The 263-page report released late Tuesday provides the most detailed evidence yet that military use of harsh interrogation methods on terrorism suspects was approved at high levels of the Bush administration, adding new fuel to the debate over the U.S. use of torture, according to the New York Times.
The report also ties tough interrogation policies to the abuses of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military authorities at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as well as to interrogations at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports.
The release of the report by the Senate Armed Services Committee comes less than a week after President Barack Obama released four previously secret Bush-era memos that outlined the legal justification for the use of harsh tactics by the CIA.
Armed Services Committee Chair Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the report shows that abuse of terror detainees and combat prisoners was systematic.
“Authorizations of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials resulted in abuse and conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody,” Levin said, according to the AP.
The report is said to reject claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others that Pentagon policies played no role in the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or other military facilities.
In December, a spokesman for Rumsfeld dismissed the report as “unfounded allegations against those who have served our nation,” according to the Times.
The report, which was the product of an 18-month inquiry, focuses only on military interrogations, not ones conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency at secret prisons overseas.
Army Reserve Col. Janis Karpinski, who had been demoted from brigadier general because of prisoner abuses at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq, said Wednesday the new report supports her contention that uniformed military people were made scapegoats for Bush administration policies.
“From the beginning, I’ve been saying these soldiers did not design these techniques on their own,” she said in an interview on CBS’s “The Early Show,” adding that she thought it had taken “far too long” for the information about the history of the interrogation policy to surface publicly.
Eleven U.S. soldiers were convicted and five officers, including Karpinski, have been disciplined in the Abu Ghraib scandal. The only soldier still imprisoned for Abu Ghraib is former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr., who received a 10-year sentence for assault, battery, conspiracy, maltreatment, indecent acts and dereliction of duty.
An Army lieutenant colonel who reviewed the interrogation program in 2002 warned that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” the report states, according to the Washington Post. Another official who was briefed on plans to use aggressive interrogation techniques asked that year: “Wouldn’t that be illegal?”
The report also offers new insight on how some techniques were adapted from the U.S. military’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape, or SERE, program, which trains U.S. troops to resist enemy interrogations.
The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency has been reported to have reverse-engineered some of these methods in an effort to break al-Qaida prisoners, according to the Post. The techniques, including waterboarding, were drawn from the methods used by Chinese Communists to coerce confessions from U.S. soldiers during the Korean War.
“We can provide the ability to exploit personnel based on how our enemies have done this type of thing over the last five decades,” Joseph Witsch wrote in a July 2002 memo.
As more details emerge about the U.S. use of harsh interrogations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, President Obama has opened the possibility of prosecution for Bush-era lawyers who authorized brutal interrogation of terror suspects and suggested Congress might order a full investigation.
President Obama said it would be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to determine whether “those who formulated those legal decisions” behind the interrogation methods should be prosecuted. He repeated his assertion that CIA operatives who did the interrogating should not be charged with crimes because they thought they were following the law.
“I think there are a host of very complicated issues involved here,” the president said. “As a general deal, I think that we should be looking forward and not backwards. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out national security operations.”