Guests: James Villa, Edward Chapman, Jim Stakem, Allen Keller, Mark Jacobson, Jeffrey Zaun
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: Court-martial in Baghdad. Duty or disgrace?
American soldier Jeremy Sivits pleads guilty for what he did at Abu Ghraib.
Now he‘s going to prison.
Tonight, reaction from a former commander of the 372nd, the Army unit assigned to guard Abu Ghraib, and a visit to the town where the 372nd is based. How are people there dealing with the scandal that‘s hit so painfully close to home?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m dismayed, upset.
NORVILLE: Plus, do Americans think this kind of behavior is acceptable in a time of war? The answer might surprise you.
The personal story of one American airman who endured 46 days at the hands of Saddam Hussein‘s secret police. Tonight, his incredible story of survival and his plan for revenge.
ANNOUNCER: From Studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
NORVILLE: And good evening.
The first punishment was handed down today for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Specialist Jeremy Sivits was court-martialed today in Baghdad. He pled guilty and received the maximum penalty, even though his lawyer asked for leniency. Sivits was sentenced to one year in prison and a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge.
He broke down in tears as he expressed remorse for taking pictures of naked Iraqi prisoners being humiliated. As part of the plea agreement, Sivits will now testify against others in the prison abuse scandal.
Six fellow soldiers also face court-martial, and three were arraigned in Baghdad. They were all from the 372nd military police company, based in Cumberland, Maryland.
A little later in the program, we‘ll get reaction from Cumberland, which is a small town in western Maryland, a town that is trying to deal with the fallout from the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
But first we begin with a man who knows the 372nd all too well, the former commander of the 372nd Military Police Company, James Villa. He headed the unit from 1989 to 1992, an Army Reserve unit based in Cumberland.
You‘ve been very outspoken on what‘s happened. It‘s nice to see you.
JAMES VILLA, FORMER COMMANDER, 372ND MILITARY POLICE CO.: Thank you for having me, Deborah.
NORVILLE: This must be a dark day for anyone who has ever served in the 372nd.
VILLA: Not only that, but serving military folks everywhere. It was a terrible shock. I‘ve been kind of looking for my unit, knowing it had been deployed, see if I could pick it up in the newspaper, where they were. And this was the first time I had seen them.
NORVILLE: So you had heard no news of the 372nd until the prison abuse scandal broke out?
VILLA: One of the unit—One of the unit leaders had put something in the local paper which I picked up online to see where they were, but that was some time ago. I hadn‘t seen this until the piece ran on “60 Minutes II.”
NORVILLE: Within hours of Specialist Sivits‘ court-martial, General Sanchez came public, and he said the abuse will be investigated throughout the chain of command. He said, quote, “and that includes me.”
From what you know, is this a command failure?
VILLA: The information I have, and I based the op-ed piece I wrote last week was on what was publicly available in the Taguba report, that which focused on the 800th M.P. Brigade and below.
And based on that and what I know from my service as an Army Reservist, it strikes me as huge command failures throughout and including the 800th. Beyond that, I don‘t have any firsthand knowledge to be able to say that, but I think it is.
NORVILLE: But knowing what you know about how the military is set up, would you suspect that it goes beyond the 800th?
VILLA: It would be really hard for me to say.
My point, as I talk about, is that unit leaders have a responsibility to see, to investigate, to train, and not to turn a blind eye or if there are things that are ambiguous, not to let them go but to make sure that their soldiers have clear directions and are abiding by the laws, the general orders of the Geneva Convention, all of which clearly appear to have been violated.
NORVILLE: You don‘t mince words when it comes to Brigadier General Janis Karpinski. As you know, she was on this program right after the scandal broke, and I want to play a segment of what she said during our interview that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIG. GEN. JANIS KARPINSKI, USED TO RUN ABU GHRAIB PRISON: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Is that good enough: she walked around, she talked, she looked, she listened?
VILLA: It‘s certainly part of what a commander has to do.
I should say that I don‘t have experience in detention operations. The 372nd was and is trained as a combat support company. Kind of out on the line, active patrolling with their Humvees.
NORVILLE: But isn‘t that part of the problem, none of the people did?
Janis Karpinski was a business consultant in real life.
VILLA: But she—True, but her unit, the 800th M.P. Brigade is trained to do correctional work, to do EPW, enemy prisoner of war work. She also works through several battalions, and she has a brigade staff to be able to operate and control the battalions that work for her.
Your first question as to whether that was enough, that certainly is a good start. You have to set clear standard operating procedures, and then go down at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. in the morning, to be able to see how things are running.
I used to take coffee to my guys. I‘d meet them at checkpoints at 3 or 4 in the morning, to make sure they were there, they were awake, give them coffee. Part of it to let them know the old man is checking in, and that‘s a very important part, being seen, being out there. But that‘s only part of the job.
NORVILLE: And what we are hearing from—from the information that has gotten out is that these dreadful acts that took place, took place in the dark of night, at 2 a.m., at 3 a.m., during the graveyard shift when presumably the commanders and the higher ups were not around.
VILLA: Well, they may not have been around, but it‘s not—you don‘t punch in at 9 a.m. and go home at 5 p.m.
The people who serve and serve there now and when I commanded the unit in the Gulf War work 24/7. The operation shops, battalions, brigades, and so forth, work 24/7. And a unit commander is supposed to be out there and subordinate leaders, not just commanders but platoon leaders, squad leaders, and so forth, out there checking on their soldiers to make sure they‘re doing things, they‘re doing them right.
So to the extent that may have happened in the middle of the night, that‘s true, but that, you know...
NORVILLE: That doesn‘t wash?
VILLA: That isn‘t the entire answer. And you know, we‘re pointing to a lot of failures here, because this is obviously something that has gone terribly amiss.
But it really is true that there are thousands upon thousands of soldiers who are doing exactly that and unit leaders who are doing exactly that and many of the people in this unit, the 372nd are fine, upstanding soldiers who do their jobs.
NORVILLE: So how could it have gone so wrong in this area?
VILLA: In this area. I mean, there are six or seven soldiers, again, I‘m just reading from what I see in the media, seven soldiers who have been charged. It‘s—it‘s hard to believe, and the highest-ranking soldier is normally in charge of 11 people.
NORVILLE: That would be Staff Sergeant Frederick.
VILLA: It would, and again, it may be different, but in a standard combat support unit, he would be in charge of 11 people.
It‘s hard to believe that his platoon sergeant would have three such people, three squads, wouldn‘t be aware of this or more importantly shouldn‘t be aware of this. That‘s the job of the platoon sergeant, the platoon leader and so forth.
So by omission or commission, that‘s my point, that there were huge failures of command.
NORVILLE: There‘s also that question of following orders, and at his court-martial today, Jeremy Sivits said on November 8, “Staff Sergeant Frederick asked me to come with him to Abu Ghraib with a detainee.”
And then he describes going into a room where six or seven other detainees were along with soldiers and the photographing started happening.
He could have said no. But there‘s this sense that one doesn‘t disobey an order from one‘s higher up. But you say there‘s a difference between the heat of battle and you do what you‘re commanded and a non-combat situation where there is an opportunity to consider, reflect, think.
VILLA: The sort of paradigm I think about is that if you‘re—if you‘re doing a security operation and perhaps there‘s a crowd and you receive fire from the crowd and you see that there are women and children in there, you know what you‘re supposed to do. In each conflict there are rules of engagement, and those rules of engagement are supposed to be spelled out.
It‘s hard, but the military does judge people on how they conduct themselves in such circumstances. It‘s a life and death, split second, force protection issue.
From the pictures that we‘ve seen, from what we know, this wasn‘t a force protection issue. These were systematic over a period of time. The Taguba report is, I think, from November through December, so it‘s hard to say that this is something I just went along with. And it‘s not as if these are kind of close calls in terms of the actions that we‘ve seen.
Serving military officers, enlisted, noncommissioned officers, swear an oath to the Constitution the day they get sworn in, and that includes upholding all the laws of the United States and those which the United States adheres to.
NORVILLE: Do you buy this business, we heard that, “Oh, I didn‘t know about the Geneva Convention. It was never presented to me. I never had a copy of it”?
VILLA: I can‘t speak to this unit‘s training in particular, but I would find it hard to believe that if, in basic and advanced individual training for the enlisted folks, that the Geneva Convention was not a part of that training, and in deployment, at their deployment station before they came overseas, that wasn‘t a part of it, as well.
That certainly should have been a very major part of what they had done.
And when the unit commanders realized they were going to be put into it, down to a platoon sergeant, platoon leader, we‘re going to be dealing with corrections issues. We better find out what the rules are.
If they weren‘t handed it—unit leaders in the United States military aren‘t used to be handed things on a plate. They‘re go-getters. That‘s what they‘re trained to do. And 99.9 percent of the time, that‘s exactly what they do do.
NORVILLE: I notice on your collar, you have the bars of the Bronze Star that you were awarded for your service during the time that you led the 372nd.
How can this unit regain the luster that it had, now that it‘s been tarnished from this?
VILLA: Well, the—I was awarded this not for valor but for meritorious service, and I was ordered it basically because I commanded an outstanding unit of men and women with whom I was privileged to serve.
I wish I had a simple answer for you. The people in Cumberland, the people from whom these folks come, are outstanding people. The people I served with are among the best you can find.
I think the country needs to focus upon the fact that there are some people that went wrong. There were systemic failures in the chain of command that I‘ve noted. Beyond that, I really hope this is something that doesn‘t destroy the reputation of this unit.
NORVILLE: And also make sure that it doesn‘t happen again?
NORVILLE: All right. Jim Villa, thank you so much for being with us.
VILLA: Thank you for having me.
NORVILLE: When we come back, you just heard about the 372nd. What is it like in Cumberland, Maryland? We‘ve got more reaction to the prison scandal from the home of 372nd. We‘ll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, they were the pride of Cumberland, Maryland, until these pictures shocked the world. Tonight, we‘ll visit the community where many of Abu Ghraib‘s soldiers are based.
DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t know how people react in that time of war, in that type of conditions. If your buddies‘ lives are at stake and you need to find out information, it‘s not right at any cost, but who knows? I‘m not—I‘m not going to condemn that either.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were trying to get information out of these prisoners to try to save American lives. They were just doing their jobs, as far as I‘m concerned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Some of the residents in and around Cumberland, Maryland, reacting to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
Cumberland is where the military police unit at the center of the controversy is based. And how does a community that‘s been so proud of its men and women serving in the military reserves cope with the scandal of some of its own abusing Iraqi prisoners?
Joining me now is Edward Chapman. He‘s the reverend of the Emanuel Parish Episcopal Church there in Cumberland. And also there with him is Jim Stakem, the president of the Allegheny County Commission, which is where Cumberland is located.
Gentlemen, thanks so much for being with me. I appreciate it.
JIM STAKEM, PRESIDENT, ALLEGHENY COUNTY COMMISSION: Thank you, Deborah.
REV. EDWARD CHAPMAN, EMANUEL PARISH EPISCOPAL CHURCH: Thank you.
NORVILLE: I gather it‘s an uncomfortable spotlight that folks there in Cumberland feel they‘ve been put under. How are you all dealing with it, Mr. Stakem?
STAKEM: Well, I think that the people are very angry and frustrated right now.
There‘s been a lot of stereotyping going on. For example, you even heard today where someone said, “Well, I can‘t believe the people of Cumberland can do this.”
One French reporter came in and said, “Well, what is it about you people in Cumberland can do something like this?”
First, I‘d like to clarify that not one person from Cumberland or Allegheny County has been accused of anything. It is the unit, which stretches clean from Pennsylvania to Virginia. And I think that needs to be clarified.
The only one from Cumberland was Mr. Darby, who lives in Corrigansville (ph), who was the one who turned them in.
So the people of Cumberland keep hearing the stereotype, what‘s wrong with the people in Cumberland? You know, they get very upset. Because this is rural America. These people love their families, God, their country. And they‘re very proud of who they are, and frankly I wouldn‘t want to live anywhere else.
NORVILLE: Reverend, I gather it must be just whiplash. I mean, a few weeks ago, a few months ago people were so proud of the men and women locally who were serving overseas in Iraq.
And now this, you know, reporters from Europe coming in and knocking on people‘s doors and asking questions.
How are people keeping a sense of balance about all of this?
CHAPMAN: It‘s extremely difficult. This is very much like a death, only it‘s not a physical death, but more or less a death of a sense of pride and honor, and people need that.
I‘m just—it‘s like this. The family members and more broadly, the community have their pride in their young men and women in the military. They want to believe that they‘re doing the right thing, that they‘re doing a good thing, they‘re doing a necessary thing.
And that serves as the counterbalance for the abject fear that they live in 24/7 when their sons and daughters and loved ones are deployed in the field.
And when something like this comes along, it just—it cuts the legs right out from under their support. And they‘re left—well, in shock, bewilderment, denial. And right now there‘s just a ton of anger.
NORVILLE: How are you helping them deal with that anger, because there is a real sense that you all have been put in the crosshairs, but as the commissioner pointed out the only one who‘s actually from your neck of the woods is the one guy who blew the whistle on what was going on.
How are folks dealing with the anger there?
CHAPMAN: Well, I‘m afraid that people are dealing with the anger the way people very often deal in situations like this. They‘re embarrassed, and they don‘t talk a lot. And they keep closed into themselves.
And it‘s my role as a pastor and a citizen and community leader to try and bring people out to get some conversation going. That‘s really the only way people finally cope about things.
And I—you know, I think probably in the next few weeks as the excitement around here settles down a little bit, folks will gradually get their equilibrium back.
NORVILLE: Commissioner Stakem, I gather that one of the real frustrations has been that the 372nd was supposed to have been cycled back home probably about six months ago now, I guess it‘s been.
And that‘s only added to the frustration that these guys were supposed to be back home, and then this terrible scandal has engulfed the unit.
STAKEM: Yes, I knew—for the past 50 years, I‘ve had many friends that served in this unit and frankly, this was supposed to happen. This unit went to the Persian Gulf War in ‘91. They went to Bosnia. And now they were called to serve their country again.
And it‘s so frustrating. We have all these good people that are over there, really trying to help their country and fight this war on terrorism and help the Iraqi people that an incident like this occurred.
NORVILLE: Reverend, I‘ll give you the last question.
I know the news media has been all over your community, and I gather they haven‘t been necessarily roundly welcomed. How do folks feel about the media in Cumberland these days? Go ahead and hit us; we‘ll take it.
NORVILLE: The reaction is part of the anger and embarrassment that people are dealing with right now. And as I said, it will be better off when we‘re left alone, I think.
But let me add one other little piece, and that is that we could stand as a community to hear some—some level of sympathy from somebody—the president or the Pentagon or Senator Kerry for that matter, somebody—to reach out and to say that they understand what—what we‘re going through in the pain.
NORVILLE: Well, hopefully some of those folks are watching, and you may have get a call from somebody. If you do, let us know, will you?
CHAPMAN: OK. Sure.
NORVILLE: All right. Reverend Chapman, Commissioner Stakem, thank you very much for your time tonight.
CHAPMAN: Thank you.
STAKEM: Thank you.
NORVILLE: When we come back, prisoner treatment at Abu Ghraib, was it dereliction of duty or were they just following orders?
And when does interrogation cross the line and become torture? We‘ve been asking you that question on our Web page, and we‘ll share your responses, right after this.
NORVILLE: So far tonight, we‘ve gauged reaction from a man who ran the 372nd, from people who live in Cumberland, Maryland, and now we‘re going to broaden our discussion to the nationwide reaction to the flash point of the prison scandal torture.
What is the line between interrogation and torture?
All week long we‘ve been telling viewers to log in and let us know what you think, a totally unscientific survey on our web site. And here is how you responded.
When we asked you if torture is ever appropriate, 54 percent of you have said it was; 46 percent thought not.
When we asked if torture is ever acceptable and then under what circumstances, to elicit information about an imminent threat, 72 percent of you say yes; 28 percent say no. What about to get information from long-term planning or threats? Fifty-eight percent said yes to that, 42 percent said no.
And what about using torture to control or intimidate prisoners?
Well, 27 percent say it‘s acceptable, but 73 percent say not.
And our final question, we asked viewers, what constitutes torture? Sleep deprivation? Forty-eight percent say yes, 52 no. Hooding, 41 percent say no; 59 percent—I‘m sorry, 41 percent say yes, 59 percent say no. Beating, 78 percent say yes, 22 percent no. Stripping clothes, 49 percent yes, 51 percent no. That‘s sort of even. And electric shock, 82 percent say absolutely not, 18 percent say it is definitely not torture.
And what constitutes torture? Isolation, 42 percent say yes, 58 percent say no. And finally, food deprivation. Is that torture? Seventy-one percent say yes, 29 percent say no.
It‘s a long list. It‘s pretty ghastly stuff. But as you can see from this unscientific survey, most of you have think some forms of torture can be appropriate.
Well, my next guest thinks you are totally wrong, that torture is never appropriate. And he should know. He has seen hundreds of torture victims up close.
Dr. Allen Keller is the director of New York University‘s program for survivors of torture at Bellevue Hospital Center. Since it began nine years ago, the program has treated more than a thousand men, women and children who have been tortured in more than 70 countries.
And Dr. Keller, it‘s good to see you. Thanks for coming.
DR. ALLEN KELLER, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Thank you. It‘s a privilege to be here.
NORVILLE: First off, before we get into specifics, generally, when you saw the pictures of the prison abuse at Abu Ghraib, was it torture in your opinion?
KELLER: When I saw those pictures, I was terribly shaken. The patients that I cared for were also terribly shaken.
And it‘s important, as you mentioned, to state that torture, tragically, is documented in over 100 countries around the world. And that most of the individuals being tortured, men, women and children, are innocent civilians, not terror suspects, people daring to speak out against the ruling powers.
NORVILLE: This is a different situation. These are people who are rounded up for a variety of reasons, for a variety of suspicions behind bars, at the mercy, if you will, of their captors.
What you saw in those photos, is that torture?
KELLER: I think many of those images are eerily familiar to the kinds of things I hear about on a daily basis from my patients.
Severe beatings, different forms of sexual humiliation, severe sleep deprivation, being threatened with attacks from animals, threatened with sexual assaults. So clearly many of these methods do constitute torture.
NORVILLE: The Geneva Convention is pretty clear about what torture is. It says it‘s, quote, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining information or a confession by a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
Obviously, that‘s what the guards are doing; they‘re acting in an official capacity. If their raison d‘etre is to elicit information, how else would you get information, other than by intimidating persons in one way or another?
KELLER: Well, I think the poll results you referred to earlier aren‘t surprising to me. I think it reflects a real fear that we have and a sense that we have to do something.
What I think we need to remember is that torture is not the answer.
Torture is never the answer.
First of all, it‘s dubious at best whether these methods are effective. What I‘ve heard over the years from the countless torture victims I‘ve cared for is that they will say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order to stop the abuse.
So the information you get is, I think, quite often not accurate. And this is in fact what we‘ve been hearing from a number of individuals with years of experience in interrogation, that morality aside, it really isn‘t effective for useful information.
NORVILLE: And yet, the guards in this prison situation clearly felt some sense that this is what they were meant to do. If their job was to get information, then it was appropriate to do things, such as pose this man on a box and let him think he‘s about to be electrocuted.
KELLER: Well, I think we clearly need to examine how and why these things happened. Individuals who did these acts need to be held accountable, and there needs to be a real examination of the system And effective protections.
In “The New York Times” today, I was very concerned to read that there were reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross, for example, wasn‘t being given adequate access. But I think there‘s a lot we can do to prevent these things from happening.
NORVILLE: There‘s also the notion that a prison situation, by definition, can encourage certain kinds of abuses. There was an experiment done 30 years ago. It was pretty famous in the torture business, the Stanford experiment, where at Stanford University, they took two dozen guys, all of whom were upstanding models of moral and good behavior, young college men; 12 of them were told, you‘re guards; 12 of them were told, you‘re prisoners.
And within six days, they had to pull the plug on the experiment because the way these people were being treated was so abhorrent to the people running the experiment, they said, we have got to stop. This is going in a very bad direction.
KELLER: Well, from the men, women and children I‘ve cared for at Bellevue and NYU, you hear these horrific things.
And you like to think, you want to think that only two-headed monsters could do these kinds of acts. And tragically that‘s not the case. I think one of the things I was struck by was the ordinariness of the individuals posed in front of these piles of naked, humiliated individuals. So I think it‘s easier than we‘d like to think for these things to happen. And that‘s for a variety of reasons.
KELLER: Well, first, there‘s a process that‘s often referred to as moral disengagement, where an individual...
NORVILLE: And we‘re looking at, by the way, this is video of the actual Stanford experiment, as you were talking about this. They were blindfolded and asked to strip down.
So individuals often doing these things I think emotionally distance themselves from what they‘re doing or even justify it. They dehumanize or view as less than human the individuals that this is happening for and may even view it in the context of before—doing what they‘re told or for some greater purpose.
NORVILLE: Hence, the ghastly photo where the young female soldier has the naked Iraqi with the dog leash around his neck.
NORVILLE: And that‘s a completely dehumanizing position.
KELLER: Dehumanizing and humiliating far more for the individual that this happened to, but also for the individual who perpetrated this.
Now, what torture does is, it undermines an individual‘s sense of trust, their sense of safety and a sense of community. And I think we‘re seeing that on both sides. We‘re seeing this effect in the communities in Iraq, and then in the communities here in the U.S., where, you know, these allegations of, you know, who did this are coming from.
NORVILLE: And are so upsetting, and yet you say, for your patients, the thousands whom you‘ve treated and seen over the years, seeing these photos in the news magazines, on the news footage, on the television, is like being tortured again. It‘s brought back all of the unhappy memories that they‘ve been working so diligently to try to suppress.
KELLER: Well, it‘s estimated that there are more than 400,000 torture victims, immigrants and refugees who came to this country seeking safety and asylum. And many of the patients I‘ve talked to over the last several weeks have shuddered. She, yes, they have said these images have given them nightmares. They have made them feel nervous.
They don‘t want to believe that this country that provided them with safety could do these things.
NORVILLE: And you also say that it really is an indictment or could be an indictment of a nation‘s core values. We don‘t think Americans can do these kinds of things and yet there‘s some photographs of people who are clearly Americans doing things that we find abhorrent.
KELLER: Well, I think there‘s a darker side and also though a side of hope, clearly a darker side that individuals acting on behalf of our country could do this, and we need to really find out what systemic things might have also led to this.
But there‘s also opportunity. Historically, the U.S. has led the
fight in speaking out and condemning human rights. And we owe it not only
to the torture victims
NORVILLE: Human rights abuses?
KELLER: Human rights abuses, yes.
The U.S. has really been a leader condemning human rights abuses, so that we owe it not only to the torture victims here, but around the world to speak out. I get very concerned that if the U.S. in any way condones torture, it will increase what is already a worldwide public health epidemic. So we need to take the high road, condemn what happened, make sure it doesn‘t happen and then advocate against torture in any way we can.
NORVILLE: And see these investigations through to their conclusion.
KELLER: See them through and also care for the individuals who were brutalized and care for the communities.
NORVILLE: Dr. Keller, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
KELLER: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Up next, breaking the rules of war. When does interrogation become torture? The man who literally wrote the book on the proper treatment of Iraqi prisoners—when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.
NORVILLE: The Pentagon blames the prison abuse on soldiers. But what rules for interrogation, if any, were they following? The man who helped write them joins me next.
NORVILLE: Shocking as the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos have been, there are accusations that it was no accident, specifically, a report in “The New Yorker” magazine that claims Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved a plan that encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners to gain intelligence. The Pentagon issued a statement calling those claims outlandish, conspiratorial and filled with error.
Joining me now is Mark Jacobson. He is the former assistant for detainee policy at the Department of Defense. And part of his job was to develop detention and intelligence policy for enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq.
Mr. Jacobson, thanks for being with us. Nice to see you.
MARK JACOBSON, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, Deborah.
NORVILLE: Let‘s start out, you were an assistant at the department from 1998 to early 2003 and part of the team that drew up the detention policy. What specifically was the objective as that policy was being formulated?
JACOBSON: Well, there are really three components to the Guantanamo Bay policy.
The first was to ensure that all those individuals who were still fighting Americans, who needed to be taken off the battlefield could be put in a secure environment where they would no longer pose a threat to the United States, our forces or our citizens. The second part of this was to make sure you had a humane environment and a long-term environment, because many of these individuals we would want to prosecute for war crimes later on.
Thirdly and probably the part of that has received the most attention is the intelligence aspect. Many of these individuals have important information that we need to have in order to fight the war on terrorism.
NORVILLE: And the question, as you know, is, how do you get that information and still stay within the guidelines of international law?
NORVILLE: Human Rights Watch has said that the Pentagon lawyers had a 72-point matrix, to use the word, of different things that could be done, including stripping prisoners naked, subjecting them to bright lights or blaring noise, hooding them, temperature extremes from 110 degrees to 10 below Fahrenheit, binding them in uncomfortable positions. Was this part of the policy that your team approved?
JACOBSON: Absolutely not.
I think that there‘s a misconception that the American people sometimes have and certainly some journalists who want to make big stories. Interrogation is not about torturing people. Not only is torture illegal.
As you‘ve heard from experts all over the world, it just doesn‘t work. Interrogation is frankly a bit boring. It‘s about rapport building. It‘s about getting to know someone. It‘s about encouraging them to have a conversation.
When we hear terms such as environmental manipulation, we often think, well, maybe that‘s putting someone in a freezing room or exposing them to excessive heat. I think a great point that was made at the hearings this morning was, this can be as simple as providing an air conditioning unit to someone who is being cooperative—and at Guantanamo where it‘s 95 degrees all the time, that‘s certainly something you look forward to—vs. not supplying an air conditioned room to someone who hasn‘t been cooperating.
NORVILLE: You mentioned the hearings today. General Geoffrey Miller was among those who was at the hearing.
And I want to just play a little bit of what he had to say before the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. GEN. GEOFFREY MILLER, U.S. ARMY: And the recommendation was that they conduct passive intelligence gathering during this process. And by that, that meant to observe the detainees, to see how their behavior was, to see who they would speak with, and then to report that to the interrogators.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: So they weren‘t supposed to abuse anybody, but apparently it happened anyway. How do you square the obvious abuse of prisoners with what you say is the stated policy to get more flies with honey than vinegar?
JACOBSON: Very simply, you have individuals who disobeyed the policy, disregarded military orders and disregarded the teachings of the UCMJ and the Geneva Convention, in absolute contradiction to the orders that they were given.
NORVILLE: How do you then square that with the statement that you made to “The Washington Post” saying—quote—“I actually think we are not aggressive enough at times in interrogation techniques”—quote—“I think we are too timid”?
JACOBSON: Well, I think the way I would explain that is at times we at Guantanamo Bay had approval authority levels where we required the secretary of defense to look at what I felt were pretty regular techniques that were used in the field manual.
For example, good cop/bad cop would be an example. That‘s something that‘s used regularly. I felt that our level of oversight at Guantanamo Bay was perhaps too aggressive—or, I‘m sorry, was too high a level of oversight. And that‘s what I meant by being timid and perhaps we could be a little bit more aggressive.
NORVILLE: Aggressive in the bad cop part of the equation?
JACOBSON: No, aggressive in the sense that we should give our interrogators a little bit more leeway to do those things that are not only legal, but that are standardly practiced.
NORVILLE: But one lawyer involved in the whole process said we wanted to—quote—“find a legal way to jack up the pressure, but keep it legal.”
JACOBSON: Well, jacking up the pressure is certainly OK. We don‘t have to sit there while there are enemy combatants who are saying, well, we refuse to talk to you. We would just like our lawyer. Well, that‘s ridiculous.
These individuals are in our care. We can use whatever deceptive techniques. We can use sort of cajoling if we would like to try and get them to talk. We don‘t just have to sit there and not do anything if they refuse to speak.
NORVILLE: Do you think that the Defense Department and the government in general would have less of a problem if Secretary Rumsfeld had not specifically articulated that enemy combatants are not subject to the protections of the Geneva Conventions?
JACOBSON: Well, I think you‘ve hit the larger point. And this is exactly what‘s going on here, both in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
There are several decisions that the United States government took that are putting us in bad stead with the rest of the world. And this really started with the decision not to comply too strictly with what were seen as the international interpretations of the Geneva Convention. Specifically, the United States government decided not to hold Article 5 tribunals, which would have allowed for some type of legal check of the detainees‘ status before they went to Guantanamo Bay.
Now, the department does a pretty good job making sure that only those who are enemy combatants make it to Guantanamo, but it‘s the optics of this. It just doesn‘t look right.
NORVILLE: And do you think the process should be more transparent now? We still hear reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross is not getting access or hasn‘t until quite recently to all of the aspects of prisons. We still see a great demand for transparency at Guantanamo Bay, where these people have been held for two years.
And I would say a couple of things on that. First, kudos to General Miller for—the first thing he did when he got in as the deputy commanding general for detention operations in Iraq was to invite the ICRC, the Red Cross, to have a permanent presence at Abu Ghraib prison. That‘s absolutely essential. I think his presence in Iraq will go a long way to rebuilding some of that credibility with the international community.
Secondly, I think it‘s time for the department to be a bit more forthcoming in terms of more press conferences, a few more visits perhaps by the human rights community and academics down to Guantanamo Bay. I think you‘re exactly right. Transparency has to be the word of the day.
NORVILLE: Well, we know you have got direct numbers to those folks.
So, Mark Jacobson, why don‘t you use your phone? We appreciate your time.
JACOBSON: Thank you.
NORVILLE: Thank you.
When we come back, an American held hostage tortured in Iraq tells us what it was like on the other side, how he survived his experience—next.
NORVILLE: My guest knows what it is like firsthand to be tortured.
After his plane was shot down during the 1991 Gulf War, Navy Lieutenant Jeffrey Zaun was taken into custody by the Iraqi secret police. He was held for 46 days. His battered face became one of American‘s most memorable images of that war. His captors kept him blindfolded and handcuffed so tightly that the nerves in his hands were crushed. Zaun was regularly beaten. He suffered from hypothermia.
Jeffrey Zaun joins me now.
And it‘s so good to see you.
JEFFREY ZAUN, FORMER IRAQI POW: Good evening, Deborah.
NORVILLE: How did you get through that period of a month and a half in Saddam Hussein‘s...
ZAUN: A lot of it was one moment after the next. When I made the film, that was—it took a lot out of me. That really—I had felt very good about myself on the night that we went in because we did what we were supposed to do.
NORVILLE: And you were flying a low-altitude mission.
ZAUN: Right, 400 feet, and got hit a couple miles prior to the target. Then, a couple of days later, I think I got my mind on the wrong track. I started worrying about myself, thinking about dying.
And you know, I made the film, just didn‘t have the guts to tell them no. So, you know, the way I think of it is, you know, OK, I failed. I got to forgive myself. I got to pray. I got to get God to forgive me. And, OK, the idea is, can I muster the guts inside to do better next time? And you do that.
NORVILLE: That film was such a powerful moment during your captivity. I want to play just a small section of it and talk a little bit more about that, Jeffrey Zaun in captivity during the first Iraq war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAUN: I think our leaders and our people have wrongly attacked the peaceful people of Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: How did they get you to do that?
ZAUN: Again, I think I got my mind on the wrong track.
They—I got captured, very disorienting, a couple of days of getting beat around and interrogated. The beatings were just open hands to the face, karate chops to the throat, lying in a hallway most of the time handcuffed. And we were at a—we were in a bunker, so there were bombs dropping close by. And the big thing for me was, they pulled out a gun and said, OK, we‘re going to kill you.
NORVILLE: And did they have it like this to your head or...
ZAUN: No. At that point, they didn‘t. Later, there were times when they did stuff. Actually, I‘m not sure because I was blindfolded, but they had either a finger or a gun to my head. And I actually suspect it was a finger a couple of times.
Having said that, yes, I got my mind on the wrong track. The thing that sort of holds you to your duty, to what you need to do is your buddies, thinking about, you know, the standards that you have with your friends and how you shouldn‘t let them down. And as time went by, I got a little bit better. But I got a little better at working around my lack of ability to tell them, go ahead and shoot me.
NORVILLE: They also brought you in front of an audience, almost like a Phil Donahue kind of thing, where you were being interviewed by an Iraqi journalist in front of a room of audience members. I don‘t know who those people were.
ZAUN: I don‘t recall that as the scene.
I recall just two or three or four people looking on and they almost seemed like secret police who were monitoring the interviewer, less than a crowd of people that were there to be a mock audience.
NORVILLE: And was it something you were conscious of, if I say the wrong thing, I‘m not going to be leaving this room alive?
ZAUN: Well, I was thinking about that. And mostly I was trying to figure out something that I might say that was clever that would get the message across and trying to be or sound as insincere as I could.
NORVILLE: Sound as insincere?
ZAUN: Yes, sound as unenthusiastic about what I was saying as I could. So...
NORVILLE: Did they tell you what to say?
ZAUN: Actually, I got a break because they told me what the questions were going to be and then they told me what my answers were going to be. And they went through all five or six and then they went back to the beginning.
So I had leeway to forget a little bit here and there. But, as you can see, I didn‘t do a fine job of filling in with patriotic statements.
When you‘ve seen the photos of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse, has it taken you back to your own time in captivity in Iraq or to a different place?
ZAUN: Not really. It‘s sort of a different level of intensity.
First, when I first saw it, I thought, you know, it was just bad—or undisciplined. Thought about it a little bit more, and I decided that you know, there might have been some kind of management problem there. We‘ve seen some entrepreneurship that wasn‘t in check by, you know, responsible people.
I think the intelligence community folks, you know, maybe got outside the bounds of the—and this is a little parochial on my part, because I was a line officer. I was a war fighter.
ZAUN: And sometimes, I would observe that some of the staff folks would not have a good sense of where a limit should be drawn, didn‘t have a big picture of stuff.
And I think they discovered that, you know, the macho stuff with the Iraqis, if they subjected them to humiliation that way, that they broke fairly easily and fairly quickly. And it was effective and it was probably a problem of omission, rather than commission on the part of the senior folks.
NORVILLE: Is it a systemic problem or is it just individual oversight issues?
ZAUN: You‘ve got to wait for the facts to come out on that. I can‘t tell you.
NORVILLE: As a man who left the service, having been highly decorated and certainly having had such an intense personal situation, you‘ve also said that the actions at Abu Ghraib are a larger reflection of us as a society. How so?
ZAUN: Well, I don‘t know that I think they‘re a reflection of us as a society.
One difficulty that I have had is the way we frame the war, as a war on terror. Terror is an action, a set of actions, right? All the concepts with war and with the governance in war, jus in bello, law in war, they have to do with breaking a nation state or before that breaking a group.
So we frame this as sort of like a war on crime, as in a war on a set of actions. And military concepts don‘t work so well when you‘re breaking a—or trying to fight a crime. They work when you‘re trying to break a group. And you can see that in the treatment of prisoners, too, because you can‘t set criteria for their release if you haven‘t named the group that has to be defeated so that they can be returned, nor, are you know, in fairness to them, they‘re not represented by their nation very well.
ZAUN: So, yes, in a larger picture, my problem right now is, maybe we ought to declare a war on terror groups.
NORVILLE: Frame a little differently.
Jeffrey Zaun, I‘m glad to see you. It‘s nice to see you. And thank you for being with us tonight.
ZAUN: Thank you.
NORVILLE: We‘ll take a break. We‘ll be right back.
NORVILLE: That‘s our program for tonight.
Tomorrow, an incredible story of survival, Anne Hjelle, the mountain biker who was literally saved from the jaws of a mountain lion, her amazing story when you join us tomorrow.
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