Friday, January 02, 2009

More on Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo

A report released Thursday by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said top Bush administration officials, including Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, bore major responsibility for the abuses committed by American troops in interrogations at Abu Ghraib in Iraq; Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and other military detention centers.

The report was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican. It represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, and it explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.

The report also rejected previous claims by Mr. Rumsfeld and others that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse.

The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the report says, “was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own” but grew out of interrogation policies approved by Mr. Rumsfeld and other top officials, who “conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees.”

By the time of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Mr. Rumsfeld had formally withdrawn approval for use of the harshest techniques, which he authorized in December 2002 and then ruled out a month later. But the report said that those methods, including the use of stress positions and forced nudity, continued to spread through the military detention system, and that their use “damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

The report documents how the military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, became a crucial source for interrogations as the Bush administration looked for tougher methods after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The SERE training was devised decades ago to give American military personnel a taste of the treatment they might face if taken prisoner by China, the Soviet Union or other cold war adversaries. “The techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody,” Mr. Levin said in a statement.

The committee’s report says little about the Central Intelligence Agency, except to note that that agency also drew on the SERE program for harsh methods it used in secret overseas jails for Qaeda suspects. The C.I.A. has said it used waterboarding, a method of near-drowning previously used in the Navy’s SERE program, on three captured terrorism suspects in 2002 and 2003.

Unlike the military, the C.I.A. is still permitted to use some coercive methods, though the precise rules are classified. The agency has said that it no longer uses waterboarding.