All this build-up of gruesome detail about events at Abu Ghraib raises, of course, the ultimate question - who bears the responsibility for what went on there? How far up the chain of command do we need to go? The commander of the US military police at Abu Ghraib at the time of the torture and abuse was Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski. It was part of her overall responsibility for 16 prisons in Iraq, but following the photo scandal, and a subsequent army inquiry, Janis Karpinski was relieved of her command and demoted. She's since left the US military and written a book, in which she claims that far from stopping with her, the buck goes all the way to the top - to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and maybe even the White House. Earlier today, George Negus spoke with now citizen Janis Karpinski, via satellite from Savannah, Georgia.
JANIS KARPINSKI, FORMER ABU GHRAIB COMMANDER: Thank you. Glad to be with you.
GEORGE NEGUS: The world was actually quite outraged by what happened at Abu Ghraib and now are wanting to know, how in heaven that could possibly do. You are claiming that you are a scapegoat in all of this, and that the whole thing went right to the top. Who do you think is ultimately responsible?
JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, I think if you're looking to find the start, you have to go back to the memorandum that was authored by our now-Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzalez, and John Ewe, from out in California, who was with the current administration at the time, and they did a memorandum, authorising departures from the Geneva Convention.
GEORGE NEGUS: So what you're saying is that people like yourself, as the commander of the prison at the time, had no idea that the American Government was taking no notice whatsoever of any Geneva Convention and therefore, if you like, the gloves were off and anything was OK, so far as torture and interrogation was concerned.
JANIS KARPINSKI: Absolutely. And remember that military police detention operations are separate and apart from military interrogations and they always have been. There are regulations that govern the conduct of soldiers in each of the specialities.
There had never been any discussion of military police personnel working for interrogators or with interrogators or setting the conditions as was happening down in Guantanamo Bay, none of those discussions were held with me or anybody else in the 800th Military Police brigade.
GEORGE NEGUS: Are you saying, and to have said this goes right to the top, you have mentioned Attorney-General Gonzales, but are you saying that the American Government, at the highest level, sanctioned, condoned, if indeed encouraged what we now know to be the abuse of detainees?
JANIS KARPINSKI: The memorandum, which was certainly discussed at length with the Secretary of Defence and the Vice-President, according to sworn statements by people who were there when those conversations took place, that authorised the initial departure.
And yes, there was a memorandum that was posted at Abu Ghraib prison, that I only became aware of, after I heard of this ongoing investigation out at Abu Ghraib, and it was signed by the Secretary of Defence.
GEORGE NEGUS: And it had a note in the margin that said "this must happen"?
JANIS KARPINSKI: Yes, "Make sure this happens".
GEORGE NEGUS: And you attribute that to Donald Rumsfeld?
JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, the signature on the memorandum was over the signature block of the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, and the ink that was used to sign appeared to be the same ink used for this handwritten note in the margin, "make sure this happens", and it was a list of interrogation techniques that were approved, so he obviously had knowledge of those interrogation techniques.
GEORGE NEGUS: Janis, you have been attributed with the comment that Donald Rumsfeld ordered the torture that occurred in Abu Ghraib, that is a gigantic call. Are you prepared to stick by that, that it went that high?
JANIS KARPINSKI: Absolutely... When the Secretary of Defence, when General Miller, when General Sanchez when General Taguba, when they testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, they were very careful to say, in response to a question about the photographs, that they knew nothing about the photographs.
However, nobody on the Senate Armed Services Committee asked them "Did you know anything about the actions depicted in those photographs?" Because they would have had to give a truthful answer and the answer would have been yes, in fact they authorised the actions depicted in those photographs.
The Secretary of Defence authorised it, in conversations with General Miller, his Under-Secretary for Intelligence not only authorised those actions but was staying on top of the progress of those actions and those activities.
GEORGE NEGUS: When you found out what had been going on in that block, the abuse that was occurring, we now know from the pictures that we and other networks have shown, what was your reaction? What did you try and do about it?
JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, I'm shocked I was absolutely shocked and when I saw the photographs, I'd heard about the investigation actually 11 days before I saw the photographs, finally, as soon as I heard there was an ongoing investigation at Abu Ghraib, although the prison, Abu Ghraib itself, was no longer under my control, we left the location where we were, very close to the Iranian border, and drove into Baghdad and immediately went out to Abu Ghraib to see what had happened, what was this ongoing investigation, what with the allegations and, of course, all of the people, including the soldiers shown in those photographs, they had already been removed from their positions at Abu Ghraib. And shortly after that, when I try to get access to those soldiers, to ask them what in the world was going on, I was told that they did not work for me and I had no right to have access to any one of them.
GEORGE NEGUS: In November 2003, there was a riot and we have spoken to two of the guards, two of the people under your command, originally, who talked about that riot where unarmed Iraqis were killed, using firstly non-lethal ammunition, plastic bullets, and then live ammunition. Who ordered that?
JANIS KARPINSKI: The battalion commander, who was on-site at Abu Ghraib, ordered the soldiers to go to lethal ammunition, it is actually standard operating procedure. Now when you have several thousand prisoners in confinement and it gets out of control, and it did very quickly, they tried to bring it under control with non-lethal rubber bullets, usually, and because it was a winter month, I believe it occurred in October/November time-frame, and it was cold, so the prisoners had jackets or sweaters on over their clothing, the rubber bullets were not been very effective.
GEORGE NEGUS: The men we have spoken to, under your command, say it was like a turkey shoot. That unarmed Iraqis were gunned down.
JANIS KARPINSKI: I have to tell you, and I have to emphasise this, when you have far too few military police personnel to guard far too many prisoners, and they get out of control, and it is on the verge of them being able to break through the compounds, a battalion commander is authorised to take the action necessary to bring that situation under control.
GEORGE NEGUS: Janis, the irony is that now you're facing a lawsuit with Donald Rumsfeld with Sanchez, with Pappas, as being guilty of legal responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees in Abu Ghraib.
Now, if you're an innocent party in all this, somebody who has been the scapegoat for these other people, why are you being charged with that same crime?
JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, because they're trying to make it appear... The organisation that filed the lawsuit is the Civil Liberties Union. I believe that Human Rights, is involved in a lawsuit as well, and they included me because the soldiers were assigned to a company, assigned to one of my subordinate battalions. But the truth will come out during that testimony. And it does not make any difference what side I represent, I intend to tell the truth. And the truth is they kept the information from me, we did not discover until long after the photographs were released that these actions were endorsed at the highest levels of our government and were taking place at Guantanamo Bay and in Bagram Airforce Base in Afghanistan long before Abu Ghraib was in anybody's discussion.
GEORGE NEGUS: In all reality though, if you say, you claim you are totally innocent of those sorts of charges, do you really expect that Donald Rumsfeld will be found guilty of those allegations, those charges?
JANIS KARPINSKI: No. And it is my understanding that even as recently as yesterday the attorneys went to court and asked for the case to be dismissed because the Secretary of Defence, apparently, has some protections in his position.
GEORGE NEGUS: The Taguba Report actually said that you showed lack of leadership in all of this and therefore you are partly responsible for what happened. So it is certainly not all over yet for you.
JANIS KARPINSKI: It absolutely is not. But I will tell you this, when they do an investigation with that kind of potential, the rules are very clear, you have to identify an impartial person to do the investigation and General Taguba did not serve one day in Iraq, he spent his deployment time in the safety of Kuwait. And he was, as it came out afterwards, a good friend of General Sanchez.
So if General Sanchez gave the investigating officer specific instructions on what he wanted to see in the conclusions, General Taguba was able and determined to provide and conclude what General Sanchez wanted to see. And he did exactly that.
The findings in the report have been largely discredited because he was not an impartial party and because so much more information has come out.
GEORGE NEGUS: You believe that the Taguba inquiry was a foregone conclusion, a set-up?
JANIS KARPINSKI: Absolutely no doubt in my mind. Because he was not charged with discovering what caused the photographs, General Taguba's instructions were to investigate the 800th Military Police Brigade and discover what was wrong with General Karpinski.
GEORGE NEGUS: No doubt we could talk for a lot longer, it is a shame we haven't got more time. But thank you very much for talking to us now.
JANIS KARPINSKI: Thank you, I appreciate it.