Read the devastating bipartisan report from the Senate Armed Services Committee that indicts high-level Bush administration officials—including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—as bearing major responsibility for the torture at Abu Gharib, Guantanamo, and other detention facilities.
Read the report in pdf form.
SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY
“What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight … is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings.” —General David Petraeus, May 10, 2007
(U) The collection of timely and accurate intelligence is critical to the safety of U.S. personnel deployed abroad and to the security of the American people here at home. The methods by which we elicit intelligence information from detainees in our custody affect not only the reliability of that information, but our broader efforts to win hearts and minds and attract allies to our side.
(U) Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them. They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam. Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies. In fact, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” cited “pervasive anti U.S. sentiment among most Muslims” as an underlying factor fueling the spread of the global jihadist movement. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq—as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat—are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”
(U) The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority. This report is a product of the Committee’s inquiry into how those unfortunate results came about.
Presidential Order Opens the Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques (U)
(U) On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. While the President’s order stated that, as “a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,” the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.
(U) In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
(U) JPRA is the DoD agency that oversees military Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. During the resistance phase of SERE training, U.S. military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures (SERE techniques) designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.” The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy’s SERE school, it included waterboarding.
(U) Typically, those who play the part of interrogators in SERE school neither are trained interrogators nor are they qualified to be. These role players are not trained to obtain reliable intelligence information from detainees. Their job is to train our personnel to resist providing reliable information to our enemies. As the Deputy Commander for the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), JPRA’s higher headquarters, put it: “the expertise of JPRA lies in training personnel how to respond and resist interrogations—not in how to conduct interrogations.” Given JPRA’s role and expertise, the request from the DoD General Counsel’s office was unusual. In fact, the Committee is not aware of any similar request prior to December 2001. But while it may have been the first, that was not the last time that a senior government official contacted JPRA for advice on using SERE methods offensively. In fact, the call from the DoD General Counsel’s office marked just the beginning of JPRA’s support of U.S. government interrogation efforts.
Senior Officials Seek SERE Techniques and Discuss Detainee Interrogations (U)
(U) Beginning in the spring of 2002 and extending for the next two years, JPRA supported U.S. government efforts to interrogate detainees. During that same period, senior government officials solicited JPRA’s knowledge and its direct support for interrogations. While much of the information relating to JPRA’s offensive activities and the influence of SERE techniques on interrogation policies remains classified, unclassified information provides a window into the extent of those activities.
(U) JPRA’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baumgartner testified that in late 2001 or early 2002, JPRA conducted briefings of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) personnel on detainee resistance, techniques, and information on detainee exploitation.
(U) On April 16, 2002, Dr. Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, circulated a draft exploitation plan to JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton and other senior officials at the agency. The contents of that plan remain classified but Dr. Jessen’s initiative is indicative of the interest of JPRA’s senior leadership in expanding the agency’s role.
(U) One opportunity came in July 2002. That month, DoD Deputy General Counsel for intelligence Richard Shiffrin contacted JPRA seeking information on SERE physical pressures and interrogation techniques that had been used against Americans. Mr. Shiffrin called JPRA after discussions with William “Jim” Haynes II, the DoD General Counsel.
(U) In late July, JPRA provided the General Counsel’s office with several documents, including excerpts from SERE instructor lesson plans, a list of physical and psychological pressures used in SERE resistance training, and a memo from a SERE psychologist assessing the long-term psychological effects of SERE resistance training on students and the effects of waterboarding. The list of SERE techniques included such methods as sensory deprivation, sleep disruption, stress positions, waterboarding, and slapping. It also made reference to a section of the JPRA instructor manual that discusses “coercive pressures,” such as keeping the lights on at all times, and treating a person like an animal. JPRA’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baumgartner, who spoke with Mr. Shiffrin at the time, thought the General Counsel’s office was asking for the information on exploitation and physical pressures to use them in interrogations and he said that JFCOM gave approval to provide the agency the information. Mr. Shiffrin, the DoD Deputy General Counsel for Intelligence, confirmed that a purpose of the request was to “reverse engineer” the techniques. Mr. Haynes could not recall what he did with the information provided by JPRA.
(U) Memos from Lieutenant Colonel Baumgartner to the Office of Secretary of Defense General Counsel stated that JPRA would “continue to offer exploitation assistance to those government organizations charged with the mission of gleaning intelligence from enemy detainees.” Lieutenant Colonel Baumgartner testified that he provided another government agency the same information he sent to the DoD General Counsel’s office.
(U) Mr. Haynes was not the only senior official considering new interrogation techniques for use against detainees. Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials attended meetings in the White House where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was then the National Security Advisor, said that, “in the spring of 2002, CIA sought policy approval from the National Security Council (NSC) to begin an interrogation program for high-level al-Qaida terrorists.” Secretary Rice said that she asked Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet to brief NSC Principals on the program and asked the Attorney General John Ashcroft “personally to review and confirm the legal advice prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel.” She also said that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld participated in the NSC review of CIA’s program.
(U) Asked whether she attended meetings where SERE training was discussed, Secretary Rice stated that she recalled being told that U.S. military personnel were subjected in training to “certain physical and psychological interrogation techniques.” National Security Council (NSC) Legal Advisor, John Bellinger, said that he was present in meetings “at which SERE training was discussed.”