Abu Ghraib commander told superiors he lacked training

The Baltimore Sun

The Army officer assigned to run the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib had no background in questioning prisoners and warned supervisors from the start about his lack of training and experience, according to testimony at a military hearing yesterday at Fort Meade.

Army Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who was in charge of military intelligence in Iraq, testified yesterday at a hearing that will determine whether Army Reserve Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan is court-martialed on any of the 12 charges he faces, which include subjecting Iraqi prisoners to forced nudity and terrorizing them with dogs. If convicted on all counts, Jordan could be sentenced to 42 years in prison.

Jordan, 50, from Fredericksburg, Va., is the highest-ranking officer charged in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, which helped ignite anti-American protests and violence worldwide.

In testimony by phone from Fort Knox, Ky., Pappas said that he knew Jordan was worried about his lack of experience when he was chosen to run Abu Ghraib's interrogation center.

Jordan said he "had some concerns because he was not a formal interrogator," said Pappas, who commanded more than 1,200 military intelligence officers in Iraq. "And I said, 'What we need you for is a leadership perspective.'"

Testimony also centered on what witnesses described as the chaotic, overcrowded conditions at Abu Ghraib in the fall of 2003. U.S. soldiers became so stressed by the environment - and by a mortar attack that killed two soldiers guarding the prison - that they threw a toga party on Halloween to try to lift their spirits, according to Maj. Mike Thompson, a defense witness.

At the time, more than twice as many prisoners were at Abu Ghraib as it was supposed to hold. Space was so limited that interrogators had to question detainees outside - in areas where they were reluctant to talk because others could observe them co-operating, according to witnesses.

Pappas acknowledged that he was in charge of Abu Ghraib during some of the time when the abuses took place, but said he did not know about or condone forced nudity or humiliation of prisoners.

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Army rounded up 3,000 to 6,000 of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen fighters and held them at Abu Ghraib, along with criminals and others.

Pappas testified that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, whom Army investigators later cleared of wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib, ordered the rounding up and questioning of detainees, and was briefed about interrogations at the prison.

Pappas agreed with the defense characterization that Sanchez was "not happy" with the information coming from the prisoners and wanted a "rapid exploitation of information." At the general's request, Pappas said, "we put together a brief for General Sanchez and laid out what we were doing."

Pappas said he thought that "sleep management" - depriving prisoners of sleep - was appropriate, as was using muzzled dogs for searches.

"I don't recall seeing any nudity," Pappas said.

Defense lawyer Maj. Kris Poppe suggested that the mission fell outside the bounds of normal military operations.

"You had a new organization with a mission that was being defined as it was being created," Poppe said. "But there was no question about the goal, to rapidly exploit intelligence from detainees?"

"That is correct," Pappas said.

But Thompson testified that Pappas, not Jordan, was in charge at Abu Ghraib.

He said that Pappas had quarters installed at the prison sometime between Sept. 20, 2003, and Halloween. Although Pappas did not stay there every night - the brigade had battalions throughout Iraq - his operations chief, Maj. Maurice Williams, had told Thompson that Pappas, not Jordan, was in charge of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center, Thompson testified.

"There was no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Colonel Pappas was the JIDC commander. No doubt whatsoever," Thompson testified, speaking by phone from Jacksonville, Fla.

A prosecution witness, Lt. Steven Carney, portrayed Jordan as a poor leader who later led another unit through "fear and intimidation" and was investigated for falsifying financial records.

The Army granted Pappas immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Jordan, a lower-ranking officer. Pappas was fined $8,000 and given a letter of reprimand for allowing military intelligence officers under his command to use dogs improperly.

Jordan, dressed in military fatigues, listened intently yesterday at the defense table.

His attorneys attempted to underscore the strain Jordan felt at Abu Ghraib, noting a shrapnel injury he received in a mortar attack and the miserable living conditions for soldiers.

"Odor, sewage, rodents, trash, mortars, small arms fire," said Maj. David DiNenna. "Unpleasant."

The hearing was scheduled to resume today.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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