Officer says Abu Ghraib lacked clear guidelines

Colonel testifies that he failed to set adequate interrogation rules

March 16, 2006|By STEPHEN KIEHL | STEPHEN KIEHL,SUN REPORTER

The former head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Army Col. Thomas M. Pappas, acknowledged in court yesterday that he failed to set clear rules for interrogation of detainees and, on one occasion, authorized the use of dogs in questioning a suspect without gaining approval from the commanding general in Iraq.

Pappas said the use of dogs began at Abu Ghraib after a September 2003 visit from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In his visit to Iraq, Miller stressed the use of stronger interrogation techniques, including dogs, Pappas said.

"General Miller, or someone from General Miller's team, said the dogs were an effective tool in the execution of interrogations," Pappas said. As for an explanation of how the dogs were helpful, Pappas said, "There had been some discussion about Arab fear of dogs."

Pappas testified in the court-martial of Sgt. Michael J. Smith at Fort Meade. Smith, 24, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is charged with harassing, threatening and assaulting detainees at Abu Ghraib with his military working dog, Marco, a Belgian shepherd. Smith faces a maximum of 24 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Smith's defense lawyers, in beginning their case yesterday, sought to demonstrate that Smith was following orders from higher up in the use of his dog. The defense called to the witness stand Sgt. Christopher Aston, an Army interrogator sent to Abu Ghraib in October 2003.

Aston said that on Dec. 13 or 14, 2003, three detainees who had been captured with Saddam Hussein were taken to the prison. Aston, assigned to interrogate one of the detainees, asked Pappas whether he could use dogs. Pappas approved the use if the dogs were muzzled when in the interrogation booth and were controlled by a professional dog handler.

Aston said Smith and another dog handler, Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, who is to be tried in May, took the dogs to the interrogation booth door and allowed them to bark at the detainee without entering the booth. The dogs were not very effective, Aston said.

Under military policy at the time, any use of dogs had to be approved by the commanding general in Iraq, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. Pappas testified that he sent a memo to Sanchez saying he was considering using dogs on the three detainees captured with Hussein.

That memo got "lost in the system," Pappas said, and did not reach Sanchez.

Pappas said he approved the use of dogs only in that instance, but defense lawyers presented interrogation reports on other detainees that said Pappas also had approved using dogs in those cases.

"Sir, how do you explain that?" asked defense lawyer Capt. Mary McCarthy.

"I can't," Pappas said.

He testified that the situation in the prison was chaotic at times and that as the insurgency in Iraq gained strength and U.S. casualties rose, interrogators were under increasing pressure to elicit intelligence from detainees. That pressure influenced the decision to step up interrogation techniques, he said.

Pappas was reprimanded last year, fined $8,000 and cited for two counts of dereliction of duty. He was granted immunity from prosecution for anything he said in court yesterday, and he has not been criminally prosecuted. He was relieved of his command at Abu Ghraib in February 2004.

"In hindsight," Pappas said yesterday, "clearly we probably needed to establish some definitive rules [on using dogs in interrogations] and put out clear guidance to everyone concerned."

Later, he said, "If I had to list my biggest failure, I think it was in not setting appropriate controls, which is what I needed to do at my leadership level."

Lawyers for the government sought to make a distinction yesterday between what Pappas authorized and the allegations about the way Smith acted with his dog. They contend that Smith allowed his dog to bark and growl at detainees within inches of their faces and to snatch hoods off detainees as part of a game.

Smith has not testified at the trial and is not expected to do so.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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