DOJ Official: Rumsfeld Personally Approved of Brutal Interrogations
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally authorized the use of brutal interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay despite warnings from the FBI that the methods amounted to inhumane treatment, was possibly illegal, and would not produce reliable intelligence, a Department of Justice inspector general testified Tuesday.
“The FBI believed that these techniques were not getting actionable information, that they were unsophisticated and unproductive,” said Glenn Fine, the DOJ’s inspector general, in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “They raised their concerns with the Department of Defense, but the Department of Defense, from what we were told, dismissed those concerns and that no changes were made in the Department of Defense’s strategy.”
Rumsfeld, who resigned immediately after the 2006-midterm elections, has vehemently denied that he approved of torture. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel provided the Defense Department with legal guidelines that authorized techniques such as waterboarding, the use of military dogs, and “slaps” and concluded that as long as “organ failure” did not occur the methods could not be construed as torture.
Fine issued a 437-page report last month on the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, which found that White House officials ignored FBI concerns about the treatment of detainees.
His testimony comes on the heels of a letter signed by 56 House Democrats that was sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week Friday requesting that he appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether White House officials, including President Bush, violated the War Crimes Act when they allowed interrogators to use brutal interrogation methods against detainees suspected of ties to terrorist organizations.
“The Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law,” the letter to Mukasey says. “We believe that these serious and significant revelations warrant an immediate investigation to determine whether actions taken by the President, his Cabinet, and other Administration officials are in violation of the War Crimes Act, the Anti-Torture Act, and other U.S. and international laws.”
In October 2002, Fine said, FBI agents raised concerns with Marion Bowman, the Justice Department’s deputy general counsel in charge of national security, about the methods used during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay. An FBI agent stationed at Guantanamo then sent the agency an analysis on November 27, 2002 calling into question the legality of the interrogation techniques, stating that the methods used appeared to violate the U.S. Torture statute. Bowman then alerted Jim Haynes, the DOD’s general counsel.
The same day Bowman raised concerns with Haynes, Haynes advised Rumsfeld to approve of the “enhanced interrogation” methods, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), who chaired Tuesday’s committee hearing.
“According to Mr. Bowman, Haynes claimed he didn’t know anything about the coercive interrogation techniques that were occurring at Guantanamo, despite the fact that he recommended on November 27, 2002, that Secretary Rumsfeld formally approve the very techniques that were being used at Guantanamo,” Feinstein said.
Rumsfeld, Fine told the committee, ignored FBI agents’ warnings and on Dec. 2, 2002 signed an action memorandum approving the use of “enhanced techniques” against prisoners at Guantanamo, concluding that the tactics stopped short of torture.
“These weren’t a few bad apples on the night shift, as we’ve been told,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in response to Fine’s testimony.
On Nov. 23, 2002, four day before the FBI agent alerted the DOJ about interrogation tactics he witnessed, Rumsfeld verbally authorized interrogators to used harsh methods during their interrogation of Mohammed al-Qhatani, the so-called 20th hijacker, who was being held at Guantanamo. Al-Qahtani was sentenced to death earlier this year, but the Pentagon dropped war-crimes charges against him last month.
The harsh treatment of al-Qahtani was catalogued in an 84-page log of his interrogation that was leaked in 2006. The so-called “torture log” shows that beginning in November 2002 and continuing well into January 2003, al-Qahtani was subjected to sleep deprivation, interrogated in 20-hour stretches, poked with IV’s, and left to urinate on himself.
If al-Qahtani’s case had gone forward, the U.S. government would have been forced to reveal its own violations of the Geneva Convention, anti-torture statutes and the laws of war, according to lawyers representing al-Qahtani.
“All of the [incriminating] statements Mohammad al-Qahtani made or is alleged to have made were the result of torture or made under the threat of torture and that is in my view why the government decided to dismiss his case at this point,” said Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York.
CCR has been representing Mohammed al-Qahtani since 2005 and has led the legal battle for the human rights of detainees incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the last six years.
Army IG Report Fingers Rumsfeld
Dec. 20, 2005, Army Inspector General Report relating to the capture and interrogation of al-Qahtani included a sworn statement by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt. It said Secretary Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in the interrogation of al-Qahtani and spoke “weekly” with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander at Guantanamo, about the status of the interrogations between late 2002 and early 2003.
Gitanjali S. Gutierrez, an attorney with CCR, said in a sworn declaration that his client, imprisoned at Guantanamo, was subjected to months of torture based on verbal and written authorizations from Rumsfeld.
“At Guantánamo, Mr. al-Qahtani was subjected to a regime of aggressive interrogation techniques, known as the ‘First Special Interrogation Plan,’ that were authorized by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,” Gutierrez said.
“Those techniques were implemented under the supervision and guidance of Secretary Rumsfeld and the commander of Guantánamo, Major General Geoffrey Miller. These methods included, but were not limited to, 48 days of severe sleep deprivation and 20-hour interrogations, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress positions and prolonged sensory over-stimulation, and threats with military dogs.”
According to the Schlesinger report, orders signed by Bush and Rumsfeld in 2002 and 2003 authorizing brutal interrogations “became policy” at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.
Ironically, Rumsfeld, as well as other senior Bush administration officials, expressed outrage in the first week of the Iraq War when Iraqi TV interviewed several captured American soldiers saying such behavior violated the Geneva Conventions. At a March 25, 2003, press briefing about progress in the US.-led invasion, Secretary Rumsfeld said, “This war is an act of self defense, to be sure, but it is also an act of humanity. … In recent days, the world has witnessed further evidence of their [Iraqi] brutality and their disregard for the laws of war. Their treatment of coalition POWs is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.”
The record now shows that during the same week in March 2003 – when Rumsfeld was publicly berating Iraq for violating the Geneva Convention by broadcasting footage of American POW’s – he was engaged in drafting a top-secret plan that would give military interrogators at Guantanamo wide latitude to use harsher techniques to obtain information from prisoners.
Rumsfeld signed off on the plan on April 2, 2003, according to documents declassified and turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Though some of the more extreme techniques were dropped as the list was winnowed down to 24 from 35, the final set of interrogation methods Rumsfeld approved still included tactics for isolating and demeaning a detainee, known as “pride and ego down.”
“The most commonly reported technique used by non-FBI interrogators on detainees at Guantanamo was sleep deprivation or disruption,” Fine testified Tuesday. “Sleep adjustment” was explicitly approved for use by the military at Guantanamo under the policy approved by the Secretary of Defense in April 2003. Numerous FBI agents told the OIG that they witnessed the military’s use of a regimen known as the “frequent flyer program” to disrupt detainees’ sleep in an effort to lessen their resistance to questioning and to undermine cell block relationships among detainees.”
Additionally, Fine said, “Prolonged short-shackling, in which a detainee’s hands were shackled close to his feet to prevent him from standing or sitting comfortably, was another of the most frequently reported techniques observed by FBI agents at Guantanamo. This technique was sometimes used in conjunction with holding detainees in rooms where the temperature was very cold or very hot in order to break the detainees’ resolve.
Stress positions were prohibited at Guantanamo under DOD policy beginning in January 2003. However, these FBI agents’ observations confirm that prolonged shortshackling continued at Guantanamo for at least a year after the revised DOD policy took effect.
Such degrading tactics would appear to contravene the Geneva Convention, which bars abusive or demeaning treatment of captives.
Yet even after the programs governing interrogations were exposed, Rumsfeld made sure that a loophole in a new Defense Department policy issued in November 2005, which barred torture and called for the “humane” treatment of detainees, gave him and his deputy the authority to override it.
“Intelligence interrogations will be conducted in accordance with applicable law, this directive and implementing plans, policies, orders, directives, and doctrine developed by DoD components and approved by USD (I), unless otherwise authorized, in writing, by the secretary of defense or deputy secretary of defense,” the policy says. “USD (I)” refers to the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.