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The Conflict in Iraq

Abuse Inquiry Focuses on New Head of Iraq Jails

Critics say Maj. Gen. Miller's suggestions allowed misconduct. He calls himself a reformer.

May 19, 2004|Patrick J. McDonnell | Times Staff Writer

ABU GHRAIB, Iraq — He was on the other side of the globe at the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when the now-infamous abuses at Abu Ghraib took place last fall and winter.

At the time, he had no authority in Iraq and was in charge of a different group of prisoners -- suspected terrorists and Taliban militants detained by U.S. authorities after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who only recently took command of U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq, now finds himself deeply embroiled in the prison abuse scandal that has rocked the Pentagon and the Bush administration. Critics have suggested that Miller's recommendations for overhauling detention and interrogation procedures in Iraq after an inspection tour here last summer created a climate for the abuses to occur. Others said he declared it was time to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib by introducing the kind of aggressive techniques used to grill suspects in Guantanamo.

But Miller, who denies making such a declaration, casts himself as a reformer who sought to impose discipline and order on a fledgling prison system.

The Senate Armed Services Committee today will question Miller; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, head of U.S. forces in Iraq; and Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, in its quest to determine who was responsible for the abuse.

"I'm going to want to find out chain of command, who gave the orders -- the questions are obvious," committee member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday.

Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) has asked for a "discussion and legal review" by the Pentagon of interrogation techniques lawful under the Geneva Convention. Warner has requested all documentation of such interrogation techniques in Iraq and at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Warner said he would call other witnesses in coming weeks, including L. Paul Bremer III, head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority; Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith; and Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, director of intelligence for U.S. operations in Iraq.

On Tuesday, the House Armed Services Committee held a closed session with Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, author of a critical report on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Republicans said Taguba concluded that problems were confined to Abu Ghraib, but Democrats complained he would not testify beyond the scope of his investigation.

Miller, 54, a Texan who during 30 years in the military earned a reputation as a no-nonsense leader, said he welcomed scrutiny.

"The facts will support me," Miller said in an interview this week at the sprawling detention complex here, as he took a break from escorting journalists through a facility that he says has been revamped.

Human rights advocates portray Miller as an enabler of what they say is the Bush administration's determination to disregard international law to get information from suspected terrorists and insurgents.

"Miller seems to represent a rolling regime of lawless interrogation," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch in New York. "When he went to Iraq, he brought with him an entire system of interrogation that blatantly violated international conventions and treaties."

Miller said that he voluntarily eschewed most "aggressive" interrogation techniques at Guantanamo and recommended that they be banned in Iraq -- a step taken last week by Sanchez.

"Interrogation works best, in my opinion, when you develop a rapport between the interrogator and he or she who is being interrogated," Miller said this week. "Intelligence is like golden threads. You piece each one of them to be able to weave together an intelligence picture."

Miller said he had always insisted on meeting the standards of the Geneva Convention -- "except where military necessity dictates" -- even in Guantanamo, where the Bush administration has declared the prisoners "enemy combatants" not subject to full Geneva safeguards.

"We followed all of the protections of the Geneva Convention for food, shelter, extraordinary medical care, access for the International Committee of the Red Cross," Miller said of U.S. policy at Guantanamo. "We're dealing with human beings. We have a ... responsibility to treat them with dignity and respect."

The Bush administration has maintained that detainees in Iraq are entitled to Geneva Convention protections.

Congressional testimony and interviews suggest that the Army was unprepared for a large-scale detention and intelligence-gathering operation in Iraq -- just as the Pentagon was caught by surprise by postwar looting and the growing insurgency.

"We had just transitioned from a major combat operation," Miller said. "We were starting out with an interim facility."

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