Samuel Provance, Former Army sergeant. He was the first intelligence specialist to speak openly about prisoner abuse and torture at the U.S.-run prison camp.
In a national TV broadcast exclusive, we spend the hour with Abu Ghraib whistleblower and former Army sergeant, Samuel Provance. From September 2003 to the spring of 2004, Provance ran the top-secret computer network used by Military Intelligence at Abu Ghraib. He was the first intelligence specialist to speak openly about abuse at the prison and is the only Military Intelligence soldier listed as a witness in the Taguba report. Among the abuses he lists is the torture of a sixteen-year-old Iraqi boy in order to make his father talk. After Provance spoke out, the Army stripped him of his security clearance, demoted him and threatened him with ten years in jail. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Four years ago this week, the Army launched its first investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. This investigation by Army Major General Antonio Taguba, along with photos leaked by the media, eventually helped expose the widespread abuse and torture taking place inside the US-run jail.
In the four years since Taguba began his investigation, not one officer or civilian leader has been held criminally responsible for the abuses. Last month, the US Army threw out the conviction of the only officer court-martialed in the torture scandal. Meanwhile, several soldiers who helped expose the torture have been punished.
Today, we spend the hour with Abu Ghraib whistleblower and former Army sergeant, Samuel Provance. From September 2003 to the spring of 2004, Provance ran the top-secret computer network used by Military Intelligence at Abu Ghraib. He was the first intelligence specialist to speak openly about abuse at the prison and is the only Military Intelligence soldier listed as a witness in the Taguba report.
When Provance defied an order not to speak to the media about what happened at Abu Ghraib, the Army stripped him of his security clearance, demoted him in rank and threatened him with ten years in jail. Eventually, Samuel Provance was forced to leave the armed forces. When we spoke to him late last year, Samuel Provance was struggling to find a job and was working as a private security guard at a mall.
I began by asking him how he learned of the abuses taking place inside Abu Ghraib.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, I was really intrigued by the interrogators, and I was just curious as to exactly what was it like in the day — you know, a day in the life of an interrogator. So I would just ask them, you know, questions, because, you know, my job allowed me to kind of float among the premises, because I was just, for the most part, helping people whenever they had problems after the network had been set up and maintained. So I would just ask questions here and there, you know, from different people, like, you know, exactly what goes on in interrogation or what kind of people do you interrogate, what are some of the things that go on, you know, things of that nature or just being somewhere listening to somebody talking about an interrogation.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the information you started to gather, the people you started to meet.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, first of all, there was the interrogators. And originally it was just a handful of people. You know, it was the 519th and the 325th, which were half-active and half-reservist. And then, there was a big difference between Camp Victory, because at Camp Victory everybody was kind of dog-eat-dog, whereas at Abu Ghraib, people were more like family, and, you know, it was very — the people were very bonded. But it was completely different.
And, you know, I would ask questions about interrogations and stuff, and the things they started telling me were alarming, you know, beginning with the nudity. You know, one girl was an interrogator just out of the schoolhouse, a reservist, nineteen years old, and she was telling me about, you know, interrogating somebody in the nude. And, you know, I’m thinking, even me, as a man, would have some reservation about doing something like that, or, you know, if I could do that. But here she is, a nineteen-year-old girl, you know, interrogating a naked prisoner. But she talked about it without batting an eye, you know, like it wasn’t an issue for her.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you challenge her about it?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, yeah, I would — there were several times I would try to talk to them about what was going on there ethically, but, you know, they would always brush me off, you know, because I was the computer guy or an analyst. You know, “What do you really know?” And, you know, for me, it was like I don’t know the legality of everything, but just because I’m against it doesn’t mean it’s illegal.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam Provance, can you talk about the difference between the people who were originally there, the MI soldiers, Military Intelligence, and then those who were brought in from Guantanamo, and how things changed?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: There was an incredible difference. The people from Guantanamo Bay came in as the experts, as the fixers, you know, that Abu Ghraib was a problem, that they weren’t getting enough product from, and the people from Gitmo were there to fix this problem and to show them how it’s really done.
AMY GOODMAN: Who were these Gitmo soldiers?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Specifically, I really don’t know. I just know they were from Gitmo. They let you know they were from Gitmo. And, you know, they were very arrogant. And they didn’t — you know, there was a big fight between the old school and the new school, and, you know, the new school won.
AMY GOODMAN: You were trained at Fort Huachuca?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is that?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: That’s in Arizona.
AMY GOODMAN: And what were you trained to do? What did you understand was proper, and what wasn’t?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, I was trained to be an intelligence analyst. And, you know, you’re kind of — you get acquainted with the different sources of intelligence or how they gather, you know, different types of intelligence, whether it’s, you know, electronic or human, you know, whatever the case may be. And then there’s a small section where they actually go into human intelligence. And basically, you know, it’s just about — you know, what I got — what I was acquainted with was, you know, what’s considered like the rapport system, which is, you know, getting a person to tell their story so that they’re not actually resisting, they’re cooperating.
AMY GOODMAN: You say the Guantanamo people had very different ideas.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you had Guantanamo soldiers, but you also had an increase in the number of civilian contractors. Who were they? Where were they from? What companies?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, they would tell you where they were from or who they worked for, but you really didn’t know if they were telling the truth. You know, the whole place was very mysterious, and you didn’t — you know, somebody could tell you they were from CACI or they were from Titan, but you didn’t know if they were from actually the other or if they might have actually been CIA or FBI or any other. And then there was also the prospect of spies.
AMY GOODMAN: Spies?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, of course. I mean, anytime you’re dealing with intelligence, there’s always the possibility of there being a spy.
AMY GOODMAN: Spy for...?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Who knows?
AMY GOODMAN: So these guys from CACI or Titan, or how they identified themselves, were interrogators, translators, linguists?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right. Some of them were actually foreign. And the one thing I noticed about the majority of the foreign linguists and interpreters were that they hated the Iraqi people.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you elaborate?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, anytime you just had a conversation with them, they just had no remorse or no sympathy for what was going on in Iraq. And anytime I would bring up, you know, the question of what was being done to the prisoners, whether it was their being wrongfully detained because they’re completely innocent and/or being abused, tortured, maybe even killed, and they just — you know, it was something they didn’t care and were glad about, if anything.
AMY GOODMAN: So, your job was, as you’ve described it, making accounts for new users, troubleshooting computer problems, backing up the secret shared drive, maintaining secret and top-secret network connectivity, manning the top-secret part of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center, JIDC. What were you learning? Tell us more about the conversations that you were having, where you were allowed to go in the prison, where you were not allowed to go.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: There really wasn’t anywhere I couldn’t go, but there was a lot of places you just didn’t want to go, because you didn’t want to know what was going on. You know, in the intelligence world, you know, you’re really held accountable for the things that you learn, so there’s a lot of things you really don’t want to know, even if you could know them. One of those was the — you know, where there were actually holding the detainees or they were actively interrogating, other than people they would pick out from the general population. There was only like the hard site that everybody knows from, you know, the photographs.
I actually visited once at the behest of an interrogator who wanted to show me airplanes that they had constructed out of the cardboard from the MREs, or the “meals, ready-to-eat.” He was like a UAV scientist that they had deemed, you know, didn’t know anything they had wanted throughout interrogating him, so they were getting ready to move him into general population, but before that, she wanted to take photographs of these airplanes he had made. And so, I got to go down there, and, you know, that was the last time I wanted to go down there.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you see?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: It was just crazy. You know, it was the daytime, and there was an MP on duty, you know, just yelling and screaming at these detainees one minute and then the next minute going into conversation with me and this interrogator. And one minute he’s talking to me, and then — you know, and then he screamed at the detainee because this guy, I guess, he didn’t say his name during roll call loud enough, and so, for punishment, they’re making him say this number over and over and over again.
AMY GOODMAN: His number?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: The detainee.
AMY GOODMAN: The detainee’s number?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right. And they were telling — I guess his punishment was to say this number over and over and over again. And so, of course, his — you know, the volume of him saying this over and over would start to go lower, and then the MP would like yell at him for not doing that, you know, which isn’t a big deal, but it was just weird, the mentality of this MP, who’s, you know, talking to us, and he’s like, you know, “Oh, hey, how you doing?” — blah, blah, blah — and then, you know — and he’s like telling this guy to shut the hell up, you know, screaming at him, and then back to normal conversation and back to screaming and then back to normal conversation. And I was like, man, these guys are, you know — the responsibility these guys have is just —- I don’t know if I could do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you see -—
SAMUEL PROVANCE: And then it was just kind of crazy, because this — you know, we’re going into this holding cell just to take, you know, nice, cute pictures of the airplanes this guy made from his MRE, and he was like a really frail old man. And, I mean, you know, I’m sitting there wondering like, you know, what was this guy doing here to begin with?
AMY GOODMAN: Did you see naked prisoners?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: No, but I could have. I mean, it was just one of — like, again, I didn’t want to see, you know, so I didn’t look.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Army sergeant and Abu Ghraib whistleblower, Samuel Provance. We’ll come back to this exclusive interview in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Abu Ghraib whistleblower Samuel Provance. I asked him to talk about reports that interrogators abused a sixteen-year-old Iraqi female prisoner.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: That was actually one of the first things I heard, was there were some guys that had gotten in trouble, and then I talked to their friends about it. And what had happened was, two interrogators had been drinking one night and then went to, you know, the hard sites to — you know, where they held all the detainees that they interrogate, and went into there under the guise of, you know, “We’re here to interrogate this girl.” And I guess she was sixteen years old. And, you know, they took her out, but instead of interrogating her, they had plans of molesting her or even raping her. And it may have even been the one girl they called jokingly “Fedateen,” because she was really flirtatious with soldiers and supposedly had love letters that soldiers had written her, and she was always — you know, they said that she was always trying to flirt with soldiers and whatnot.
And so, anyways, they said these guys had gotten caught because the MP on duty that night had noticed that something was amiss, and especially when he went by and saw that her shirt was taken off. So, you know, he made a phone call and got the situation under control.
But then came their prosecution, and I was even asked by one of their friends to lie and call Colonel Pappas’s character into question to somehow negate his authority, but, you know, I’m not going to do that. But nothing ended up happening to them. You know, I was told they were given some kind of suspension or some kind of Article 15, but it was basically brushed under the carpet and never heard from again. And then, even later, they denied that anything had even happened at all.
AMY GOODMAN: You also talked about them playing loud music. What music? What did they do?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: They said they would play all kinds of music, you know, Led Zeppelin, hard rock and whatnot. And then — but what I thought was disturbing was they said that their favorite was the Barney "I Love You" song from the children’s television show. But the way they described it, I mean, it was like everything was a game anymore to them dealing with these detainees, you know, that it’s like they weren’t even people to them anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the use of dogs, Samuel Provance?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: The most pronounced time I heard about dogs was in the beginning of December, when they were talking about an incident where they were using the dogs to scare the detainees and how funny it was to see how they would run back into their cells. And, you know, it was just — it was maniacal, you know, kind of a laughter. And it was just — and then I’m like, you know, what’s next? You know?
AMY GOODMAN: Sam Provance, you were the only Military Intelligence soldier listed in the Taguba report as a witness.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: How could that be? Explain.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: I don’t know. I mean, when I cooperated with the investigators, CID, I assumed that I was going to be, you know, at the bottom of a long list. And yet, there I was, all by myself. The only other intelligence personnel was a civilian by the name of Torin Nelson. And he kind of went through somewhat of an ordeal as I have. But the only way I can describe it is that, you know, the soldiers, and most specifically people in intelligence, are trained to keep quiet, and they really feel that they’re a part of an inner circle, and no matter what goes on in that inner circle, good or bad, stays in that inner circle; anyone outside of it, you know, should never be privy to it. And even the psychological assessment done on the prison for the investigation even said that there appears to be a conspiracy of silence among the MI personnel.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam Provance, can you talk about the ghost prisoners, the ghost detainees?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: That was something I really didn’t know about, beyond being told that there were people that were there that they didn’t know were there anymore, but that was because of a lack of tracking and accountability. I don’t know about the specific ghost detainees, where they actually brought people in and specifically left them off the books. I didn’t know anything about that. But it’s things like that, that you — you know, you just didn’t know what was going on there.
You know, there were so many different moving pieces and very important and very powerful people monitoring what was going on. I mean, most people think that what happened at Abu Ghraib was just a handful of soldiers, you know, out in the middle of nowhere, some remote outpost, when in reality it was the premier hub of human intelligence, you know, being watched by the highest powers that be. I mean, even before I had gotten there, Donald Rumsfeld had visited there, Paul Wolfowitz, other representatives for other people in our government, as well as our own, you know, Army powers that be, such as General Ricardo Sanchez and General Fast. And there was brass all over the place on the prison itself. I mean, there was more first sergeants and commanders than you could shake a stick at.
You know, that’s why I know — and even what was going on, I mean, even the cooks knew thing that were going on. Even the mechanics knew the things that were going on. And that’s why, even to this day, I’m just completely amazed that there’s been nobody else that, you know, has had their conscience bother them to come forward and say, look, you know, this is what was really going on, and that, you know, it wasn’t just these MPs and that these MPs were really doing what they were told.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about — well, you have the Taguba investigation, and you were surprised that other folks like yourself did not come forward. You did not think you would be the only one. What about General Ricardo Sanchez talking about an investigation into what happened?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Yeah, we were actually still at the prison, because, by then, they had a Armed Forces Network feed into a television there, and we could watch the news. And, you know, we’re watching this news, and then General Sanchez is on there saying that there is now going to be an investigation into Abu Ghraib. But we kind of had a preview of that because of CID’s questioning — beginning to question people. And I was like — you know, because I had been telling them all along that they needed to be careful about what they were doing or not doing, because, you know, it was only a matter of time before we would begin getting investigated just like Guantanamo Bay was. You know, as early as then, Guantanamo Bay was in a full-swing investigation, and I knew it was only a matter of time before Abu Ghraib, which was kind of like, you know, Gitmo the sequel to us there. So it came as no surprise to me.
AMY GOODMAN: Was there any point within that time that you were there during the height of the abuses that people were starting to get tense, afraid they could be prosecuted?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Oh, yeah. They were very tense. And that’s what — you know, what really worried me also when I was called in, because they called everybody in for questioning, literally everybody, or everybody that they could, anyway. And they had everyone come and fill out a basic questionnaire that would just basically ask, you know: do you know of any abuse of detainees, yes or no? Do you know anything about photographs? And that was the first time I actually even knew there was photographs or even —- you know, just by implication of the question.
AMY GOODMAN: When was that?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: When I was questioned by CID.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was what month?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: That was January.
AMY GOODMAN: 2004.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right. And -—
AMY GOODMAN: It came out in the media in April — right? — in The New Yorker and CBS. So —-
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But yours is January 2004 that you’re aware.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Had you seen the pictures?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: No, no. Very few people, I would say, had seen the pictures, you know, because that’s the thing. I mean, everybody, you know, knew about all the things that were being done to these people, but very few people knew about the pictures. But it became the pictures that became the focus of the investigation and not what everybody else knew what was going on.
But I did ask -— I started asking questions now that I knew there was photographs involved, and I started asking questions. And a staff sergeant told me that she had heard something sexual involved with detainees, and it was then I was like, wow, it’s more — you know, it’s worse than I imagined, you know, because they’re actually taking pictures. And so, I thought, you know, the — I thought it was an interrogation, an interrogators’ thing, you know, because I thought the investigation was going to uncover what the interrogators were doing, military and civilian, and that they wouldn’t just set their sights on the MPs.
But like I said, going back to the questionnaire, the problem with the questionnaire is, if you just said no to all these questions, like, “Oh, no, I didn’t hear no — nothing, didn’t hear anything, see anything, didn’t do anything,” then the investigators wouldn’t question you further. It was like, “OK, no problem. Next?”
I was one of the few people, you know, that said, yeah, there’s a problem. And I even said that I was glad there was an investigation being done. And when they called me back, they made sure they let everybody know I was being called back. And immediately everybody assumed, you know, either that I was in trouble myself or that I was telling on people that were in trouble. And even then, I’m thinking, you know, I might not leave here alive.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you ever directly threatened?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever think of making a written complaint?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Yes, but I knew, you know, I didn’t have anything concrete. You know, I didn’t have anything to really — because, you know, any — the way the military handles a lot of investigations, however big or small, is to play a little mind game with perception, where they tell the soldier that in their mind that’s what happened, but that’s just their perception of events, and so it’s not real, it’s only real in their mind.
AMY GOODMAN: You wrote for Alternet, “As an Army intelligence analyst, my job at Abu Ghraib was systems administrator ("the computer guy"). But I had the bad luck to be on the night shift. And so I saw the detainees dragged in for interrogation, heard the screams, and saw many of them dragged out. When I heard that the officer in charge of the interrogation/torture operation at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was being court-martialed, my first thought was: ‘Finally an officer is being held accountable.’" Did you see detainees being dragged? Did you hear them screaming?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Yeah. Yeah, at night. You know, you never knew when or where you would see a lot of things. You know, the interrogators told the investigation they only interrogated in, you know, one of a few places, when in reality they interrogated them all over the place. And you would see them taking them in all sorts of directions, you know, cuffed with their heads bagged, and you’re just, you know, wondering: OK, you know, I wonder what that guy did, or I wonder what they’re going to do to that guy. And it just — it was just really depressing.
AMY GOODMAN: You say, “Watching Act I of the faux-trial of Lt. Col. Steven Jordan last week at Fort Meade, Md., confirmed my worst suspicions. I know Jordan; I was in place for his entire tenure at Abu Ghraib, including when prisoners were being tortured. He was an immediate boss.” What happened to him?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: He was — I think what happened with him — this is just my opinion — is what happened with Colonel Pappas. And that is, essentially, you know, some sort of an agreement was made behind closed doors, where as long as he kept his mouth shut, didn’t give any interviews, don’t write any books, don’t talk to anybody about what really happened, as long as he plays the game that’s being set up for them, that they’re going to get off scot-free. That’s exactly what happened to Pappas.
And Pappas and Jordan are two major bridges for everything that happened at that prison. I mean, originally I was thinking they were going to hang Jordan out to dry because of all the negative comments made by Pappas and Taguba and everybody else and just how shady his testimony was in those interviews for those investigations. And I was thinking that Jordan was going to get crucified and that, as a result, he was going to tell everything that he knew and bring the whole house down. But instead, things were set up in such a way for him to — you know, as long as he didn’t pursue something like that and just kept his mouth shut, you know, everything was going to be taken care of and no real charges were going to be made. And that’s exactly what happened. I mean, even before the trial started, most of the charges were dropped. And then, the one charge that he was found guilty for really had nothing to do with the prison. It was just him disobeying General Fay.
AMY GOODMAN: And the conviction was dismissed against Jordan. This is Democracy Now! We’re talking to former Army sergeant and Abu Ghraib whistleblower, Samuel Provance. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Abu Ghraib whistleblower Samuel Provance. I asked him to talk about what happened after the Abu Ghraib torture photos appeared in The New Yorker magazine and on 60 Minutes in April of 2004.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right after? Well, the photographs came out not long after we came back to Germany, and it was just, you know, wow! I mean, I knew there was going to be an investigation, but I didn’t know there was going to be, you know, this global scandal. And it was just surreal to see the pictures on the news, you know, 24/7 during that time, knowing that’s exactly where I came from. And I already knew there was the Taguba investigation, which, you know, was subsequently mysteriously leaked to the public, which actually revealed my name, which I never thought was going to be revealed.
And then there was General Fay. You know, suddenly I’m being told, you know, “You’re going to go talk to this general up in Darmschtadt.” And, you know — and this major was like, you know, “I can’t tell you not to talk to the media, but I wouldn’t talk to them, because this thing is probably going to be as big as My Lai. And, you know, so you need to go talk to this general up in Darmschtadt.” And it actually wasn’t until I was being interviewed by him that I even knew who he was or what he was there for and that there was another investigation.
And, you know, it originally began as something — you know, he was trying to get me to relax, you know, like, “Yeah, I’m a general, but it’s no big deal,” and, you know, a really friendly guy. And then, you know, he just had simple questions, but everything focused on just the MPs or the photographs and only made mention of — and it seemed like he was actually trying to get Colonel Jordan on something. But every time I would try to talk to him about the things I was told by the interrogators and things, he didn’t want to — he didn’t want to hear it. You know, he only wanted to know basically the undeniable. And it wasn’t until after pressuring him, you know, that I wanted to get more on record for his investigation that he finally said, “OK, you know, if you want to tell me, tell me.” And so, I told him as much as I could remember.
And then, you know, everything changed, and then suddenly I was a bad guy. And then he even pulled my statement from the original investigation and was like, you know, “Oh, yeah, it says you, you know — you’re glad there was an investigation being done,” and then he’s like calling that into question, using it against me and saying if I really cared, you know, I would have tried to do something long before that investigation, and then told me that I could have basically — not that I could have prevented the abuse and the torture, but that I could have prevented the scandal.
AMY GOODMAN: Whole thing, you?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you say?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: I told him I didn’t understand. You know, I told him I was in shock. I was like, you know, “I’m being honest with you. I’m — you know, I’m cooperating. I don’t understand how I go from being a witness to — you know, from one investigation to being a criminal in the next.” And — because, by then, he had said he was going to recommend me for administrative action, of being derelict of duty.
And then, later, when his investigation was released, he even heaped two more charges on me. One, which was interfering with the investigation, which — referencing my speaking to the media, like I am with you right now, and then — I can’t remember the other charge, but ended up dropping them — or disobeying a direct order, which was disobeying the gag order, which I had learned I was the only one to receive from my unit — or anybody from Abu Ghraib. And then it took a long time, though, for them to even go into that, and they, of course, dropped those charges, except for disobeying a direct order, because obviously, you know, that can be proven on a technical basis, because I had spoken to the media after being told not to.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the mistreatment of General Zabar and his son?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Originally, the general was supposed to be interrogated, and this was the one interrogation I was actually a part of, and the only reason I agreed to be a part of it was because the interrogator, who really wasn’t an interrogator, was a former soldier of mine who was an analyst, and I knew I could trust him not to be an animal or to try to talk me into doing something I know I wouldn’t want to do. And so he came to Abu Ghraib from Camp Victory as a subject matter expert on the general, because he had been spending weeks and months studying this man in particular.
And when he finally arrived and we were supposed to go interrogate him, they said we couldn’t interrogate him because the general had already been broken from several hours of interrogation. But as a consolation, they said, “We have his son, and you can interrogate him.” You know, and I’m thinking, you know, wow, this is kind of crazy. You know, why do we have his son? But then I’m thinking, you know, just because he’s younger doesn’t mean he can’t be a part of some kind of criminal activity, you know, himself. So we went out to the general population, which is where he was located, and, you know, saw just how young he was. And, you know, he was very, very frail, very scared, and it was obvious he was coming from a rich family. And, you know, he was just petrified.
And, you know, we brought him in to interrogate him, which was really more of an interview, because, like I said, my friend is — he’s a pretty mild-mannered person. And it was just matter-of-fact questions that — and it became quite apparent that he didn’t know anything and that he was just guilty of being this general’s son. And then, he even told me about his brother also being there, wanting to know where he was.
And it was really kind of heartbreaking when he said that he was glad that we were there, but that he didn’t understand what we were doing now that we were there, you know? And he cited things that were happening to him, as well as, you know, how his family was — all their property was being seized by the Kurds because we were turning a blind eye to what the Kurds were doing. You know, and I was just like, wow! And then we took him back, and I come to find out, you know, what they had done to break his father, which was, you know, abusing him.
AMY GOODMAN: How had they abused him?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: They had covered him in mud, or they had doused him in cold water and drove him around in a truck, which at that time was freezing cold at night, and covered him in mud and then, I guess, gave his father the impression that, “OK, we’re going to take a break from the interrogation, and you can see your son, who’s also here.” And then, you know, he’s thinking he’s going to see his son and have some kind of a reunion with him, but instead they just allowed him to see his son in this shivering, muddy state. And, you know, who knows what else they might have told him they had done to him or they were going to do to him unless he started talking? And then, supposedly, that’s what broke him down, and he told them whatever it is they wanted to know, but kind of find out later through — I guess they had done some investigation — but this guy was just some air defense general and he didn’t know anything himself. So the entire thing was just one big useless fiasco.
But you have this boy getting abused and his father getting abused, and it was all for nothing. And that really typifies the whole operation, because, as you know, what was found out later, you know, nothing really productive ever came out of Abu Ghraib. And I could have told you that when I was there, because I would talk to several of the soldiers, the MI soldiers that were there, and they were continuously coming up with, you know, poppycock reports from all sorts of information that they were getting from these detainees. And Colonel Pappas had instituted a quota system, so then they were even forced into this role of conjuring up reports and just sending them out there. But they don’t realize or take into account that they actually get used in the field and that it created this whole cycle of bad intel, picking up the wrong people, which created even more bad intel and which ended up creating more people getting detained. And they weren’t letting anybody go.
And then the prison became its own problem, because then, you know, we started getting more mortar attacks, more RPG attacks or sniper attacks or IEDs. And then the intelligence efforts became finding out who was attacking the prison more than what was actually going on in the insurgency or where was Saddam Hussein.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam Provance, you obviously know a lot about what happened at Abu Ghraib, yet on May 14, 2004, you were ordered not to talk about it. Tell us what happened.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: It hadn’t been long after I had talked to General Fay, and of course the media had already tried to contact me, but I didn’t want to — you know, I didn’t know what was going on and I was trusting that the investigation would uncover, you know, what had happened, you know, that people under this unbearable burden of, you know, the scandal and the assumed scrutiny would begin — you know, somebody else, others, many others, would begin talking or confessing.
So, you know, one day I’m called in off-duty. I’m off duty, and I get called in from my company commander, and it’s like super emergency. And I come down to the company, and then it’s him and my first sergeant in his office. And then, he’s like — you know, he’s got this order in his hand written on a counseling form, and he’s like, “Don’t talk to me. Don’t ask me any questions. I just want you to read this and sign it,” which is highly irregular, because anytime you’re given any kind of a counseling form or an order, it’s read to you, and then, you know, you basically check in a block that you agree that what they have — you know, that what’s on that paper is what they’ve explained to you in person and that — not that you agree to it necessarily, but that you agree that that’s — you know, that you understand what is being told to you. And I could see he was under a lot of stress. I mean, he was very — because I even tried to ask him. I’m like, “Well, what if my mother needs to know that I’m not, you know, part of the abuse, you know, that I’m actually a part of trying to stop it?” And then he’s like, “I told you, don’t talk to me. Don’t ask me any questions. Just read this and sign it.” And so, you know, of course, I signed it.
And it was then that I knew, because that was after talking to General Fay — and it was then, at that moment, that I knew, you know, this was getting covered up. And then, once I found out that I was the only person that received such an order from the many other people in my unit that were there, that’s when I really knew this was — you know, the cover-up was in full swing. And from that moment on, I started thinking, OK, you know, if I don’t say anything, then nobody is going to say anything. So I had to say something. And then I actually hoped that when I spoke out that other people would start speaking out, too, but that didn’t happen. They just watched as, you know, I got into all that trouble, and then they saw what would happen to them if they spoke, too. And so, a lot of them to this day remain quiet.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, four days after you were ordered not to discuss Abu Ghraib, ABC News aired an interview with you. Three days later, your were administratively flagged, your top-secret clearance pulled. Talk about this period right through to July 2005, your rank being reduced.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, what they did is they suspended my clearance, which effectively kicked me out of the building I worked in. And I was then put into the headquarters platoon, which is where all the mischievous intelligence soldiers go because, you know, they’ve lost their clearance for having gotten into some kind of trouble.
AMY GOODMAN: Where was that?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: It was in the headquarters platoon within the company.
AMY GOODMAN: Where?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: That’s in Alpha Company 302nd.
AMY GOODMAN: Geographically, where?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: That’s in Heidelberg, Germany. And so that they knew that I would get kicked out, because they didn’t want me working with the others. And they knew, by taking my clearance, that that would kick me out of the building, and then I couldn’t be — I could no longer be in that inner circle I told you about. So now I was on the outer circle with all the mechanics and the admin, the soldiers, the people in the offices, and that’s where I bounced around at. You know, one minute I was doing one thing, and another minute I’m doing the other. And they just kept in this limbo state for the longest time, and I didn’t know what was going to happen at any time.
And it wasn’t until sixteen months later that they suddenly said, “Hey, you have to drive up to Grafenveer to be read your Article 15.” And then, at the Article 15, I was told that if I didn’t accept the Article 15, which was going to be a demotion and possible loss of pay that I would have to, you know, demand a court-martial, and at that court-martial, I would be subject to prison up to ten years. And after talking to my lawyer, Scott Horton, you know, it was a lose-lose case because the military prosecution wins 90 percent of its cases, which is hardly a fair trial and which also goes to show, like at Colonel Jordan’s trial, how fixed that trial was, because military prosecution wins any case, essentially, that it wants to.
AMY GOODMAN: Ten years in prison for what?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: For disobeying a direct order, which was speaking to the media.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s more than anyone got at Abu Ghraib, except, what, Charles Graner.
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And, you know, originally I was going to fight it and demand a court-martial, but like I said, my lawyer said this is their playing field, and, you know, they’ll do it. And, you know, all these people, they’re telling me that they support you, will be writing you Christmas cards when you’re in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: So where do you stand right now? You are a specialist?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Right. I was a specialist, and they never gave me a chance to get my rank back. And then they basically put me back into the same limbo state I had been in. And even though I was — even though my clearance was given back to me, I wasn’t given local clearance to work my job as an intelligence analyst anymore. So they kept me in this limbo state until the day I got out of the Army, which was October of last year. And since then, I’m basically still trying to get a job.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you having trouble?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Yeah, actually, I am. I mean, I know some things take time, but, you know — and I actually tried to work as a prison guard at a county jail, but that didn’t fare too well at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Why not?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: To be honest, I didn’t want to be a part of another scandal.
AMY GOODMAN: Samuel Provance, so reflect now on what has happened to you. You had top security clearance, you were a staff sergeant, now you’re a guard at a mall and having trouble finding a job that you would like to keep. Was the whistleblowing worth it? Do you think that anything has been learned by the military? Do you think high-level officials should be prosecuted?
SAMUEL PROVANCE: Well, on a personal level, obviously, I would say it’s not worth it, you know, but this is bigger than me. You know, this is about the integrity of right and wrong and, you know, how we’re portrayed to the world we’re supposedly trying to help. Has anything I’ve done or said made an effect? I don’t know. I mean, these things are so big and complex you really don’t know what difference you really make. You know, you just have to do it and hope for the best.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Army sergeant, Abu Ghraib whistleblower, Sam Provance, first intelligence specialist to speak openly about abuse at the prison, the only Military Intelligence soldier listed as a witness in the Teguba report. When Provance defied an order to speak to the media about what happened at Abu Ghraib, the Army stripped him of his security clearance, demoted him in rank and threatened him with ten years in jail.
Recent Shows More
The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to
democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions,