Spc. Sabrina Harman, one of seven Army Reservists charged in the abuse of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, told "20/20" she wishes she could apologize to the Iraqi people, but doesn't think she did anything wrong while she was stationed as a guard at the prison.
Photos of prisoners shown stripped naked, piled atop one another, being humiliated and abused, shocked the world and drew international condemnation. Harman, 27, said she never hurt anyone, but she was involved with some of the prison scandal's most iconic photos. In one of those photos, Harman is seen smiling behind a pyramid of naked prisoners.
The reservist is also charged with being involved with another of the most disturbing images -- a hooded prisoner standing atop a box with wires attached to his arms. Although Harman says the prisoner, nicknamed Gilligan, was not tortured or beaten, she acknowledges he was subject to sleep deprivation, one technique used to tire prisoners so they can be successfully interrogated. "He was only interrogated for three days. He wasn't beaten or anything like that. It was just stress positions, holding boxes, standing on boxes -- and he could just not be broke. Like he was pretty much laughing at us," she told "20/20's" Elizabeth Vargas in an exclusive interview airing Friday night at 10 p.m. ET.
Surprisingly, Harman said she didn't think she needed a lawyer when the Army's Criminal Investigation Division confronted her about the photos. "I didn't think I did anything wrong to need one. I just thought they wanted the truth on what was going on. I didn't think it would involve me at all," she told Vargas.
For the first four months of her tour in Iraq, from May to September 2003, Harman's unit, the 372nd Military Police Company, was stationed in the town of Hillah supporting the fledgling Iraqi police. She said the assignment felt like peacekeeping, and the Iraqi people she had contact with were "really nice." Her colleagues said she was especially popular with the children and once purchased a refrigerator for a family who had made her homecooked meals.
But in October 2003, her company was reassigned to Abu Ghraib as prison guards -- and everything changed. Violence from Iraqi insurgents was intensifying, and the prison came under frequent mortar attack. Military intelligence had taken charge of cellblocks 1A and 1B, where suspected insurgents were sent to be interrogated. There was intense pressure to get intelligence from the prisoners that could save American and Iraqi lives.
When she first got to Abu Ghraib, Harman guarded female prisoners in other cellblocks, but then she was ordered to cellblocks 1A and 1B. She says she was surprised at what she saw. "They were handcuffed to windows or the bed, and the way they were cuffed -- it was like their hands were over their head, or behind their backs, upwards so they could barely move. And they were completely naked," she said. During her first day on duty on the cellblock, Harman said she removed the handcuffs from a prisoner who was screaming in pain. She said she was also shocked by the treatment of a prisoner they called "the taxi driver."
"He was handcuffed to the bed with underwear on his head. And then an interpreter came in and started asking for some kind of confession. He ended up kicking the guy in the head, and he needed stitches in his ear from that," Harman said.