Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2004; Page A11
ABU GHRAIB, Iraq, Aug. 16 -- The general in charge of detention operations in Iraq defended his recommendation, made last fall, that military police at the prison here work closely with military intelligence, saying the procedure was still being followed and had not led to abuse of prisoners.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, whose proposals were criticized in a report on mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, said in an interview this weekend that abuses were caused by "a small number of leadership and small number of soldiers who violated regulations and procedures and committed criminal acts."
"It was an enormous leadership failure," said Miller, who was dispatched by the Pentagon last September to assess the U.S. military's interrogation and detention operations in Iraq. "As painful as this has been, we have corrected this, and we are now bringing those responsible to justice."
Seven soldiers from the Army's 372nd Military Police Company have been charged with criminal misconduct in connection with abuses at Abu Ghraib. After photos emerged this year showing soldiers beating and sexually humiliating detainees, the case became an international scandal.
Spec. Jeremy Sivits pleaded guilty in May and is serving a one-year prison sentence in Germany. Four others, including the suspected ringleader, Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., face pretrial court-martial proceedings next week. Charges against the remaining two have not been referred to a court-martial.
Commanders at Abu Ghraib have responded to the scandal by implementing new controls over military police and intelligence operations and by bringing in Army corrections specialists to advise and help run the facility.
Miller, who took over detention operations in Iraq in March, said that during his initial visit to Abu Ghraib last fall, he recommended some changes at the prison, many of them based on practices at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was the commander. Those changes included better coordination between military police and intelligence.
"We left lots of good notes, standard operating procedures," Miller said. "But any commander has to put those regulations in context. You can't make enormous change overnight."
Some of the most striking images to emerge from the scandal showed terrified, naked prisoners crouching near growling, unmuzzled dogs. The top intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib when the abuse took place has said in sworn testimony that Miller told him military dogs were effective in "setting the atmosphere" to get information from detainees.
The intelligence officer, Col. Thomas Pappas, said Miller indicated that the dogs could be used without or without a muzzle in the interrogation booths.
Miller has repeatedly denied that such a conversation took place. In an interview in June, Miller said he told Pappas that dogs were used at Guantanamo Bay to control prisoners and keep them "behind the lines."
The soldiers accused of abuses have based much of their defense on the contention that military intelligence personnel encouraged them to set the tone for interrogations and use such tactics as withholding sleep and food and forcing detainees to stand in painful positions for long periods.
Miller has denied that he encouraged military police to help prepare detainees for interrogations. But in his written report after visiting Iraq last fall, Miller wrote that it was "essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation."
In the interview, Miller said he meant that military police should monitor the behavior of detainees and pass on useful information to the intelligence personnel -- which, he added, was still occurring.
Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, who was a company commander with the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion at Abu Ghraib when the abuses occurred, backed Miller up at a hearing this month for one of the accused soldiers. She testified that she took the general's suggestion to mean that military police should observe detainees to determine who might be cooperative.
"The MPs were privy to some very valuable information," Wood said at a hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C., for Pfc. Lynndie England.
Miller said better controls were now in place to make certain that soldiers did not act inappropriately, including after-action reviews to discuss how intelligence was gathered. But "a good soldier also does what's right when nobody is looking," he added.
Miller said he had undertaken a massive overhaul of two U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, improving conditions for detainees as well as the soldiers who guard them. At Abu Ghraib, the 1,900 soldiers and U.S. Marines based there have a new dining facility, post exchange, workout rooms and hot showers.
The large, dirty and overcrowded tent camp where detainees had been housed has been razed to make room for a new camp for those about to be released. A 52-bed field hospital and a small in-patient mental health ward are being built.
Col. Tom Schmitt, director of treatment at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., has been at Abu Ghraib for two months, working to implement a new mental health program, which he said was modeled after U.S. corrections standards.
Schmitt said he was sent to the prison last fall to assess morale and health conditions of detainees but that he didn't "pick up" on any abuses taking place.
"Did I observe anything directly? No," Schmitt said. "But the system was broke, and we said that."