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Key general defends the 'Gitmo' way

In an interview, General Miller defends his command and addresses abuses at Abu Ghraib.

By Ann Scott TysonCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 28, 2004



ABU GHRAIB, IRAQ

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a controversial figure in the prison-abuse probes, vehemently denies that detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were tortured under his command and expressed disappointment that his recommendations for garnering better intelligence in Iraq were not fully implemented.

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General Miller also states he would be "glad" to submit to questioning from defense lawyers for US soldiers accused of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib, after a military judgeordered him and three other US Army officers - including top Middle East commander Gen. John Abizaid - to do so last week.

"Anything that can help, I'll do it," says Miller, who oversees all US military detention operations in Iraq, where some 4,000 to 5,000 people are now in custody at a dozen centers. Defense lawyers for the seven soldiers charged so far in the case argue that the chain of command created an environment where soldiers believed abuse was acceptable.

"I'm a senior leader and I'm glad to help," Miller told the Monitor before stepping off a Black Hawk helicopter for a weekly stay at Abu Ghraib.

Miller says he spends the night weekly at Abu Ghraib, sleeping in an old cell of the prison that was infamous for its torture chambers under Saddam Hussein and is now at the heart of a scandal that has tainted the image of US forces in Iraq. "I live out here about one night a week. It's all about senior leaders being out here with the soldiers," said the general, who says he sleeps in the cell to avoid displacing soldiers at the crowded facility.

Miller is regarded as a central figure in the prison case because of his role in attempting to transfer lessons in intelligence gathering and interrogation from the detention facility at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo to Iraq. Miller ran the Guantánamo operation from November 2002 until he took up his Iraq post in April 2004.

The US did not grant the roughly 600 detainees at Guantánamo formal protection under the Geneva Conventions, as it has for all detainees in Iraq except alleged terrorists.

Miller said that declassified US government documents would show the "terrible scrutiny paid" to the legality of interrogation methods used at Guantánamo, reiterating that he spent a great deal of time with lawyers on that subject.

"There was no torture at Guantánamo," he said, adding, "I'm proud of everything done at Guantánamo" and also of the work he has led in Iraq.

Miller briefed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during his tenure at Guantánamo on successes, including the "extraordinarily valuable intelligence" being extracted from detainees there.

As a result, he was chosen to lead an assessment team to Iraq last August and September to improve intelligence gathering there.

Miller completed a 12-page report that borrowed from interrogation, intelligence analysis, and detention methods from Guantánamo. In his report, Miller argues that no unified strategy for generating intelligence existed at Abu Ghraib. He calls for a trained guard force that would work with military intelligence interrogators, as well as new approaches to "maximize" the effectiveness of interrogation, under the advice of a military lawyer. But Miller's views conflicted with those of other generals, such as Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder, who later concluded that a "template whereby military police actively set the favorable conditions for subsequent interviews runs counter to the smooth operation of a detention facility."

While Miller called for military police to prepare detainees for interrogation, he also recommended boosting the number of guards and interrogators. There was one guard for two detainees at Guantánamo; the ratio was far lower at Abu Ghraib, with one guard for up to 20 prisoners.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, head of coalition forces in Iraq, testified in May that he and Miller "reviewed recommendations with the express understanding, reinforced in conversations between General Miller and me, that they might have to be modified for use in Iraq where the Geneva Convention was fully applicable."

However, parallels between the types of harsh treatment and interrogation techniques revealed by soldiers at Abu Ghraib and those used at Guantánamo suggest efforts to distinguish between the two places may not have succeeded.

For his part, Miller blames a failure of leadership at the prison for implementing only some of his recommendations - on detention and intelligence analysis - but not others that could have bolstered supervision and prevented abuses. "What we recommended was absolutely right, if they'd adopted the recommendations," he says.

"It was a terrible tragedy, an enormous mistake by a few leaders and soldiers that we're all ashamed of," he said of the abuses. Those included US soldiers beating detainees, humiliating them sexually, keeping them hooded and naked, and terrorizing them with dogs.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, former head of the 800-strong military-police brigade that guarded Abu Ghraib when abuse took place, has accused Miller of a heavy-handed effort "to Gitmo-ize" the facility. Miller has denied those charges.

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