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Report Questions Pentagon Accounts

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - June 19, 2008
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Report Questions Pentagon Accounts
by: Joby Warrick
The Washington Post

Officials looked into interrogation methods early on.

A Senate investigation has concluded that top Pentagon 
officials began assembling lists of harsh interrogation 
techniques in the summer of 2002 for use on detainees at 
Guantanamo Bay and that those officials later cited memos 
from field commanders to suggest that the proposals 
originated far down the chain of command, according to 
congressional sources briefed on the findings. 

The sources said that memos and other evidence obtained 
during the inquiry show that officials in the office of 
then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld started to 
research the use of water-boarding, stress positions, 
sensory deprivation and other practices in July 2002, 
months before memos from commanders at the detention 
facility in Cuba requested permission to use those 
measures on suspected terrorists. 

The reported evidence - some of which is expected to be 
made public at a Senate hearing today - also shows that 
military lawyers raised strong concerns about the legality 
of the practices as early as November 2002, a month before 
Rumsfeld approved them. The findings contradict previous 
accounts by top Bush administration appointees, setting 
the stage for new clashes between the White House and 
Congress over the origins of interrogation methods that 
many lawmakers regard as torture and possibly illegal. 

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"Some have suggested that detainee abuses committed by U.S. 
personnel at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at Guantanamo were the 
result of a 'few bad apples' acting on their own. It would 
be a lot easier to accept if that were true," Sen. Carl M. 
Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services 
Committee, wrote in a statement for delivery at a committee 
hearing this morning. "Senior officials in the United States
government sought out information on aggressive techniques, 
twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, 
and authorized their use against detainees." 

The new evidence challenges previous statements by William 
J. "Jim" Haynes II, who served as Defense Department 
general counsel under Rumsfeld and is among the witnesses 
scheduled to testify at today's hearing. Haynes, who 
resigned in February, suggested to a Senate panel in 2006 
that the request for tougher interrogation methods 
originated in October 2002, when Guantanamo Bay commanders 
began asking for help in ratcheting up the pressure on 
suspected terrorists who had stopped cooperating. A memo 
from the prison's top military lawyer that same month had 
suggested specific techniques and declared them legal. 

Haynes suggested that the requests had created a dilemma 
for the Pentagon's top civilian leaders. "Many people 
struggled over that question," he told the Senate Judiciary 
Committee in 2006. "I struggled over that question." 

But memos and e-mails obtained by investigators reveal that 
in July 2002, Haynes and other Pentagon officials were 
soliciting ideas for harsh interrogations from military 
experts in survival training, according to two congressional
officials familiar with the committee's investigation. By 
late July, a list was compiled that included many of the 
techniques that would later be formally approved for use 
at Guantanamo Bay, including stress positions, sleep 
deprivation and the hooding of detainees during questioning.
The techniques were later used at the Abu Ghraib detention 
facility in Iraq. 

Nearly all the ideas were derived from U.S. military 
programs known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and 
Escape, or SERE, the congressional officials said. In 
training, some military pilots and Special Forces troops 
are subjected to harsh treatment to simulate conditions 
they might face if captured by enemy troops. One of the 
techniques suggested was waterboarding, a form of simulated 
drowning that was used by CIA interrogators but was never 
approved for use by the military. 

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In his prepared statement, Levin said the evidence 
collected in the committee's 18-month investigation 
highlights a "particularly disturbing part of the story: 
how the techniques - used to teach American soldiers to 
resist abusive interrogations by enemies that refuse to 
follow the Geneva Conventions - were turned on their head 
and sanctioned by senior leaders for their use offensively 
against detainees." 

The Senate committee's investigation began in January 2007 
and involved Republican and Democratic staff members. The 
final report is expected by the end of the year. 

Haynes and other senior administration officials also 
visited Guantanamo Bay in September 2002 to "talk about 
techniques," said one congressional official. Also on 
the trip was David S. Addington, chief of staff to Vice 
President Cheney. 

The Guantanamo Bay visit and the effort to compile 
interrogation tactics appear to show that Pentagon 
officials were moving toward a formal policy on 
interrogation before military commanders at the detention 
camp requested special measures, the officials said. 
However, top military officers objected to the proposals 
in a series of memos in November 2002, much earlier than 
previously reported, congressional investigators said. 
In early 2003, Rumsfeld formally authorized the techniques 
for use at Guantanamo Bay. 

Attempts to reach Haynes and Rumsfeld were unsuccessful. 
A Pentagon official declined to comment on the Senate 
panel's conclusions, but defended the interrogation 
program as effective and humane. Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, 
a spokesman, said the program yielded insights into 
al-Qaeda's organizational structure, training and 
strategy. "The United States operates safe, humane and 
professional detention facilities for enemy combatants," 
he said. "Our policy is, and always has been, to treat 
detainees humanely." 

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Gordon also noted that, in 13 major reviews of detention 
operations, Pentagon investigators have "not found any 
policy that ever condoned or tolerated abuse of detainees."

The Senate committee's findings echo earlier claims by 
many congressional Democrats, human rights groups and 
other administration critics who have maintained that 
responsibility for the controversial interrogation 
practices lies at the highest levels of the administration.

"It is increasingly clear that the decision to abandon the 
rule of law and order torture and abuse was made at the 
very top," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the 
American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative 
office. "We look forward to the full investigative report 
from the Armed Services Committee and call on Congress to 
hold accountable any and all public officials involved in 
ordering illegal torture." 

A group of 56 Congressional Democrats last week asked 
the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to 
investigate whether any Bush administration officials 
may have broken laws in approving the use of harsh 
interrogation techniques for suspected terrorists.

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Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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