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William Fisher: Getting Closer To The Top?

Getting Closer To The Top?

By William Fisher
t r u t h o u t | Report

In less than a month, we may finally get to hear from the army general who ordered commanders at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison to "get dogs."

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who ran the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then was sent to Iraq to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib, has been silent on his role in introducing cruel and degrading interrogation techniques to that prison.

Originally, Gen. Miller invoked his military rights not to incriminate himself. But last week, a military judge ordered prosecutors to produce him on May 17 as a witness for the defense in the trial of a military dog handler accused of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Defense lawyers have said it was Miller who first told intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib to "get dogs" to exploit Arab fears of the animals.

As reported by The Washington Post, Miller's appearance "will give defense attorneys a chance to question Miller about the use of dogs in security and interrogation operations at Guantanamo and in Iraq. It also means lawyers could use Miller's testimony to attempt to draw connections between the alleged abuse and the policies developed by top Pentagon officials who had regular contact with Miller when he was the commander at Guantanamo."

Witnesses in other cases have testified that Miller went to Iraq at the request of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who wanted to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib. Tactics used on detainees in Iraq - including dogs, a dog leash and placing women's underwear on their heads - were the same as those used on one Guantanamo Bay detainee in 2002.

So, it seems, we inch closer to the top - to the White House and Pentagon policy makers who sliced and diced the Geneva Conventions to redefine torture, and left the grunts who followed orders to pay the price.

Miller would be the first general and the highest-ranking officer to testify in any case connected to the now infamous abuses at Abu Ghraib. Lawyers for Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, 31, are the first to be successful in persuading a judge that his involvement could shed light on how dogs came to be used to threaten high-value detainees during interrogations in Iraq in late 2003.

One of Cardona's lawyers said he plans to question Miller about the Rumsfeld-inspired trip he made to Iraq to advise US officials on how to get better intelligence.

Prosecutors contend that Miller was not actively involved in the operations in Iraq until he was transferred to the country to work full-time in April 2004.

But shortly after Miller was ordered to go to Iraq on temporary duty in September 2003, military working dogs were shipped to Abu Ghraib and approved for use in interrogations.

Col. Thomas M. Pappas, formerly the senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, has testified that Miller and his team recommended using dogs. As a result, Pappas said, he approved the use of dogs for interrogations of one high-value detainee after Miller's visit.

But shortly after the now infamous photos of abuse were turned over to Army investigators, Pappas urged an end to the use of dogs and recommended that charges not be brought against the dog handlers. Pappas has made a deal with military lawyers granting him immunity from prosecution.

Last year, a team of military investigators looked into allegations by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who said they witnessed abusive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. The FBI allegations were contained in documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The chief investigator into Guantanamo practices, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, told a Senate panel of the interrogation techniques used on Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was captured in December 2001 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Al-Qahtani was thought to be involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Schmidt said interrogators told him his mother and sisters were whores, forced him to wear a bra and wear a thong on his head, told him he was a homosexual and said that other prisoners knew it. They also forced him to dance with a male interrogator, subjected him to strip searches with no security value, threatened him with dogs, forced him to stand naked in front of women, and to wear a leash and act like a dog.

These techniques were reportedly approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for use on al-Qahtani - the alleged "20th hijacker" in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - and were used at Guantanamo in late 2002 as part of a special interrogation plan aimed at breaking him down.

Members of the team that conducted the three-month investigation told the Senate Armed Services Committee they recommended that Gen. Miller be reprimanded, but their recommendation was overruled by his superior, Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of US Southern Command.

The Miller inquiry appears to strongly support the contention that Gen. Miller was the constant in the prisoner treatment equation, first at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later at military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, where similar interrogation techniques were employed.

Gen. Craddock said that Gen. Miller had used "creative" and "aggressive" tactics, but did not practice torture or violate law or Pentagon policy. He concluded that Miller's techniques did not rise to the level of torture, and referred the matter to the Army's Inspector General.

Whether Miller will actually testify remains to be seen. If he does, his testimony will be limited to the dog issue, the judge has ruled. If he can't find a way out of testifying altogether, will his testimony link any prisoner abuse to policies promulgated by the Secretary of Defense, the Justice Department or the While House?

It would be, to say the least, unexpected. The Bush administration has endlessly proclaimed prisoner abuses to be the work of "a few bad apples," most of who have already been punished. And, more than most organizations, the military has a long tradition of taking care of (and sometimes overlooking) its own mistakes and not hanging its dirty laundry in public.

But in light of the ongoing "revolt of the generals," who can really predict how all this will end? Stay tuned.


William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world for the US State Department and USAID for the past thirty years. He began his work life as a journalist for newspapers and for The Associated Press in Florida. Go to The World According to Bill Fisher for more.

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