Documents Helped Sow Abuse, Army Report Finds

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By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2004

Early last September, attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq were spiking and an Army general dispatched from a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, concluded in a classified study that the detention of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad "does not yet set conditions for successful interrogations."

Under pressure to extract more information from the prisoners -- to "go beyond" what Army interrogation rules allowed, as an Army general later put it -- the senior U.S. military commander in Iraq sent a secret cable to his boss at U.S. Central Command on Sept. 14, outlining more aggressive interrogation methods he planned to authorize immediately.

The cable signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez listed several dozen strategies for extracting information, drawn partly from what officials now say was an outdated and improperly permissive Army field manual. But it added one not previously approved for use in Iraq, under the heading of Presence of Military Working Dogs: "Exploit Arab fear of dogs while maintaining security during interrogations."

Sanchez's order calling on police dog handlers to help intimidate detainees into talking -- a practice later seen in searing photographs -- was one of a handful of documents written by senior officials that Army officials now say helped sow the seeds of prison abuse in Iraq. They did so, according to an Army report released Wednesday, by lending credence to the idea that aggressive interrogation methods were sanctioned by officers going up the chain of command.

But the issue of using dogs is also an example of how the U.S. military's ad hoc and informal decision-making in Iraq created confusion and allowed these harsh methods to infiltrate from Afghanistan to Guantanamo and finally to Iraq, despite Bush administration contentions that detainees in each theater of conflict were subject to different rules and that Iraqis would receive the most protections.

The text of the Sanchez cable was not included in public copies of the Army's report, but was obtained by The Washington Post from a government official upset by what Sanchez approved.

The authors of the Army report did not accuse Sanchez of directly instigating abuse, and they did not cite the contents of his memo in the unclassified version. But Army Gen. Paul J. Kern -- who oversaw the drafting of the report -- said in an interview last week that Sanchez "wrote a policy which was not clear," and that by doing so, he allowed junior officers to conclude mistakenly that they were following an official policy as they stepped over a legal line.

This interpretation of the role senior officials played -- that they committed sins of omission, rather than commission, by writing ambiguous instructions and then failing to police the errant ways of subordinates -- is likely to be challenged in court, according to lawyers for some of the soldiers on trial in connection with the prison abuse.

No one above the military grade of the top intelligence commander at Abu Ghraib was legally "culpable" for the abuse, the Army report concluded. But a separate report on the abuse released Wednesday by a panel appointed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld referred to Sanchez's memo on Sept. 14 as one of several documents that led "some soldiers or contractors who committed abuse" to believe "the techniques were condoned."

Other such documents cited by officials who participated in the two probes include a December 2002 memo signed by Rumsfeld that authorized harsh interrogation methods for prisoners at Guantanamo, and a controversial Feb. 7, 2002, memo signed by President Bush that declared that fighters detained in Afghanistan were not entitled as a matter of law to the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions.

The Rumsfeld memo included authorization for the use of dogs; the Bush memo was cited by legal advisers to Sanchez as the basis for their determination that some Iraqi detainees were not entitled to the full legal protections provided by the Geneva Conventions, according to the independent panel. This "confusion" between interrogation rules devised for use at Guantanamo and Afghanistan and the protections mandated by international law in Iraq contributed to some of the abuse, according to the Army report's executive summary.

Kern said: "We found not culpability" among senior officers such as Sanchez, but "clear responsibility" for not deterring junior officers and enlisted men from inappropriate behavior. "They didn't clarify for those young interrogators what their responsibilities were."


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