WASHINGTON - Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a central figure in the U.S. detainee-abuse scandal, this week invoked his right not to incriminate himself in court-martial proceedings against two soldiers accused of using dogs to intimidate captives at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, according to lawyers involved in the case.
The move by Miller - who once supervised the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and helped set up operations at Abu Ghraib - is the first time the general has given an indication that he might have information that could implicate him in wrongdoing, according to military lawyers.
Harvey Volzer, an attorney for one of the dog handlers, has been seeking to question Miller to determine whether Miller ordered the use of military working dogs to frighten detainees during interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Volzer has argued that the dog handlers were following orders when the animals were used against detainees.
Maj. Michelle Crawford, a defense lawyer representing Miller, said the general decided not to answer further questions because he has ''been interviewed repeatedly over the last several years'' about his role at Guantanamo Bay and his visit to Iraq and he stands by his many statements to Congress, Army investigators and lawyers.
Miller's ''choice to no longer answer the same questions . . . was based on the advice of counsel and includes the fact that he has already, and repeatedly, answered all inquiries fully,'' Crawford said.
Miller's decision came shortly after Col. Thomas Pappas, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, accepted immunity from prosecution this week and was ordered to testify at upcoming courts-martial. Pappas, a military intelligence officer, could be asked to detail high-level policies relating to the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib.
He also could shed light on how abusive tactics emerged, who ordered their use and their possible connection to officials in Washington, according to lawyers and human rights advocates who have closely followed the case. Pappas has never spoken publicly. Crawford said Miller was unaware of Pappas' grant of immunity. ''This could be a big break if Pappas testifies as to why those dogs were used and who ordered the dogs to be used,'' said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. ''It's a steppingstone going up the chain of command, and that's positive. It might demonstrate that it wasn't just a few rotten apples.''
Pappas's attorney, Maj. Jeffery Lippert, said Wednesday that Pappas would not comment. But he added in an e-mail that ''the Commanding General of the Military District of Washington has ordered Col. Pappas to testify if called as a witness in pending courts-martial, and granted him testimonial immunity to facilitate his appearance as a witness.''
Miller invoked his military Article 31 rights through his Army lawyer on Tuesday, after a Navy judge in the Military District of Washington ruled that lawyers defending the two dog handlers could interview Miller this week. Article 31 rights are almost identical to those afforded civilians by the Fifth Amendment, and invoking them does not legally imply guilt.