Washington, DC, -- The Navy's Criminal Investigative Service threatened to abandon the Guantanamo Bay jail interrogation operation because of the abuse of some detainees in late 2002 and helped force the Pentagon to undertake a review of the interrogation techniques approved by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to a classified Defense Department report.
The Navy's top lawyer warned the Pentagon's general counsel in December 2002 that some interrogation techniques used by intelligence personnel against prisoners held at the Cuban island jail were "unlawful and unworthy of the military services," according to the report, excerpts of which were read aloud by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday.
The account in the classified report prepared by Vice Adm. Albert Church differs from the Pentagon's explanation last year as to how the review of interrogation techniques came about.
According to a memo prepared by Navy General Counsel Alberto G. Mora for the Church investigation, the head of the Navy Criminal Investigation Service came to him in December 2002 with very serious concerns about the treatment of detainees. NCIS Director David Brant told Mora that one or more detainees were "being subjected to physical abuse and degrading treatment," Levin said, quoting from the Church report.
Brant warned that the concerns were so grave that the DOD Criminal Investigative Task Force of which NCIS is a member "decided to disassociate itself from that interrogation."
Brant also said if the "aggressive" techniques that were being used at GTMO continued, the NCIS might remove itself from the operation altogether.
Mora's memo for the Church investigation also said Mora had received a briefing in December 2002 from NCIS' chief psychologist Michael Gelles.
"Gelles concluded based on extracts of detainee interrogation logs that intelligence personnel at GTMO had started 'using abusive techniques and coercive psychological procedures,'" Levin said.
Gen. Bantz Craddock, the current commander of U.S. Southern Command who at the time served as Rumsfeld's senior military assistant, said at the hearing he had not yet read the Church report but the timeline comported with what he knew happened on detainee affairs.
In the autumn of 2002, U.S. military officials at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base who were holding alleged al-Qaida members asked for permission to use interrogation techniques whose harshness exceeded those allowed by standard military doctrine, said DOD officials last year after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal called into question operations at Guantanamo, or GTMO.
Officials at GTMO told the Office of the Secretary of Defense that at least three of the prisoners were proving resistant to standard methods allowed under the Geneva Conventions. They conducted a legal analysis of the techniques regarding international law, and presented a proposal of 20 new practices to Rumsfeld for his approval. They believed they had the latitude to change the techniques because the prisoners at GTMO were not deemed prisoners of war by the White House, and therefore were not protected by the Geneva Convention.
On advice of the DOD General Counsel William Haynes, Rumsfeld approved all but three of the new techniques, according to Pentagon documents and spokesman Larry DiRita at a meeting with reporters on May 20, 2004.
Memos leaked to the media and released under a Freedom of Information Act request detailed the request. It was broken into three categories. Category 1 included permission to yell at and deceive a detainee into thinking he is being interrogated by an official of another country with a reputation for harsh treatment of detainees.
Category 2 requested use of "stress positions" like standing for up to four hours and falsified documents and reports to deceive the detainee as well as solitary confinement for up to 30 days, with additional confinement possible if the commanding general approved it. It also requested sensory deprivation, hooding, removal of clothing, forced shaving and using detainee phobias like the fear of dogs to induce stress.
Category 3 requested permission to use scenarios that would convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent for him and his family, exposure to cold weather or water (with medical monitoring), and the use of a wet town and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation. It also requested permission to use "mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with a finger and light pushing."
On Dec. 2, Rumsfeld approved all of category 1 and 2, and only the mild-non-injurious contact request in category 3. Between Dec. 2 and January 15, many of those techniques were used.
"On Jan. 15, 2003, the secretary of defense rescinded the Dec. 2 guidance when he learned of concern about the implementation of the techniques," the Pentagon stated in June 2004.
Rumsfeld then initiated a complete review of detainee interrogation policy, creating a working group that spanned all affected branches of the Defense Department.
"The secretary's concern was this is a broader issue. People should have a much better feel and understanding and appreciation for what we're doing, and so let's get this working group to kind of reach into all of the various areas that have to have an opinion," DiRita said.
DiRita suggested the situation at Guantanamo was one where lawyers and intelligence practitioners were sparring over the issues on a case-by-case basis.
"You had intelligence officials that were tugging in a direction that might have been different from lawyers and that's fair. I mean, this is a process that involves, by definition, some tension," DiRita said.
He made no reference to the blanket condemnation expressed by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service and the Navy general counsel in the Church report, as read by Levin.
"This discussion in the Church report highlights the seriousness of the concerns raised by Navy General Counsel Mora, who found the aggressive interrogation techniques approved by Secretary Rumsfeld," Levin said in a statement to United Press International Wednesday. "The fact that this discussion, while unclassified, is included only in the classified section of the report hides the full story from the American public and presents a distorted picture of events. This is a flaw in the process established by DoD for getting information out to the American people."
A defense official told UPI Wednesday it is unlikely DiRita or most people working the interrogation issue in the office of the Secretary of Defense were even aware of the NCIS or Navy general counsel's objections until the Church report was released. They were only made known to the DOD general counsel in December or January, which convinced Haynes to advise Rumsfeld to rescind the interrogation policy while the working group was convened.
The NCIS was, apparently, mollified by the working group process and ultimate policy issued on April 16.
"They didn't leave. They've been there doing their thing," the defense official said.
The working group deliberations were not without conflict, and defense officials acknowledge that not everyone is satisfied with the outcome.
During the subsequent three-month long deliberation of the working group on detainee interrogation, the military service lawyers known as judge advocates general voiced objections to the White House decision that the prisoners captured in the Afghan war be exempt from Geneva Convention protections. They were overruled by the DOD general counsel.
The working group produced a list of 35 suggested interrogation techniques. Rumsfeld accepted 24 of them, 17 of which were already part of standard Army doctrine. Nearly all the category 2 and 3 techniques were dropped.
Rumsfeld accepted the addition of the "Mutt and Jeff" technique, which had been in the Army's field manual for interrogation in 1987. It is more commonly known as the good cop-bad cop technique.
In two cases, field manual techniques were made more restrictive in the new policy: the removal of incentives like extra food, and "pride and ego down" -- insulting a detainee -- cannot be used without prior notice to the defense secretary.
The five other techniques approved that are not included in the field manual are dietary and environmental adjustment, sleep deprivation, false flag (interrogators pretending to be from another country) and isolation.
"It's a bit of a tribute to the process that when there were concerns the department took a step back and gave the opportunity to hear those concerns," the defense official said.
The working group process "met not only legal requirements but (reached) a vast consensus. But not every person ever going to agree with what was eventually approved," the official said. "To this day I am sure there are people who disagree with the outcome."