Decorated veteran, and lifelong Republican, says new Abu Ghraib photos must be released

Larisa Alexandrovna

In an exclusive interview with RAW STORY, retired U. S. Army Colonel Michael Pheneger explained why he submitted testimony in support of the ACLU's lawsuit seeking new Abu Ghraib detainee abuse documents, saying "the only way to assign accountability is to conduct a thorough investigation of every aspect of these deplorable episodes."

The Pentagon has successfully kept new photographs out of the public eye, arguing that their release would be detrimental to the safety of troops abroad.

Colonel Pheneger is a highly decorated thirty year veteran who has served in various high level military posts throughout his career, including: Commander, U. S. Army Intelligence School, Director of Intelligence, U. S. Special Operations Command; Deputy Director of Intelligence, and has worked with the USSOCOM and USCENTCOM teams providing high level intelligence support. Colonel Pheneger is also a lifelong Republican, who finds the government’s case just another "bending of rules" long since prohibited by the military. He voted for George W. Bush in 2000, and works with the ACLU.


"General Myers and Mr. Schlicher rightly condemn the misconduct and abuse depicted in the images, but they oppose the release of the 87 photos and four videotapes in the belief they would provoke reactions that could result in the death of U.S., allied, Iraqi, and Afghani military, diplomatic and contractor personnel and local civilians. They cite the ongoing insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reaction of the "Arab street" to previously released photos, and the Muslim reaction to a Newsweek article on the alleged desecration of the Koran in support of their conclusions," Pheneger said in his testimony to the court.

The full written testimony submitted to the court hearing the case on the release of detainee abuse documents can be read via the ACLU FOIA site.

The transcript of the interview follows.


Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna: Colonel Pheneger, thank you for meeting with me on such short notice. Let me jump right in and ask you about the government's case in attempting to conceal detainee abuse evidence.

The government's argument hinges on two points, as I see it: a). that the release of documents could inflame passions and increase attacks on US troops and b). That the release of documents could be used as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. The testimony you submitted addresses these two points. Can you elaborate on your argument?

Retired U. S. Army Colonel Michael Pheneger: The release will certainly undermine our moral authority and the legitimacy of our cause, but the problem is the underlying conduct - not the photos. The government's specific argument was that the release would result in loss of life (US military and civilians, allies and Iraqis).

However, Iraqi and al-Qaeda insurgents already conduct over 70 attacks a day and will continue to do so as long as they have the will and the capability. In my declaration, I note that General Myers himself, in a press interview, denied that the Newsweek article resulted in the riots and casualties. According to General Myers, the events resulted from the playing out of events leading to the September election. Opinion polls have always indicated that most Iraqis (80 – 85 percent) want the U.S. out, though under varying conditions.

The groups of insurgents are hard-core opponents; they do not need further provocation beyond our presence. I doubt that they could be more inflamed or that the photos would spur individuals on the margin to join them.

Raw Story: Why would the Pentagon, in your opinion, and the State Department think it important to, on one hand, classify these documents as they might "cause harm" and on the other hand hold no one accountable, so these abuses continue to occur?

Pheneger: No bureaucracy wants to be embarrassed or be forced to live with the consequences of their mistakes. From the evidence that has been uncovered, our civilian leadership approved the use of interrogation techniques that the Army had long, and with good reason, prohibited.

General Myers deplores the conduct and actions depicted in the photos. He is right. Unfortunately, the only way to assign accountability is to conduct a thorough investigation of every aspect of these deplorable episodes. Evidence mounts that these were not the isolated actions of a few rogue reservists.

Raw Story: Why would the Pentagon want to classify their reasons for not releasing these photographs and video, in your opinion? If they have a strong case for why these documents should not be released, would it not make better sense to provide an explanation to the public?

Pheneger: It is human nature to try to bury (or classify) your mistakes.

Raw Story: Are you familiar with Project Copper Green? If so, how does this policy exist given our international treaties as well as international law?

Pheneger: I am familiar with Hersh's report, but have no knowledge of the project; however, it would be consistent with Mr. Rumsfeld's propensity to bend the rules.

Raw Story: What purpose could it serve to videotape the footage of children being raped at Abu? Is the making of the tape, in itself, part of the policy in some way?

Pheneger: When I made my declaration, I was unaware of the alleged content of the tapes. I am quite sure that the making of the tapes were not part of any policy.

Raw Story: We know from experts that torture is not effective and the testimony will not hold up in court. Why then do we have a policy and training "manual" for torture, for example, in using dogs against detainees?

Pheneger: After Vietnam, the Army developed doctrine and approved techniques for interrogating prisoners of war. We recognized the need to adhere to international treaties and also acted with the awareness that our enemies would assert the right to do to American prisoners anything we asserted the right to do to individuals in our custody.

Raw Story: Thank you, Colonel, for taking the time to meet with me today.

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Originally published on Tuesday August 30, 2005.


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