Report: Bush Officials Relied On Communist Torture Techniques To Press Detainees For Al Qaeda/Iraq Link

Late yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee made public an unclassified version of its November 2008 report, “Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody.” The report reveals that top Bush administration officials were so eager to start harsh interrogations on detainees that they often ignored warnings from military advisers, skipped a thorough legal review process, and failed to fully investigate the origins of the dangerous techniques. Moreover, the consequences of their actions trickled down to lower-ranking officers and led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Here are some highlights from the report:

— Top Officials Were Unaware Of The Gruesome Origins Of The Interrogation Program. The Bush administration’s interrogation program was based on the U.S. military program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE), which is used to train U.S. troops if they are ever tortured by an enemy that doesn’t adhere to the Geneva Conventions. However, none of the top CIA, Cabinet, or congressional officials who approved of the Bush administration’s recommendations knew that SERE was designed around “torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War…that had wrung false confessions from Americans.” These officials were unaware that veteran SERE trainers said the methods were ineffective for getting useful information and the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.”

— Military Officials Warned That Harsh Interrogation Was Illegal And Ineffective. In November 2002, the Deputy Commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigative Task Force at Gitmo raised concerns that SERE techniques were “developed to better prepare U.S. military personnel to resist interrogations and not as a means of obtaining reliable information.” The Air Force cited “serious concerns regarding the legality of many of the proposed techniques.” The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps raised similar issues, citing “maltreatment” that would “arguably violate federal law.”

— Abusive Tactics Were Used To Search For A Non-Existent Al-Qaeda/Iraq Link. In 2006, former U.S. Army psychiatrist Maj. Charles Burney told investigators that interrogators at Gitmo were under “pressure” to produce evidence of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, even though they were ultimately unsuccesful. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link…there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

— Top Bush Officials Bypassed Military Concerns. Less than a month after the military voiced their concerns, then-Defense Department general counsel William Haynes sent then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a one-page memo recommending that he approve 15 out of 18 of the torture techniques requested for use at Gitmo. Haynes indicated that he had discussed the issue with Doug Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and Gen. Richard Myers, all of whom agreed with him. The only legal opinion Haynes cited in the memo was one that senior military advisers had called “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Five days later, Rumsfeld signed off on the request.

— Officials Began Preparing Harsh Interrogation Techniques Before They Were Granted Legal Approval. Military and intelligence officials were “exploring ways to break Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, up to eight months before Justice Department lawyers approved the use of waterboarding and nine other harsh methods,” and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect. In fact, in July 2002 — a month before the Justice Department approved its list of interrogation techniques — instructors at a training seminar told intelligence officials that the harsh measures were already deemed acceptable.

— Bush’s Torture Policies Led To Abuses At Abu Ghraib. In one of its conclusions, the Armed Services Committee writes, “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. … Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. custody.”


Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who ran Iraq prisons — including Abu Ghraib — in 2003, told CBS that she was “scapegoated” by the administration for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. “The line is clear,” she said. “It went from Washington, D.C. From the very top of the administration with the legal opinions through Bagram to Guantanamo Bay and then to Iraq via the commander from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”

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