Guantanamo: Torture or No Torture?
The Washington Post‘s Josh White and Neil Lewis of the New York Times covered yesterday’s hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the prison abuse scandals at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. They had rather different takes on what transpired–although not as different as their headline writers.
Interrogators at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, forced a stubborn detainee to wear women’s underwear on his head, confronted him with snarling military working dogs and attached a leash to his chains, according to a newly released military investigation that shows the tactics were employed there months before military police used them on detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The techniques, approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for use in interrogating Mohamed Qahtani — the alleged “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — were used at Guantanamo Bay in late 2002 as part of a special interrogation plan aimed at breaking down the silent detainee. Military investigators who briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday on the three-month probe, called the tactics “creative” and “aggressive” but said they did not cross the line into torture.
The report’s findings are the strongest indication yet that the abusive practices seen in photographs at Abu Ghraib were not the invention of a small group of thrill-seeking military police officers. The report shows that they were used on Qahtani several months before the United States invaded Iraq. The investigation also supports the idea that soldiers believed that placing hoods on detainees, forcing them to appear nude in front of women and sexually humiliating them were approved interrogation techniques for use on detainees.
A high-level military investigation into complaints by F.B.I. agents about the abuse of detainees at GuantÃƒ¡namo Bay, Cuba, concluded in a report released Wednesday that their treatment was sometimes degrading but did not qualify as inhumane or as torture.
The report was presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt of the Air Force, who conducted the investigation after e-mail messages between Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at GuantÃƒ¡namo and their superiors in Washington were disclosed in a lawsuit.
In the messages, the agents complained that they had seen abusive, possibly illegal behavior by military interrogators. They spoke of “torture techniques” and described detainees forced into uncomfortable positions for 18 to 24 hours at a time or left to soil themselves. General Schmidt told the committee that his investigation could not substantiate some of the F.B.I. accusations. His report said that some of the practices that evoked criticism among the F.B.I. agents were approved interrogation techniques, like stripping detainees, forcing one to wear women’s lingerie and wiping red ink on a detainee and telling him it was menstrual blood.
The unclassified version of the report, which was distributed publicly, provided the military’s first acknowledgement that it had used dogs to intimidate prisoners at GuantÃƒ¡namo on a few occasions, as was done later at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
While I disagree with Bob Owens‘ take on this–the report clearly acknowledges that many of the abuses we saw at Abu Ghraib were derivatives of approved interrogation techniques–it does seem to indicate that they were short of what could reasonably be called “torture.”
Update (0702): The Chicago Tribune adds more
Military report cites humiliation of U.S. prisoners
The Guantanamo detainee suspected of being the would-be “20th hijacker” for the Sept. 11 attacks was subjected to abusive treatment, including being forced to wear a bra and perform a series of “dog tricks” during interrogation, according to an official report made public during a Senate hearing Wednesday. [….] The report said Mohamed al-Qahtani–labeled by U.S. officials as the “20th hijacker”–was forced to stand naked before a woman interrogator for at least five minutes and was made to wear thong underwear on his head and a bra. Qahtani also was told by interrogators that “his mother and sister were whores,” according to the report, and he was led by a dog leash attached to his hand chains and made to do a “series of dog tricks” as part of the interrogation. Female interrogators also massaged Qahtani’s neck and back, and one ran her fingers through his hair and told him that resisting the questioning was futile.
Despite the harshness of these tactics, it is not clear that they violated any law. The Geneva Conventions prohibit sexually degrading tactics, but the Bush administration has said the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to the Guantanamo detainees, saying they are suspected terrorists rather than prisoners of war.
In addition, some military interrogators impersonated FBI agents and other officials, including one who posed as a naval aide to the White House. The practice, known as “false flag,” was stopped after FBI agents complained.
In one instance, a female interrogator put red ink on her arm and then smeared it on a detainee, telling him it was menstrual blood. As a result, the detainee “threw himself on the floor and started banging his head,” the report said. The interrogator, the investigation found, smeared the ink on herself to “get back at” the detainee after he spit on her.
The investigation also confirmed an FBI complaint that some prisoners were shackled to the ground in a fetal position for hours. The FBI complaint said that detainees had urinated and defecated on themselves while shackled.
Despite finding specific instances of harsh treatment of some detainees, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who led the investigation, told senators that “no torture occurred. Detention and interrogation operations across the board, and again, looking through all the evidence that we could, were safe, secure and humane.” Schmidt did say, however, that other questionable activities raised by the FBI were confirmed, particularly with regard to the treatment of Qahtani. The use of interrogation techniques authorized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Schmidt said, had a “cumulative effect” that had an “abusive and degrading impact on the detainee.”
While this treatment was quite likely legal, I would stop well short of calling it “humane.”
Moreover, these tactics are counterproductive, not only because of the propaganda value they provide to our enemies but because they violate the basic tenets of effective interrogation: “Know their language, know their culture, and treat the captured enemy as a human being.”