The U.S. general overseeing Army-run prisons in Iraq said Tuesday that the population of overcrowded Abu Ghraib prison would be cut by more than half and that he has ordered military intelligence operatives to stop placing hoods over detainees’ heads as an interrogation tactic.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, 54, who previously commanded the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was unapologetic about the use of tough tactics designed to draw out information from detainees, but said that he had directed interrogation supervisors to strictly follow Army rules detailing what techniques can be used.
“We’re here to enable the armed forces to win this fight that’s ongoing,” Miller said he told his subordinates. “At the end of the day you’d better make sure that what we’ve done will make America proud.”
Miller disclosed the policy changes during an interview with a small group of reporters here. He was made deputy commander for detainee operations in Iraq last month, weeks before images of detainees being physically and sexually abused at Abu Ghraib in November and December were broadcast around the world.
Last spring the military took over Abu Ghraib, which had been President Saddam Hussein’s most notorious prison. Since then it has held as many as 7,000 prisoners, prompting complaints from human rights advocates and criticism from Army investigators.
Miller said he would reduce Abu Ghraib’s population to a maximum of 1,500 or 2,000 but did not explain when or how the reduction would be achieved. The Army has accelerated the release of prisoners in recent months and has transferred a small number for criminal prosecution in Iraqi courts.
The U.S. military runs two other large prisons, in the southern port city of Umm Qasr and at Baghdad International Airport, where those referred to as “high-value” detainees are held. It also runs 11 smaller detention facilities, where prisoners can be held for up to 14 days before a decision is made to release them or transfer them to one of the three main facilities.
The U.S. military has begun five separate investigations since January into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, located in a western suburb of Baghdad. A criminal investigation has resulted in charges being filed against six soldiers. An administrative review resulted in notices of reprimand filed this week against six officers and non-commissioned officers and a lesser penalty for another.
One of the probes, into interrogation practices, could lead to additional criminal and administrative actions, military officials have said. The Army inspector general and the commander of the Army Reserve are conducting their own inquiries as well.
In the interview, Miller offered details of the procedures used to rattle, persuade or intimidate detainees into divulging information about their methods and organizations.
Each interrogation at Abu Ghraib is conducted by a group called a “tiger team,” comprising one or two interrogators, a translator and a linguist, Miller said. An analyst, typically an older or more experienced interrogator, observes the questioning from a separate viewing room.
“Every interrogation must have an interrogation plan that lays out the techniques that will be used to be able to garner the information that is laid out in that interrogation plan,” Miller said. “The interrogation team submits this up to their interrogation supervisor, who lays that out. That’s one of the safeguards and checks that we use to ensure that our interrogation teams are following our guidance.”
Miller said the use of physical contact and threats against detainees is prohibited. Last week, he said, he banned the use of hoods to cover the heads of detainees during transport. Instead, military officers have been directed to use “pressure bandages” or goggles to cover the eyes of detainees when transporting them.
The use of hoods within the prisons was halted more than a month ago, Miller said. Several of the photographs depicting abuse of Abu Ghraib detainees, taken in November and broadcast last week on CBS’s “60 Minutes II,” showed some prisoners wearing dark-colored cloth hoods.
“We just made the decision we did not want to use that technique,” Miller said. “I believe it sends a message we do not want to send to the civilian population.”
Miller said interrogators generally cannot deprive prisoners of sleep or force them to sit or stand in uncomfortable positions, but he did not say there was an outright ban on those techniques. “We do not use stress positions, we do not use sleep deprivation, unless that is approved at the general-officer level,” he said. “We follow the tenets of the Geneva Convention, and so the basics of the Geneva Convention—shelter, medical care, food—are never used as a manipulation tool.”
Four hours of sleep
Former military guards at Abu Ghraib said it was common to limit prisoners’ sleep to four hours a day.
Miller also addressed his role in helping to shape policies at Abu Ghraib. In August and September, while he was the commander at Guantanamo Bay, Miller and about 30 aides paid a two-week visit to Iraq to offer suggestions on how to make interrogations more efficient and effective.
A major outcome of that visit was a recommendation to consolidate military intelligence operatives, who supervise interrogations, and military police, who oversee detainees. In November, a military intelligence brigade was put in overall control of Abu Ghraib, while a separate military police brigade continued to run detention operations.
In March, an investigator, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, concluded that the decision led to a lack of communication and fragmentation of authority and created conditions for the abuses to occur.
On Tuesday, Miller defended the command structure he championed. He said his recommendations were only partially implemented. He did not dispute Taguba’s findings directly, but said that effective leadership could solve the problem. “Since I am the overall authority, I am the integrator,” he said.
He added: “I am absolutely confident that every recommendation was not only appropriate but did [make] and would have made this operation more effective and more efficient.”
Miller, a 32-year Army veteran and former paratrooper from Menard, Tex., said the abuses did not reflect the conduct of the majority of soldiers working for military intelligence and police.
“I’m pretty proud of these people,” he said. “They’re out working at great risk, with enormous pride. They’re all a little bit embarrassed because some people who came before them didn’t follow the standards. These are great Americans who are out doing the business of this nation.”
Iraq’s former human rights minister, Abdul Basit Turki, told the Azzaman newspaper on Monday that U.S. soldiers responsible for the crimes should be prosecuted as war criminals before an international tribunal. He also called for turning over the detention facilities to Iraqi authorities.
Turki also predicted that the abuses would harden anti-American sentiment. “Such practices, which contradict human rights principles and are humiliating in Arab culture, will lead the suspects to nurture negative reactions and will translate into resistance to the occupation.”
Turki said he had submitted his resignation as rights minister on April 8 but was asked by his employees and Iraqi political leaders to remain. News services reported Tuesday that U.S. authorities had accepted his resignation.
In the dusty parking lot outside Abu Ghraib, dozens of families gather each day to schedule visits with detained relatives, which often get canceled.
Yassen Abdul Rahman, 31, a taxi driver, said Tuesday that he was trying to see his brother, Fakher Abdul Rahman, who had been behind bars since they both were arrested in December near the northern city of Mosul on suspicion of being members of a militant group.
“Last week we heard that Fakher was wounded in a mortar attack on Abu Ghraib,” said his brother, who was released after two weeks. “So we came to see him, but they wouldn’t let us. This is the third time that I’ve come, but it’s no use.”
Special correspondent Khalid Saffar in Abu Ghraib contributed to this report.