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Tales of Murder and Torture

The latest chapter in reporter Olivia Rousset's Abu Ghraib revelations. Three weeks ago on Dateline, Olivia revealed new evidence of horrific abuse at Abu Ghraib.

On a recent trip to the US, Olivia managed to track down two former Abu Ghraib guards - one who served time for committing abuses against Iraqi detainees and another who witnessed those shocking events. It's no small irony that both of these former US military policemen now see themselves as being among the victims of Abu Ghraib. Here's Olivia's story. And, as you would expect with this sort of report, be warned - some of what you're about to see is not exactly pretty and could even offend.

Broadcast - -Dateline -  SBS Australia 03/08/06

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 TRANSCRIPT
In the eyes of much of the world this man is a torturer.

SHALEEK: The prodigal son has returned! This is him, we love him to death.

But in his hometown of Roselle, New Jersey Javal Davis is a young man who lives with his grandparents and goes to church every Sunday. When he left school he joined the army to serve his country.
Soon after spending several months peacekeeping in Bosnia he was shipped off to Iraq.

JAVAL DAVIS, FORMER MILITARY POLICEMAN: We were trained up before we left, you know, all we were going to do, that we were going to go over there, we were going to fight, fight, fight, fight, kill, kill, kill, you know, the enemy.
Once they're destroyed, then we would go home. It didn't turn out to be exactly that way.

Like other guards at Abu Ghraib Javal Davis put prisoners in stress positions, threw cold water on them and played loud music to keep them awake in preparation for interrogations.
He pleaded guilty to assaulting a group of prisoners and then lying about it to investigators, but he says we shouldn't condemn him.

JAVAL DAVIS: Unless you were there, unless you were there, live it, sleep it, eat it every day, you know, stay open about drawing an opinion. It's easy to draw conclusion or what I would have, should have, could have did from the comforts of your living room, from the couch watching CNN.
If you were actually on the other side of CNN, on the other side of the camera, fighting for your life, that's the only way you'd understand, that's it.

KEN DAVIS, FORMER MILITARY POLICEMAN I hate that I would even know the word Abu Ghraib, I hate it because it hurts. it's like a wound that doesn't heal.

Like Javal, Ken Davis was a military policeman in the 372nd Company. He enlisted on September 11, 2001, wanting to do something for his country, but scarred by his experiences in Iraq he left the army and became a policeman in Maryland.

KEN DAVIS: I went over there believing that I can help Iraqi people be free. I believe in that. But after Abu Ghraib, I wish I had never been a part of it.
When someone will come up to me and say, "Hey, we hear you were in Iraq, what unit were you in?" I have to pick my head up and say, "I was with 372nd MP company."

Last year, in my first story on Abu Ghraib, I interviewed Iraqis who were tortured in the prison. Abu Maan and Haj Ali shared terrible stories with me about months they spent without charge being abused by guards and interrogators.

HAJ ALI, (Translation): They’d load a pistol and put it here and tell me in Arabic, “Execution, Execution, Execution.”

ABU MAAN (Translation): What has information got to do with making you drink urine? If his aim was to get information
It’s not about information at all, it’s about a few Americans in a frenzy of sadism, headed by Rumsfeld, sadist number one. And sadism filtered down to some Americans, not all.

HAJ ALI, (Translation): I can never forget their faces. It’s true their features differed but the monster was the same behind the masks they were wearing.

I wanted to find out what had turned ordinary American soldiers into the apparent monsters revealed in the photographs.
According to Ken and Javal, Abu Ghraib was living hell for the guards as well as the prisoners.

JAVAL DAVIS: It was very fearful being alone was, you know, we were out there, we were pretty much on our own at Abu Ghraib.
Like you drive three miles up the street from our prison you're in Fallujah and if you drive a couple miles west, you're in Ramadi. Now if you remember watching television, Fallujah and Ramadi were like the hottest spots in Iraq. We were right there. They would come down from Fallujah, shoot mortars at us and drive back into Fallujah.

The military police from the 372nd Company, like Ken and Javal were never trained to guard prisoners, but at times there were up to 7,000 Iraqis being held in overcrowded conditions for months on end. There were around 75 prisoners to each soldier.

JAVAL DAVIS: We worked seven days straight, you know, 12-, 16-hour days. We didn't have enough people to man all the positions and it was just... it was hard.

REPORTER: And where did you sleep?

JAVAL DAVIS: I slept in the prison cell. It was myself and seven other soldiers, you know, we were seven to a cell. I mean, we slept in the same conditions that the prisoners did.

But the prisoners certainly received different treatment. When I met with Ken and Javal I had already obtained a disc with thousands of previously unreleased photographs taken by MPs who served at the prison. Of the thousands of photos and videos taken at Abu Ghraib most are snapshots of the everyday life of the soldiers. Others reveal how out of control the prison had become.
The most shocking experience for both Javal and Ken, was on November 24, 2003 in the camp compound outside the cellblocks. The prisoners started a riot to protest their living conditions, which official reports say were overcrowded and dangerous.

JAVAL DAVIS: I heard it over the radio, I heard it. All you heard was over the radio "We're out of less lethal, it's not working," you know, "what do we do?"

KEN DAVIS: And the command came back across the radio and it just sent shivers down our backs. They said, "If you're out of non-lethal rounds, we are in a combat zone - you go to lethal rounds."

JAVAL DAVIS: "We're going hot. We're going live." And the next thing you know - boom, boom, brrrr. And you just heard it, like a turkey shoot.

KEN DAVIS: You've got to understand these are Iraqis, unarmed, they might have shanks, spoons that they've sharpened, whatever, tent stakes, rocks, but they're inside of concertina wire, they're not going anywhere. And now they're being shot.
So as I roll up, I have my weapon out, I'm thinking people are breaching the wire, they're coming through. No-one's coming through the wire.

JAVAL DAVIS: Next thing you know, the Medevac chopper's coming in, the helicopters coming in like crazy, they were taking out the wounded ones and the dead ones.

KEN DAVIS: I see them all huddled in a second containment where their tents are and they're dragging a dead guy out and throw him by my feet. So I looked at the chaplain's aide who responded, he had ended up right beside me I said, "What are we doing?" I said, "This guy's dead and he's unarmed."

JAVAL DAVIS: When they went to live ammunition, wow, I mean it's one of those things. I mean, unfortunate a lot of lives were lost that day. Oh, yeah.

These are the corpses of the men killed that day. The US Army told Dateline that the use of live rounds was justified.

KEN DAVIS: And I remember calling home that night and... saying "I can't take this any more because if this is what we're going to do, if this is what we have come to, I'm done." But being done and being able to leave is two different things. So you just have to suck it up, get over it, as they say, and just do what you're told to do.

In the months leading up to the riot, the insurgency had taken hold and the Americans were desperate for intelligence to stop the killing of their troops. In September 2003 General Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, was sent to Abu Ghraib to upgrade interrogation techniques. When Javal Davis arrived, soon after Miller's new regime had started, things were already far from normal.

JAVAL DAVIS: When we took over from the 72nd MP Company, you know, the guys were butt naked in the jail cells and had like panties on their head. I'm like, I'd never seen that before. I'm like, "Why are these guys naked?" Our company commander was even like, "What's going on with all the nakedness? Why are all these guys naked?" And they're answering back to them from the other MP company was, "Hey, this is what the MI guys - this is what they want", you know. That's how it goes, so.

Putting MI or military intelligence in charge of the MPs was one of General Miller's recommendations, even though it runs counter to army doctrine.

REPORTER: Who told you to stress the prisoners out or who told you to prepare them for interrogation?

JAVAL DAVIS: The military intelligence personnel, they had an analyst, a linguist and an interrogator, their job, they come up with a list of instructions - "OK, keep this guy up, he can sleep up to two hours, up to 5 hours, sleep for 15 minutes, up. Slam the doors, keep them up.” You know, stress positions, things like that.

REPORTER: Nothing inside you thought, "I shouldn't be doing this?"

JAVAL DAVIS: Of course, I mean, it's... I mean who wants to... First off my attitude was I'm tired, I'm the MP, I'm the combat support MP, it's not my job. I don't feel like going around waking everybody up, I want to go to sleep myself.
So some nights I didn't do what they told me to do, that's why I ultimately I was replaced, you know, the story be told correctly.

While he spent several months at Abu Ghraib, Javal Davis only spent one week guarding high value prisoners in Cell Block 1A which is where most of the photos of abuse were taken.

REPORTER: So what did you do in that week you were in Cell Block 1A?

JAVAL DAVIS: Hit the garbage cans, slammed doors, threw cold water, played the radio music loud, stuff like that. That's what I did. I just kept them awake, made life miserable. Put the radio up to the megaphone and play heavy metal music for like four hours straight, you know. That's it.
Some of the younger detainees, you know, they started liking it so you see them playing air guitar out of their cell door, you know, they're like "Yeah." So oh, God, I've got to change this. So I changed all that. I put in rap music one time.
It's like everyone loves hip-hop music, all the youth. So you see them bobbing their heads in the cell, so you're like "Oh, I can't play that." So then I settle with country music. They hate country music. That was the kicker. That worked.

REPORTER: Did you get to... Did you feel that you were turning into a monster?

JAVAL DAVIS: Yeah, I could see... I wouldn't say a monster but, yeah, you could say a monster. I was totally desensitised. It was like after time, over time at being at Abu Ghraib, you know, with your life on the line every day, you just start to not care. I mean, that's pretty much how it went.

The soldier who was seen as the biggest monster of all at Abu Ghraib was the so called ringleader, Charles Graner. This is him on November 8, 2003. The prisoners in these photos are the same people that Javal Davis was convicted of assaulting.
These men were suspected of leading a riot in the outside camp which resulted in a female MP being hit in the face with a brick. This attack infuriated Javal.

JAVAL DAVIS: Everyone was very upset, myself included. That was the last straw. We were eating the same food, living in the same cells, my life sucks just like yours. I'm away from home, you know. You're sitting here, you trying to take our life, that's it. I snapped. And that's what happened.
Your mind frame, your way of thinking is so jaded because, you know, life sucks there. Your life's on the line every day, you lose control. That's what happened. It happened to anyone.

Javal Davis was charged with throwing his bodyweight on the pile of prisoners. According to him it was an isolated 10-second lapse of judgment.

JAVAL DAVIS: If you look at my record of trial, my record of trial, exactly what I'm accused of, exactly what I was charged with, step on the finger and toe of a detainee, landed on them with my body weight, getting up, yelling at them and leaving.

Later that night, when Javal had left the scene, the prisoners were stripped naked and ordered to masturbate. Graner then put the prisoners in formation for a human pyramid.
Ken Davis says that Graner felt he was being compromised and did consult his conscience when he started to torture the prisoners.

KEN DAVIS: Graner actually came to me early in October and had told me that they're making him do things that are legally and morally, he feels are legally and morally wrong.

REPORTER: He said that?

KEN DAVIS: He did, and that was early October. Late October is when all the pictures, a lot of the events started taking place.
When people slate Graner and these seven as monsters, you have to ask yourself who created the environment for this to go on? Who opened the door for these people, these young soldiers to walk through? Those are the monsters.

On November 16, 2003, a few weeks after the torture had begun, Graner got a commendation from his platoon leader, Captain Brinson.

STATEMENT: "Corporal Graner, you are doing a fine job in tier one. You have received many accolades from the military intelligence units here and specifically from Lieutenant Colonel Jordan.
Continue to perform to this level and you will help us succeed at our overall mission".

KEN DAVIS: For someone, after they've done all this, to get a counselling statement praising the work you're doing on Tier 1A in the hard site, you're not going to stop. You're going to keep going and you're going to take it up a notch. You're going to take it up a level, especially when you're getting high fives and that-a-boys and "keep up the great work", you know, from officers of military intelligence and OGA.

Charles Graner is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence.

CHARLES GRANER: I was a soldier and if I did wrong, here I am.

The longest sentence anyone has received for torturing prisoners to death in Iraq is five months.

KEN DAVIS: This is actually my prison cell, that is my bed, where I slept.

Ken Davis came home in early December 2003 to get treatment for an injury. He says he reported the abuses he witnessed to army superiors but no-one took any notice.

KEN DAVIS: At first they're just like "Oh really, see a chaplain, talk to a chaplain about it, talk to the chaplain about it." A lot of people, they use psychology on you, "Well it's all your perception. It's how you perceive things. Maybe it's not as bad as what it really is."

A few weeks later, on January 14, MP Joseph Darby handed investigators a disc containing photos of abuse. Another three months passed before the scandal became public.

JAVAL DAVIS: I was sitting eating in chow hall and I looked up at CNN and I saw a picture of me when I was like 16 years old. I'm like, "What the hell am I doing on television?" And then I saw like the photographs and I couldn't believe it. I'm like, "Oh, my God."

When the torture scandal broke Javal Davis and six other low ranking soldiers were charged for the abuses.
All defended themselves by saying they were acting under direct orders. The army denies this, claiming they acted on their own volition.

JAVAL DAVIS: They tried to say that we were some uneducated, dumb, poor kids from 'Garbagecan' USA when it didn't turn out to be that way. I actually do have a brain, I do have some intelligence and I wasn't going to lay down and let the government run my name into the ground, or my family, or lead people astray. It just isn't going to be that way.

Before Abu Ghraib, Javal Davis had an exemplary record. He was a track and field star at high school, and seeing his leadership potential his coach encouraged him to join the army.
Even though Javal has served his time, he and his family are determined to appeal his conviction. Paul Bergrin is their lawyer.

PAUL BERGRIN, LAWYER: Javal Davis, long time no see!

JAVAL DAVIS: What's going on brother?

Paul Bergrin is pinning his hopes on the upcoming trial of two dog handlers at Abu Ghraib. Sergeants Michael Smith and Santos Cardona who were also charged with abusing prisoners.

PAUL BERGRIN: It's starting to explode from almost the top now.

The former head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib has been given immunity to testify at the dog handlers' trial. Paul Bergrin is sure this will expose the entire chain of command's responsibility for the abuses.

PAUL BERGRIN: I don't think there's any way in the world anyone wants to know what Rumsfeld told Sanchez, and what Sanchez told Geoffrey Miller, because you know what they told him "We don't care what you do, just get in there and get us information. You can kill 'em for all we care. Treat 'em like dogs". We don't care how you get the information. Your job is to get the information" And I think that is starting to roll down hill.

Javal Davis always saw himself as a proud and dedicated soldier but the way he was treated by the military has left him deeply disillusioned.

JAVAL DAVIS: If I could say something to the decision makers, I'd say, "You stabbed me in the back, you stabbed a whole bunch of soldiers in the back, you know, left a whole lot of soldiers out there to dry, you know." That's what I say to my leadership, "Shame on you."

Ken Davis hasn't lost faith in all of America's institutions, but he thinks that by not telling the truth about Abu Ghraib, the military and the administration will pay the price.

KEN DAVIS: It was said, right in the New Testament, the truth doesn't have to justify itself because the truth will be known, So it's kind of one of those things where OK, if you want to lie, go ahead because the truth will be known and people are going to see it and if that's what you want your legacy based on, fine.
And there are soldiers that know the truth. We battle with what we battle internally, the war isn't over for us because inside is a fight every single day that we live.
 

 

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