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Retired Officers Meet With Obama Aides on Interrogation Policy

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008

A group of retired military officers opposed to harsh interrogation techniques sanctioned by the Bush administration met with members of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team yesterday to press the incoming administration to establish a single, internationally accepted standard for the treatment of detainees by all U.S. government agencies.

At the request of the Obama team, the officers declined to say whom they met with or detail the contents of the meeting. But they said their agenda has long been clear. The group of retired generals and admirals are opposed to interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, that they describe as torture and that have been employed by the CIA during the questioning of al-Qaeda suspects. President Bush vetoed legislation that would have forced the CIA and other agencies to conform to interrogation methods laid out in military guidelines.

"Fundamentally, those kinds of techniques are ineffective," said John D. Hutson, a retired Navy rear admiral and former judge advocate general. "If the goal is to gain actionable intelligence, and it is, and if that's important, and it is, then we have to use the techniques that are most effective. Torture is the technique of choice of the lazy, stupid and pseudo-tough."

Hutson said the new administration should stick to what he called the "golden rule": "What would we want the enemy to inflict on us or not inflict on us?" Any deviation from norms such as the Geneva Conventions, he said, undermines the ability of the United States to insist on the proper treatment of any captured American soldiers and damages the standing of the United States around the world.

The group of nearly 50 retired officers was brought together three years ago by Human Rights First, a New York-based advocacy group, partly to oppose arguments by the Bush administration that the United States was adhering to a ban on the cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners. Fourteen retired officers met with the transition team yesterday.

Obama has said that he will outlaw torture, and Joseph Hoar, a retired Marine Corps general and former commander of the U.S. Central Command, said that the meeting with "key members" of the transition team was "productive."

The officers also want closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and an end to the practice of extraordinary rendition, the extralegal transfer of terrorism suspects to third countries where they could be tortured.

"They are very much in listening mode," Elisa Massimino, the executive director of Human Rights First, said of the Obama transition team. "It's significant they wanted to hear from this group on these issues."

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