By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
American soldiers, contractors and civilians who worked in the Abu Ghraib prison and at other U.S. military detention facilities have begun receiving detailed questionnaires from Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, about the use of severe interrogation tactics and the military chain of command's role in their implementation.
The move to conduct the surveys, signed by Levin, came after Democrats failed to persuade Congress to conduct its own investigation of detainee abuse in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Democrats and some Republicans on the Senate panel have expressed concerns about whether high-level officers have been held adequately accountable for abusive interrogation approaches.
Levin has directed the committee's minority staff to ask questions of hundreds of people who worked in detention facilities to assess where the tactics originated and how they were applied -- an approach the full committee has not endorsed.
The first wave of letters was sent in recent weeks to about 50 military intelligence and military police soldiers who were affiliated with Abu Ghraib in Iraq, including some who were implicated in the abuse, according to congressional staff members familiar with the investigation. Separate questionnaires are being developed for people who worked at detention facilities at Bagram, Afghanistan; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and locations in Iraq, including at Qaim, where an Iraqi general was killed during an interrogation in November 2003.
"Consistent with the Senate Armed Services Committee's ongoing oversight responsibilities, an examination is being conducted into U.S. policies, practices and activities relating to the detention and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody," the first letter reads. The investigation will look at detainees' "alleged mistreatment by U.S. personnel, the factors that may have contributed to such mistreatment, and the accountability of officials for policies, actions, or failures to act, which may have contributed to detainee abuse."
The letter poses 19 questions, including who authorized tactics such as isolation, nudity, sleep manipulation, the use of dogs, stress positions and placing detainees in female underwear. It also requests descriptions of how Army Special Forces soldiers, contractors and "other government agencies" -- usually a euphemism for the CIA -- may have ordered or directed mistreatment.
Pentagon officials said they consider such an investigation unwarranted because there have been more than a dozen inquiries into detainee abuse and several subsequent criminal prosecutions and administrative punishments for soldiers who broke the rules.
"I would hope that nobody is suggesting that they don't have the trust and confidence in our senior military officers who have conducted these investigations and of our commanders who are charged with carrying out their responsibilities under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. "It would be a terrible disservice if there was a survey that neglected the thousands of dedicated service members who clearly understood their responsibilities and carried out detention and interrogation operations in a professional and humane manner."
Levin had hinted at the survey effort last month in two Senate hearings. On Feb. 15, he said he had "initiated a fact-finding effort to fill in some gaps in the investigations into detainee abuses and to examine issues of accountability for policies, practices and activities that may have contributed to such a mistreatment." He complained that a lack of accountability above the level of enlisted soldiers was "stunning" and "unacceptable" in a hearing the week before.
Levin and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, intend to call Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, former commander at Guantanamo Bay, and Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the top military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, to testify about their roles in using the severe tactics, according to John Ullyot, a spokesman for Warner.
Last week, in a court-martial that convicted a dog handler of using his dog to frighten detainees at Abu Ghraib, Pappas testified that he approved the use of dogs during an interrogation of a high-value detainee in late 2003. He said he learned about the tactic from an advisory group that Miller had brought to Iraq. Miller invoked his right not to testify at the court-martial.
"The examination's goal is to get information back that could be used to extend further inquiries to higher-up people," said a member of Levin's staff who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
Gary Myers, an attorney for former staff sergeant Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, a military police soldier sentenced to more than eight years in prison for abuse at Abu Ghraib, said his client received one of Levin's questionnaires.
"I not only welcome this, I have been encouraging an independent inquiry since April 2004," Myers said. "It's about time."
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.