Sen. Levin: Abuse was systematic
WASHINGTON — The brutal treatment of prisoners by the military at Guantanamo Bay, Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and Afghanistan was systematic and a direct result of the CIA’s early use of harsh interrogation tactics, according to a Senate report.
The 232-page report released Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee came less than a week after President Barack Obama released the Aug. 1, 2002 memo that justified the use of severe methods by the CIA.
The timeline laid out in the report shows, however, that military and CIA officers were being trained how to conduct coercive interrogations for as much as eight months before receiving the Justice Department green light. The CIA had started conducting severe interrogations in the spring of 2002.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee’s chairman, said the report shows that abuse of prisoners was sweeping and not, as former Bush administration defense official Paul Wolfowitz once said, the result of “a few bad apples.” As the No. 2 defense official, Wolfowitz was a major architect of the Iraq war.
“Authorizations of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials resulted in abuse and conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment,” Levin said.
The Senate investigation has been in a Pentagon security review since Nov. 21, 2008. Its findings were drawn from more than 70 interviews and 200,000 pages of classified and unclassified documents.
“In my judgment,” Levin said, “the report represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan to low-ranking soldiers.”
According to the report, the road to the abuses began in December 2001, just three months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The Pentagon’s general counsel office reached out that month to a military agency that trains American personnel in how to endure enemy interrogations.
The legal office wanted information about how the training unit, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, conducted mock interrogations and detention operations. The agency trains U.S. armed forces personnel to endure abusive treatment similar to methods used by North Korean, Communist Chinese and Vietcong interrogators.
In February 2002, President George W. Bush declared that the United States would not extend full Geneva Convention protections to al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners. He replaced that 60-year-old standard governing the treatment of prisoners with a new, untested guideline vaguely requiring only “humane treatment.”
A month later, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah, an alleged top al-Qaida organizer in Pakistan. Zubaydah proved resistant to traditional interrogation techniques. During the first half of 2002, CIA interrogators began to subject Zubaydah to waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning taught by survival school trainers to CIA personnel sometime in the first half of 2002.
In July 2002, responding to a follow-up from the Pentagon general counsel’s office, JPRA officials detailed their methods, but warned that harsh physical techniques could backfire by making prisoners more resistant. They also cautioned about the reliability of information gleaned from the severe methods and warned that the public and political backlash could be “intolerable.”
“A subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer or many answers in order to get the pain to stop,” the training officials said in their memo.
Less than a week later, the Justice Department issued two legal opinions that sanctioned the CIA’s harsh interrogation program. The memos, one of which remained classified top secret until it was released by the Obama administration last week, appeared to draw deeply on the survival school data to show that the CIA’s methods would not cross the line into torture, which was also newly defined.
The opinion concluded that the harsh interrogation methods would be acceptable for use on terror detainees because the same techniques did not cause severe physical or mental pain to U.S. military students who were tested in the government’s carefully controlled training program.
Several people from the survival program objected to the use of their mock interrogations in battlefield settings. In an October 2002 e-mail, a senior Army psychologist told personnel at Guantanamo Bay that the methods are inherently dangerous and students are sometimes injured, even in a controlled setting.
“The risk with real detainees is increased exponentially,” he said.
Nevertheless, for the next two years, the CIA and military officials received interrogation training and direct interrogation support from JPRA trainers.
By October 2002, military officials in the Pentagon and at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base had decided they needed tougher interrogations at the island prison. They crafted a plan that adopted some of the survival school methods — stress positions, food deprivation, shaving heads and beards, stripping prisoners naked, hooding them, exposing prisoners to extremes of heat and cold, and slamming them up against walls.
In December, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved 15 of those methods.
A month later, Rumsfeld’s approvals for Guantanamo interrogations were put on hold while the matter underwent review inside the Pentagon. The delay was caused in large part because of the strenuous objections of the military services’ top lawyers.
But according to the Senate report, the Rumsfeld memo had already made its way into the hands of special operations units based in Afghanistan. Military lawyers there saw the memo as permission to use the ‘advanced techniques’ on potential high-value prisoners. The Guantanamo methods were not supposed to be used at the island jail — but they were now deemed fair game in Afghanistan.
By February 2003, a special military unit preparing for the Iraq invasion obtained a copy of the Afghanistan interrogation policy that incorporated the techniques approved by Rumsfeld for Guantanamo. They changed the letterhead and adopted it wholesale for their own use in Iraq.
Subsequently, the interrogation officer in charge of Abu Ghraib obtained a copy of the special military unit’s Iraq interrogation policy. She made minor changes — adding sensory deprivation and constraining sleep deprivation to 72 hours at a time — and submitted it through her chain of command.
Many of the procedures were adopted Iraq-wide in a memo issued in September 2003 by the Iraq war commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
According to the Senate report, lawyers for U.S. Central Command raised immediate concerns that the policy violated the Geneva Conventions, which applied to Iraq.
It would be a month before the policy was brought back under Geneva Convention guidelines. Despite the revision, the abuses at Abu Ghraib had already began.