Soldier: Unit Was Ordered to Make Prison Hell

Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, 5/9/2004

Saturday 08 May 2004

Reservist Tells of Orders From Intelligence Officers.

There were no rules, by her account, and there was little training. But the mission was clear. Spec. Sabrina D. Harman, a military police officer who has been charged with abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, said she was assigned to break down prisoners for interrogation.

"They would bring in one to several prisoners at a time already hooded and cuffed," Harman said by e-mail this week from Baghdad. "The job of the MP was to keep them awake, make it hell so they would talk."

Harman, one of seven military police reservists charged in the abuse of detainees at the prison, is the second of those soldiers to speak publicly about her time at Abu Ghraib, and her comments echo findings of the Army's investigation into prisoner abuse there. That probe documented the maltreatment of detainees and found the prison was chaotically run, that there were no apparent rules governing interrogations and that Harman's military police unit was ill trained for the job it was asked to perform.

Harman, a 26-year-old Army reservist from Alexandria, said members of her military police unit took direction from Army military intelligence officers, from CIA operatives and from civilian contractors who conducted interrogations. She did not discuss abusive treatment of prisoners or clarify who specifically ordered such treatment, and she referred questions about the charges against her to her attorney, who declined to comment.

Her face is now famous as belonging to one of two soldiers posing in the widely published photograph of naked Iraqi detainees stacked in a pyramid. The picture is one of several that have inflamed the Arab world and brought condemnation from President Bush and other U.S. political and military leaders.

Harman is accused by the Army of taking photographs of that pyramid and photographing and videotaping detainees who were ordered to strip and masturbate in front of other prisoners and soldiers, according to a charge sheet obtained by The Washington Post. She is also charged with photographing a corpse and then posing for a picture with it; with striking several prisoners by jumping on them as they lay in a pile; with writing "rapeist" on a prisoner's leg; and with attaching wires to a prisoner's hands while he stood on a box with his head covered. She told him he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box, the documents said.

In her e-mails, Harman said detainees would be handed over to her military police unit by Army intelligence officers, by CIA operatives or by the contractors. The Army probe into Abu Ghraib said the U.S. government used employees of private companies as interrogators and interpreters along with intelligence officers. Two of the civilian contractors are under investigation in connection with the abuses.

Prisoners were stripped, searched and then "made to stand or kneel for hours," Harman said. Sometimes they were forced to stand on boxes or hold boxes or to exercise to tire them out, she said.

"The person who brought them in would set the standards on whether or not to 'be nice,' " she said. "If the prisoner was cooperating, then the prisoner was able to keep his jumpsuit, mattress, and was allowed cigarettes on request or even hot food. But if the prisoner didn't give what they wanted, it was all taken away until [military intelligence] decided. Sleep, food, clothes, mattresses, cigarettes were all privileges and were granted with information received."

She said the prison had no standard operating procedures and on Tier 1A, where suspected insurgents were held, Army and other intelligence officers "made the rules as they went."

Harman joined the Army as a reservist in 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She was assigned to the 372nd, based in Cresaptown, Md. The company was called up for duty in February of last year and deployed to Fort Lee, Va., for three months before heading to Iraq.

Harman, an assistant manager at a Papa John's Pizza in Fairfax County before being sent to Iraq, said the company received additional training at Fort Lee, but it was for "combat support, not I/R," the military term for internment and resettlement. She said she was never schooled in the Geneva Conventions' rules on prisoner treatment.

"The Geneva Convention was never posted, and none of us remember taking a class to review it," Harman said. "The first time reading it was two months after being charged. I read the entire thing highlighting everything the prison is in violation of. There's a lot."

In the Army report on conditions at the prison, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba said that "soldiers were poorly prepared and untrained to conduct I/R operations prior to deployment, at the mobilization site, upon arrival in theater and throughout their mission."

The Army has launched several investigations into the abuse and has notified seven officers and sergeants that they will receive letters of reprimand or admonishment that could end their careers.

Harman is charged with conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, making a false statement, and assault. She faces an Article 32 hearing tentatively set in June, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to convene a court-martial.

In his investigation, Taguba used a portion of Harman's sworn statement to conclude that prisoners had been abused. Harman "stated . . . regarding the incident where a detainee was placed on box with wires attached to his fingers, toes, and penis, 'that her job was to keep detainees awake.' "

The other soldiers charged with abuse are Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick II, Sgt. Javal S. Davis, Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., Spec. Jeremy C. Sivits, Spec. Megan M. Ambuhl and Pfc. Lynndie R. England. England, who was shown in a photo published in Thursday's Post, was charged yesterday.

Harman's mother, Robin Harman, said her daughter would never hurt anyone.

"She has this . . . attitude that she is going to save the world," said Robin Harman, who lives in Northern Virginia. "She got over there and got an eye-opener. You don't put unqualified kids in that situation."

Yesterday, as Robin Harman watched Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld testify, she called her daughter a "scapegoat." "They're passing the buck, putting it all on the little kids," she said. "That's what makes me so mad."

Harman took many photographs while in Iraq, her family said.

Among hundreds of digital pictures passed around her MP unit — and obtained by The Post — is one taken before the soldiers got to Abu Ghraib in October. In it, Harman is smiling, crouching slightly, a thumb up, and leaning toward a blackened, decaying corpse with long fingers and a gaping mouth.

The photo was taken at a makeshift combat morgue in Al Hillah, her family said, citing letters that Harman sent with the picture.

Sabrina Harman grew up around photographs of dead people, her family explained. Her father was a homicide detective, and her mother was a forensics buff. Robin Harman said her husband often brought home crime-scene photographs for the family to "profile."

"She has been looking at autopsies and crime-scene pictures since she was a kid," her mother said.

Shortly after Harman got to Abu Ghraib in October, her mother said, she began to take and collect pictures as evidence of the improper conditions.

Robin Harman said when her daughter told her what she was doing, she ordered her to stop. "We got into an argument about it at 4 a.m.," Robin Harman said. "Sabrina said she had to prove this. I told her to bring the pictures home, hide them and stay out of it."

Sabrina Harman brought the photographs home to Virginia in mid-November during a two-week leave. An Army investigator showed up on Jan. 16 and took a CD of photos and Harman's laptop computer, her roommate said.

In February, the Army moved Harman to Camp Victory, a base of trailers and tents near Baghdad's airport. Her weapon was confiscated, but she is not in confinement. She spends her days sweeping streets and planting flowers, her family said.

Robin Harman said her daughter had dreamed of following her father into a career as a homicide detective. Now she does not want to have anything to do with law enforcement, Robin Harman said.

"She just moved out two years ago," Robin Harman said. "She has no clue what people are really like. She thinks everyone is good."