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August 12, 2004

Pentagon Questions All Iraq Interrogators Under Oath


by Paul Sperry

Internal Pentagon documents show that the inspector general tasked with investigating what led to the Army's abuse of prisoners in Iraq is at least planning to conduct a thorough and wide-ranging investigation. His bottom-up inquiry is not stuck at the bottom with military police, who so far have borne the brunt of the blame.

Rather, he is questioning under oath all Army military intelligence (MI) personnel who interrogated prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo, signaling that responsibility for the Torturegate scandal is creeping up the chain of command. And he's asking them some fairly pointed and relevant questions, including some regarding the use of stress positions and unmuzzled dogs during interrogations, and whether commanding officers pressured them into applying such harsh tactics on prisoners in Iraq.

Vice Adm. Albert Church's so-called Interrogation Special Focus Team has sent out a lengthy questionnaire to MI officers who have served as interrogators or debriefers in Iraq and the other theaters of operation. It asks them to answer 11 questions under oath and return their classified responses by secure email or fax. Respondents must certify the truthfulness of their answers by stating the following: "I swear or affirm that the information provided in response to these questions is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

"The serious nature of this inquiry has compelled us to take sworn statements," according to the three-page official internal document, a copy of which I've obtained. Here are a few of the more salient questions asked on the questionnaire:

"5. Did you use or observe the use of 'stress positions' or 'safety positions' as an interrogation technique? If so, please indicate the location and dates of use."

There are three commonly used stress positions, interrogators tell me, which become excruciatingly painful with duration. One involves simply kneeling on a hard floor. Another is sitting, legs extended and toes up, with your hands behind your head, fingers interlocked. The last is lying face down, belly on floor and chin touching the ground. For how long? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized up to four hours for Gitmo detainees.

"6. Did you use or observe the use of military working dogs during an interrogation? If so, please indicate the location and dates of use and describe how the military working dogs were employed. For example, where were the dogs in relation to the interrogation subject, and were the dogs muzzled or unmuzzled?"

Unmuzzled dogs were used on prisoners at Abu Ghraib, along with the harsher methods listed among the 35 interrogation techniques that question No. 7 in the document asks MI interrogators to catalog their participation in, by date and location. Those harsher methods, like 20-hour interrogations, were authorized by Rumsfeld for use at Gitmo just before the invasion of Iraq, as I first reported here on Antiwar.com.

But they spread to Iraq after he sent a Gitmo specialist on such methods to Abu Ghraib to "reform" the methods they were using over there. Most of the documented abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred after his visit there in September 2003. Iraq prisons from that point on were effectively Gitmoized, even though Iraqi detainees were considered enemy prisoners of war and protected by Geneva Conventions outlawing torture.

Gitmo applied harsher tactics ostensibly to protect America from another 9-11. Al-Qaeda detainees, held under the status of unlawful combatants, initially were "breaking" our interrogators at the prison there in Cuba, not the other way around, according to one interrogator I interviewed. So they felt they had to bear down on them to get them to cough up information about future attacks.

But then the Pentagon made the absolutely criminal mistake of exporting those harsh techniques to its Iraq prisons, which did not hold al-Qaeda terrorists. In fact, the vast majority of the detainees at Abu Ghraib and other prisons near Baghdad were not even insurgents or criminals, and should never have been held in the first place, let alone tortured.

The Army knew this. As I first reported in The American Conservative, a team of Army investigators sent to Iraq last year reported back to brass that "approximately 80 percent of the persons are unnecessarily detained." Yet they remained in custody even after the report circulated at the Pentagon last fall. The team found that detention facilities throughout Iraq were overcrowded and lacked standard release criteria. "It's like the Roach Motel," observed Lt. Col. Bob Chamberlain, who wrote the trip report. "They can check in, but they never check out!" Several of those "roaches" were even exterminated.

So why did U.S. soldiers continue to jail innocent Iraqis, and then torture many of them? For one, military brass thought they could pry away information that would help put down the growing Iraqi insurgency and save GIs' lives. And the White House, for its part, thought it would help the president find the illusory weapons of mass destruction he used to justify his unprovoked attack on Iraq in the middle of a war on al-Qaeda whose leaders were, as we now know, still alive and plotting against us in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Why, though, did MPs seem to relish orders to abuse Iraqis? Some were just sadists, while others rationalized it as avenging the murder of nearly 3,000 of their fellow countrymen. Why would they think that? Ask the president. He'd whipped them into an anti-Iraq frenzy by insisting Iraq was allied with al-Qaeda while suggesting in the most cynical way that it was even behind 9-11, completely misrepresenting the intelligence he received before the war.

"Do you feel that you were subject to any pressure to exceed what you felt to be appropriate interrogation techniques?" Vice Adm. Church's inquiry is now asking MI interrogators, according to No. 9 on the questionnaire.

Good question, though it does not ask interrogators to name names. Will MI interrogators and their commanders be held accountable for war crimes committed at Abu Ghraib? Or will MPs take the fall?

A senior Army interrogation specialist, who is in Iraq helping with the criminal investigations led by Maj. Gen. George Fay, confirmed that interrogators are being investigated and some, he says, will likely be charged with crimes.

"I can't tell you who will be charged," he said, "but I'm sure some will."

Torturegate may have fallen off the front page, but it's not going away. How high up does the scandal go? It's not clear.

But watch for the president's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to soon be asked what she knew, and when she knew it specifically, when she first saw photographs of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib and why nothing was done to stop it.

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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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