Pentagon Approved Tougher Interrogations

By Dana Priest and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 9, 2004

In April 2003, the Defense Department approved interrogation techniques for use at the Guantanamo Bay prison that permit reversing the normal sleep patterns of detainees and exposing them to heat, cold and "sensory assault," including loud music and bright lights, according to defense officials.

The classified list of about 20 techniques was approved at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the Justice Department, and represents the first publicly known documentation of an official policy permitting interrogators to use physically and psychologically stressful methods during questioning.

The use of any of these techniques requires the approval of senior Pentagon officials -- and in some cases, of the defense secretary. Interrogators must justify that the harshest treatment is "militarily necessary," according to the document, as cited by one official. Once approved, the harsher treatment must be accompanied by "appropriate medical monitoring."

"We wanted to find a legal way to jack up the pressure," said one lawyer who helped write the guidelines. "We wanted a little more freedom than in a U.S. prison, but not torture."

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "These procedures are tightly controlled, limited in duration and scope, used infrequently and approved on a case-by-case basis. These are people who are unlawful combatants, picked up on the battlefield and may contribute to our intelligence-gathering about events that killed 3,000 people."

Defense and intelligence officials said similar guidelines have been approved for use on "high-value detainees" in Iraq -- those suspected of terrorism or of having knowledge of insurgency operations. Separate CIA guidelines exist for agency-run detention centers.

It could not be learned whether similar guidelines were in effect at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, which has been the focus of controversy in recent days. But lawmakers have said they want to know whether the misconduct reported at Abu Ghraib -- which included sexual humiliation -- was an aberration or whether it reflected an aggressive policy taken to inhumane extremes.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. military and the CIA have detained thousands of foreign nationals at the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, as well as at facilities in Iraq and elsewhere, as part of an effort to crack down on suspected terrorists and to quell the insurgency in Iraq. The Pentagon guidelines for Guantanamo were designed to give interrogators the authority to prompt uncooperative detainees to provide information, though experts on interrogation say information submitted under such conditions is often unreliable.

The United States has stated publicly that it does not engage in torture or cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Defense officials said yesterday that the techniques on the list are consistent with international law and contain appropriate safeguards such as legal and medical monitoring. "The high-level approval is done with forethought by people in responsibility, and layers removed from the people actually doing these things, so you can have an objective approach," said one senior defense official familiar with the guidelines.

But Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said the tactics outlined in the U.S. document amount to cruel and inhumane treatment. "The courts have ruled most of these techniques illegal," he said. "If it's illegal here under the U.S. Constitution, it's illegal abroad. . . . This isn't even close."

According to two defense officials, prisoners could be made to disrobe for interrogation if they were are alone in their cells. But Col. David McWilliams, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, said stripping prisoners was not part of the permitted interrogation techniques. "We have no protocol that allows us to disrobe a detainee whatsoever," he said. Prisoners may be disrobed in order to clean them and administer medical treatment, he said.

Several officials interviewed for this article, including two lawyers who helped formulate the guidelines, declined to be identified because the subject matter is so sensitive.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2004 The Washington Post Company