By Yossi Melman
July 3, 2004
U.S. general formerly in charge of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq
told BBC Radio on Saturday she has evidence Israelis were involved in
interrogating Iraqi detainees.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau Saturday evening denied the accusations made by U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski.
"These reports have no basis in reality," a bureau official said.
Karpinski, who was suspended by the U.S. military in May over allegations of prisoner abuse, said she met a man claiming to be an Israeli during a visit, related to the Abu Ghraib torture affair, to a Baghdad intelligence center with a senior coalition general.
"I saw an individual there that I hadn't had the opportunity to meet before, and I asked him what did he do there, was he an interpreter - he was clearly from the Middle East," Karpinski told BBC radio in an interview broadcast Saturday.
"He said, 'Well I do some of the interrogation here and of course I speak Arabic but I'm not an Arab. I'm from Israel.' I was really kind of surprised by that... He didn't elaborate any more than to say he was working with them and there were people from lots of different places that were involved in the operation," Karpinski added.
The Foreign Ministry told the BBC reports of Israeli troops or interrogators in Iraq were "completely untrue."
An Israeli security source told Reuters: "Israel was not and is not involved in the interrogation of anyone in Iraq."
Israel has denied similar reports in the past of involvement in U.S. operations in the Middle East. Last month, it denied a report in the New Yorker magazine that it was training Kurdish fighters in Iraq to counter Shi'ite militias there.
Karpinski was suspended from command of the U.S. Army's 800th Military Police Brigade after the publication in April of photos showing soldiers abusing and humiliating naked Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.
She has said she did not know about the abuse and is being made a scapegoat in the scandal.
All evidence refutes claims of Israeli involvement
In a TV newscast about American jailers' torturing Iraqi prisoners, which was broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in early May, Eugene Bird, a former U.S. diplomat in the foreign service known for his pro-Arab position, pointed an accusing finger at Israel, claiming that Israeli Intelligence personnel have been operating in Iraq since the end of the war. Bird said there is a need to determine whether any foreign interrogators, implying Israelis, were among those who recommended the poor treatment of the Iraqi prisoners. The following day, the CBC had to issue a clarification that there was no evidence for Bird's claims.
The source of rumors that Israelis were involved can be found in the Taguba report - an account of the affair written by an investigator appointed by the commander of the American forces in Iraq. The report, named after its author, General Antonio Taguba, mentions "third-country nationals," whose names are not mentioned, who were also present at the prison.
In addition, one of the seven suspects arrested in the affair is "John Israel," who is not a soldier and did not belong to the prison staff. The suspect is a contract worker with Titan, a company that provides various services to the American army in Iraq. One of Titan's board members is former CIA chief James Woolsey, who is considered a close friend of Israel. Titan, for its part, claimed that it does not employ John Israel directly, but rather via a subcontractor whose name remained undisclosed.
Still, the American media mentioned California Analysis Center Inc. (CACI) as the company that employed at least two of the suspects involved in the affair. The company specializes, among other things, in information and intelligence systems, and has won contracts from the Pentagon. CACI founder and president, Dr. Jack London, visited Israel a few months ago and received the Albert Einstein Technology Award at a special ceremony in Jerusalem sponsored by the Aish HaTorah yeshiva. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was among the guests attending the ceremony.
"Titan and CACI have close ties to the Israeli security and technology establishment," Wayne Madsen, who served on the U.S. National Security Council during the Reagan administration, wrote in a recently published article on the Counterpunch Web site (www.counterpunch.org), which reflects American radical left attitudes. CACI denied all allegations against it.
Those pointing an accusing finger at Israel also note that the U.S. Military Intelligence, which advised and handled the jailers in the Iraqi prisons, maintains close ties with Israeli intelligence. Another foundation for the rumors is the vast experience of the Israeli security services in managing prisons and interrogating Arab prisoners, as well as cases in which it was found that Palestinian detainees were tortured.
It was revealed in 1987 that the Shin Bet security services had been practicing a culture of lies since 1967. The Landau Report, named after former Supreme Court judge Moshe Landau, revealed that Shin Bet interrogators had extracted confessions from prisoners under duress and unacceptable physical and psychological torture, and had lied shamelessly in court under orders from their superiors.
This history, along with Israel's experience in interrogations, make it possible to easily refute the recent accusations involving the Iraqi prisoners. The Landau Report determined what was permissible and forbidden in interrogations, and since then, the Shin Bet has drafted clear regulations and orders for interrogators, from which there can be no deviation. Although a few irregularities were discovered, former senior Shin Bet officials have testified that the regulations were strictly followed. This was reinforced with legislation of the Shin Bet Law two years ago.
"Nothing like that ever happened," said a senior Shin Bet source, referring to the recent allegations. "We did not operate [in Iraq], and did not assist the United States in running the interrogations. This is baseless slander."
Israel's Military Intelligence runs the 504 unit that mainly specializes in handling agents, but also is responsible for interrogating prisoners of war. Military sources denied the possibility that Israeli military interrogators were involved in the Iraqi prisoner affair in any way. The defense minister's bureau said "the minister had indeed been present at a large public ceremonial event attended by U.S. congressional members, but had no acquaintance with [CACI President] Dr. London." Defense Ministry sources added that they are unaware of any connections with CACI.
Even the legal adviser to the Israeli Public Committee Against Torture, Gaby Lasky, does not believe that Israel is involved in the interrogations and torture in Iraq.
"There is no similarity between the complaints we received from Palestinian interogees and what we saw and heard about what was done in Iraq," Lasky said.
Interrogation experts point to the many differences between Israel and Iraq. Only Shin Bet interrogators participate in Shin Bet interrogations unless there is a clear military interest, and in these few cases, unit 504 interrogators are involved. Police and prison personnel hardly ever enter Shin Bet facilities. In Iraq, however, jailers were involved in the torture, and the Taguba report also revealed that female soldiers were involved in the affair. In contrast, the Shin Bet recruited a few women to its interrogations department only recently, and they do not participate in the interrogation of male Palestinians.
Some of the torture in Iraq also smacked of sexual abuse, including suspicions of the rape of a female prisoner.
"I am unaware of any participation of female interrogators in interrogations in Israel, and I have received no complaints of sexual attacks or abuse," Lasky said.
"Even if in the past Palestinian prisoners complained of sexual allusions on the part of the interrogators, a former senior official in the Shin Bet's interrogation branch said these were isolated and irregular incidents."
Perhaps the most convincing evidence comes from new American documents revealed last week by a non-profit organization, the National Security Archives. These documents are CIA manuals from 1963 and the 1980s that display an impressive doublespeak lexicon. The section called "The Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources" approves the use of "threats and fear," "pain," and "debility."
Another document states that in CIA interrogations intended to elicit information, the interrogator "is able to manipulate the subject's environment," while the 1983 manual states, "to create unpleasant or intolerable situations, to disrupt patterns of time, space, and sensory perception."
"When one reads all the American documents and reports, it is clear that the Americans did not need us to conduct interrogations," a former senior official in the Shin Bet's interrogations branch said. "The reports and the pictures of the torture, abuse and humiliation from the prison in Iraq portray a reality compared to which the interrogations of the Palestinians by us are really child's play."