A GI's Iraq Prison Video Diary

Exclusive Video Shows U.S. Soldier's Disdain For Iraqi Prisoners

Long before the pictures taken inside Abu Ghraib circled the globe, there were warning signs that something had gone terribly wrong with the U.S.-run prison system in Iraq.

A year ago, several soldiers at another prison camp in Iraq, Camp Bucca in Southern Iraq, were accused of abusing prisoners. They were not court-martialed, but they were put out of the Army.

Correspondent Dan Rather talks to two of those soldiers. Their former commander is now claiming that they abused Iraqis as an act of revenge for what happened to Jessica Lynch.

This charge, and these soldiers, along with their accounts of life in Camp Bucca, raise serious questions about the whole prisoner detention program in Iraq.

60 Minutes II gets a behind-the-scenes look at the prison camp where they worked, through the eyes of another young soldier who videotaped her tour of duty in Iraq. What you will hear is her voice, and the blunt attitudes she poured out on the videotape she shot at Camp Bucca.
"I gotta be careful with my video camera because we're not allowed to have video cameras here," says the 20-year-old woman behind the camera.

The soldier, who doesn't want to be identified by name, said she joined the military to get help with the cost of college. She ended up guarding thousands of prisoners in Iraq.

"If we shoot any more of the Iraqis, or attack any of them, they're gonna supposedly come in and attack the camp," she says on tape. "But we'll believe that when it actually happens, because we've already killed another Iraqi just last night when I was working. So I don't know what's going on..."

Her videotape shows she didn't like Camp Bucca, or the people under her control: "These people get fed better than we do. Every day, they eat white rice, chicken. Every day we eat MREs. They are suck f****** a**holes. They f*** guys for pleasure and they f*** women for breeding. Excuse my language. I've been around a lot of people who cusses every day."

Throughout the tape, she records her annoyance at the thousands of Iraqi prisoners under the control of several MP units at Camp Bucca. She was an MP, a military police officer, and part of a small group guarding 7,000 prisoners.

"This is the compound, the ones that always break out. They have ... usually about three a week that breaks out. And of course, every time that I'm working, they never do it," she says on the videotape. "'Cause they're scared of me. I actually got in trouble the other day because I was throwing rocks at them."

She says she threw rocks at the prisoners because they had been throwing them at her. In her video diary, she catalogs the other dangers in the camp: "This is a sand viper. One bite will kill you in six hours. We've already had two prisoners die of it, but who cares? That's two less for me to worry about."

This soldier has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but what she says on the tape reflects the negative attitude toward Iraqis that many American soldiers have reported: "This is our crazy person. ... He looks dead, but he's not."

Being an MP at Camp Bucca was difficult duty. The soldiers lived in huge, crowded tents, circled by barbed wire. The wind was relentless, the sun was searing, and the gulf between this MP and the Muslim prisoners seemed unbridgeable.

"That's how close we live to the prisoners. Isn't that nice? This place is horrible," she says on tape.
This soldier, however, was not the only one complaining about conditions at Camp Bucca.

An Army investigation was done by the same man, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib.

Taguba's final report pointed out serious problems at Camp Bucca, including "inexperienced guards, lapses in accountability, complacency, lack of leadership presence, and lack of clear and concise communication between the guards and the leadership."

It's a charge echoed by then-Master Sgt. Lisa Girman and Spc. Tim Canjar. Girman is a state patrol officer with 17 years in the reserves. She specializes in detaining prisoners of war. Canjar is a student at Penn State.

The Army accused both soldiers of severely beating inmates, but that charge was never challenged in court. Instead, they were given administrative dismissals.

Canjar, who got a general discharge, denies ever kicking a prisoner, or seeing anyone brutalize an Iraqi prisoner.

Girman, who was given an-other-than honorable discharge, was accused of knocking an Iraqi prisoner to the ground, kicking him in the abdomen and the groin and encouraging others to do the same.

"I say that did not happen. And you have someone who says it did. I say it didn't," says Girman.

The commanders in charge of these two soldiers at Camp Bucca were also in charge of Abu Ghraib. One of them was Col. Jerry Phillabaum, a 1976 West Point graduate. He says: "Master Sgt. Lisa Girman took vigilante justice against a prisoner that she believed had raped … Jessica Lynch."

Girman, however, calls the charge ridiculous.

Back at Abu Ghraib, Phillabaum is now under fire. The Taguba Report describes him as "an extremely ineffective commander and leader." And it's the same kind of charge leveled at his boss, Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinski, the woman in charge of America's prison camps in Iraq.

One officer at Camp Bucca told 60 Minutes II that in 10 months on the job, he saw Karpinski there only once, for two hours.
What is the worst thing that Canjar saw at the prison?

"The Palm Sunday riot was probably the worst. My compound was the one that started the Palm Sunday riots. When they started that riot ... at one point it was me and another soldier guarding. I was watching 535 prisoners on my side," says Canjar.

He told 60 Minutes II the riot began when inmates, demanding shoes, uniforms and soap, refused to eat at feeding time: "And from there, it just started getting worse. Then the prisoners started hitting us."

Girman and Canjar say the prisoners were pelting the MPs with rocks.

"These rocks are huge rocks, and at one point, I heard there might be a weapon inside ... and there are weapons in all compounds, homemade weapons, shanks," says Girman.

"They were allowed to have razors. They were allowed to have anything they could get their hands on. Because again, the chain of command didn't recognize the need to take weapons off these people because they don't think they're dangerous."

The two soldiers also say their command staff was missing in action.

"Our other chain of command was nowhere in sight," recalls Canjar. "We did not see them throughout the whole riot."

"They were there in the beginning of the riot," adds Girman. "I'm positive. I talked to them. I said, 'We're gonna lose this camp.' And they said, 'We gotta do something.' I said, 'We're gonna lose this camp.'"

Girman says there were 45-50 soldiers against approximately 7,000 prisoners. "I credit it all to my guys, because they didn't move. They didn't run. They stood there. They stood at that gate," says Girman.

"They took rocks to the head. ... The radio transmissions were overwhelming. I'm taking rocks. I'm taking hits and the only thing you could tell them was 'Shift and hold your ground. Shift and hold your position.' And they did. They did."

Girman says there was chaos, yelling and screaming, and thousands of rocks were flying: "Rocks being tossed at us. At one point, I got hit. I lost vision. As a matter of fact, I think it was Tim who said 'Are you OK?' I said 'I'm fine,' and that's when I started seeing the EPWs coming out the gate. They were actually starting to come out of the compound. And I tapped the specialist in front of me on the Kevlar, gave him a sector of fire. And he shot."

One EPW, an enemy prisoner of war, was hit in the leg. The others retreated. The following week, there was another riot during feeding that ended badly.

"You wanna know the worst thing that happened in that camp? That an EPW died. We had to shoot an EPW. … That was very hard for me to take," says Girman. "And the reason is it was hard for me to take is because it should never have got to that point. We did what we had to do... but it should never have got to that point."
What didn't work, and what were some of the problems at the prison?

"Medical care was horrible. It was a nightmare," says Girman. "My guys and myself would actually trade in our care package, what we get from home, for medical needs. I'd say, 'What you guys got?' They'd give me stuff.'"

"Medical supplies, we have tons of medical supplies," says Canjar. "Where were they?"

"And where were the medics," asks Girman. "I'm not saying they weren't there, but they would come see 10 prisoners out of 7,000. I saw stitches ... skin acutally grow over stiches on a man's head because they weren't taken out in time."

Girman and Canjar's families say they tried to bring attention to the problems at Camp Bucca.

They say they called Donald Rumsfeld's office repeatedly, and sent letters, emails and faxes to the White House, and to several senators, including Arlen Specter, Rick Santorum, Joe Lieberman and Carl Levin nearly a year ago.

The letters say that the "camps are in complete disarray with no reasonable voice of leadership..."

The letters also described the camp atmosphere "as a b-rated movie, filled with incompetence..."

The families say no one called back.
"I hate it here. I've said that like 1,000 times on this camera. I wanna come home," says the soldier on the videotape.

It seemed the only people paying attention were the families of other MPs who were getting emails, letters and video messages like this:

"We actually shot two prisoners today. One got shot in the chest for swinging a pole against our people on the feed team. We shot one in the arm. We don't know if the one we shot in the chest is dead yet."

Month after month, reservists at the desolate prison watched busloads of relieved Iraqis drive away from Camp Bucca -- while they stayed behind.

"And I still hate it here," says the soldier with the camera, who joined up to get an education -- and got more than she bargained for.

"This is part of Iraq," says the soldier, who felt that she, too, had become a prisoner of war. "Goodbye. The end."
  • Rebecca Leung

Comments