Dog handler recalls time at Abu Ghraib
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Clark couldn’t wait last year to go to Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq’s most notorious penitentiary.
When Clark, a military working dog handler stationed at Rota, arrived with his canine partner, Dino, he didn’t know what to expect. He just knew he was pumped about deploying to Iraq, where all the action is.
“It’s like driving a car,” he said. “You could read in a book all you want, but until you climb behind the wheel it really just doesn’t work.”
Now back in southern Spain, he talks about his Iraqi experience — going on raids outside the wire with soldiers and Marines and surviving daily mortar attacks — as quite a ride for a sailor better trained for ship life.
From November to April, Clark served at the prison, which has come under intense public scrutiny since humiliating pictures of abused Iraqi prisoners appeared in the news last week.
A U.S. Army report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba concluded that some soldiers “committed egregious acts and grave breaches of international law” at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca in Iraq. Some of the abuse included breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees and using military dogs to frighten and intimidate the detainees.
Navy Lt. Allie Freeman, spokeswoman for the Rota base, said Clark would not comment about whether he saw anything inappropriate or whether anybody asked him to do something he felt was wrong because the matter is under investigation.
However, Clark, who has not been part of any abuse probe at the prison, said he did not see any military dogs used unjustly. He also did not take part in the interrogations of prisoners, where most of the abuse is alleged to have occurred.
“Military working dogs are not utilized for interrogations purposes,” Clark said. “They’re just like a weapon. They’re there to keep a suspect from doing anything further. You want them to reduce the situation, not increase the situation.”
The Army report commended Navy Petty Officer 1st Class William J. Kimbro, a dog handler stationed in Europe, for refusing to participate in “improper interrogations despite significant pressure from military intelligence personnel.”
A three-person team of Navy dog handlers and their dogs worked for the various units at the prison, helping do security sweeps, conducting vehicle inspections at the gate and joining raids with soldiers and Marines.
Keeping the fleas off the dogs and the guards was a constant challenge. But the daily mortar attacks were probably the worst, Clark said.
During Clark’s first month at the prison, the troops didn’t get attacked. But then one day, 38 mortars were lobbed into the compound.
“The first mortar attack I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I had no clue. They teach you on a ship, if you have incoming, to place your hands on a wall, keep your mouth open and to expect the incoming shell to hit the ship. ... But there, I had no clue.”
When Clark and Dino returned to Spain, he said, loud noises would startle both of them. Despite the risk, Clark said he would go back to Iraq.
“That’s a real job out there,” he said. “This, I’m not saying isn’t a real job. But you know there are real things happening out there. And hopefully I can make a difference, or me and my dog can really go out there and find something.”