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AMERICAN MORNING

Discharged Soldiers

Aired January 14, 2004 - 07:16   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Three U.S. soldiers who were discharged for abusing Iraqi prisoners claim that the Army got it wrong, and they say they want to set the record straight.
The Reservists were serving as military police officers in southern Iraq last May, when the incident occurred. The three were found guilty in a non-judicial proceeding.

Joining us this morning is Master Sergeant Lisa Girman, Staff Sergeant Scott McKenzie, Specialist Timothy Canjar.

Good morning. Nice to have you all. Thanks for being with us.

SGT. LISA GIRMAN, DISCHARGED FROM ARMY: Good morning.

STAFF SGT. SCOTT MCKENZIE, DISCHARGED FROM ARMY: Good morning.

SPC. TIM CANJAR, DISCHARGED FROM ARMY: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Letís start with by reading what the Army says you did. Lisa, for you, you knocked an Iraqi prisoner to the ground. You kicked him in the abdomen and in the groin. You encouraged subordinates to do the same. You were found guilty of these charges.

Mr. McKenzie, you dragged a prisoner across the ground, held his legs apart, encouraged others to kick the prisoner in the groin, while others kicked him in the head. You threw the prisoner to the ground, stepped up -- on his face, rather, and stepped on his previously injured arm.

Mr. Canjar, the Army says you held a detainee's legs apart while others kicked him in the groin. You violently -- that's their word -- thrust a -- twisted, rather, a detainee's previously injured arm.

Those are the charges. You were all found guilty and discharged. You say that this is untrue. So, back up and tell me what happened on that day? What were the circumstances?

GIRMAN: OK. First, we weren't actually found guilty of any charges. Anything that -- any kind of proceedings that we went through with the United States Army was all non-judicial. Basically, we all received something called an Article 15, which is a counseling that goes into your file. Once we received the Article 15, they also discharged us from the military under a Chapter 14 status.

O'BRIEN: Which is all very complicated. But essentially by agreeing to be discharged, are you agreeing that you did these things? GIRMAN: Not at all.

O'BRIEN: Are they saying that you did these things; that you're guilty of these things?

GIRMAN: Not at all. Basically, what we did was the reason we took the opportunity to actually be separated from the military...

O'BRIEN: Be discharged.

GIRMAN: Yes -- was so that we could get back into the states and have some control over our lives. The prosecution in the military basically dictated exactly what we did for seven months. They told us where to live, where to go. At times they even told us when we couldn't speak to our attorneys and when we could.

O'BRIEN: So, let's back up a little bit and talk about this incident. What happened that day? Obviously, you were military police officers. You were escorting just in some capacity detainees. Something happened. What happened?

MCKENZIE: All we did was our job that night. We were escorting 44 prisoners, and several of them were assaulting our MPs, being us. And us, being MPs, we just defended ourselves. And throughout that night, that's all we did was just doing our job, defending ourselves, and we secured for the night. We got the prisoners secured and went back to our tent.

O'BRIEN: Did defending yourselves have anything to do with twisting arms that were previously injured, kicking soldiers -- detainees, rather, in the groin while you were holding legs apart? Any of those?

GIRMAN: That never happened. Basically, the allegations were false, and we had actual testimony in our 32 Hearing claiming that other people who were there to witness the alleged -- the allegations against us that it did not happen. As a matter of fact, there is evidence to prove it didn't happen, and that's the injuries. There were no injuries to EPWs They were saying that they were severely injured. There were no severely injured EPWs.

O'BRIEN: You say EPWs. These are the detainees that we're talking about?

MCKENZIE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: The Army says the reason that all of this came to light in the first place is that your fellow soldiers turned you in. So, why would someone -- or is that untrue that someone brought these...

CANJAR: It was a unit that was there that night, not particularly completely there, but there were three units that were there.

O'BRIEN: So, another unit said that they witnessed this. Why would they lie? I mean, because you're saying this was made up (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Why would they make this up against a fellow soldier -- fellow soldiers?

GIRMAN: Actually, there at the beginning of the testimony, I believe they felt -- they said that we handled them roughly -- a little rough. What you have to understand is we handled EPWs -- enemy prisoners of war -- on a daily basis. That was our job. That was Canjar's job, McKenzie's job and my job on a daily basis. These other people did not physically handle EPWs on a daily basis.

O'BRIEN: So, they didn't know, you're saying, what it entailed.

GIRMAN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: By going this non-judicial route, you're all now discharged, and you say you're going to sort of try to fight this from the outside. What would you like to see? Do you want to be reinstated? Do you want to get back into the military, especially, you know, in the wake of all of this? Which it has to be a pretty awful experience.

GIRMAN: Absolutely. I have 17 years, 9 months in. To put that all -- throw that all away because of a mistake that the Army made -- and, again, we are not holding everything against the Army. A lot of it has to do with our chain of command -- the absence of our chain of command -- not helping us, being eight hours away from us.

O'BRIEN: How about you, Staff Sergeant McKenzie? Do you feel like you want to not only clear your name -- I know that's part of the goal of going public with this -- but would you like to get back into the military?

MCKENZIE: Well, after 18 years of faithful service, you know, I'm still debating it. And I'll be talking with my family and friends about it, but it's definitely not going to be ruled out.

CANJAR: I definitely most likely am going to try to get back in, because, I mean, I've only been in the Reserves for a little over three years, but I spent most of that time on active duty, volunteering to go on mobilizations.

O'BRIEN: I know you're all looking for a civilian attorney to sort of take this case and move it forward. Well, it's obviously very complicated. I wish you the best of luck in whatever happens. Thanks for being with us this morning to talk to us about it. We appreciate it.

GIRMAN: Thank you.

MCKENZIE: Thank you.

CANJAR: Thank you very much.

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