Guests: Janis Karpinski, Neal Puckett, William Lawson
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: Soldiers under scrutiny. Iraqi prisoners of war abused, beaten, and sexually humiliated. Their alleged tormenters, American troops.
BRIG. GEN. JANIS KARPINSKI, U.S. ARMY: And I was truly sick of it.
NORVILLE: It happened under the watch of Brigadier General Janis Karpinski. Tonight, she reveals she knew, what really happened behind prison walls.
This soldier is one of the American soldiers accused. Tonight one of his closest confidantes brings us his side of the story.
ANNOUNCER: From Studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
NORVILLE: And good evening, everybody. Thanks for joining us.
The images are sickening and the outrage they are causing worldwide continues to grow.
The photos show Iraqi detainees stripped naked, hoods over their heads. Their tormenters, allegedly American soldiers, male and female, making fun of their captives, pointing to their genitals.
In one of the photos, the prisoners are forced to lie on one another in a pyramid shape as soldiers smile at the camera. In others, the naked Iraqis were stacked one on top of each other, forcing simulated sex acts.
Yet another shows a prisoner standing on a box, wires attached to his body, told that if he fell off, falsely, he would be electrocuted. Apparently the wires were not hooked up to any power source.
All of these pictures were taken at Iraq‘s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, the same prison where Saddam Hussein had thousands of people tortured. The United States is currently holding more than 4,000 Iraqi detainees there now.
Six members of an Army Reserve military police unit are now facing court-martial. Another seven soldiers have officially been reprimanded. And the military has opened five separate investigations. There are calls in Congress for more investigations. And there is condemnation around the world.
The “New Yorker” magazine says an internal Army report concluded, quote, “that there was sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses,” including beatings, torture, and sexual humiliation and that many soldiers had been encouraged, if not ordered by military and CIA intelligence officers to soften up the Iraqis for interrogation.
Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th military police brigade, was in charge of the military prisons in Iraq. Last August, she gave the tour of Abu Ghraib, saying she changed the way Iraqi inmates were treated there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARPINSKI: Everybody knows and understands what humane treatment is and what the standards are and they adhere to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Brigadier General Karpinski, it is reported, has been suspended and admonished, but no formal charges have been placed against her. And she joins me tonight, along with her attorney, Neal Puckett, who says his client has not been suspended or relieved of her command.
Good evening to both of you. Thanks for being with us.
NEAL PUCKETT, JANIS KARPINSKI‘S ATTORNEY: Good evening.
NORVILLE: Let‘s first set up the record on what your status officially is. Published reports say you have been relieved of your command. You say that‘s not the fact.
KARPINSKI: No, that‘s not the fact, and that is inaccurate. I was one—it was one of the recommendations, a possibility in the findings. And those findings were recommendations. And those recommendations were considered, certainly, but that was not the action that was taken.
NORVILLE: Have they been acted upon yet, Mr. Puckett? Is this something that‘s still pending as the investigation continue through?
PUCKETT: It‘s not still pending. The recommendations have been acted on. They were rejected by her commander, and her commander did not reprimand her, did not relieve her of command.
She rotated home when this was all over. She was told she was cleared of this investigation and was not culpable for anything that went wrong.
NORVILLE: So as far as your own personal situation is concerned, absolutely no action against you has been taken?
KARPINSKI: Well, as far as suspension or relief from command.
NORVILLE: Any type of negative action, any kind of reprimand. Any kind of...
KARPINSKI: There was an admonishment with some recommendations to perhaps have been more aggressive in going into those cell blocks or finding out if there was a problem in there. Without an indication, of course, I didn‘t feel that there was any real motivation to go in there and...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the specifics in Iraq. As the brigadier general in charge of the 800th Military Police command, what were your specific responsibilities? What fell under the large umbrella that encompassed your command?
KARPINSKI: When I took command of the 800th M.P. Brigade at the end of June, in 2003, we had a new mission already assigned to us. And some of the units were already moving forward out of Kuwait and out of Umm Qasr to Baghdad to take on the new mission.
And the specifics of the mission were to rebuild correctional facilities, restore correctional facilities, operate the detention facilities and train Iraqi corrections officers in conjunction with the prison‘s experts, assigned to the coalition provisional authority, which was CPA in Baghdad.
NORVILLE: And as such, in the sound clip we saw just a second ago, you went into the Abu Ghraib prison, basically cleaned it out, remodeled it, got rid of the torture devices that had been left over from Saddam Hussein and made it habitable for the detainees that you were in charge of.
KARPINSKI: Well, that‘s partly correct, yes. They—we also put two
· because we had a large number of detainees that were being arrested by the divisions or locally in Baghdad. And we had to find somewhere to confine them.
So we also at Abu Ghraib, on the ground, the first confinement portion that was opened was the --- what we referred to as in the wire, which were general population compounds.
NORVILLE: One of the things that we‘ve learned is that there were as many as 6,000 to 7,000 detainees at this particular institution, which was equipped to hold about 4,000. Is that correct?
KARPINSKI: That‘s correct. But the reason we were able to expand that population was because we were not using principally—excuse me—the hard facility.
We were using the compounds outside, which could hold 500 detainees. And we had—initially, we had four compounds so that would be 2,000. And it expanded ultimately to 12 compounds.
NORVILLE: And as the brigadier general in charge of this compound and the others related to it, ultimately, the care, the feeding, the treatment of those detainees fell to you.
KARPINSKI: Yes, it did.
NORVILLE: How did you make sure that they were being humanely treated, that they were being properly fed, that they were receiving the medical attention that some might have needed?
KARPINSKI: We had not only Abu Ghraib. It was one of 16 prison facilities that we were actually operating throughout Iraq. And it was relatively easy at Abu Ghraib to see compliance or otherwise.
NORVILLE: How would you do that?
KARPINSKI: Well, I visited each of the facilities regularly. I talked to the commanders. I walked through the compounds. I went into the towers. I talked to the commanders. And I talked to the detainees.
NORVILLE: How often would you go and visit the Abu Ghraib prison, the one that‘s at the center of the controversy?
KARPINSKI: Well, the reason that I visited that Abu Ghraib far more often initially was because that facility was the largest. We had separate detainee operations going on. We had, like I said, the general population compounds.
And we also had the hard facilities, as we called them, the cell blocks that were starting to become available as they were refurbished.
And it was the most dangerous location.
NORVILLE: You had three different kinds of detainees. You had your basic common criminal that would get picked up off the street. You had the people who were believed to be persons of interest, those who might have information about the insurgents, those who might have information about where Saddam Hussein was because at that point he had not been found.
KARPINSKI: Security detainees.
NORVILLE: And the third type of individual was what?
KARPINSKI: The third type of individual was the EPW‘s, the prisoners of war, the former combatants.
NORVILLE: The people who had guns and were then taken prisoner.
KARPINSKI: Right. And predominantly, they had been released before I even took command of the M.P. brigade.
NORVILLE: So you would say on—in a monthly basis, you would go into Abu Ghraib prison how many times in a month?
KARPINSKI: At least three times a week.
NORVILLE: So three times a week, a dozen times a month. How is it possible that the kind of abuse that is clearly documented on these photographs took, could have taken place without you being aware of it?
KARPINSKI: Well, because the situation changed.
When—During July when the general population compounds, the template in the wire as we called it, when that was pretty much operational, to the population of about 2,000 at that point and—approximately 2,000. And probably 100 civilian criminals in the hard facilities, as they became open.
The M.P.‘s were in charge of all of the detention operations, and it was mostly criminal detainees and some security detainees. But as the operations and the raids became more vigorous, after the end of major hostilities, remember. So this is still a hostile environment but they‘re policing people up on raids and just regular criminals off the street. We could separate them quickly, honestly, to...
NORVILLE: Put the regular criminals over here, the guys involved with the war over here.
KARPINSKI: And the predominance, the largest portion of the population, in any of our facilities at that time were civilian criminals.
And then the increase started with the security detainees. And round about September or October, we had such large numbers of detainees that they were getting concerned that they weren‘t getting enough intel value out of them during the interrogations.
NORVILLE: So there was this definite sense by October, “We‘ve got all these people. And they‘re not telling us what we think they know.”
KARPINSKI: That‘s correct.
NORVILLE: At this point, the atrocities, at least, are being documented. We can‘t say when they began. But the list is terrifying.
It includes punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; videotaping and photographing naked males and female; forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit situations; forcing detainees to remove their clothes to be and then keeping them naked for several days at a time; forcing naked male detainees to wear women‘s underwear; forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped; arranging naked male detainees in a pile and jumping on them; making a detainee stand on a box with his head covered and wires attached to his fingers, toes and penis to simulate electric torture; writing “I am a rapist” on the leg of a detainee alleged to have raped a fellow detainee and taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.
I want to linger on that picture for just a moment, because one of the allegations is that there was so little control in this prison that you had no way of jiving the numbers: X number of individuals. A larger number of individuals inside the prison than there were on the roll of individuals who had been processed.
There was no way to account for the death of an individual. It could have easily happened and gone unreported.
KARPINSKI: Well, I can tell you that is absolutely untrue. As detainees of any category, when they came into our facilities, they were processed through the processing line.
And we had two separate processes, depending on the numbers that were coming in. We had a hasty processing system, and we had a thorough processing system.
Whether they were hastily processed initially, they always came back for a full process, which included the thorough medical check, a record and their signature for any property that might have been accounted for, et cetera.
But every prisoner, every detainee that was processed into one of my facilities received a number, a detainee number, and was put into the system.
Now, I think people misunderstand that we could not instantly retrieve a detainee or tell specifically where they were, which compound, because many of the Arabs have more than four or five or six names. And they were put into the system in the English literal translation of the names.
NORVILLE: Sure. So the names might not match up. But the allegation clearly in the 53-page report that General Taguba released, that was finalized in March, shows that there was—there was a disconnect between the number of inmates in and the number of inmates on the roll.
KARPINSKI: That‘s inaccurate. And I responded that way to the findings.
NORVILLE: That gets to a point that the general included in his report. He said, in speaking with you, and I know you met with him in January which was the first time you saw these disturbing photographs, he says, quote, “What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th M.P. Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership.”
KARPINSKI: Well, he‘s entitled to his opinion. And in my testimony, that‘s what I told him. And I told him that because this is not a military police leadership failure.
NORVILLE: What is it?
KARPINSKI: It is a system failure.
NORVILLE: But who‘s in charge of the system? If you‘re the brigadier general in charge of the prison, you set the system.
KARPINSKI: Except at that time, Deborah, I was not in charge of the prison. The focus of the efforts at Abu Ghraib prison at that time was the interrogation effort. From September and October, they had come to me many times.
KARPINSKI: The M.I. commander and the operations officers and the
NORVILLE: Military intelligence.
KARPINSKI: That‘s right. Military intelligence. And said, “We‘re occupying more and more of that space in cell block 1a. Can you please go ask the prisons experts, in the Coalition Provisional Authority, be our representative and explain to them why we would like to take over those cell blocks. Cell block 1a and b.”
NORVILLE: And you‘re telling me that the people who were in your prison who were there for reason of information to be shared with military intelligence, were completely outside your control, that any treatment of them did not ultimately lead back to you?
KARPINSKI: No. I‘m not saying that at all. What I‘m saying is the people that were in cell block 1a and 1b were under the control of the military intelligence interrogation effort.
We had thousands of prisoners there. And we had prisoners in various facilities at Abu Ghraib. The ones that are in question in these particular pictures were in Cell block 1a and 1b. And they were used exclusively for isolation and for interrogation by the military intelligence command.
NORVILLE: When we come back, I want to get into detail of how the interrogations were conducted in Cell block 1a. More with General Karpinski and her attorney, Neal Puckett, when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: I‘m not going to stand up here and make excuses for those soldiers. I‘m not going to stand up here and apologize for those soldiers.
If what they did is proven in a court of law, that is incompatible with the values we stand for as a professional military force, and it‘s values that we don‘t stand for as human beings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: That was General Mark Kimmitt, commenting on the allegations that have been revealed in the last week at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
We‘re taking a full, long look this hour at the alleged abuse of prisoners by American soldiers at the prison.
Back now with Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was the commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, who once ran that prison, and her attorney, Neal Puckett.
Before we went into the break, we were talking very specifically about under whose control. It‘s your contention that, as horrible, as disgusting, as nauseating as these pictures are, you‘re not to blame? How can that be?
KARPINSKI: I don‘t want to communicate that I‘m not taking any responsibility for this, in spite of what the report might have indicated, because I have never ever run from any of my responsibilities. And I am not doing so in this situation either.
But in September and October time frame, there was a far more focused effort at Abu Ghraib prison on interrogation, and that included isolating prisoners and whatever techniques that they used.
NORVILLE: But what techniques did they use? Were you aware of the techniques that were being used?
KARPINSKI: It was a separate lane all together. Interrogation belonged with the military intelligence community. And they ran the interrogation efforts. They had separate facilities outside of Cell block 1a and b to do the interrogations.
NORVILLE: But according to the allegations in this report, military police were being instructed by military intelligence to soften up the prisoners so that they would be ripe for interrogation when the time came. And clearly, these photos are apparently the way some of the softening techniques were used.
KARPINSKI: And I‘ve read the same statements. And I‘ve read the statements from the people that have been accused of these and I read the report. And I was asked about those particular orders or instructions.
I had no knowledge of it. Nobody from the military intelligence command ever said to me, “We‘re going to have the military police personnel do some more things.”
And in fact, in November, by official order, control of the entire Abu Ghraib prison was transferred to the military intelligence command, because the focus was on interrogation at Abu Ghraib prison.
PUCKETT: What we‘re getting at, Deborah, at all times, the military police chain of command never had control over the interrogation process. That was done behind closed doors.
And then in November, the entire prison operation, security and the interrogations, transferred to the military intelligence chain of command, which had nothing to do with her.
NORVILLE: But during that period of time when the M.P.‘s were still in there, are you saying that the M.P.‘s were removed and there were no military police?
KARPINSKI: No. Absolutely not. Because M.P.‘s were still responsible for doing detention operations. In other words, putting them into the cell, removing them from the cell; getting them medical attention if they needed it; getting them food; getting them to the showers, et cetera. Things like that.
They were still—the M.P.‘s were still responsible for the basic detention operations. And apparently, according to their statements, they were receiving additional instructions from the military intelligence personnel to get them ready to increase the effort of the interrogations.
NORVILLE: The M.P.‘s ultimately answer to you, correct?
KARPINSKI: That‘s right. Well, they answer to a chain of command.
And that chain of command is subordinate to me, yes.
NORVILLE: And that chain of command, which ultimately leads to you, should it not have clearly set out what the rules are? You don‘t take your orders from military intelligence. You answer to your commanding officer, who is the brigadier general, Karpinski.
And they‘re taking orders. Are you saying they abrogated the chain of command? And that‘s how this whole thing happened?
KARPINSKI: I‘m saying that they believed that they were taking appropriate instructions from the military intelligence chain of command that was running that detention—that cell block.
NORVILLE: This gets to an issue that we‘ve heard often throughout the Iraq saga of the past year. And that is that troops have been sent in, often without enough training, often without a clear understanding of the mission at hand. And that consequently, problems can exist as a result.
Is that what has happened here?
KARPINSKI: That could probably play into this, yes. Because the—if the soldiers, the military police personnel, who were running the detention piece at every facility there, if they were being given instructions and in good faith or belief that they were helping the interrogation effort.
And then it increased because the results were positive, according to their statements. And then it increased further. It got out of hand. Clearly crossed the line. I‘m not defending their actions. I‘m not excusing their actions, because I found them despicable myself.
But did they have the appropriate training for participation in military interrogation operations? Probably not, because that training never came from my training section, nor from the battalion training section.
I know that the military intelligence people were supposed to provide additional training, not only to their interrogation team but to the M.P.‘s who would be supporting the interrogation effort. And that never took place.
NORVILLE: Family members of some of the 13 now soldiers who have been implicated in all of this have said in various ways, our family members were never given a copy of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.
How does that possibly excuse the behavior we‘ve seen documented in photographs?
KARPINSKI: Well, it doesn‘t excuse it at all. And they had access to it. I don‘t know if they folded a copy up and put it in their wallet but they had access to it in a policy book. They were posted around the prison.
Prisoners as—the detainees as they came into the prison facility had access, not only in English but in Arabic, copies of the Geneva Haag Convention. They understood, and it they were able to explain the basic tenets of the Geneva Haag Convention. Whether they were working civilian detention operations...
NORVILLE: So that—You‘re saying it doesn‘t hold any water.
NORVILLE: It doesn‘t hold any water. Because—my weekend reading -
· it‘s quite clear that what we‘ve seen on these photos is wrong. Article 13 of the Geneva Convention, prisoner of war must at all times be humanely treated. Must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against POW‘s are prohibited.”
And it goes on, particularly talking about dignity and honor.
PUCKETT: The training of those troops is well documented. They‘ve all received training in the proper handling of detainees in accordance with the Geneva Convention. And for them to say otherwise is simply untrue.
NORVILLE: General Karpinski, you say this is abhorrent, that you were sickened by this, that this didn‘t happen under your chain of command. Under whose chain of command did it happen, if not yours?
KARPINSKI: There were divisions in the chain of command, I believe. I know there were. Because when the responsibility shifted to the military intelligence brigade, they didn‘t report to me. They never reported to me. The interrogation effort was clear and separate in a different lane.
NORVILLE: And reported to whom?
KARPINSKI: They reported to the C-2 and to the CJTF 7 commander.
NORVILLE: Speak English. We don‘t understand military here.
KARPINSKI: I‘m sorry. The C-2 is the coalition intelligence section.
PUCKETT: General Sanchez‘ intelligence officer.
NORVILLE: So you‘re saying that Lieutenant General Sanchez is ultimately responsible for what we‘ve seen in these horrific photographs?
KARPINSKI: That was his unit operating that detention facility. His order transferred responsibility to that M.I. brigade. And yes, he has a partial responsibility in this, in my opinion. Yes.
NORVILLE: And where else does the responsibility lie? That‘s a very serious allegation, and you‘re saying only part of the blame goes to the desk of jeopardy Sanchez.
KARPINSKI: I think there‘s many people that to have take responsibility in this. And ultimately, I‘d like to know who was the one that was giving instructions to the military intelligence personnel to turn up the heat, perhaps, or to be more aggressive in getting...
NORVILLE: How do you know that anyone was instructing them? How do you know that these weren‘t just a bunch of gung-ho guys who would be able to, you know, have another stripe on their mantle, if you will, by getting one of those guys to crack.
That they didn‘t just unilaterally, on their own, say, “You know what? I‘m going to be the hero. I‘m going to ratchet up the heat. I‘m going to make this guy talk.”
KARPINSKI: Because we were running detention operations. We ran—
They ran interrogation operations at the beginning of the war with prisoners of war. I was not there for that, but I know there was an interrogation effort down at Camp Buca (ph).
There was an interrogation effort at one of our other facilities, where there was more of a transient population. But they did interrogation there to determine if they should be held or released or what their status should be.
There were so many security detainees from September, October, November. I sat as a member of the security detainee release review board. And we examined what the case was and if they had been cleared or if the intel value had been exploited.
NORVILLE: Tapped. Right.
KARPINSKI: And we were, if we reviewed 60 cases, we perhaps released 10 or recommended release of 10. So they wept back into the population of security detainees.
Meanwhile, they‘re bringing in more. The numbers were increasing at rapid rates. They were tagged as security detainees and they could not simply be released. They had to be interrogated, held, reviewed, and then ultimately released.
And I know that the interrogation, the interrogators were under tremendous pressure.
NORVILLE: It sounds kind of like a rush hour at the George Washington Bridge in New York City, that you‘ve just got this huge mass of detainees coming in. And you‘ve got a limited number of people to process them through. And stress resulting from that.
KARPINSKI: And Abu Ghraib was in the middle of a hostile fire zone. Mortared every night, practically. RPG‘s every night. Small arms fire throughout the day and the night. A constant threat.
We had several incidents where mortars came over the wall, killed prisoners. Another incident where it came over the wall and killed some soldiers. Mortars over the wall, threatened, injured, shrapnel. I mean, it was just a constant barrage.
NORVILLE: I‘m going to take a break and come back and talk more about the stress that was inherent in the job.
More with General Karpinski and Neal Puckett in just a moment.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, what goes on behind prison walls? Who‘s responsible? What about those who don‘t work for the Army, the contractors? And how does an alleged abuse scandal affect soldier morale during the war?
DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: One appalling statement I heard was where she claimed that she was not allowed—and a piece of the prison was under her military command. Her soldiers are in there. Any soldier, this is not the values of the United States Army, the armed forces. So the fact that she didn‘t get in there and sort out what was going on was the most appalling single thing I have read about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: That was General Barry McCaffrey on “The Today Show” this morning. We‘re taking an hour-long look at the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Back now with Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was the commander of the 800th U.S. Military Brigade. She ran the prison. She‘s also here with her attorney, Neal Puckett.
I know you want to respond to that. That‘s a hugely serious charge.
You didn‘t go where your men were.
KARPINSKI: I did go where my men were. I went where my women were. I went where my soldiers were. And I did not visit there as often as I had in the past. I said that because it was transferred under the control of the military intelligence command. I still had soldiers there certainly, but it was one of 16 facilities under my command.
And I owed a visit and a responsibility for the same reasons to all the other facilities. I was never denied access to any location. That‘s what I said. I was never restricted from any of the locations. But I did not go there on a daily base. No. 1, I couldn‘t give my time specifically to a prison that was no longer under my control. I had other prisons to monitor and to pay attention to. And there were isolation operations going on in there and interrogation operations going on. And they were being conducted by the military intelligence chain of command.
When I did visit cell block 1A and B, I certainly saw no evidence whatsoever of any of these events taking place.
NORVILLE: Did they know you were coming? When you made your visits, were they unannounced or planned?
KARPINSKI: Both. If there was a briefing being conducted, if we had a congressional delegation planning a visit out there, of course they knew I was coming. But very often, a schedule would change or I would go unannounced.
But, no, both. They knew I was coming and they didn‘t know I was coming.
PUCKETT: One point of clarification.
What General McCaffrey, a piece of information that he has not had available to him or he would not have made that statement, is that he would never go and visit and do an inspection tour of a sister command. He would never go to another commander‘s unit and inspect and check out how well he is doing his job. The same thing applied here. Abu Ghraib, at the time these offenses were committed, did not belong to Brigadier General Karpinski. It was not her prison to go into. It belong to Colonel Pappas.
NORVILLE: I understand your position on this. But I‘ve got to tell you, it sort of sounds like passing the buck.
PUCKETT: It would sound like that, except that if you understand that one of the problems here was the two separate chains of command, one commander has no business going over and inspecting a totally different kind of business being run by another commander. That would be stepping on his toes. That is just not military protocol, to do that.
General McCaffrey would never do that. He would never to go a sister commander and say, I want to see what you‘re doing and how you‘re doing it because I suspect you‘re doing something wrong.
NORVILLE: Regardless of who was in command of the prison, there were certainly things going on in there that have horrified the world. Also joining us tonight is the uncle of one of the six soldiers facing court-martial. He is Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick. Frederick is charged with maltreatment for allegedly participating in and setting up some of these photos that you‘ve seen of the detainees.
His uncle is William Lawson. And he joins us from his home in Mountain Lake Park, Maryland.
Sir, thank you for being with us.
WILLIAM LAWSON, UNCLE OF ACCUSED SOLDIER: Thank you.
NORVILLE: I know you‘ve had some contact with your nephew. How is he reacting to the publicity surrounding these terrible allegations?
LAWSON: Well, at first, he was pretty upset and depressed because it was mostly negative. And I told him that even negative press has some positives to it.
But now that this has turned and is starting to turn in the direction of the war crimes that were committed by the civilian contractors, his spirits are up.
NORVILLE: He wrote you some e-mails after the investigation began near the beginning part of this year. And one of the things he said, I would just like to quote a bit from it, is: “I question some of the things that I saw, such things as leaving inmates in their cells with no clothes or in female underpants, handcuffing them to the door of their cell. I questioned and the answer I got was—quote -- ‘This is how Military Intelligence wants it done. M.I. didn‘t want any of the inmates talking to each other. This is what happened when they were caught talking.”
Has he spoken more about this to you? Why didn‘t he do more than just share in it an e-mail to his uncle?
LAWSON: Well, he did. He went to command. He went to the company.
He went to the brigade. And he told them that these things were going on. And they call him Freddie. They say, Freddie, you go on back down there and do you what the civilian contractors want you to do. And we want results.
NORVILLE: Do you know to whom he made this report?
LAWSON: It would have been to his company commander and at least the brigade commander.
NORVILLE: And they said just do what they say, keep going?
LAWSON: Yes. And his job with the seven, the total of seven of them, was to loosen up the prisoners in whatever way that they could do it as instructed by the civilian contractors. The military didn‘t care how he got it done. And my nephew is a very compassionate person and he did not want to physically harm any of these prisoners.
NORVILLE: Your nephew in his civilian life worked as a corrections officer for one branch of the Virginia Department of Corrections. He was one of those individuals who had some experience in treating prisoners. Did that give him more responsibility in the prison?
LAWSON: Yes, it did. But he went and told the chain of command, the company and the brigade, that he was not qualified to do that job and that he was not in the proper pay grade. He told them, I don‘t have any regulations. I don‘t have a copy of the Geneva Convention. I don‘t have medicine for the prisoners. And I don‘t think I should have this job.
They said you go back down there and you do the job that the civilian contractors that work for the CIA and the CID want done and get results.
NORVILLE: And that brings up another issue in this very complicated tale, the role of civilian contractors with respect to Iraqi detainees.
We‘re going to take a short break. When we come back, more on this troubling issue with General Janis Karpinski, her attorney, Neal Puckett, William Lawson, and more when we get back.
NORVILLE: More on those horrific pictures of Iraqi prisoners. Our conversation continues with the brigadier general who used the run the prison and the uncle of the one of the soldiers facing court-martial when we return.
NORVILLE: Back with Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th U.S. Military Police Brigade. She ran the prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, along with her attorney, Neal Puckett. Also joining us from Maryland is William Lawson, the uncle of staff Sergeant Chip Frederick, one of the six soldiers facing court-martial for the alleged abuse at that prison.
Mr. Lawson, you were, just before the break, saying that one of the issues that your nephew had mentioned to you was that he was being instructed by civilians who had been brought in to assist in the military intelligence aspect of this. Can you go into more detail, please?
The chain of command said that the civilian contractors were in charge of the prison, according to my nephew. And my nephew even bears out what General Karpinski says, that she wasn‘t allowed in certain areas probably at certain times, because he was only allowed into the certain area of the prison one time. Nobody was allowed in there when these beatings and interrogations and killings were taking place.
NORVILLE: And yet your nephew is alleged to have taken part in those beatings.
NORVILLE: Excuse me. Let me correct myself. Those compromising situations that have been photographed.
The photographs, part of those photographs are real photographs. And some of those are staged. They‘re staged for a specific reason. And that was that the civilian contractors wanted results. And they told my nephew, we don‘t care how you get this done. Get it done. So, somehow, these seven enlisted people, since they couldn‘t get any help from command, went and photographed, somebody photographed with the Iraqis with the intent of using those photographs to shows new prisoners that came in, this is what can happen to you to loosen them up psychologically, as that was what their job was, to loosen them up psychologically for their interrogators.
NORVILLE: General, is the job of an M.P. to loosen up a prisoner for interrogation?
I know that in some of the locations where they have security detainees outside of Iraq, where they‘ve had large numbers, for example, Guantanamo Bay, they use a different set of procedures at Guantanamo Bay in that detention operation. It is a completely different situation. They have 800 M.P.s to guard 640 detainees, for example.
NORVILLE: But, a moment ago, you talked about the pressure to get information, particularly in those months last fall when there was a groundswell of detainees coming in that it was believed knew something that would be important in the hunt for Saddam.
NORVILLE: And the M.P.s were not trained. Now, I can‘t speak to what the civilians or anybody in the military intelligence command may have instructed them on site.
NORVILLE: Do they have any business instructing anyone in uniform on how to do their job, a civilian contractor? Do they have the right to do that?
KARPINSKI: Well, the people categorize everybody in civilian clothes as a civilian contractor, and they may not be. They could be plainclothes military intelligence, military personnel. They could be CID military personnel. They could be other government agency representatives. They could be other military personnel who are trained in interrogation techniques. Or they could be interpreters or civilian contractors that were hired.
But they all look like civilian contractors because they‘re all in civilian clothes.
NORVILLE: One of the criticisms in the report by General Taguba is specifically that daily processing, accountability and detainee care appear to have been made up as the operations developed, with reliance on and guidance from junior members of the unit who had civilian corrections experience, people like Sergeant Frederick, who had worked in a corrections office operation before. Is that correct?
KARPINSKI: That is not correct. They knew what the procedures were for care of detainees. It doesn‘t make any difference, really, and we didn‘t distinguish between security detainees or criminal detainees or enemy prisoners of war or civilians who were confined because they were innocent civilians—that‘s what they call them—if they are policed up during the course of combat operations.
NORVILLE: So you‘re saying the Army general‘s report is false?
KARPINSKI: I‘m saying that there are some misunderstandings in that, yes. And I responded to those in that fashion.
NORVILLE: All right, we‘ll be back, more with General Karpinski and William Lawson after this.
NORVILLE: We‘re back with Brigadier Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th U.S. Military Brigade, used to run the prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, her attorney, Neal Puckett, and William Lawson, who is the uncle of Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick, one of six soldiers now facing court-martial.
I‘m going to ask you all the same question. The fallout from this is wide and extending pretty far.
Mr. Lawson, what do you think about the impact of America‘s image overseas, particularly in that part of the world where your nephew went supposedly to help people?
LAWSON: It upsets me very much, because I love this country and that this had to come to this. The Army knew about this problem back in July of 2003 when they discharged some of the reservists in Pennsylvania. The entire chain of command has known this has been going on. We suggested to them that they could not let this come out, and we could solve this problem, but they chose to circle their wagons and decide to tell these outrageous lies that they‘ve been telling just to keep this torture, brutality of prisoners under wraps.
NORVILLE: Neal, before you became an attorney representing people like General Karpinski, you were a military judge. From your point of view with that experience, how has this set back American and Arab relations, or has it?
PUCKETT: Well, that‘s sort of beyond my capability to answer. But I can‘t imagine anything but far-reaching damage that‘s going to last a long time and going to be very difficult to repair.
NORVILLE: And, General Karpinski, I know you‘ve said that you feel that this happened by people who had been a part of your command, but beyond your control. But when people look at those pictures and they realize that the people in uniform are American soldiers who were sent there representing a nation that has always stood for freedom, that has always stood for democracy, America‘s reputation, in the eyes of many, has been hideously besmirched.
How do you respond to that? A lot of people would say, I‘m sorry, General. You are responsible.
KARPINSKI: And I accept my responsibility to the extent that I should accept the responsibility. They were my soldiers. They were assigned to a unit under the 800th Military Police Brigade. And I think that the impact is profound.
And I have, particularly, and worked very diligently with all of the members of the Military Police Brigade from July through February, until the transfer of authority formally took place to hand off the responsibilities to the two incoming brigades. We worked very hard to establish a new standard in all of our prison facilities, to reassure family members, to treat them fairly, humanely, with dignity, with respect.
And for these acts to occur and to that effort around is tragic. It‘s a travesty.
NORVILLE: But it must not have stuck. You look at those photos, I know you recognize some of those faces as people whom you know personally.
KARPINSKI: Yes. And I recognize 3,400 other soldiers assigned to the 800th M.P. Brigade whose faces I recognize in photographs where they were successful, where the detention operations were successful, where they were doing the right things, facing tremendous challenge, and without existing doctrine in a lot of cases, writing the doctrine as we were conducting operations.
And I see those faces, too. And those soldiers were fine, honorable Americans and deserve credit for those efforts that they made.
NORVILLE: Indeed. While there are some bad apples in this basket, there are over 150,000 Americans who are serving honorably in Iraq.
General Karpinski, thank you for being with us. Mr. Puckett, our thanks to you. And, William Lawson, thanks to you as well.
NBC News has obtained a copy of the secret Army report from which I‘ve been referring about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. If you‘d like to check it out, those excerpts are posted online. Just go to our Web site at NORVILLE.MSNBC.com.
We‘ll be right back.
NORVILLE: As always, you can send your ideas and comments to us at NORVILLE@MSNBC.com. In fact, later this week, I‘ll be spending the hour with pop superstar Lionel Richie. So, if you‘ve got any questions for him, just send us your e-mails.
Also, some of the e-mails that you do send me are now being posted on our Web page at NORVILLE.MSNBC.com. And while you‘re there, you can sign up for the newsletter. So be sure to do that.
Tomorrow, more on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. You‘ve seen the pictures, but we‘re learning the pattern may have started long before this, an exclusive interview with two soldiers discharged from the Army for abusing prisoners. Plus, members of the Saudi royal family finally responding to allegations of a 9/11 connection—that‘s tomorrow night.
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