Alright, General, could you spell your name for the transcriber, please?
Spell my name.
It’s A-N-T-O-N-I-O, first name. Middle initial, Mike, as in Mario. And last name is T-A-G-U-B-A, Taguba.
And today is October the 19th, 2011. We’re at the studios of the Center for Oral History at West Point. Welcome and thank you for agreeing to come and be interviewed by us today.
When did you decide you wanted to join the Army? What was your first instinct?
You know, as I was coming up on the train I was trying to do some retrospective thinking here. I actually joined the military when I was in Junior ROTC. And let me describe that for a moment, because even though my dad served in the Army, it was in high school, where—the high school in Hawaii—there are seven schools that Junior ROTC was compulsory for sophomores to senior year.
So I was in Junior ROTC; I loved it. It was about uniforms; it was about being disciplined. We had parades every Tuesday; rifle drills. I joined the drill team, which it—one of the top three in the state at that time. And that somewhat resonated with me all the way through my senior year in high school.
And I truly admired seeing the old classic movie The Long Gray Line. So I said, “Ah, maybe I should try out for West Point,” but, you know, academically I wasn’t that good. I was third alternate on the list. But it didn’t deter me from joining Army ROTC. I thought perhaps if I did that, perhaps again a scholarship, which I did not get—again, there were academics. I pursued it. And so, that started back in 1969.
But now your father was in the Army.
And your background is Filipino, is that right?
A large Filipino community, I imagine, in Hawaii, am I right?
Your father was in World War II.
Can you describe his experiences in World War II?
Several years ago I had a copy of his complete military file. I knew he was in the Army, because we did not live with him up until we all met in Hawaii. My—I had three other siblings, my mom; and we were all in the Philippines and my dad had been traveling throughout. So, the first time I actually saw him in uniform was in July of 1962.
Suffice to say, when I read his record—because he was never, ever disclosing of his military life, other than he was in the Army, retired in 1962—he was drafted, actually, in the Philippine Scouts. 12th Company, 12th Ordnance Company, I think it was, 57th Infantry Regiment, on 9th February, 1942—the onset of the Japanese attacking the Philippines.
And he was captured the 9th of April, 1942—I believe at kilometer marker 165—I remember that well—and promptly escaped two or three days afterwards at the march. Up until about last year, I want to say, he had not spoken about Bataan, or—in full, anyway—or had mentioned anything that what happened to him while he was captured.
Let’s pause for a second, because—so the viewers know, you’re talking about the Bataan Death March.
Bataan Death March.
Could you put that into historical context for us a little bit?
Sure. Bataan Death March is actually—it’s not a—it’s an area more like a peninsula just south of Manila, where about 200,000 troops were mass ordered to active duty by President Roosevelt back in July, 1941. And my dad was caught up in that. He was—actually, before he joined the Philippine Scouts, he was more of a truck driver. And so I said, “What did you do when you joined up with the Philippine Scouts?” There were six regiments that was under the command of Army officers—U.S. Army white officers, he said.
He was re-supplying and bringing back casualties—the wounded, and the dead—and I said, “Were you able to fight?” He said, “Of course.” And that he also suffered malaria from—and dysentery, from not being able to eat anything of substance. And then they just basically live out in the field. His cousin was also with the regiment, along with my grand-uncle—his uncle at the time.
So when they were captured, they were all basically—well, prior to that capture, he said the Commanding General—I said, “Was it [Jonathan] Wainwright? Was it [Edward P.] King?” He said he doesn’t remember the name. But he did remember an announcement that was made throughout the command in the peninsula that “If you wish to surrender, you can. If you wish to fight on, you can. If you wish to escape, you can.” You had a personal choice, is what he said. He chose to stay, and he was captured.
And just as recent as January of this year, on his 90th—92nd birthday, he finally revealed to me that the Japanese beat him and stole his worldly goods, which was his watch and his wedding ring. And then he got out of his uniform and he found some other clothing to try and escape, but he didn’t—he was not able to escape until about the second or third day of the march.
Why do you think he held back these memories for so long?
I’m not so sure. I mean it’s just part of the whole notion of the greatest generation, you might say, that they’ve suffered enough. I consider it as part of their PTSD, you might say—that they will only describe it if they’re talking to a fellow veteran. And all this time we’ve been asking, “Dad, what did you do during the war?” and he would say, “Well, nothing. I escaped and I came back in the Army.”
There’s a missing piece of that story, because when he escaped, he said he made it back to the capital city of Manila, where he was almost captured again, and some local policeman saved him— but the story ended there. And then he went and jumped three years to July of 1945—16 July, to be exact where he said he was repatriated. He had to take another test in order to reenlist in the Army. And even he remembered his grade. He said, “I received an 82 on my grade,” which is a passing grade. Okay, but I asked him, “What did you do between April 1942 and July?” He said, “Well, I was picking trash in Manila, or then I became a farmer.”
Which I found rather, you might say fascinating, because in 1978 or thereabouts, when he was watching President Marcos being deposed as the dictator of the Philippines, he made a comment to me. He said, “He’s a fine man. He and I fought together.” Okay. I won’t—I can’t forget that comment. So, I said, “Did you fight with Marcos?” And he said, “No.” Because he’s 92, he’s going through dementia. One would think that he probably doesn’t remember, or don’t care to remember.
One interesting thing, though, is that he was married for—he was married three times. Now, we didn’t know that either, ’cause we thought—we thought he had only been married once, and that my mother was wife number two. This is back—this is in January of 2011 when I said—when he said, “No, I was married three times.” I took my notebook out and I said, “Hold that thought for a moment.” He remembered their names and their town, and my mom is wife number three.
Now, my mother, she was 16 years old when she—when World War II started. She came from the northern province, Cagayan Province, in northern Luzón. She was 16 at the time, and they were displaced because the Japanese forces were attacking the north part of the Philippines, and found her way in Manila and tried to find relatives of some sort. And found a family that would take her in. She was alone; she traveled alone. And she ended up being a nurse’s aide in the prisoner of war camp on the grounds of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.
I’m a little confused, though. Your father lived with you when you were growing up? Or did not live with you?
Oh, no. We—I saw him once a year.
Once a year.
Once a year, right.
Because he was—
He was in the military.
Deployed? But as a military family, you didn’t go with him?
No, we didn’t travel with him. We did not live with him until June, July of 1961, when we all met in Hawaii.
And how old were you, then?
I was ten.
So, your whole early life, you hardly knew him.
Right. My formative years growing up, my mother raised us. She told us all about the war, what happened, a little bit about my dad. And then this man appears in Hawaii, ’cause he was assigned in Germany—Frankfurt—actually Darmstadt. And my mother, we were all supposed to meet him in Germany, but she didn’t want to travel all that way from Manila, so we all met up in Hawaii.
Did he write to you at all through all this time? Did you have any communications with him?
You know, I don’t recall. I do remember seeing him, but it wasn’t as if a father is doting over his children, like myself, or my sister, or my two other brothers. There was no—I can’t recall any relationship that I had with him.
Nonetheless, you chose the same career.
Any connection there?
Well, I think what inspired me a bit about joining the Army was when he was stationed with the 65th Engineering Battalion, getting ready to go to Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division, and he would bring his equipment home. His half of—his pup tent, you know, and all the associated equipment. And my brothers and I would shine his boots, or prepare his equipment for inspection—that sort of cleaning it up and that sort of thing. And I would just—I remember him just sitting there reading the paper or watching TV while the three boys were laboring to get his equipment to pass the inspection during that time.
But what really, truly, inspired me, not as much as my dad being in the service, in as much as being with other students at the junior ROTC program that we had at the high school, Leilehua High School, in Hawaii.
And he was also in Vietnam—is that right?
No. He said he had been in World War II, so, and had spent some time during the Korean War, and he said he wasn’t about to go to another war, because then my three sisters came along, so.
And when he retired, then, what was his—what sort of profession did he follow from there?
He actually went back to work for civil service and prepared the 25th Infantry Division. He worked in supply and transportation to get their equipment ready for deployment.
So you are commissioned as an officer when?
May 19th, 1972.
It was a different time for the Army.
It was. It was.
Can you describe the atmosphere in the Army in 1972?
Yes. We—the campus—I went to finish my college at Idaho State University, next to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Pocatello, Idaho. Because of Kent State, we were not allowed to wear our uniform on main campus.
Referring to the riot at Kent State—
The Kent State, right—
That resulted in the death of—
Of several protesting students.
Right. So, that basically said to us that, you know—and the Vietnam War was not very well received by the public. There was no will for the troops to go back there. Of course, you had the political side of it. And so, you might say we were kind of in a very untenable situation. You want to serve your country, but the public wasn’t exactly welcoming to us at that time.
I wanted to go to Vietnam, but we were only—or we were told at the time—in ’72 when I got commissioned—that only aviators were being recruited, because I think that at that time of withdrawing forces from Vietnam was at its height by that time, so.
Did you have any political feelings about Vietnam, yourself during this period?
No. I thought, you know—I was a young lieutenant at the time. I was very much apolitical. I was watching from the sides of what’s going on. Are we winning? Are we having public support? Are we having some sort of a controversy with the political dimension of the war?
So it was all transparent to me; I was a bit indifferent. But what really struck me was when I got my first platoon as an Armor officer that time, around November when I finished my schooling and when I reported to Fort Ord, was we were getting a lot of rift officers. In other words, there were officers in Vietnam, but they came out of Vietnam because of an overstrength in the officer ranks, as sergeants, or staff sergeants, or sergeants first class.
So I was kind of mystified by that. You know, here they are, combat veterans, battle-hardened, and I’m their brand-new second lieutenant platoon leader. And there was no transition, you might say. There was no form of information that says, “Hey, brand new second lieutenants of infantry—I was an infantry platoon leader—you’re going to get X.” All we got was, “Your—one of your squad leaders used to be a major—now he’s a buck sergeant.”
How do you deal with that, you know? So you might say we were not overly cautious about it, because we pretty much followed the protocol: me officer, you NCO. But with my ethnicity, at that point in time I reminded them of the enemy, and that’s where I started getting the notion that when you start getting called—I was called a “gook,” a “slope,” “slant-eye”. I’ve never been—I’d never experienced that. So as if, you know, my complexion, my ethnicity, my background became a part of their conversation, you might say.
Wow, how did that feel? That must have been very alienating, I would think.
Well, I wasn’t exactly alienated—being alienated. I was more insulted that because of that particular environment, you know, existed. I mean, the drugs were still very apparent— the use of drugs in Vietnam—marijuana, you name it, was there. The African-American, or the Black American disenchantment with—from the government; race relations at its peak—or we didn’t even have race relations at that time; secret handshakes between the blacks. The whites were all nestled in one setting, and here I am, you might say, disoriented. Or mis-oriented, in some sort of sense—“Why is this all happening around me?”
It must have been very lonely, I would think.
Well, it was. Because there was nobody else—the first sergeant was the only other Asian-American in the company. Then, you know, I still see him today, First Sergeant Felix. A little bitty guy, you know, but he was firm. Then there was me, and there was a couple other black officers in the ranks, but white company commander; most of the ranks in the company were white. We had a huge disciplinary problems, drug use, just mischief, indiscipline, that sort of thing—as if nobody cared, you know, my first year in the Army.
Did people mistake you, or even willfully mistake you, for Vietnamese?
I was—in college I was mistaken as a Native American, for example. I was often asked what tribe I was from. You know, dealing with Idaho, you have seven or eight tribes: the Nez Perce, Blackfeet, Shoshone, you know, that sort of thing. And I was mistaken for being African-American. And I was never asked what my nationality was, which is, you know, I’m Filipino-American. So, as I transcended into the military service, this—I was more of a curiosity than anything else.
Did you feel less American, yourself, confronting all this?
I don’t think so.
You had grown up in a community where you were not—your looks were not unusual.
And now here you were in main, in the continental United States, in the Army, in a place where you were nonetheless being almost ostracized as not part of the American ideal.
Well, growing up in Hawaii, where there is a multiplicity of ethnicities in that particular state. Then I get to go to Idaho, where republican, Mormonism, conservative, you name it—rural, for that matter—and most of our friends were white, so. But I was treated pretty good. In the Army I took it tongue-in-cheek. If I was—I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up in the Army—as a lieutenant, for that matter. I was somewhat ignorant. My classmates at the Armor Officer Basic Course was the class of 1972—predominantly West Pointers. All drove Corvettes, okay?
I drove a little bitty Volkswagen [Laughter] so I pretty much understood my place. They were a clique, for that matter. I dared not venture into the officer’s club, because I knew I wasn’t going to get socialized with, you might say—my size, my complexion, my background, and the whole thing. I thought—I looked at it as mostly a disadvantage to me. But—
Were there Asian-American officers at all during the time?
There were a few. I can count on one hand—that many.
Did you look upon them as role models of how you might progress through the Army, or did you feel like there would be a ceiling in how far you could go?
Well, you know, when you discover that you’re sort of like one-of-a-kind—I was a bit of a bashful individual at the time that I wasn’t going to approach anybody. I didn’t see anybody that I considered to be role models at that time. I was just one of these officers that—do whatever you need to do. My mind was towards doing a three-year active duty obligation, and little did I know that I’d end up—
So you thought you would do a three-year obligation and get out.
Do something else.
That was—yeah, that was the plan.
What kept you in? What do you think kept you in?
Interest, curiosity. I wanted to get away from the typical academic environment, like Fort Knox, for example. I got a platoon, so that kind of piqued my interest, said, “Hey, I could do this. I could be a platoon leader, and I think I could progress.” But the assignment wasn’t exactly to my liking. You know, I was a platoon leader, and ten months later they say, “Well, your replacement is here, also a Vietnam veteran.” And they said, “Well, he’ll be your assistant platoon leader.” I said, “No, there’s no such thing as an assistant platoon leader.” Two lieutenants can’t rule the same platoon, right?
So I deferred to him and I became a staff officer, brigade assistant S-1, at the time. And then they made me the classic, as a minority: the Brigade Race Relations Equal Opportunity Officer, right—got to be, because, hey, you’re not white, so, you know, we’ll put you in this position. That was an interesting set of circumstances because why does it have to be a minority officer to be a Race Relations Equal Opportunity Officer?
Then I volunteered to go to Korea, and in Korea I had tons of fun ’cause everything is focused—more a platoon leader. I was a company XO, out in the field all the time. It was just something that—my fellow platoon leaders and I were close, you might say, and, you know, you had a job. I mean the mission is that you’re going to defend the country against the North Koreans, so—
Well, and you’re in an Asian country, too.
And I’m in an Asian country. Right.
So it makes a big difference, I would think. Your assignment in Korea lasts a long time, right?
And you’re in Korea during Desert Storm.
Right, as a battalion commander, yes.
Well, two questions. First, before we leave this race relations question—
Here you are, and you’re a retired major general.
If we would’ve told you that back in 1972, you would have probably laughed at us, right?
Right, I would have laughed. Not just out loud, but forever, that that’s not going to happen.
So it says something, I guess, about the Army, and about the country, about what’s happened in that time, that we have progressed, would you say?
Right. I think slowly, deliberately, glacially, you might say. But it happens. You just have to wait, you know, two or three generations, but it’s bound to happen. The first Asian-American general that I saw was Lieutenant General Alan Ono, from Hawaii. I think he’s in his late 90s now, but I think he’s still alive. We didn’t see very much of that. When you see one, then you say, “Not going to happen again,” right? And then you see a Shinseki, a General Shinseki, and you say, “Oh, maybe it will happen again.” But still today, we’re very much a small minority. We’re not even one percent of the total General Officer Corps.
Do you feel that there is still a substantial amount of racism in the Army?
Yeah. There’s a little bit of institutional bias in there somewhere, ’cause we do watch the—at least I do—watch the promotion rates. Results, you might say, especially the General Officer ranks. We’re lucky if we get one a year, for that matter. I think we had one last year. We had two the year before. And you know, just very minimal.
And you think—is this overt racism, or is it more of a subtle kind of racism that maybe is unthinking?
I think it’s more subtle. Maybe it’s our own fault in our Asian-American-Pacific Islander community that we’re not doing enough to, you know, proffer our young Asian-American officers to compete. I mean, you have to compete. I mean, the military is such a competitive service, a competitive profession, that unless you compete, you won’t get recognized. My mentor used to tell me that, you know, “Be visible. You know, just don’t be in the background because you’re Asian,” because that’s our culture, right? You’re humble. You’re somewhat seen as very subservient. Well, not with Taguba, you know. I was going to do something a little different. My assignment pattern did not—was not—was kind of askew. I mean, I was twice a platoon leader, twice as a company commander, twice going to staff colleges.
I mean, I was telling myself, “Geez, you know, I’ll never get ahead, because I’m doing things twice all the time.” Twice as a brigade—I’m sorry—as an adjutant. But, you know, I wanted to do something on my own to show that, you know, we are competitive—on a scale of onesies and twosies. So, it just has to happen that way.
Did you find that there was racism in the other direction, too, that as a platoon leader, getting the respect of your men, given that you’re from a minority race in the Army—was that difficult?
That was very difficult—my first platoon, because some of the NCOs were saying that I looked like the enemy. People were actually wanting to fight me.
What do you mean, “wanting to fight you?”
Well, they were—a couple of threats, and a couple of folks who would come up to my face and say, you know, “Let’s go in the back.”
Just because you’re Filipino.
Right, just because I was not of their kind. And I remember one said, you know, “Let’s duke it out in the back.” I said, “No that’s not going to happen, because right now I’m charging you for insubordination and disrespect,” but just, you know, like that. You know, another solder just flat-ass disobeyed me. But my biggest supporter was my platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Sidney Gilman. He would not have any of it, and he was a Vietnam Veteran. I still see him today; no teeth.
White, I assume.
White—very much white. And he was very supportive—was my teacher. He was a helicopter crewman—Sixty-seven November, we called him. But he was—he and I were serving in an infantry company, and, you know, he was not going to have any indiscipline in the platoon at all. He was very, very—he was very inflexible when it comes to discipline, and he was very rigid.
You told me in the car on the way over here, that Desert Storm, you know, you missed going to Desert Storm; you wanted to go to Desert Storm, and nonetheless, that—the interesting perspective of watching Desert Storm from Korea. Can you tell me that story again?
You know, I commanded the First Battalion, Seventy-Second Armor, where I had been a mortar platoon leader, I had been a battalion adjutant, I had been a Company XO. That was in 1973 to ’76. And I take over this battalion. And we were always uploaded—ever since I was a lieutenant my first assignment there, second assignment as a battalion commander—tanks were all uploaded. And the environment in Korea was rather heightened, because of the classic premise that while we’re fighting Desert Storm, Kim Il Sung was going to do something dramatic, you might say.
And sort of take advantage of the moment, you mean?
Right. But he knew that there’s a mass of soldiers, 700,000, that was being postured towards the Middle East, and you have one division of the United States Army postured across the DMZ. So we were at a heightened—
From the Fourth Army Reserve, right?
Fourth Infantry Reserve, right, at Fort Carson, Colorado, so how fast are they going to come, right?
So we were always in that heightened level of alertness that there was not a given time—where we were always being alerted two, three, four times a month, just to see how well we could respond.
Following my command, I ended up in the Combined Forces Command in Seoul, where the war was still pretty much prominent at the time. And I remember the Commander in Chief for the U.S and Iraq Forces would say, “I want to be sure that you beam every strike—” we had precision guided missiles—“at every position the Iraqi Forces has, and beam that to Kim Il Sung. Beam it however you want to do it to ensure that he’s going to use that as a deterrent—that if you try anything different, that we will strike without haste.” And I did a lot of terrain walks.
Because of these network of tunnels, right—can you describe that for the viewers?
Right. We—I did something that was rather—that I learned in Germany as a company commander: the General Defense Posture, the GDP terrain walks. So when I did my own battalion alerts, I would take companies and put them into their battle positions. Then we would take pictures of their sectors of fire, you might say, and how far they can range to the target. And we did that every quarter up to the DMZ because we didn’t want to be defending from outside of Camp Casey, you know. We wanted to defend all the way up to the DMZ.
So I took that principal, I took that “lessons learned,” and I got all my leaders, my platoon sergeants, my first sergeants, platoon leaders, and the like, and we walked that all the way up to the DMZ. And we also arranged for tours of several tunnels—I think about three or four tunnels that we knew existed—and got that to let them know to what extent can our defenses hold against a horde of North Koreans coming across the border.
These are tunnels built by the North Koreans—
In order to be able to access—cross the DMZ.
And they were guarded by South Korean soldiers at the tunnel entry point, on the south side.
Let’s go to the latter few years of your career which were occupied by an episode dealing with—well, a major, very important part of the war in Iraq.
Can you tell me the origins of what is now known as the Taguba Report?
The Taguba Report—yeah, somebody coined that. Actually, the person who—the first time I heard that term, the Taguba Report—you know, I’ll get back to your question here—but I got a phone call around two in the morning in Kuwait. I was a deputy commanding general for the Combined Forces Land Component Command/Third Army. And I just happened to answer the telephone, and it was some sergeant from the Army Public Affairs Office—I don’t recall his name now. He said, “Sir, I would just—” and his comment to me was, “Sir, you know, I just want to verify that you are the author of the Taguba Report.”
I said—I was very much surprised when he said that to me. I said, “What report is that? What are you talking about?” He said, “The report you did—the 15-6 report you did on Abu Ghraib.” I says, “How did you know that?” I mean, it’s a classified report. So he detailed the disclosure, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, that all started around January of—I guess the date around the 16th of January, 2004, when I saw SIPR e-mails coming across that something had happened—
What are SIPR e-mails?
Secure e-mails that came across my desk and said, “Something is happening at a detention center named Abu Ghraib.” Now, we knew what Abu Ghraib was, because that’s where Saddam Hussein kept over 20,000 prisoners that he let loose during the March, 2003, invasion, which we later turned into a detention center. So I saw that, and I said, “Oh, something must be really dramatic that’s going on in the prison site.”
Now, these reports are coming from where?
The reports were coming from CENTCOM—Central Command, so—and I was cc’d on some of that because we were the—I want to say the operational command in Kuwait that is providing support to CJTF-7 up in Baghdad. And little did I know that the next day my commanding officer, Lieutenant General David McKiernan, told me to drop whatever I was doing, and to go up north and determine what needs to be done to do an investigation.
Now, who chose you to do this investigation? Was that the Lieutenant General Sanchez, or?
General Sanchez was the one who requested it—
Who requested the investigation—not necessarily you, but requested the investigation.
Right. If I remember this well, he requested—General Sanchez requested an investigating officer to CENTCOM, General Abizaid’s headquarters, for a two-star general to conduct an investigation, and CENTCOM tasked my immediate commander, Lieutenant General, then-Lieutenant General David McKiernan, to appoint one.
And he chose you.
He chose me.
Now, why do you think he chose you?
I was available. I had just come back from training, supporting the training of III Corps to take over from Lieutenant General Sanchez. And I was available.
Had you ever done an investigation of this sort before?
Not of this magnitude.
Did you have any inkling at the moment when you were assigned it just how explosive this might be?
Not until I went up to Baghdad and spoke to several staff members from CJTF-7, and when I visited the site.
Tell me about that—what—so you go up to—
CJTF-7, and you—
What do you hear that first day?
Well, there was rumor abound. They said that a two-star general was appointed to conduct an investigation of alleged detainee abuse and torture at the prison site, and but the name did not—was not released at the time. So when General McKiernan appointed me—verbally, until orders could be cut—I had my aide and I and several other staff members accompany me to Baghdad—Camp Victory. And I spoke to the Provost Marshal, Colonel Jerry Marcello, to give me some background on what had happened, since he was in charge, not only of the MPs but he was also the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division assigned there in Baghdad, or throughout Iraq, primarily.
So he gave me the background information, showed me the CD that contained all the photographs. I was not impressed. I was basically highly disappointed—angry that something like this had happened—that having—
Where had the CD come from? Where had the reports sort of filtered up from to create this investigation?
Well, there was allegations that something was going on of detainee abuse and torture at the prison site, because—
Coming up from other guards that were—
Right. It was just percolating, you might say. And there had been a 15-6 investigation before that was I think that was done by a lieutenant colonel.
What is a 15-6 investigation, by the way?
It’s a administrative investigation. It could be done informally to sort out the facts. And it’s typically focused on a particular unit or a particular individual, and to make a determination of what caused that particular incident to occur and what would be the recommendations to provide—to remedy that—
In this case, though, you’re looking to see even if there were any incidents that occurred, or whether there was a reason to do a further investigation.
Did you have a staff at this time, or?
No, not yet—only after I spent a day up in Baghdad to visit the prison, take a look at all the documents that was present at the time, and any type of statements, you might say, that we could see. Then I went back to Kuwait to back-brief General McKiernan, and told him, “I need certain things assembled—an investigating team.” I had to call in for experts from the states, typically MPs, but just since the focus of the investigation was an MP unit, the 800 MP Brigade that was commanded by Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, that was the limit of my investigation.
But what I wanted, because of my assessment at the time when I went there previous to assembling my team, was what units were actually at the prison site, and we determined that there were all kinds of units. It was not just MPs, but you had military police—
So why was the investigation only limited to that?
Because they were the ones that would—they were identified as the unit—the 372nd MP Company—as the unit that were found to have—the allegations were against them.
I see. But you had reason to believe as you began working on the investigation that it was more widespread than that first—
Now, when you said earlier that it was—you looked at the pictures, and you were, I think you used the term, and it was somewhat understated, that you were not impressed, and disappointed.
I have to think it was even stronger than that.
[Laughter] Well, the first question in my mind is, “How can something like this happen in modern warfare?” You know, all the time—the My Lai incidents, what had happened at Somalia—I mean, we’re better than this. We were trying to liberate a country; we’re trying to posture democratic ideals. We did away with a dictator who was doing this to his own countrymen, for example. And then we got caught up. How did this happen, was the first thing in my mind, and where were the leaders that could have prevented this or intervened, you know? And who else were involved? How could this happen?
When you went back to Lieutenant General McKiernan, did he share the same level of shock?
He saw the pictures and some photos that was relayed to us through the SIPR net—the classified net. But not to the extent of what I saw. I saw hundreds of different photographs. Sexual acts—soldiers on soldiers sexual act, for example. Iraqi women baring their chest—which is, of course, illegal; beatings that had been photographed. Then you saw the rest of the pictures when I believe CBS released them on the media. Of course, what we didn’t know was that soldiers were actually taking the pictures, the MPs.
Well, that’s the next question. Why was this—it’s one thing that the abuse would have happened, and another that it would have been recorded—
As evidence already. What was, in your mind, immediately, the relationship between the abuse and the actual record of the abuse?
Well, number one, there was no leadership associated with this. There was nobody managing, leading, supervising, or even scrutinizing how the operation was being done, up until we started making our interviews.
So, you would blame Janis Karpinski in this case?
Today I would blame more than Janis Karpinski.
We’ll get to that in a minute. But I mean that was—but in terms of, just to get into the mindset of the abusers here, what was the point of taking the pictures? Was it—
It’s called technology. I mean, you go to an AAFES store, anywhere where there’s an AAFES store throughout the Middle East, so namely Iraq and Kuwait, people want to take pictures. Not just themselves, you know, posing with a rifle in their combat uniform, their Kevlar helmet, and their individual body armor. They want to show something that they can take back, you know, like moving tanks, or moving Bradleys or whatever have you, or damaged villages. But this is more—this was more indicative of what they wanted to see if they did something to the Iraqi people. You know, what does, what effects does war have to do when you start beating up on people not—
There’s a certain pride you feel they took in it, then.
Yeah, a certain pride, a certain number of arrogance that, hey, the old classic Ugly American scene, that we’re here to liberate you, but we’re also going to punish the enemy, you know—without any understanding, without any respect with regards to whether they’re enemy or not. And they just basically did on their own free will. But we also found out that there were people who were exploiting them to do that during my—the course of my investigation.
We’ll get to that in a second. So Lieutenant General McKiernan, when you showed him the tip of the iceberg, essentially, after that visit to Baghdad and to Abu Ghraib—what was his reaction?
Well, he wasn’t pleased to begin with, but he was also the one who gave me only 30 days to complete my investigation. And I couldn’t get an extension. He said, “You have 30 days.”
Why was that—why do you think he wanted to limit the—
I didn’t know at first, but over the course of my 30 days, I felt there was more than just the MPs who were involved.
So you think that General McKiernan was worried that if you went longer than the 30 days, your investigation might penetrate deeper into the leadership?
Right. My sensing that it will, and I think my sensing proved true. That it was just more than the soldiers there, so—and I think—I felt as if it was going to be an open-and-shut case, because I had a very good, close relationship with my investigating team—before we launched, just to let you know, for this interview. We made sure that we knew what we were getting ourselves into, so we trained ourselves—read regulations. Read anything that we can on the doctrinal matters of detainee operations—refreshed ourselves on the Geneva Convention.
We read whatever we can on the operations order that started the war back in March of 2003—any annexes had to deal with EPWs, detainee operations, civilian detention—all of that. And we didn’t just say, “Okay, guys, pack up your gear and we’re going to go up there.” No—we spent four or five days dealing with our own training to ensure that we’re not prejudging ourselves.
There were JAG officers, I assume, as part of your team, too.
I had three JAG officers there. One was a trial lawyer, had the Command staff judge advocate, had an administrative lawyer on the staff. I had one psychiatrist—that’s all they could give me, one psychiatrist. I didn’t have any medical personnel, because they were all needed in commands. No chaplain, because we were short chaplains to begin with, so I cobbled together what I thought would make a good investigating team.
Okay. So who—it would be important to have a chaplain, I imagine, and a psychiatrist, but what about investigators? I mean, how many investigators did you have?
Well, we were all self-trained, you might say, on the pace. We were—
How many did you have that worked at it?
I had 23 of us.
Right. I had an MP Colonel who was our Deputy Provost Marshal for Third Army. I had a commander that came out of Fort Leavenworth—Weathersbee, I believe, was his name; Lieutenant Colonel. And I had a Master Sergeant Baldwin, who knew his stuff—big, burly guy. I’d say he was probably 6’4”, maybe 260—your typical MP guard, and he actually was my subject matter expert, ’cause he had done EPW duties during Desert Storm. And so did my aide—in fact, he was at Camp Bucca at the time.
When you began this investigation, having already come back with this early sense that it was really some shocking abuse here—
Did you feel immediately that the trail would lead you to a higher place, and to more—higher part of the leadership, and to more places than this particular unit at Abu Ghraib?
Initially, no. I focused on the brigade commander at first. That’s because her unit was mentioned in my assignment orders, but I also compelled to know that there was a commanding general that’s conducting combat operations and detainee operations, and Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez just happens to be a good friend of mine. But I didn’t let our friendship get in the way, because I was dealing with something as dramatic and horrific as an Abu Ghraib, for example, and looking at all of the other detention centers, the other three: Camp Cropper, Camp Ahsraf, and Camp Bucca.
I did not look at any of the prisons. There are six prisons in Baghdad that was also being administered by the Army, and also by the Department of Justice.
So the only one being administered by Brigade Commander Karpinski was Abu Ghraib, right?
Well, she had four detention centers plus the six prisons.
Four—and did you interview her immediately?
No. What I wanted to do—and I talked to my staff about it—first of all, only me and our lawyer saw the pictures. I didn’t want to show the pictures to or the CD to the rest of my investigating team because I felt that I ought not to have them prejudge the investigation. I already knew what the pictures looked like, so all I had to do was describe it to them.
And the process by which I wanted to conduct the investigation was—everywhere I went, they came with me. What I saw, they saw. What I read, they read. And I broke us up into two investigation teams with some preset questions to ask those that we were going to interview.
Because you didn’t want there to be any excess subjectivity to every—
Right. We want to be as objective as we could. And oh, by the way, before we deployed to the prison site or to Iraq was we took an oath, because we were reminded that—state the facts and provide the recommendations—no speculation.
Was it—but it must have been known fairly quickly that the team was arriving, and that an investigation had begun.
What was the first work that the team did, and if you didn’t go to Karpinski right away, what did you do first?
We assembled ourselves at Camp Victory, had an in-briefing with Lieutenant General Sanchez and his team, ’cause he knew what—we were transparent to him.
Was he supportive of—
Oh, he was very supportive, and he wanted to find out what happened, basically. So we posted ourselves at Camp Victory. He gave us an office space—
Can I ask you to interpret one thing—
So did he have a sense that you were investigating what happened, as if it was a discrete set of acts that had already concluded, or was he concerned that you were investigating what is happening? In other words, that it was rife throughout the detention centers?
May I put it in this context: they wanted it somehow, the feeling I got was, to be isolated only at Abu Ghraib. But you know, my sensing tells me that it wasn’t just isolated at Abu Ghraib. But if it was only isolated there, then we wanted to prove that fact by going to the other detention centers, that it wasn’t—that abuse and torture wasn’t being done systematically across—
But your investigation did not have that scope to do that, right?
And that was never done.
I took liberty, you might say, under advisement by the staff, our command staff judge advocate—all three lawyers as well said, “You can, but since they’re all belong to the same unit,” the 800th MP Brigade, the three battalions that were operating there. But I could not go beyond that scope of my investigation by dealing with the MI Brigade that was also involved in that investigation. That was, again, recommended that they do a separate investigation of the 213th MI Brigade, which—
Did that ever happen?
Yes, it did. A four-star general actually headed that one.
Who did that?
General Paul Kern, class of ’67.
So back to the trail here—so the two teams go out, and their assignment is to interview the guards at Abu Ghraib immediately?
And find out.
What we did was all of the interviews—we did on-site interviews, and we also did interviews at Camp Victory.
Were these videotaped, audiotaped?
Yes, they were audiotaped. There were legal paralegals who transcribed everything, yeah.
And what did you learn?
That a lot of the folks that we interviewed were rather defensive and were in a high state of denial that none of that stuff was happening, even though they had statements to the fact, to the contrary, that something like this was happening. We read their statements. There were statements from—
These statements from the very same people—
From the same people.
That had already been taken—
That said that this was happening, when you went to interview them, fear struck them that they should go back on what they originally said?
Well, you’re right. There’s others that did not make a statement, and basically said they didn’t know anything about it. Well, you know, we took that in stride, even though we were suspicious of those comments, so—especially when it came to the leaders’ side.
The soldiers were pretty much open on what they saw and did not see, but we wanted to interview the senior leaders, the sergeants, the captains, the majors, and the colonels. Who were—some of them were a little bit defiant, you might say—some of them were not very disclosing. Some wanted to know if they were being charged. Told them that they would not be unless they provided false statements, and then we will charge them with making false statements.
They were defiant that it had happened at all, or they were defiant that it happened with their knowledge?
Both. There’s some knowledge in there they weren’t going to disclose to me unless they were being charged. One in particular was a lieutenant who did not want to surrender his pistol, his M-9 pistol, at the door prior to being interviewed, so we basically ordered him to surrender his pistol, ’cause I didn’t have any—want any weapons inside the interview room.
He wanted his weapon for his own defense in the interview.
These are very hostile interviews.
They were very hostile. It turned out to be hostile, even though we told them the extent of the investigation—administrative in nature, fact-finding and the like. But there was some occasion there where we turned and we had a hostile—hostile soldier.
Did you sit in on the interviews yourself?
Yes. I was one of the interview team. I led one of the interview teams, and my deputy, Colonel Lafete, held the other interview team. And if we found anything inconsistent—for example, if I found some response from one of the interviewees, I would recall that witness or recall the soldier and have him be interviewed by Colonel Lafete to see if he would remain consistent. Some of these soldiers were responding to the answers, because even though I told them, “Please do not convey or repeat any of these deliberations to your fellow soldiers or prospective interviewees,” they went ahead and did it anyway. So we put the word out that if you did this, you’re disobeying, you know—
You mean they were—there were whispers of, “This is the story.”
Right. They were sharing their information amongst themselves, just in case they get called upon by me, or—’cause we had a list of prospective witnesses. And this is where I wanted to hear their story first, before I interviewed General Karpinski. I wanted her to be the last one, to see what she had to say. Now, I did not convey to her what her soldiers said about her or what had happened. I wanted her to state her own series of responses to me based on the questions.
But she knew she was being investigated, right?
Of course. She was trying to leave the country, for crying out loud.
She was trying to leave the country?
Yes. Kuwait—she was—they were all being readied to deploy, and she’s requested to leave the country to visit one of her soldiers in Germany who’s attending primary leadership development course—said, “No.”
You mean that she was leaving—she wanted to leave the country in particular to be away from the investigation?
Or out of the way—right. Right. And a lot of her leaders—
And no wonder that she’d have to return to the investigation eventually.
Well, I was [Laughter]—I reflagged everybody—anybody and everybody that was in that brigade. They were not to leave the country. They were not going to redeploy. We flagged every one of them. We flagged their connexes full of their paperwork. They were not to be shipped. They were not going to go without my express permission, which sent out a signal that, you know, this is not just another investigation; this is a series of investigations. CID’s involved, I’m involved, you know.
Now, all of this happened within 30 days, then.
And as you were doing the interviewing, you come to realize that, in your judgment, the errors don’t reside merely at the bottom of the stack.
That we’re seeing a kind of—would you refer to this as what—culture of indifference? Or would you actually describe it as active encouragement?
I took that as both, as in your comment. There was a culture of indifference. I recall a fellow two-star, when we were—before I proceeded to do the investigation, he made a comment that, “They’re just Iraqis.” I was rather taken aback by his comment that, “they’re just Iraqis,” so I asked him for clarification: “Why do you see that as they’re just Iraqis?” You know? It brought me back to what I just mentioned to you earlier, that I’m not a white person, so maybe I want to get treated a little differently, based on my own experience. I think that is an insult, actually.
Because I had mentioned to this fellow two-star general that I’m going to interview the MI brigade commander, Tom Pappas, Colonel Tom Pappas. And his comment to me was, “If you go after my brigade commander, I’ll be sadly disappointed.” So I said, “Well, you better be disappointed now, because I’m going to interview him in his role with regards to Abu Ghraib.”
Did you take that as a threat?
I took that as a threat, and have not spoken to him since then. That was in January of 2004.
Now, as you do the interviews, you’re hearing that this—you’re hearing both that there was indifference, and that there was encouragement, going how far up the ladder here?
I would think on my best assessment that the encouragement was happening inside of General Sanchez’s staff. But I was not able to investigate them because I was limited to a one-star general. I believe that came about after my investigation, which is the investigation on the 213th MI Brigade. By that time, they appointed a three-star general—Major General George Fay was assigned to investigate the brigade. But there was not enough horsepower, because you can’t investigate a fellow two-star if you are junior to that particular two-star—you have to be senior.
So they brought in Lieutenant General Tony Jones, and he was running into some difficulty, so they appointed a four-star general because there was a heightened interest whether General Abizaid was involved as the commander of CENTCOM.
A heightened interest that General Abizaid might’ve been involved in encouraging the abuse on some level?
No, I think it’s more of how did the command responded to the allegations.
To the news of the abuse.
In other words, then we go back to the indifference.
But you said—so within General Sanchez’s Command—let’s back up a little bit. Let’s go to when you finally did interview General Karpinski.
What did you hear?
Defensive, wanted to detract from the issue—she was more interested that she was being targeted because she’s a woman, she’s an Army Reserve officer, and that she was not actually in charge of Abu Ghraib, and it’s just a matter of putting the attention on herself as opposed to putting the attention on what had happened at Abu Ghraib. In other words, she was a bit reluctant in accepting any responsibility, let alone accountability, for what had happened there.
Did she blame higher-ups herself?
Where did she point the finger?
General Sanchez, to the point where she was being—making disparaging remarks, not only against him, but his staff and others of senior rank to her, where I actually stopped her twice during the interview and warned her that if she made any more disparaging remarks against her superior officer, then I will have to charge her under Article 88, UCMJ, and for her to focus on the issue at hand, as far as what her role and responsibility was.
So you’re saying her disparaging remarks were gratuitous statements—they were not fact-finding.
Yeah, yeah. Obviously, very gratuitous in nature, and she took liberties at it, so.
But to her—her contention was what—that this was orders from Sanchez’s team? That this—or was it indifference from Sanchez’s team?
Well, I think it’s more, you know, from her own perspective, she was blamed because, again, because of her gender, and of her component, which I told her that that’s not the case in point. And she was also making comments that “those were not my soldiers.” And I said, “Well, they are your soldiers, ’cause they’re assigned to you, irregardless of what state they came from or what units they came from.” She was also told—she also told me that she never had any control over the MI Brigade, for that matter. That she was not in charge of their interrogation program.
And I said, “That might be true, but you’re in charge of the detention centers. Everybody that’s in your domain is under your command and control.” And she didn’t know that that changed in November of 2003, ’cause her staff, as dysfunctional as they were, as indisciplined as they were, did not tell her.
So you gather this, and you are expected to deliver your report within 30 days, or—
So this is fast writing.
Very fast writing—very fast. We didn’t want to do it in such a manner that we’re doing a drive-by. There was a lot of literature to read, documents to read. I had—you talk about investigations, investigatory processes—we were uncovering things. Secret documents here, a report that was done by Major General Don Ryder, who did a report that followed Major General Jeff Miller’s report, for example. Other documents that detailed there were no accurate accounting of escapes, or accurate reporting of, you know, prisoner situation or prison conditions, anything of that nature. It was—it was—it was very lax. There was, you know, there’s—the daily logs were almost nonexistent, you might say. Leaders—
What were the conclusions in the end of your report, as you finished that?
I thought it was a very—a systemic failure in leadership at the tactical level. In fact, to follow up on your question there, during the halfway point of my investigation, I had a meeting with Lieutenant General Sanchez to which I told him that he was going to be the fall guy.
How did he respond?
Well, he was silent for a moment then he said, “This is because they were not trained fully for the mission.” I said, “No—because your staff failed him”—of not doing supervisory checks on the prison, or having, or providing specific and clear guidance on how the detainees were to be handled, for that matter, let alone taking care of their own soldiers in the conduct of their operation.
Was he defensive on that?
He was, you know, and I expected that. But I told him that, “it’s all going to lead to you.” You know, we would find unsigned statements with his signature blocked in there, posted on the bulletin board, you know. If somebody prepared those documents with his signature block on there, they’d better be signed by him or his deputy, one of the two, but not just “/S/” on it. To me, that’s not signed—that’s somebody just developed one for the sake of just posting on the bulletin board so, “Oh, the commanding general knows about this.” Not in combat.
So you issue your report, and it goes to whom?
The first person that I briefed was Lieutenant General McKiernan. The second one that I briefed was Lieutenant General Sanchez. I went to the appointing officer first, then I went to the requesting officer, then I briefed Lieutenant General Ron Henley, who is the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, since those—since the brigade belonged to him at pre-deployment, and it would belong back to him again upon deployment. And I also briefed Lieutenant General Lance Smith, General Abizaid’s deputy, which was a different story, so.
We’ll come back to that in a second. What is the mood in the room when you’re giving these briefings?
Somber, and somewhat surprised, and somewhat in a state of denial. I don’t think they—
Was there a lot of concern that the findings of the report would become public?
I don’t think so. Even my own investigation team asked me that question.
There were not concerns that it would become public.
Well, my investigative team were concerned that when it gets exposed to the public—’cause they asked me a specific question: “Sir, when do you think this is going to get exposed to the public?”
It was always your intention—
I was never—
The intention of the Army that it was going to be exposed to the public at some point.
Right. This is not proprietary, in a sense, you might say, for me. Once I completed my report, I hand off—whatever anybody else above me wants to do with that report, that’s out of my hands at that point.
But did you sense that it was the Army’s responsibility to make this public?
No, ’cause it’s classified secret. You know, the reason why we classify it as secret is because there were some references in there that were of a classified nature.
How was it leaked?
If you ask me, I think it was done by somebody inside the Pentagon.
Not part of your team.
Not part of my team.
Do you really think you know who it is who leaked it?
No. To this day, I don’t know. But not my team—I’ll tell you why: they were concerned for their safety. They asked me that.
From the Iraqis?
No. Just from the press or anybody else who will identify them as part of this investigating team. That’s why we chose to redact their names, and I told them that there were only going to be one talking head, and that is yours truly, and if anybody goes after you or wants to interview you or anything of that nature, you diffuse that by referring everybody either to me or to the command.
Did you brief Secretary Rumsfeld on the investigation?
Not officially—not until he called me to his office, so.
And that happened after it was leaked.
After it was leaked.
Let’s go to the day when it was leaked.
How did you hear that it was leaked?
First, remember I mentioned that sergeant who called me at two o’clock in the morning.
When he called me and asked me if I was the author of the Taguba Report, he was calling me on an open line. It was not a classified line—it was not a secure line. So I said—if he already knew the Taguba Report was out there, then I assumed that it had been leaked. And then I was in an airport on a—going back for my—General McKiernan was sending me back to a mission in Atlanta, and I was at the Amsterdam airport waiting for my flight when my face was flashed on the TV monitor at the gate, along with Karpinski, that I knew now this is a full-fledged leak.
This was CNN or something was—
It was—it was BBC or something like that, yeah. Then I said, “Oh, good Lord,” and it all went downhill from there.
Well, so then you—how quickly after that does Secretary Rumsfeld call you to give him a briefing?
Two days afterwards.
And you arrived at his office—
I arrived at his office with me and my command staff judge advocate, Colonel—
Just the two of you.
Just the two of us, yeah.
And you’re hit—
Now, prior to that, I was called to the Secretary of the Army.
Well, let’s go to that first. The Secretary of the Army is Tom White, is it?
No. It was Les Brownlee at the time. Secretary White was dismissed by Rumsfeld two months before, I believe it was. I’m sorry—several months before. So they were preparing—little did I know that they were preparing for testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. This is I recall 6 May, 2004, and they’re going to testify the next day, which is a Friday, 7 May, 2004.
About the Taguba Report.
About the Taguba Report, which by that time nobody had read. But the press knew about it, but did not have access to the entire 6,000 pages. What we provided to Abizaid and his staff was a briefing of all the facts, figures, people involved, recommendations, and all that—about 25 pages long—which—
So you briefed the Secretary of the Army—
And then General Myers, General of the Joint Chiefs, along with Vice Chairman Peter Pace.
And are they angry at you for having the discoveries that you—are they blaming the messenger here, or are you—
If they were, they didn’t show it. They were more—well, the question was, “Tell me what happened in 10 minutes or less,” okay? That told me that they didn’t read it. General Schumacher showed me a box—I think it was a box of—well, a carton box where they had the—what do you call that—Xerox papers, right? And on top of it was the entire report. He was going through it page by page. So that tells me that he is not going to read it the day or the night before he has to make the presentation at the House Armed Services Committee.
I was surprised at the demeanor of General Myers and General Pace, as if they didn’t know anything about it. They knew something was going on.
They acted as if they didn’t know anything about the investigation itself?
Right, right. They knew about the CBS release of the photographs, but they didn’t know the full extent of what was contained in the investigation, on the report. And I was even more surprised when Rumsfeld said he had not seen the report, nor had he seen the photographs.
Let’s go to your briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld.
Did you—had you ever met him before that?
I had met him.
You had a friendly relationship with him?
Well, it was more in passing, you might say—we didn’t converse up until the time I sat in his conference room surrounded by the rest of his staff.
What was his demeanor in that meeting?
He was angry.
Angry probably at me, because the line of question was—well, when I sat down next to him, I was—next to me to my right was General Myers, I think, if I’m not mistaken. And then at the head of the table was Rumsfeld, and what he told his staff, “Well, here’s General Taguba—have at it,” you know. I still remember those comment—“Have at it.” In other words, you guys ask him the questions, and I’ll just listen. That kind of showed me that one, he wasn’t even remotely interested, two, he was probably stewing at the fact that a report of this magnitude had been leaked.
’Cause he asked me afterwards if I knew who leaked it; looking at me very intently, as if I did it. I told him, “Why would I want to do that?” So I wasn’t going to get intimidated by someone whose staff failed him, and then points the finger at me. And the fact of the matter is nobody actually in the room had ever read the report.
Well, what was the nature when they “had at it,” what was the nature of the questioning of you then?
Well, they didn’t—they were—I was watching the mood and the demeanor, and there were some discussions of how to prepare themselves for the hearing the next day. In other words, they were not—they were woefully unprepared.
And did any of them question the validity of your findings?
Yes. There was a staff member—I forgot who it was—he was across the table from me. Next to me, the chair next to me was Cambone, the Undersecretary for Intelligence, and Wolfowitz—they were sitting in the middle. The question was, “Was it torture or abuse?” I gave them a description of a detainee who was naked, lying on his stomach, soft-cuffed—in other words, they used those plastic cuffs—with his arms behind his back, being interrogated in his cell. December, for that matter—which is against policy, against SOP, because according to who I re-interviewed, the procedure was they were only supposed to be interviewed at the interrogation control elements site, away from their cells.
So here they are doing that, and according to the detainee’s statement at the time, that a foreign object was—that felt like a wooden broom of some sort, handle, was shoved through his rectum, and then he was sprayed with chemical lights, all over. So I turned to whoever asked me that question: “If somebody shoved a foreign object called a broom up your rectum, would you consider that abuse or would you consider that torture?” ’Cause now you’re inflicting grievous bodily harm—by definition, torture is inflicting grievous bodily harm that could cause organ failure—I think a broom handle will do that—just that. Especially when done by an interrogator.
What was the response in the room to that comment?
Quiet. Yeah, it was quiet—not in the sense that they were surprised. It was quiet because they weren’t expecting that kind of a response.
Do you think any of them felt as if the real question was how far up the leadership command you could point the finger? I mean the debate at the time, it seems to me, was largely centered around, “Was this a few bad apples?”
And if they in the next day could reassure the Congress, and through that, the American people, that what happened was the odd incident, and not something that was endemic, that it would be a story that would depart pretty quickly.
It would. You know, we felt, my team and I, when we deliberated on how to organize our findings and how to provide some sort of a chronological-exempt context to the report. You know, what happened, how did it happen, and who were responsible, and what are the recommendations, and that kind of a context. We deliberated for over two days doing that, so we wanted to be sure that we stayed within the scope of the investigation. But we also discussed the point that soldiers like them, like the ones that we identified, would not have acted independently if they were not being exploited by a higher authority.
It’s just—it’s incredible for me, having spent all this time—three decades—in the military—that you just won’t do that. But the comments made to us by the soldiers that we interviewed was that their own chain of command would not give them specific guidance. You know, is it okay to use dogs? They would always get referred to the MI people or the OGA people or the CACI people – C-A-C-I, which—contractors, of course—who were—they were working with 24/7. And they would give them those instructions, but those people were not in their chain of command.
So you might say there was an exploitation there of some sort for taking advantage of somebody that’s untrained, unknowing, and uncaring about their own chain. If their chain of command acted responsibly, none of that would happen. Some of them probably would question it. “No, you cannot use dogs because such,” right? How that—
Did you think that the command—that the failure here is one of the command structure and accountability, rather than the failure being that there was no moral fiber to the leadership on this question.
Well, again, all of the above, but one, you had a very ambiguous chain of command—the command structure of who was actually in charge of detainee operations. You have a brigade commander that says, “You’re going to be in charge,” but you’re not really in charge. You have a staff proponent, called a C-2, who’s giving directions, and by doctrine, the C-2, G-2, J-2, in any command structure, by doctrine, is not the proponent for detainee operations. It’s your operations cell—that’s Tom Miller at the time—who, when he told me he was now being placed in charge of detainee operations as a staff proponent to Lieutenant General Sanchez, I laughed my head off, because these are seasoned officers. They’ve been in command. Now they’re occupying a high level of power.
But when he told me that, I just cracked up—I laughed. I said, “Geez, you know, doesn’t anybody follow doctrine around here?” Army Regulation 190-8—who nobody ever read until I read it—and this is one of those investigatory things that my staff said, “Oh, sir, here’s a tri-service regulation that applies to all three services.” And guess who the executive agent is in combat, in a combat zone? The executive agent for Detainee Operations in a combined joint operation is the United States Army, and the staff proponent for that is the Army G-3, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, who at that time was this guy named Lieutenant General Dick Cody.
Now, I would venture to say that I don’t think Dick ever read that regulation. It was very explicit on how you handle detainee operations. Nobody read it, so, you know, or one of those discovery learnings that happened. So you have a unit here, an operational command up here, and there’s this gulf of information that—or lack of information. Even Karpinski was lacking in that, because they were looking at the expediency of the war. Okay, I will give them that, but it doesn’t mean you abrogate your responsibility and try to find out how to do that. How do you conduct detainee operations when there’s absence of guidance? Well, I think we’re more than trained to do that, because of technology—you go find out, right?
When I asked initially, when I went to Baghdad, I was surrounded by colonels. And when I asked the question, “Who is actually the staff proponent for detainee operations?” And a colonel said, an MP Colonel said, “Sir, I am.” I said, “And your position is?” “I’m the Command Provost Marshal.” I said, “Oh. I thought Colonel Mozillo was,” right, ’cause he’s the commander. Mozillo said he was not, either. So I said, “So how long have you been in country?” “Sir, I’m here as an individual augmentee; six-month tour of duty.” I said, “But you can’t be, ’cause in three months somebody else is going to take your job. You’re just going to confuse yourself as you turn overtime.”
When I asked Karpinski a simple question—“You have four detention centers and six prisons, as you mentioned to me. Of all of those areas and concentrations, where do you think is your single point of failure?” In other words, what is your priority, of all of the assorted things—gave me the wrong answer. She said, “Camp Ashraf.” Ashraf is where all the MEK folks are. They only had 43 detainees, commanded by about 300 people, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the multinational, multi-citizen state folks from Iran. But you had almost 10,000 prisoners at Abu Ghraib, that is cobbled together, and nasty things were happening in there, you know? She said that that wasn’t her focus. I said, “Why would it not be?” “Well, because people were interested at Camp Ashraf,” and she started dropping names.
“Secretary Rumsfeld was interested in that. Secretary Wolfowitz was very commendable about me about handling them.” I said, “I think you have the wrong focus, General. You have about 10,000 prisoners, detainees, in one dilapidated, decrepit place, and you’ve only got maybe 250 to 300 people guarding them.”
Do you think you were personally punished for your findings?
[Laughter] I wouldn’t say personally—more so that I was professionally discounted, you might say. A comment was made to me when I was testifying—I testified four times, by the way. You only saw one. The others were closed sessions, where a comment was made by a congressman from Florida that said that he had heard from a few general officers in the Pentagon that I was too—I was overzealous about doing this investigation. I thought for a moment, and I said, “I can’t be, other than wanting to do the right thing.”
I mean after all, this is my army, too, and when somebody goes after my army, you know, I want to know why. And this is about making sure that we restore the traditions and the pride that we have in our military institution. After all, we’re the only national element that’s—and people—a lot of people—are getting killed. So I told him, “I don’t think I’m overzealous. I just wanted to ensure we would do the right thing,” and I owed that to the 22 other members of my investigation team, ’cause they expected that from me, and not to sugar-coat anything, for that matter.
And then when I was told that I was going back to work on Secretary Rumsfeld’s staff, eh, now, you might say I took that a little personal. And I was interviewed by them, and I was also investigated, ’cause the IG, Army IG asked me several questions, whether I followed proper procedures. You know, that kind of heightens my interest of that.
I had three lawyers on my staff, one lawyer who reviewed the documents. I briefed my commanders; my chain of command, and being questioned whether I followed proper procedures. I took—I took personal note of that, and—
Do you think you were passed over for a promotion because of this report?
I don’t know. I don’t know, but when I get a phone call saying, “I want you to retire,” from the Vice Chief, I mean I detailed all of that on the New Yorker report. There was no room to negotiate. It’s not as if I was looking for a promotion. I was looking to stay a little longer, just so I could be on active duty for a personal note—just so I could be on active duty so I could commission my son as a second lieutenant in the United States Army in May of 2007, but that fell short ’cause I was told to retire in not later than December of 2006.
And you feel you were told to retire because of the report, though.
I had in good stead from a highly-placed, reliable source, that some disgruntled Under Secretary had called the Vice Chief of Staff and told him that, “I think it’s time to retire Taguba.” And I say highly-placed because it was done as a favor for me, not because I was soliciting that favor. In fact I was trying to tell my friend not to seek that particular segment, as I tried to retire from the Army, but he was determined that he was going to ask a friend to ask directly why I was told to retire.
Do you know which Under Secretary we’re—
I can probably guess. There were at least one of the two that I would probably—either the Under Secretary for Policy, or the Under Secretary for Intelligence, I would venture. My guess would be the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, ’cause after all, Doug Feith developed that policy, detention policy. And I think discovery has something to do with it, too. You know, there were 17 investigations, I think, that was done after mine—Schlesinger’s investigation about the aftermath used my report as a reference. I don’t think they interviewed anybody, for that matter. General Kern’s and George Fay’s investigation pretty much detailed what had happened. There were a series of systematic failures in the brigade—and others.
General Cody told us that he felt that the initial reaction to your report was somewhat volatile—not his word, but characterizing it—because it was the first. And then it took some time for them to understand just how significant those findings were.
But that the other reports confirming that brought them to the same conclusion.
Well, you know, I owe a great amount of appreciation for my investigation team. They did a yeoman’s job of looking into every aspect of what had happened there, in the time frame that we were provided, ’cause we spent a lot of time in the evenings analyzing, determining, discerning, indicating that we were trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, you might say. That we’re going to report as much as we can and as factually as we can, and to attempt to recommend to hold people accountable. And even that portion of it, we had some, you might say, disagreements. You can’t relieve this, and you can’t relieve that, so.
Do you think there should be some kind of further accounting for the—what happened in the detention policy of those years, or are we done with this episode?
You know, I’d like to think that we’re done. The December, 2008 report from the Senate Armed Services Committee, I believe there are 17 recommendations—findings, I should say, and recommendations, where they actually put the onus on President Bush, Rumsfeld, Jim Haynes, and General Myers for developing the policy, or at least being involved in the development of the policy, unlawful as it was, and knowing full well that you’re going to get a lot of resistance inside the military. Alberto Mora, the Secretary of the Navy, and all of the subject—
When you say the policy, what do you mean by the policy that was unlawful?
The torture policy.
The torture policy—
The torture policy.
In February of 2002 that was generated by a legal opinion.
So we’re going back to the Office of Legal Counsel—
For the Department of Justice—John Yoo—
David Addington, the legal opinions within the Bush—
Alberto Gonzales—within the Bush Administration—
That refused to—I mean who found that what they referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and other methods of extracting intelligence could be seen as lawful.
Could be seen as lawful. They deviated from the norm and found a new way to opine a methodology to extract intelligence from detainees.
And you think, then, even though we also pointed the finger at an absence of leadership here down the chain of command—
That it was—there was a kind of blanket message conveyed from the administration that techniques usually considered to be outside the norm were acceptable.
Right. Well, if the FBI did not want to be part of that whole aspect of interrogation, enhanced interrogation techniques, that tells you that this is not universally accepted. The military would not have universally accepted it if some of our leaders say, would’ve just stood up and say, “Mr. Secretary, you can’t do this.” Basically what happened is somebody created a policy that somehow got operationalized. Policy is policy and there’s implementation that fills that in.
But when it originates from the Defense Department or the White House all the way down to the tactical levels of combat, then you have now begun to operationalize a policy. In other words, “Do it the way we want you to extract it on the policy, and report directly back to me.” You know, there is a chain of command in there somewhere, but it was forcibly implemented, that I think was a huge mistake today.
Do you think others should be tried for war crimes on this?
Well, let’s just say, you know, we can’t try anybody for war crimes, because, one, we are not a member of the International Court of the Hague. We’re not a signatory—we don’t support that. But we could actually—
Do you think a truth commission should be created, as some have suggested?
[Laughs] Well, we—that was tried. But, you know, the political maelstrom that happened during the election time, where there were some political agreements that were made that says, “Don’t go after the republicans,” so “Don’t go after the Bush Administration staffers who created such a horrific set of policies, because then you’ll continue to divide the country.” And we are where we are today—we can’t even close the Guantanamo Prison site today because of a huge backlash associated with trying people off-country, as opposed to dealing with that on the federal courts.
But the only institution that actually paid the price was the U.S. Army and the rest of the military. Over 200 people were punished for that; a few court-martialed. Greener is free today—he served—I mean he’s on parole, I think. Ten years he served; ten years. Some folks didn’t get close to being court-martialed for dereliction of duty, like Karpinski. She was reduced, and—oh, gosh—a lieutenant colonel who was involved in a shooting inside the prison site, and vehemently told me that he was not even—he was not working at detainee operations; he was a Civil Affairs officer. Lied to me, but I couldn’t provide any substantiating documentation to have him charged under court-martial. We made a finding that says, “Recommend him to be charged for making false statements,” but that was thrown out because I didn’t read him his rights.
But I knew full well that he was an operative, you know—couldn’t find him—he was one of the last that we interviewed. Found him masquerading as an Iraqi in Baghdad, doing undercover work, ’cause he considered himself doing counterterrorism work. When I called his boss, he said, “No, he’s not doing that.” I said, “Well, you just told me you ordered him.” “No.” Told him to get his butt down to Kuwait so I can interview him, and he spent a lot of time talking around in circles, and I had facts to counter the fact that he is, or was, inside the prison site when the shooting started, and that he was in fact the deputy to Colonel Tom Pappas, conducting detainee operations.
So I think the Senate Armed Services Committee Report basically pointed fingers, but short of—short of making a determination that the President and everybody else was responsible and accountable for a huge debacle.
Do you fear that this—because of that lack of accountability, that this could very easily happen again?
Well, yeah. I mean, My Lai happened then. We had some segments of mini-My Lais throughout the Marines killing—you know, indiscriminate killings of Iraqi people. You have fratricide that’s going on, that sort of thing. A senator once said, “Well, that’s the consequence of war.” You know, obviously, spoken from somebody who’s never been shot at, or has never lugged a rucksack, or shot at an enemy of our nation, doing what our troops are doing today. You just can’t make a comment that way—I mean we have laws of war. We have the Geneva Convention. We train our units, we train our people, we train our soldiers to follow the rule of law. We have rules of engagement. We have operations order. You know, there’s management and organization in chaos, for example, and we are defending, and people did get killed.
But there’s a commission that was stood up, that’s being held, being conducted by the Constitution Project, which is a human rights, a nonprofit policy advocate, in Washington, D.C. They’re doing task force-level—they have some high-powered people on there—Ambassador Pickering is one of them. Lots of lawyers and former associate—I think, Supreme Court justices. They’re doing some fact-finding, I think, but I’m not so sure—’cause I’ve spoken to them—of what the outcome would be, whether it would lead to legislative changes, or would lead to policy changes, or lead to something. I think it’s probably lead to more studying, for that matter.
But one thing for sure, though, that I really like is that Abu Ghraib is an incredible case study of leadership at all levels, and I’ve spoken throughout our universities—Berkley; tried to get John Yoo to come and hear me speak about his involvement—he decided not to. I asked if he was here at West Point when I came here to speak at their conference on the law—armed conflict—he didn’t show up, either. I’ve spoken at the Harvard Law Center, for example, for that matter; Catholic University, University of San Francisco, and just, you know, over 30 now, that I can count. The Markkula Center for Business Ethics was the latest one that I did, or even Southern Virginia University—has something to do with leadership and accountability. And more importantly and how the military act and behave themselves, both in peacetime and in combat, ’cause we are the nation where everybody looks upon, right?
The drama that happened at Abu Ghraib, what people have forgotten is that when that all happened, four of our contractors were ambushed, killed, beheaded, and burnt. That happened in April. Nick Berg was beheaded, right? Zarqawi went into a rampage. Muqtada al-?adr went into a rampage. Dempsey was a CG of First Armored Division at the time, and we were sending troops home. This is now around the May timeframe, and people were coming across the border—April-May timeframe—and somebody knew what was going on at Abu Ghraib.
I’ll tell you why they knew: because twice a week, there were visitors that goes to that prison, and Camp Bucca, Ashraf, and Camp Cropper. And you can’t deny the fact that there are Iraqi prisoners that were not comingled with the U.S. or detainees or whatever, that’s being operated especially at Abu Ghraib, and guards will talk. And next thing you know, Al-Jazeera has a story—then they propagate that. And so when that’s all coming about, we were turning troops around—I know, ’cause I was there—to re-cross back into Iraq to help quell what is now known as the insurgency. They’re very vicious people.
So you could see a direct—
I see a direct link. The unit that came around, the 372nd MP Company, they were not decimated because their leadership were being relieved—the MP Company—I think it was the 372nd, I may be mistaken. My mind kind of wanders a little bit. So they just crossed the border; they were ready to turn in their equipment, and we tasked them to go back. And I remember our command gave them a captain to be the company commander, and a master sergeant to be their first sergeant. To turn that whole unit back, re-cross the border, and go out there and kill insurgents. And the comment that was made to me was, “Give me more ammunition and give me the best guns, or the bigger guns that we had, .50 caliber so we can help defend our soldiers.” That’s how dramatic it was, and everything, how it went, you know. And when did we turn in the prison to the Iraqis? September of 2006.
I want to give credit to Major General Quantock, then-Colonel Quantock, at the time—did a good job. Brigadier General Dave Phillips, who was a colonel—the two great MP Commanders. ’Cause when we were doing our investigation and finding out things were not right, I went back to Abu Ghraib, to Cropper, to Bucca, and to tell the Commanders, “Take these corrective actions now, because I’m not going to wait—well, you can’t wait until the report is done to wait for that corrective action.”
There was a lot of resistance to ask for more help, like a mobile training team. We were finding out that our Army guards were infantrymen, field artillerymen—they’re not MPs. Okay, fine, but did they go to the right set of training how to conduct detainee operations? That’s the reason why we asked for a mobile training team, to train them on the spot. Resistance in that—“We don’t have that nowadays. We can’t task any more units.” I said, “No, no, you don’t understand.” This is another two-star that I have to deal with, in Atlanta, Georgia. “You don’t understand. We’re not asking you. We’re telling you, send them over here and train these units, so we don’t have a reoccurrence of this.”
Thank you very much, this was great—appreciate it.
|topics||Rules of War Wartime Decisions Leadership Race in the Military|
|date||19 October 2011|
|institution||Idaho State University|
|unit||2nd Brigade, 2nd Armored Division|
|service dates||1972 2007|