LIANE HANSEN, host:
The recent release of the so-called torture memos, detailing some of the Bush administration's reasons for using harsh interrogation techniques, has opened the floodgates. Human rights organizations and some members of Congress have been asking many questions about who knew what when, who was responsible and who, if anyone, should be punished.
Retired Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez was in charge of the ground forces in Iraq when some of those techniques were used at the Abu Ghraib prison. He joins us from member station KSTX in San Antonio, Texas. Welcome to the program, general.
Lieutenant General RICARDO SANCHEZ (Former Commander, Coalition Forces, Iraq): Thank you, maam. Glad to be with you.
HANSEN: The torture memos specifically talk about CIA interrogation techniques. How much did you know about what the CIA was doing to prisoners when you were commanding forces in Iraq?
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Well, I think traditionally the CIA always operates in a very insulated stovepipe. I think we got a little bit of an insight into what they were doing when they did drop off what came to be known as Iceman at Abu Ghraib in the fall of 2003. At that time we clearly understood they were using some very, very aggressive techniques and, in fact, had wound up with Iceman dead in the course of an interrogation.
HANSEN: And remind us who Iceman was?
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Iceman was one of the detainees that they had picked up and were interrogating him. And he was brought to Abu Ghraib and handed off to my conventional forces. They were at the prison and eventually we wound up repatriating him back to his family to be taken care of and interred.
HANSEN: Defense lawyers for some of the soldiers prosecuted for the crimes at Abu Ghraib said those soldiers were just following orders. Did the people who were running Abu Ghraib have information that these techniques were approved at a higher level?
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: No, I think that is one of the connections that has been made over the course of time that these techniques had been approved. I think what you have at Abu Ghraib is you have a conventional force, but you also have two different entities - the special operations forces and the CIA that are still operating under the unconstrained interrogation environment that was created when we lifted the Geneva Conventions in the great (unintelligible) war.
HANSEN: You had mentioned the three presences at Abu Ghraib: the CIA and the Army and Special Forces. If the CIA had the directives thats come out in those memos, was the Army working with the CIA at Abu Ghraib?
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Well, I think thats where part of this very convoluted environment comes into focus. We were not specifically working with the CIA. The conventional forces were not specifically working with the CIA. But we did in fact provide support to the Special Forces - elements that were operating in the country in the form of interrogator support and detainee support and our detention capacity support, MPs, if you will.
And I think this is where we really began to have the crossover of the different operating environments and we have this tremendously complex nature. Because when my interrogators and my MPs are operating under our control, they're operating under the Geneva Conventions.
And when we send them over and detach them to work with these Special Forces, they go into this unconstrained world that still exists as part of the global war. And they operate there for a couple of weeks, in some cases, three weeks. And then they come back. So there is absolutely no question in my mind, in retrospect, that there was a crossover of those techniques that was occurring.
HANSEN: Two years ago in 2007, you called the conflict in Iraq a nightmare with no end in sight. Have you changed your mind?
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Well, absolutely. I think, also, when I made that statement and I gave that speech, it was very clear. It was, you know, I fully supported the military surge, but it was not about surging our military. It was about surging our political, economic and diplomatic power.
HANSEN: Yeah. The U.S. troops are supposed to be out of Iraqi cities by June 30th. And President Obama has said he plans to end combat missions there by the end of August 2010. Do you think thats realistic?
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Well, I think the 30, June deadline, thats going to occur. I think the Iraqis, at least up to this point, have been pretty firm about meeting that timeframe. I think what we'll have to wait and see is whether we really truly can eliminate all combat operations in the country. I think we might be able to do so with conventional forces.
But I believe that for some period of time yet undetermined, we will have to continue to conduct some sort of combat operations against this insurgency until we can achieve reconciliation.
HANSEN: You think the Iraqis are ready for the U.S. presence to no longer be there?
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: No, I dont believe that that is the case. I think one of the key variables that is still uncontrolled is the need for us to ensure that Iraq has the ability to defend itself externally. You know, that is an international responsibility that we carry to this day as a result of our invasion.
HANSEN: U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez commanded the coalition ground forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. He retired from the Army in 2006. He's the author of the book, Wiser in Battle, now out in paperback. And he joined us from KSTX in San Antonio, Texas. Thank you very much, sir.
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Yes, ma'am. Thank you for the opportunity.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.