BAGHDAD, Iraq - The new commander of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq said yesterday that he has no plans to raze the notorious Abu Ghraib facility as he defended recommendations that he made last year intended to extract more intelligence from Iraqi detainees.
Yesterday marked the third public appearance in a week for Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller as the United States seeks to quell the storm surrounding the prison-abuse case. The turmoil continued as British soldiers clashed in two southern cities with militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and U.S. forces stormed Sadr's stronghold in Baghdad.
Miller commanded the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when he led a 30-member team to Abu Ghraib in August and September, and recommended that military police officers at the prison "be actively engaged in setting the conditions for" successful interrogations, according to an internal Army report.
Facing detailed questions at a Baghdad news conference yesterday, Miller said that his words should be interpreted only as urging "passive intelligence collection."
"By passive intelligence collection it means that they observe the detainees on a 24-hour-a-day basis" and provide information to interrogators on their mood and "mental attitude," Miller said.
"There was no recommendation ever by this team here that I had in August and September that recommended that the MPs become actively involved in the interrogation in the interrogation booth," he said.
Seven members of a military police unit face criminal charges for their role in sexually and physically abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib from October to December. Several of those implicated have said that they were encouraged by superiors or interrogators to weaken, disorient or humiliate prisoners in preparation for questioning.
One of the soldiers facing charges, Spc. Sabrina Harman, said she and other members of the 372nd Military Police Company took direction from Army military intelligence officers, from CIA operatives and from civilian contractors who conducted interrogations.
In an interview by e-mail from Baghdad, Harman told The Washington Post that it was made clear that her mission was to break down the prisoners.
"They would bring in one to several prisoners at a time already hooded and cuffed," Harman said. "The job of the MP was to keep them awake, make it hell so they would talk."
Harman is one of two smiling soldiers seen in a photo taken at Abu Ghraib as they stand behind naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners stacked in a pyramid.
Seven other members of the chain of command have received administrative rebukes in the scandal, which has triggered five investigations and shaken the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq.
Since the case gained wide attention more than a week ago, some U.S. lawmakers have called for the prison to be closed. However, Miller said plans are only to reduce the inmate population from more than 3,000 to between 1,500 and 2,000. He also described changes under way, including better training and an accelerated review-board process intended to speed more of those in detention on to court or their release.
Miller said he visited all 14 prison facilities in Iraq to review procedures.
"We will ensure that we follow our procedures," he said. "It is a matter of honor. We were ashamed and embarrassed by the conduct of a very, very small number of our soldiers. ... On my honor, I will ensure that it will not happen again."
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this report.