By PHILIP SHENON
NY Times News Service
WASHINGTON - An Army Reserve general whose soldiers were photographed as they abused Iraqi prisoners said Saturday that she knew nothing about the abuse until weeks after it occurred and that she was sickened by the pictures. She said the prison cellblock where the abuse occurred was under the tight control of Army military intelligence officers who may have encouraged the abuse.
The suggestion by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski that the reservists acted at the behest of military intelligence officers appears largely supported in a still-classified Army report on prison conditions in Iraq that documented many of the worst abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, including the sexual humiliation of prisoners.
The New Yorker magazine said in its new edition that the report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba found that reservist military police at the prison were urged by Army military officers and CIA agents to set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.
According to the New Yorker article, the Army report offered accounts of rampant and gruesome abuse from October to December of 2003 that included the sexual assault of an Iraqi detainee with a chemical light stick or broomstick.
While reports of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American and British soldiers have come to light in the last several days, the report cited by The New Yorker indicates a far more wide-ranging and systematic pattern of cruelties than previously reported.
Karpinski was formally admonished in January and quietly suspended from commanding the 800th Military Police Brigade, the New Yorker article reports while under investigation.
In a phone interview from her home in South Carolina in which she offered her first public comments about the growing international furor over the abuse of the Iraq detainees, Karpinski said the special high-security cellblock at Abu Ghraib had been under the direct control of Army intelligence officers, not the reservists under her command.
She said that while the reservists involved in the abuses were bad people who deserved punishment, she suspected that they were acting with the encouragement, if not at the direction, of military intelligence units that ran the special cellblock used for interrogation. She said that CIA employees often joined in the interrogations at the prison, although she said she did not know if they had unrestricted access to the cellblock.
According to the New Yorker article, by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, one of the soldiers under investigation, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick II, an Army reservist who is a prison guard in civilian life, may have reinforced Karpinskis contention in e-mails to family and friends while serving at the prison.
In a letter earlier this year, Frederick wrote, I questioned some of the things that I saw. He described such things as leaving inmates in their cell with no clothes or in female underpants, handcuffing them to the door of their cell. He added, The answer I got was, This is how military intelligence wants it done.Prisoners were beaten and threatened with rape, electrocution and dog attacks, witnesses told Army investigators, according to the report obtained by The New Yorker. Much of the abuse was sexual, with prisoners often kept naked and forced to perform simulated and real sex acts, witnesses testified. Hersh notes that such degradations, while deeply offensive in any culture, are particularly humiliating to Arabs because Islamic law and culture so strongly condemn nudity and homosexuality.
Karpinski said she was speaking out because she believed that military commanders were trying to shift the blame exclusively to her and other reservists and away from intelligence officers still at work in Iraq.
Were disposable, she said of the militarys attitude toward reservists. Why would they want the active-duty people to take the blame? They want to put this on the MPs and hope that this thing goes away. Well, its not going to go away.
The Armys public affairs office at the Pentagon referred calls about her comments to military commanders in Iraq.
Karpinski said in the interview that the special cellblock, known as 1A, was one of about two dozen cellblocks in the large prison complex and was essentially off limits to soldiers who were not part of the interrogations, including virtually all of the military police under her command at Abu Ghraib.
She said repeatedly in the interview that she was not defending the actions of the reservists who took part in the brutality, who were part of her command. She said that when she was first presented with the photographs of the abuse in January, they sickened me.
I put my head down because I really thought I was going to throw up, she said. It was awful. My immediate reaction was: These are bad people, because their faces revealed how much pleasure they felt at this.
But she said the context of the brutality had been lost, noting that the six Army reservists charged in the case represented were only a tiny fraction of the nearly 3,400 reservists under her command in Iraq, and that Abu Ghraib was one of 16 prisons and other incarceration centers around Iraq that she oversaw.
The suggestion that this was done with my knowledge and continued with my knowledge is so far from the truth, she said of the abuse. I wasnt aware of any of this. Im horrified by this.
She said she was also alarmed that little attention has been paid to the Army military intelligence unit that controlled Cellblock 1A, where her soldiers guarded the Iraqi detainees between interrogations.
She estimated that the floor space of the two-story cellblock was only about 60 feet by 20 feet, and that military intelligence officers were in and out of the cellblock 24 hours a day, often to escort prisoners to and from an interrogation center away from the prison cells.
They were in there at 2 in the morning, they were there at 4 in the afternoon, said Karpinski, who arrived in Iraq last June and was the only woman to hold a command in the war zone. This was no 9-to-5 job.
She said that CIA employees often participated in the interrogations at Abu Ghraib, one of Iraqs most notorious prisons during the rule of Saddam Hussein.
Karpinski noted that one of the photographs of abused prisoners also showed the legs of 16 American soldiers -- the photograph was cropped so that their upper bodies could not be seen -- and that tells you that clearly other people were participating, because I didnt have 16 people assigned to that cellblock. The photographs of American soldiers smiling, laughing and signaling thumbs up as Iraqi detainees were forced into sexually humiliating positions provoked outrage just as the American military was trying to pacify a rising insurgency and gain the trust of more Iraqis before turning over sovereignty to a new government on June 30.
Karpinski, who has returned home to South Carolina and her civilian life as a business consultant, said she visited Abu Ghraib as often as twice a week last fall and had repeatedly instructed military police officers under her command to treat prisoners humanely and in accord with international human rights agreements.
I can speak some Arabic, said Karpinski, a New Jersey native who spent almost a decade as an active duty soldier before joining the Army Reserve in 1987. Im not fluent, but when I went to any of my prison facilities, I would make it a point to try to talk to the detainees.
But she said she did not visit Cellblock 1A, in keeping with the wishes of military intelligence officers who, she said, worried that unnecessary visits might interfere with their interrogations of Iraqis.
She acknowledged that she probably should have been more aggressive about visiting the interrogation cellblock, especially after military intelligence officers at the prison went to great lengths to try to exclude the ICRC from access to that interrogation wing.
She was referring to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been given access over time to Iraqi detainees at the prison.
Karpinskis lawyer, Neal Puckett, a former military trial judge, said he believed that she was being made a scapegoat for others in the military, especially for military intelligence officers who knew what was going on in Cellblock 1A.
He said Karpinski had repeatedly insisted that troops under her command in Iraq receive instruction in proper treatment of detainees, but that despite her best efforts, some reservists joined in the abuse at Abu Ghraib. All you can do is give training, give guidance and assume that your soldiers are going to follow orders and are not going to become sick bastards, he said.
After the first allegations of abuse circulated earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior American commander in Iraq, ordered sweeping inquiries into whether any commanders -- including Karpinski -- should be held responsible. He also ordered a review of policies and procedures at all of the prisons controlled by occupation forces in Iraq.