No Secret Rules on Torture

By Victor Hansen
Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's reported that the Army is forwarding a classified addendum to the new Army Field Manual on interrogation operations. According to these reports, the 10-page addendum provides dozens of examples of what procedures may and may not be used by interrogators, and it informs commanders on the circumstances for their employment.

This move amounts to an attempt by the Army to use the back door to establish secret interrogation techniques at the same time the new Field Manual on interrogation operations is coming out (later this month). It sends exactly the wrong message to the world and, more important, fosters the same kind of confusion and contradictory policies that have contributed to the abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

Every official investigation that looked into the causes for detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison noted that there was confusion at all levels and, most importantly, among the interrogators as to what were appropriate and legal methods of interrogation. This confusion was caused by the fact that many interrogators were inexperienced, that many came from different operational areas, and that numerous different and unauthorized versions of proper interrogation techniques were in circulation among the troops. Most significantly, the current Army Field Manual provides little guidance on what are appropriate and legal interrogation techniques under U.S. and international law.

The Army's move to draft a more specific Field Manual is an attempt to rectify these problems and provide clear guidance that commanders and soldiers at all levels can understand and readily implement. It has the added benefit of sending a message to our allies and enemies that in an open society, we value the rule of law and will not train soldiers to violate human rights. An unequivocal message is essential to begin to repair the enormous damage caused by the incidents of detainee abuse broadcast throughout the world.

An addendum to the Field Manual that details secret techniques and sets out secret rules for their employment undermines this entire effort. A secret list such as this contradicts our efforts to demonstrate that we are an open society governed by the rule of law and that the U.S. military respects human rights.

This secret document also creates the very confusion that commanders and soldiers faced at Abu Ghraib. The message to soldiers and commanders will be that there is one set of rules on interrogation techniques for public consumption and then there are the "real rules." This secret set of rules puts added pressure on commanders at all levels to use the most aggressive interrogation techniques possible.

At the time the abuse occurred at Abu Ghraib, there were official and unofficial secret documents circulating among soldiers at the prison giving varied and often contradictory guidance on interrogation techniques. In that difficult operational environment it was impossible for solders to sort through the confusion and contradictions.

If the reported secret addendum becomes part of the Army Field Manual, we can expect the same confusion in future operations. This is a time and an opportunity for the Army to set a clear, open policy on proper interrogation operations and to train commanders and soldiers at all levels to one standard on how to legally and humanely conduct interrogations. This is not a time to send a mixed message to our allies and enemies and sow seeds of confusion in the ranks.

In the extremely difficult and dangerous operational environment that exists in the global war on terrorism, the Army needs to be clear on this issue, and commanders and soldiers need to know that there is one set of legal rules governing their actions. If the Army establishes two sets of rules and keeps one secret, it will be setting up commanders and soldiers for failure.

The writer, an associate professor at New England School of Law, recently retired from the Army after 20 years as a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. He will take questions at 1 p.m. today at

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