I thought you might be interested in knowing that the Senate Armed Services Committee released its full declassified report on its investigation into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody earlier this week. The report, which was approved by the Committee on November 20, 2008, has been under review for declassification by the Department of Defense.
The Committee’s report represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse, which occurred at places such as Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), and in Afghanistan, to low ranking soldiers. Claims, such as the one made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a “few bad apples,” were simply false.
The truth is that, early on, it was senior civilian leaders who set the tone. On September 16, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that the United States turn to the “dark side” in our response to 9/11. Not long after that, after White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales called parts of the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” President Bush determined that provisions of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to certain detainees. Other senior officials followed the President and Vice President’s lead, authorizing policies that included harsh and abusive interrogation techniques.
The record established by the Committee’s investigation shows that senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques. Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. As the Committee report concluded, 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.
In a May 10, 2007, letter to his troops, General David Petraeus said that “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.” With last week’s release of the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions, it is now widely known that Bush administration officials distorted Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, a legitimate program used by the military to train our troops to resist abusive enemy interrogations, by authorizing abusive techniques from SERE for use in detainee interrogations. Those decisions conveyed the message that abusive treatment was appropriate for detainees in U.S. custody. They were also an affront to the values articulated by General Petraeus.
SERE training techniques were never intended to be used in the interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody. Some have asked why, if it is okay for our own U.S. personnel to be subjected to physical and psychological pressures in SERE school, what is wrong with using those SERE training techniques on detainees? The Committee’s investigation answered that question.
On October 2, 2002, Lieutenant Colonel Morgan Banks, the senior Army SERE psychologist warned against using SERE training techniques during interrogations in an email to personnel at GTMO, writing that:
[T]he use of physical pressures brings with it a large number of potential negative side effects… When individuals are gradually exposed to increasing levels of discomfort, it is more common for them to resist harder… If individuals are put under enough discomfort, i.e. pain, they will eventually do whatever it takes to stop the pain. This will increase the amount of information they tell the interrogator, but it does not mean the information is accurate. In fact, it usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain… Bottom line: the likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the delivery of accurate information from a detainee is very low. The likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the level of resistance in a detainee is very high…
Likewise, the Deputy Commander of DoD’s Criminal Investigative Task Force at GTMO told the Committee in 2006 that CITF “was troubled with the rationale that techniques used to harden resistance to interrogations would be the basis for the utilization of techniques to obtain information.”
Other newly declassified emails reveal additional warnings. In June 2004, after many SERE techniques had been authorized in interrogations, another SERE psychologist warned: “[W]e need to really stress the difference between what instructors do at SERE school (done to INCREASE RESISTANCE capability in students) versus what is taught at interrogator school (done to gather information). What is done by SERE instructors is by definition ineffective interrogator conduct… Simply stated, SERE school does not train you on how to interrogate, and things you ‘learn’ there by osmosis about interrogation are probably wrong if copied by interrogators.”
If we are to retain our status as a leader in the world, we must acknowledge and confront the abuse of detainees in our custody. The Committee’s report and investigation makes significant progress toward that goal. There is still the question, however, of whether high level officials who approved and authorized those policies should be held accountable. I have recommended to Attorney General Holder that he select a distinguished individual or individuals – either inside or outside the Justice Department, such as retired federal judges, to look at the volumes of evidence relating to treatment of detainees, including evidence in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, and to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to establish accountability of high-level officials, including lawyers.
My complete floor statement and a link to the full report can be found on my website at [http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/release.cfm?id=311783