Not just a few bad apples

Two young intelligence specialists who worked at Abu Ghraib say the maltreatment of prisoners was part of the routine.

From the Baltimore Sun, which (way down in the story) reports that Col. Pappas last week received a letter of reprimand that will end his career.

Newsweek has more. So far most of the country is still buying the “few bad apples” line. I have no fundamental faith that the truth will prevail: after all, most of the country still thinks there’s evidence that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9-11. But the courts-martial (coming soon) may help bring public opinion closer to the facts.

Soldiers’ warnings ignored

Failures: The blame for what happened at Abu Ghraib goes far beyond the military police, intelligence soldiers say.

By Todd Richissin

Sun Foreign Staff

Originally published May 9, 2004

WIESBADEN, Germany – The two military intelligence soldiers, assigned interrogation duties at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, were young, relatively new to the Army and had only one day of training on how to pry information from high-value prisoners.

But almost immediately on their arrival in Iraq, say the two members of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, they recognized that what was happening around them was wrong, morally and legally.

They said in interviews Friday and yesterday that the abuses were not caused by a handful of rogue soldiers poorly supervised and lacking morals but resulted from failures that went beyond the low-ranking military police charged with abuse.

The beatings, the two soldiers said, were meted out with the full knowledge of intelligence interrogators, who let military police know which prisoners were cooperating with them and which were not.

“I was told, ‘Don’t worry about it – they probably deserved it,'” one of the soldiers said in an interview, referring to complaints he made while trying to persuade the Army to investigate. “I was appalled.”

The two soldiers are the first from a military intelligence unit known to speak publicly about what happened at Abu Ghraib, and they are the first from such a unit to contend publicly that some interrogators were complicit in the abuses. The soldiers stressed that not all interrogators were involved.

The soldiers were interviewed together Friday in person and then separately yesterday by telephone. They said they had alerted superiors at Abu Ghraib and the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division by November or early December of prisoners being beaten, stripped naked and paraded in front of other inmates.


They had access to prisoner files, they said, and interviewed several Iraqis who claimed they had been beaten by military police after being told by intelligence interrogators that they would be punished for their lack of cooperation.

“There would be the handoff from MI [Military Intelligence] to the MPs, and the word would be, ‘Here you go, here’s one who’s not cooperating,'” one of the soldiers said. “Then – What do you know? – that prisoner ends up beaten or paraded around naked.”


As described by the soldiers, military intelligence was under enormous pressure to get “actionable intelligence” during this time. The soldiers were working from two lists of tactics to get Iraqis to talk.

The “A” list included directly asking for information as well as relatively mild interrogation techniques, such as becoming angry with the prisoner or threatening to withhold meals – but not actually doing so. The interrogators were free to use these techniques at their will.

The “B” list included harsher techniques, such as sleep deprivation and withholding meals.

These techniques were considered acceptable, but because they were also considered close to the line of abuse, the interrogators could not use them without permission from their commanding officer, Col. Thomas Pappas, or his designate.

Around November, with casualties among U.S. troops rising, Saddam Hussein still in hiding and solid intelligence becoming more urgent, Pappas issued an order that broadened acceptable interrogation methods.

“I think he was referring to any techniques on the A and B lists,” the soldier said. “But there was kind of the third list, the unofficial list. Guys called that the ‘made-up list.'”

‘Wild, wild west’

The made-up list spawned a couple of other terms, the soldiers said: “going cowboy” and “wild, wild west.”

“I don’t know where they got this from, but the MPs would say it all the time,” one of the soldiers said. “MI would drop off a guy who wasn’t talking, and the MP would say, ‘So looks like I’ll be going cowboy on him’ or ‘Looks like he needs some wild, wild west.'”

The terms meant beatings, they said, and the military intelligence interrogators and private contractors did nothing to discourage them.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: