Monday, May 24, 2004

New Questions For Abu Ghraib Prison Commander

Miller meets with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a tour of Abu Ghraib prison on May 13

Newsweek reports:
Things may be heating up in the prison abuse scandal for Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former Guantanamo Bay commander who is now in charge of detainees in Iraq. In a harshly worded letter, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence committee questioned the "candor and accuracy" of Miller’s responses in a classified briefing to the committee last week.

The May 21 letter to Miller from Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking minority member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, chastises the general for "gaps and discrepancies in your presentation" and for selectively withholding information. "If information is only provided in response to a question that is phrased in precisely the right way, it is virtually impossible for Congress to fulfill its constitutional oversight responsibility," Harman writes.

In her letter, Harman refers to new details about interrogation policies at the Gitmo detention facility that became public less than 24 hours after Miller’s May 20 testimony. "I am dismayed that information emerging immediately after your briefing raises questions about the candor and accuracy of your statements," she says. A copy of the letter was obtained by NEWSWEEK.

Harman cites a recent Pentagon briefing and press reports, in The Washington Post and elsewhere, that documented deep misgivings by military lawyers and other legal experts over the interrogation policies at Gitmo overseen by Miller. She also expresses her chagrin that the committee has not received a copy of an Oct. 12, 2003, interrogation policy at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that was reportedly issued by Iraq commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. That policy, Harman says, "seems to indicate a role for military police that goes well beyond the passive intelligence collection role that you have described."

NEWSWEEK also confirmed Monday an Associated Press report that Vice Adm. Albert Church III, the Navy inspector general, has recommended a more in-depth look at the interrogation practices initiated by Miller at Gitmo. Church inspected Gitmo during a brief visit in early May. Lt. Chris Servello, a Navy IG spokesman, said Church’s recommendation has been passed up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office.

Miller’s performance at Gitmo and in Iraq has come under increasing scrutiny as the scandal has widened. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade that once ran Abu Ghraib, has accused Miller of exporting interrogation practices directed at alleged al Qaeda and Taliban suspects at Gitmo--which a Pentagon spokesman called "more rigorous"--to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, possibly in violation of Geneva Convention protections. The Gitmo prisoners were deemed to be "unlawful combatants" not subject to the Geneva Conventions, though the admininstration maintained a policy of treatment loosely consistent with the Conventions.

Miller has denied that any systemic abuse occurred at Gitmo. And he has insisted that he only intended for members of the military police (MPs) at Abu Ghraib to play a "passive" role by passing on information about prisoners to interrogators with Military Intelligence (MI).

But a number of MPs at Abu Ghraib have said that MI interrogators encouraged them to soften up prisoners with physically and psychologically abusive practices. Even though the Iraq war was nominally fought in observance of the Geneva conventions, which forbid torture or inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees, Miller brought with him to Iraq a "matrix" of such practices modeled on Gitmo’s interrogation techniques. These included the use of harsh heat or cold, withholding food or altering a prisoner's diet, isolation, threatening prisoners with dogs, and limited use of "stress positions" to cause discomfort or pain.

Congressional leaders, including some Republicans in both houses, have grown increasingly infuriated over what Harman calls "a breakdown in congressional oversight in addition to the breakdown of the chain of command" in the prison abuse scandal. Harman says she was not aware that interrogation practices were being questioned even though she visited both Iraq and Gitmo--the latter three times--and spoke with Miller in December 2003.

A spokesman for Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq, Capt. Mark Doggett, said he was unaware of the letter and had no immediate response to it.