The highest-ranking U.S. military officer yet to testify in a detainee abuse case took the witness stand on Wednesday, called by the defense in a case that accuses Army Sgt. Santos Cardona of using his military working dog to threaten, intimidate and attack detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Other senior officers have testified in military hearings and investigations that they understood Major General Geoffrey Miller, the man then in charge of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo, to have recommended the use of dogs and other detention and interrogation practices that led to many of the abuses in Iraq. Maj. Gen. Miller was sent to Iraq by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to assess interrogation and detention operations (see Kern-Fay-Jones report, p. 58) at Abu Ghraib prison and later took command of all detention operations in Iraq. His testimony had the potential to shed light on decisions at the highest level of command that resulted in deviations from existing Army law, regulations and doctrine. Instead, Miller’s testimony appeared intended to absolve him of any responsibility for the events that lead to Sgt. Cardona’s court martial.
The scope of Maj. Gen. Miller’s testimony about interrogation methods had been limited by the Judge in evidentiary hearings last month: Miller would only be asked to testify about the use of military working dogs. Miller denied that he ever suggested military working dogs be used during interrogation in Iraq. Miller admitted that military working dogs were used at Guantanamo where they were “very effective in assisting detention staff in maintaining custody and control” of detainees. (Recall, of course, that the use of dogs on detainees during interrogation at Guantanamo was a technique approved by the Secretary of Defense as early as November 27, 2002 dogs were used during interrogation at Guantanamo at least twice, but authorization was later rescinded. In his testimony Miller ascribed the dogs’ usefulness to “a cultural fear of dogs in Arab culture.”
On cross examination by the prosecution, Miller said that any conversation he may have had while in Iraq on his assessment visit about the use of dogs would have concerned detention operations – detainee “custody and control”; not interrogation. He added that although he and his Guantanamo Staff Judge Advocate (a military lawyer) brought to Iraq authorization from the Secretary of Defense for specific interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, the authorization was a “baseline, a framework” for the lawyers at Abu Ghraib to develop their own rules, which would have to be approved by senior commanders. On the proper role of military police in interrogation and detention operations, Gen. Miller testified that it was to “effectively conduct custody and control operations” of detainees, “secure them in detention centers and then provide assistance to the intelligence function that can be translated to the intelligence booth.” Translated, this meant, according to Miller, nothing more than that MPs should collect “passive intelligence” such as “who the detainee interacted with, who his friends were, whether he was a leader or a follower.”
Maj. Gen. Miller’s testimony came late in the afternoon, at the beginning of Sgt. Cardona’s defense. The prosecution had finished presenting its case for Cardona’s guilt after calling another 10 witnesses in quick succession. So far, the defense had done a good job of making its arguments – unclear orders, a chaotic wartime environment, and a soldier following what he thought were the orders of his superiors – through the prosecution’s witnesses. But the tables seemed to turn when Sgt. Cardona’s lawyers called first Maj. Gen. Miller and then Col. Pappas (the military intelligence commander at Abu Ghraib at the time) to the witness stand. You’d be forgiven if you thought Miller and Pappas were witnesses for the prosecution. In his testimony, Pappas appeared to move away in tone and emphasis from statements he had previously given to military investigators. Pappas had told Taguba that “[Maj. Gen. Miller said that they used military working dogs, and that they were effective in setting the atmosphere for which, you could get information." But in his testimony on Wednesday, Pappas recalled having with Maj. Gen. Miller "general discussion about military working dogs . . . [about] their being an effective tool at Guantanamo because of the Arab fear of dogs.” Pappas did not recall getting specific guidance about how dogs should be used.
The testimony continues to leave many dots unconnected. Despite Maj. Gen. Miller’s testimony, in the month after Maj. Gen. Miller’s visit, three sets of rules ( here, here, and here) on interrogation methods were issued, the first two of which specifically refer to the use of military working dogs as a technique. The third memo contemplates the “presence” of muzzled dogs during interrogation and the use of dogs was included in Abu Ghraib’s Interrogation Rules of Engagement, created by JIDC Interrogation Operations Officer, Cpt. Carolyn A. Wood as an aid for interrogators, which Col. Pappas testified was posted from its creation until at least the time he left Iraq.
Perhaps most disturbing was Col. Pappas’ testimony that he believed he was authorized to approve the use of muzzled dogs during interrogation, based on the conception of “Arab fear”, as a “humane psychological deterrence” permitted by the Fourth Geneva Convention (applicable to civilians). It remains the case that Col. Pappas’ opinion was reflected in U.S. policy and practice at Abu Ghraib for a period of at least eight months (Incredibly, even after Sgt. Joseph Darby had reported the abuses in January and after Gen. Taguba’s February investigation, it was reportedly not until May that commanders in Iraq banned “ sleep deprivation, hooding, stripping and the use of dogs to frighten detainees. “ Col. Pappas also admitted that contrary to the laws of war and military regulation, the Geneva Conventions were not posted for the detainees at Abu Ghraib. The only copy was in a book Pappas had.
How then did any of this help the defense? Well, that remains to be seen. Sgt. Cardona’s civilian counsel, Harvey Volzer, elicited testimony from both Maj. Gen. Miller and Col. Pappas about the lack of personnel and resources necessary to conduct effective detention and interrogation operations at Abu Ghraib. He also asked questions that would go to a lack of communication between Col. Pappas and then-Brigadier General Janis Karpinski , commander of the Military Police battalion at Abu Ghraib, the lack of a sound command structure, and the fact that changes in rules and regulations may not have been conveyed to lower ranks. More will no doubt become clear Thursday, when, the defense indicated, it expects to conclude its case.
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