In the looting that followedthe regime’s collapse, last April, the huge prison complex, by then deserted, was stripped of everything that could be removed, including doors, windows, and bricks. The coalition authorities had the floors tiled, cells cleaned and repaired, and toilets, showers, and a new medical center added. Abu Ghraib was now a U.S. military prison. Most of the prisoners, however—by the fall there wereseveral thousand, including women and teen-agers—were civilians, many of whom had been picked up in random military sweeps and at highway checkpoints. They fell into three loosely defined categories: common criminals; security detainees suspected of “crimes against the coalition”; and a small number of suspected “high-value” leaders of the insurgency against the coalition forces.
Last June, JanisKarpinski, an Army reserve brigadier general, was named commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade and put in charge of military prisons in Iraq. General Karpinski, the only female commander in the war zone, was an experienced operations and intelligence officer who had served with the Special Forces and in the 1991 Gulf War, but she had never run a prison system. Now she was in charge of threelarge jails, eight battalions, and thirty-four hundred Army reservists, most of whom, like her, had no training in handling prisoners.
General Karpinski, who had wanted to be a soldier since she was five, is a business consultant in civilian life, and was enthusiastic about her new job. In an interview last December with the St. Petersburg Times, she said that, for many of the Iraqi inmates at AbuGhraib, “living conditions now are better in prison than at home. At one point we were concerned that they wouldn’t want to leave.”
A month later, General Karpinski was formally admonished and quietly suspended, and a major investigation into the Army’s prison system, authorized by Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior commander in Iraq, was under way. A fifty-three-page report,obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, was completed in late February. Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. Thissystematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to Karpinski’s brigade headquarters.) Taguba’s report listed some of the wrongdoing:
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* e-mail thisBreaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.
There was stunning evidence to support the allegations, Taguba added—“detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” Photographs and videos taken by the soldiers as the abuses were happening were not included...