By Peter Finn and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as "torture" in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon's chief lawyer and warned that it would produce "unreliable information."
"The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel," says the document, an unsigned two-page attachment to a memo by the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. Parts of the attachment, obtained in full by The Washington Post, were quoted in a Senate report on harsh interrogation released this week.
It remains unclear whether the attachment reached high-ranking officials in the Bush administration. But the document offers the clearest evidence that has come to light so far that technical advisers on the harsh interrogation methods voiced early concerns about the effectiveness of applying severe physical or psychological pressure.
The document was included among July 2002 memorandums that described severe techniques used against Americans in past conflicts and the psychological effects of such treatment. JPRA ran the military program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which trains pilots and others to resist hostile questioning.
The cautionary attachment was forwarded to the Pentagon's Office of the General Counsel as the administration finalized the legal underpinnings of a CIA interrogation program that would sanction the use of 10 forms of coercion, including waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning. The JPRA material was sent from the Pentagon to the CIA's acting general counsel, John A. Rizzo, and on to the Justice Department, according to testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A memo dated Aug. 1, 2002, from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel authorized the use of the 10 methods against Abu Zubaida, the nom de guerre of an al-Qaeda associate captured in Pakistan in March 2002. Former intelligence officials have recently contended that Abu Zubaida provided little useful information about the organization's plans.
Senate investigators were unable to determine whether William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon's general counsel in 2002, passed the cautionary memo to Rizzo or to other Bush administration officials reviewing the CIA's proposed program.
Haynes declined to comment, as did Rizzo and the CIA. Jay S. Bybee, who as an assistant attorney general signed the Aug. 1 memo, did not respond to a request for comment.
Daniel Baumgartner, who was the JPRA's chief of staff in 2002 and transmitted the memos and attachments, said the agency "sent a lot of cautionary notes" regarding harsh techniques. "There is a difference between what we do in training and what the administration wanted the information for," he said a telephone interview yesterday. "What the administration decided to do or not to do was up to the guys dealing with offensive prisoner operations. . . . We train our own people for the worst possible outcome . . . and obviously the United States government does not torture its own people."
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he thinks the attachment was deliberately ignored and perhaps suppressed. Excerpts from the document appeared in a report on the treatment of detainees released this month by Levin's committee. The report says the attachment echoes JPRA warnings issued in late 2001.
"It's part of a pattern of squelching dissent," said Levin, who added that there were other instances in which internal reviews of detainee treatment were halted or undercut. "They didn't want to hear the downside."
A former administration official said the National Security Council, which was briefed repeatedly that summer on the CIA's planned interrogation program by George J. Tenet, then director of central intelligence, and agency lawyers, did not discuss the issues raised in the attachment. Tenet, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
"That information was not brought to the attention of the principals," said the official, who was involved in deliberations on interrogation policy and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "That would have been relevant. The CIA did not present with pros and cons, or points of concern. They said this was safe and effective, and there was no alternative."
The Aug. 1 memo on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida draws from the JPRA's memo on psychological effects to conclude that while waterboarding constituted "a threat of imminent death," it did not cause "prolonged mental harm." Therefore, the Aug. 1 memo concluded, waterboarding "would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute."
But the JPRA's two-page attachment, titled "Operational Issues Pertaining to the Use of Physical/Psychological Coercion in Interrogation," questioned the effectiveness of employing extreme duress to gain intelligence.
"The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible -- in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life -- has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture," the document said. "In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time-consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate information. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption."
There was no consideration within the National Security Council that the planned techniques stemmed from Chinese communist practices and had been deemed torture when employed against American personnel, the former administration official said. The U.S. military prosecuted its own troops for using waterboarding in the Philippines and tried Japanese officers on war crimes charges for its use against Americans and other allied nationals during World War II.
The reasoning in the JPRA document contrasted sharply with arguments being pressed at the time by current and former military psychologists in the SERE program, including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who later formed a company that became a CIA contractor advising on interrogations. Both men declined to comment on their role in formulating interrogation policy.
The JPRA attachment said the key deficiency of physical or psychological duress is the reliability and accuracy of the information gained. "A subject in pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop," it said.
In conclusion, the document said, "the application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably the potential to result in unreliable information." The word "extreme" is underlined.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.