Dogs' Abu Ghraib role disputed

In trial testimony, general says he didn't urge using animals in grillings

May 25, 2006|By PETER SPIEGEL | PETER SPIEGEL,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, becoming the highest-ranking commander to testify in court about abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, told a military trial yesterday that he never advocated the use of dogs in the interrogation of detainees.

Miller in 2003 was sent by the Pentagon to Iraq to recommend changes in interrogation and intelligence-gathering procedures at Baghdad-area prisons, spending two days at Abu Ghraib. But Miller insisted that he never suggested the use of dogs as part of interrogations.

Nonetheless, another officer recounted a conversation with Miller about dogs, and an Army memo later distributed to commanders involved in intelligence gathering noted that the presence of animals "exploits Arab fear of dogs while maintaining security during interrogations."

Miller long ago emerged as a key figure in the abuse scandal, though he has not been accused of wrongdoing. Miller was commander of the U.S. detention complex at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when Pentagon officials selected him to lead a team to improve U.S.-run prisons as the Iraqi insurgency began to mushroom.

Abuses of Iraqi detainees, captured in photographs, began occurring just weeks after Miller's mission recommended changes to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who at the time was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Miller had invoked his right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify at an earlier abuse-related trial, spurring interest in his testimony yesterday.

But the limited scope of the trial - a prison dog-handler, Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, is charged with having his dog bite and harass detainees for his own amusement - prevented defense lawyers from more deeply exploring Miller's role at the prison.

The questioning by Harvey Volzer, Cardona's attorney, and cross-examination by military prosecutors lasted only 50 minutes. Miller said he arrived at Abu Ghraib on the third or fourth day of his 2003 trip to Iraq, adding he found only a rudimentary intelligence operation that was not gathering broader information on the makeup and structure of the insurgency.

Miller said he discussed his preliminary findings with Sanchez in a meeting before departing Iraq. Days later, a memo on intelligence gathering bearing Sanchez' signature noted that the presence of dogs exploits Arab fears.

Miller denied, however, that he and Sanchez ever discussed using dogs during interrogations. Miller acknowledged under questioning that he knew "there's a cultural fear of dogs in the Arab culture," but insisted their use at Guantanamo was limited to custody and control of detainees.

Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who was the senior military intelligence commander at Abu Ghraib, told the court in testimony yesterday that Miller once told him that "Arabs feared dogs." But Pappas said Miller never advised him on specific uses of dogs.

An Army review last year recommended Miller be reprimanded for his role in the harsh treatment of a detainee at Guantanamo, but the recommendation was quashed by the top U.S. general overseeing the prison.

Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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