Pentagon officials are developing an overarching doctrine for wartime prison operations that would detail a strict chain of command and clearer detention rules, seeking to eliminate the confusion that contributed to detainee abuse in Iraq, according to a draft of the policy that is working its way to the secretary of defense.
The draft, which is being prepared by the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognizes that commanders in Iraq did not plan for what became extensive detention operations and intelligence gathering, with tens of thousands of detainees landing in U.S. custody. It points out that because the personnel and material needed for the operation "were not prioritized," problems followed.
A U.S. military police soldier at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad talks to a detainee in his outside living quarters.
(Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)
The draft also would allow some detainees to be classified as "enemy combatants" rather than as prisoners of war, creating a designation not recognized in the Geneva Conventions.
Over the past year, defense officials have said they were dedicated to putting lessons learned from detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan into new policy, and the draft doctrine appears to focus on the problems that emerged at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad: lack of a clear command structure; murky rules for soldiers; a lax and sometimes ignored registration program for detainees; and soldiers who were unaware of, or unconcerned with, the Geneva Conventions protecting detainees.
The draft is one step in a revision of U.S. military detention operations. Separately, the Army is reworking its detention doctrine to deal with ambiguities. A defense official familiar with the proposed joint doctrine draft said it is a comprehensive effort -- ordered by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- that is meant to align all the services under a mandate of humane treatment.
"The challenges of today's security environment and the nature of the enemy requires clear operational and strategic guidance for detainee operations in a joint environment," the draft says.
Such guidance was missing after the invasion of Iraq. The new policy would seek to have commanders designate a chief of detainee operations who would be solely responsible for all aspects of U.S. detention facilities in a particular wartime theater. That person would report directly to the top U.S. commander in the field and coordinate such things as detention logistics and the investigation of allegations of mistreatment, and work with the International Committee of the Red Cross to resolve its concerns about detainee treatment.
The new policy would give each detention facility military police leadership to erase confusion. At Abu Ghraib, a military police commander's control was ultimately relinquished to a military intelligence commander; soldiers there said they did not know who was in charge, and some cited that as a reason they followed military intelligence suggestions to "soften up" detainees before interrogations.
The draft policy also would prohibit that practice, rebuffing the summer 2003 recommendation by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller that MP guards at Abu Ghraib be used to set the conditions for interrogations. According to the document, MPs may remain in interrogations if needed to guard a detainee, but "the only purpose for an MP . . . is for custody and control." At Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan, the MPs' roles sometimes shifted, so they were at times putting detainees in stress positions and putting them through intense physical training -- practices that criminal investigators learned sometimes crossed the line into abuse.
"MP shall not be involved in the interrogation process nor set the conditions for interrogations," according to the draft.
Human Rights Watch, an independent group that has been monitoring detainee abuse, sharply criticized the draft yesterday, saying the provision on enemy combatants gives military officials a way to circumvent international law. Should members of dozens of listed terrorist groups or "anyone affiliated with these organizations" come under U.S. control, the document says, they could be held as enemy combatants. They would still be "entitled to be treated humanely," the document says, "subject to military necessity."
The draft was posted on a Defense Department Web site, and Human Rights Watch distributed copies yesterday.
"Instead of correcting current violations of the Geneva Conventions, these guidelines would shred the conventions further," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a written statement. He sent a letter to Rumsfeld yesterday urging him to modify the document to avoid further mistreatment of detainees. "This policy could strip hundreds of thousands of people worldwide -- including civilians -- of their basic rights not to be arbitrarily detained," he said.
Human Rights Watch also said the draft could cause more "ghost detainees" to disappear within the military detention system, as some enemy combatants might not receive serial numbers if they are not considered official prisoners of war. The CIA housed such ghost detainees at prisons in Iraq, including several under an agreement with Army officials at Abu Ghraib. The draft, however, states that "all detainees arriving from any and all sources and agencies shall be inprocessed and receive [a serial number] immediately upon arrival."
Though the document initially was scheduled to arrive on Rumsfeld's desk by April 16, the final coordinating draft, dated March 23, was several months later than expected. It is not expected to be complete until later this year. A defense official familiar with the document's development said the draft probably will change before it is presented as policy, has not yet gone through a legal review and is waiting for combatant commanders' comments, as well.
The draft says all inhumane treatment of detainees is prohibited by international law and Defense Department policy.
"There is no military necessity exception to this humane treatment mandate," the draft says. "Accordingly, neither the stress of combat operations, the need for actionable information, nor the provocations by captured/detained personnel justify deviation from this obligation."