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June 10, 2004

The Torture Working Group


by Paul Sperry

On the eve of the Iraq war, Pentagon lawyers gave license to torturing suspected terrorists in custody. Use of drugs on prisoners wasn't banned in all cases. Even killing in some cases was justified.

That's the gist of a March 6, 2003, draft Pentagon report titled, "Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism."

Or at least the first half of it. Pages 1-56 have been declassified, but the rest of the 100-plus-page report starting with a key section called "Considerations Affecting Policy" is still classified. And the administration refuses to let even Congress see it.

The unclassified first half of the report focuses on interrogation of al-Qaeda detainees at Gitmo. It says torturing them, even to death, may be justified if it extracts information that can prevent future 9-11s. And it duly notes the terrorists, who were captured in Afghanistan, are "unlawful combatants" not covered by Geneva Convention protections against such abuse.

Though legally licensing torture is a ghoulish first for America, so was 9-11. So I'm not losing any sleep over any al-Qaeda torture victims at Gitmo who have information about another attack.

Question is, does the second half of the report also authorize torturing Iraqi detainees, who had nothing to do with 9-11 and are protected by Geneva rules?

The administration, bent on linking Iraq and Afghanistan as co-equal fronts in the war on terror, still maintains that al-Qaeda and other terrorists are in Iraq. Last year, U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer claimed "we have almost two dozen al-Qaeda in detention now," only to find out later that none of them in fact were al-Qaeda.

And listen to this little-noticed exchange on May 11 between a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the investigation into Abu Ghraib prison abuses.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.: Did we have terrorists in the population at this prison?

Taguba: Sir, none that we were made aware of.

In fact, Taguba said in his investigative report that three in five Iraqi detainees were innocent of any crime, and should have been immediately released.

Yet Iraqi detainees were subjected to the same harsh interrogation techniques as al-Qaeda detainees at Gitmo.

Here is a list of so-called Category II and Category III interrogation techniques authorized for use at Gitmo early last year, according to a Jan. 8, 2003, memo written by a JAG officer and circulated among Army intelligence officials at Gitmo, the Bagram base in Afghanistan, and U.S. Central Command in Tampa. I obtained a copy of the two-page memo, which permits (and I quote):

  • Use of stress positions (like standing) for a maximum of four hours;
  • Use of falsified documents or reports;
  • Use of isolation facility for up to 30 days unless CG [commanding general] approves extension;
  • Use of environment other than standard interrogation booth;
  • Deprivation of light and sound;
  • Use of hood as long as it does not restrict breathing and under direct observation;
  • Use of 20-hour interrogations;
  • Removal of comfort items, including religious items;
  • Switching from hot rations to MREs [meals ready to eat];
  • Removal of clothing;
  • Forced grooming (i.e., shaving of facial hair);
  • Using individual phobias (e.g., fear of dogs) to induce stress;
  • Use of mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger and light pushing.

The methods mirror ones posted on a wall at Abu Ghraib by military intelligence on Oct. 18, 2003, about the time much of the more serious abuses at the prison began. The document, titled "Interrogation Rules of Engagement," was posted by Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, the officer in charge of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib.

It turns out she was also the officer in charge of interrogations at the no-holds-barred Bagram detention facility, where at least two inmates were murdered.

Her wall posting was adapted from recommendations made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who headed interrogations at Gitmo until Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Richard Myers and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent him to Abu Ghraib in August 2003 to overhaul interrogation procedures in Iraq.

The harsher techniques he imported from Gitmo were codified in a Sept. 14 memo signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq at the time.

From all accounts, that Sept. 14 memo basically authorized doing whatever interrogators wanted to do to Iraqi detainees to not only find Saddam Hussein, but also the alleged weapons of mass destruction the White House claimed he had before it ordered its invasion.

That Sept. 14 memo is still classified, however, and the administration won't let Congress see it, just like it won't let it see the rest of the draft of the Pentagon torture paper, which reportedly includes an attachment listing specific interrogation techniques authorized by Rumsfeld himself on April 16, 2003, as U.S. troops started locking up Iraqis en masse.

It looks more and more as if the administration doesn't want Congress and the public to see the documents for sinister reasons. They may be the smoking guns that prove Pentagon brass illegally Gitmo-ized interrogations in Iraq, thereby setting the conditions for the systemic abuse of prisoners covered by the Geneva Conventions there. That would make civilian leaders liable for war crimes, and not just "a few bad apples" among low-ranking reservists who carried out their orders.

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Sperry, formerly Washington bureau chief of Investors Business Daily, is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of Crude Politics: How Bush's Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003).

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