Dozens of soldiers — other than the seven military police reservists who have been charged — were involved in the abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, and there is an effort under way in the Army to hide it, a key witness in the investigation told ABCNEWS.
“There’s definitely a cover-up,” the witness, Sgt. Samuel Provance, said. “People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet.”
Provance, 30, was part of the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion stationed at Abu Ghraib last September. He spoke to ABCNEWS despite orders from his commanders not to.
“What I was surprised at was the silence,” said Provance. “The collective silence by so many people that had to be involved, that had to have seen something or heard something.”
Provance, now stationed in Germany, ran the top secret computer network used by military intelligence at the prison.
He said that while he did not see the actual abuse take place, the interrogators with whom he worked freely admitted they directed the MPs’ rough treatment of prisoners.
“Anything [the MPs] were to do legally or otherwise, they were to take those commands from the interrogators,” he said.
Top military officials have claimed the abuse seen in the photos at Abu Ghraib was limited to a few MPs, but Provance says the sexual humiliation of prisoners began as a technique ordered by the interrogators from military intelligence.
“One interrogator told me about how commonly the detainees were stripped naked, and in some occasions, wearing women’s underwear,” Provance said. “If it’s your job to strip people naked, yell at them, scream at them, humiliate them, it’s not going to be too hard to move from that to another level.”
According to Provance, some of the physical abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib included U.S. soldiers “striking [prisoners] on the neck area somewhere and the person being knocked out. Then [the soldier] would go to the next detainee, who would be very fearful and voicing their fear, and the MP would calm him down and say, ‘We’re not going to do that. It’s OK. Everything’s fine,’ and then do the exact same thing to him.” Provance also described an incident when two drunken interrogators took a female Iraqi prisoner from her cell in the middle of the night and stripped her naked to the waist. The men were later restrained by another MP.
Pentagon Sanctions Investigation
Maj. Gen. George Fay, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, was assigned by the Pentagon to investigate the role of military intelligence in the abuse at the Iraq prison.
Fay started his probe on April 23, but Provance said when Fay interviewed him, the general seemed interested only in the military police, not the interrogators, and seemed to discourage him from testifying.
Provance said Fay threatened to take action against him for failing to report what he saw sooner, and the sergeant fears he will be ostracized for speaking out.
“I feel like I’m being punished for being honest,” Provance told ABCNEWS. “You know, it was almost as if I actually felt if all my statements were shredded and I said, like most everybody else, ‘I didn’t hear anything, I didn’t see anything. I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ then my life would be just fine right now.”
In response, Army officials said it is “routine procedure to advise military personnel under investigative review” not to comment.
The officials said, however, that Fay and the military were committed to an honest, in-depth investigation of what happened at the prison.
But Provance believes many involved may not be as forthcoming with information.
“I would say many people are probably hiding and wishing to God that this storm passes without them having to be investigated [or] personally looked at.”
Update: A reader calls Provance a “hero.” Maybe. People in uniform are supposed to obey orders. He had options other than talking the the press: e.g., sending a written complaint up through channels, or to the CID, with copies to his Members of Congress. (Can’t be ordered not to do any of that.) So I can be happy to have the benefit of his views without thinking he was right to offer them as he did.