General links detention and interrogation

His report last fall urged guards to set stage for `exploitation' of detainees

Crisis In Iraq

May 05, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

The two-star Army general charged with reforming the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Iraq, in light of the growing abuse scandal involving Western Maryland reservists said in a report last fall that military detention facilities should serve as an "enabler for interrogation," according to a subsequent investigation that criticized the general's recommendations.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then commanding officer of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, visited Iraq early in September as the head of a delegation advising military officers on how to extract intelligence from Iraqi detainees.

Miller's team concluded that it was "essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees." Its report also said that U.S. interrogation operations in Iraq were hampered by a lack of "active control" of prisoners.

But Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who documented abuses at Abu Ghraib between October and December, said Miller's delegation wrongly applied interrogation procedures for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay to prisoners in Iraq.

"There is a strong argument that the intelligence value of detainees held at [Guantanamo] is different than that of the detainees/internees held at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq," Taguba wrote in his internal report, which also said military guards should not play any role in interrogation.

"Military police, though adept at passive collection of intelligence within a facility, should not participate in military intelligence-supervised interrogation sessions," Taguba said. "Moreover, military police should not be involved with setting `favorable conditions' for subsequent interviews. These actions ... clearly run counter to the smooth operation of a detention facility."

The account of Miller's recommendations from last fall in the Taguba report suggests that interrogation practices at Guantanamo "had been exported to Iraq - and I find that troubling," said Steven M. Watt, a fellow with the Center for Constitutional Rights, an advocacy group representing 600 detainees who are seeking basic legal protections in a case pending before the Supreme Court.

Miller, named April 15 to take command of the American-run prison system, told reporters in Baghdad yesterday that he had put an end to some of the prison practices that led to abuse allegations. He said, for instance, that four days ago U.S. personnel stopped covering detainees with hoods and using sleep depravation techniques.

"Trust us," Miller said. "We are doing this right."

U.S. officials point to Miller's efforts as they work to restore international credibility and calm outrage in the Arab world over reports that Iraqi prisoners were tortured and humiliated by U.S. guards from the 372nd Military Police Company, which is based in Cresaptown, near Cumberland.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit, spokesman for the Army in Iraq, called Miller, "the military expert in the world today on conducting appropriate detainee operations." In an interview yesterday with Al-Arabiya television, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that Miller "will make certain that the operation is one of which we would really be proud."

Miller, 55, a former artillery officer, arrived in Iraq familiar with the glare of criticism. The U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo, opened two years ago during the American invasion of Afghanistan, has been questioned by human rights and constitutional advocacy groups for indefinitely holding prisoners without charging them or allowing them lawyers.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case of the 600 Guantanamo detainees, who are classified by the military as "enemy combatants," by early summer.

Guantanamo's main role has been as an intelligence clearinghouse. In an interview with The Sun last summer, Miller said, "We do approximately 300 interrogations week, and we get better every week."

Wendy Patten, U.S. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said that placing a priority on intelligence gathering at detention facilities could lead to the kinds of abuses documented in Iraq. "Given that in many ways the central purpose of Guantanamo is gathering intelligence, it raises questions about whether proper lines will be drawn," Patten said.

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