura Scarpetta have any meaning to you, a non-commissioned officer who was there? Among the things General Miller brought, you said, saying that the prisoners should be treated like dogs, and then the whole issue of the sexual humiliation.

JANIS KARPINSKI: The only person that I spoke to individually after General Miller's visit - briefing, his in-brief, that initial briefing, I went to find the JAG officer, the legal officer, lawyer, who was with General Miller, and she was -- I believe she was a major and she had been working down at Guantanamo Bay. So, I asked her, I said, "What are you doing about releasing the prisoners down at Guantanamo Bay?" And she said, "Ma'am, we're not releasing prisoners. Most of those prisoners are going to spend every last day of their lives at Guantanamo Bay. They're terrorists. We're not releasing them." And I said, "Well, what are you going to do? Fly their family members over to visit them?" She said "No, these are terrorists, ma'am. They don't get visits from home." And that was -- that was absolutely shocking, thinking about the fate of these, what we believed was, several hundred prisoners down there, 680 prisoners spending every last day of their lives at Guantanamo Bay, and particularly important because that meant that military police would be guarding them for the foreseeable future.

AMY GOODMAN: In the interrogations, you told the BBC that you met an Israeli working as an interrogator at the secret intelligence center in Baghdad.

JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, in a separate facility, not under my control, where the task force was originally assigned, I was escorting a general officer, who was not assigned in Iraq, but was making his last visits to different units, because he was getting ready to retire, and he asked to go over to this facility, because he knew a lot of the people that were working over there. And when the sergeant major asked if he wanted to see -- tour the rest of the facility, if I wanted to go with them, I declined. I said I would wait there in the foyer. And there were three individuals there, three men, and they had D.C.U. pants on, one of them had blue jeans on, and different shirts.

AMY GOODMAN: D.C.U. means?

JANIS KARPINSKI: Desert camouflage uniform, the desert military uniform pants. And one of them had a pair of blue jeans on. So I said, "What are you guys doing here?" And I said to this one individual, who looked like he was an Arab, I said to him, "Oh, are you a translator? Are you from Kuwait? Are you from Iraq?" And he said, "No, I'm not a translator, and I'm not from Kuwait or Iraq. I'm from Israel. And I work in this facility." So, I never -- he never told me that he was an interrogator. But that facility was likely used for interrogation. So, if he worked in that facility, you could conclude that he had something to do with interrogation operations, but he never told me that.

AMY GOODMAN: As we come to the end of this conversation, very much the tone of your book, of One Woman's Army," is that your were scapegoated. You feel, especially because you're a woman, the only woman put in charge of a combat operation from the United States, and now you have been demoted. Do you feel that if others were demoted, if others were punished, who do you feel should be punished? What would be your list of names?

JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, we have to start at the very top, and the original memorandum directing interrogation -- harsher interrogation techniques and the departure from the Geneva Conventions starts at -- Alberto Gonzales was one of the people who made the recommendations to the President. I don't know if he talked about each detail of that departure or what that may imply, but I do know that the Secretary of Defense signed a very lengthy memorandum authorizing harsher techniques to be used in Afghanistan and specifically at Guantanamo Bay. This was the global war on terrorism. This was a prisoner of a different kind. You needed to get down at the same level as they were to be effective.

And those techniques migrated from Guantanamo Bay, with General Miller, to Iraq and were implemented at Abu Ghraib. So clearly, the Secretary of Defense; Secretary Cambone, his assistant who sent General Miller to Iraq with very specific instructions on how to work with the military intelligence people; General Fast, who was directing interrogation operations and giving instructions to Colonel Pappas on how to proceed and how to be more effective; General Sanchez, because this was his command, and he knew what General Fast was doing, and he knew what Colonel Pappas was doing, to the point that Colonel Pappas made a comment one time that he thought maybe he had a bruise on his chest because Colonel -- General Sanchez had repeatedly poked him in the chest telling him to "Get Saddam! Get Saddam!" and use whatever he needed to use to get the information.

AMY GOODMAN: If all of these people were punished, do you think it's fair that you are punished?

JANIS KARPINSKI: I would say that these soldiers, they were certainly assigned to a subordinate unit, and they are my responsibility, ultimately, yes. I think that they have been fair -- unfairly and unjustly held accountable for all of this, as if they designed these techniques, as if Lynndie England deployed with a dog collar and a dog leash. And that's unfair, and that's a tragedy in all of this. Should they be punished for doing what they did, for agreeing to do what they did? Absolutely, but singled out? No.

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Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!