Harsh Interrogation for One

I saw this USA Today story this morning and then got sidetracked:

Report: Harsh interrogation OK’d for 1 inmate

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez approved the use of sleep deprivation, intimidation by guard dogs, excessive noise and inducing fear as interrogation methods against a single Iraqi inmate at Abu Ghraib prison, according to a description in the classified annex of a military report on prisoner abuse in Iraq.

A government official who has read most of the 6,000-page classified portion of a report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said the document describes a case in which Sanchez, the senior U.S. military commander in Iraq, approved specific techniques to induce an Iraqi prisoner to talk. The official described in detail the Taguba report’s account of the incident. Access to the classified portions of the report is limited.

The disclosure comes a week after Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the Army’s senior intelligence officer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was “not aware of any situation where Gen. Sanchez gave written approval or requested” any of the harsh interrogation methods.

The special interrogation techniques were authorized in guidance used by the U.S. Central Command, which is running the Iraq military operation.


The government official said the Taguba report states that Sanchez, in writing, approved sleep deprivation, the presence of military dogs, and the use of excessive noise in “environmental manipulation.”

The interrogation rules required Sanchez’s specific approval for use of those techniques. The prisoner was also subjected to less-stressful techniques that did not require the general’s approval and which could be used for all detainees. Those included something the Central Command list of interrogation techniques describes as “fear up harsh,” and silence from the interrogators.

This is interesting, in that it would seem to indicate a pretty tight command structure–or, at least that perception among those lower in the chain of command–with regard to prisoner treatment. Whatever one might think of the measures approved in this one case, they fall far short of the abuses we’ve seen photographed. If the perception existed that going even that far required three-star approval, something very odd indeed happened at the bottom of the chain.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jem says:

    Actually, since Lt. Gen Sanchez is the overall commander, it’s even tighter than your “two-star” comment implies. This means the guy responsible for all 135,000+ military personnel, for interface with the political side of the operation (Bremer, et al.), and other things, has to become personally involved.

  2. denise says:

    It could evidence a situation where restrictions were so burdensome that lower level personnel decided not to bother trying to comply.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Jem: Yep–I had Sanchez in my mind as the new guy who came in to clean up the prisons rather than as the overall boss.

    denise: Maybe. But permitting the exceptions is actually rather rare. Humane treatment for prisoners is the theoretical norm and is taught from Basic Training onward.