Torture's Bad Seeds

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, June 17, 2008; 12:03 PM

The Bush Administration has long maintained that the overtly cruel and abusive treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was the conduct of a few "bad apples."

But a Senate investigation is tracking the rot to its source. And its findings add to the mounting evidence that the sometimes systematic torture of detainees at American hands was the result of decisions made at the highest levels of government -- and particularly within the office of the vice president.

Warren P. Strobel writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "A senior Pentagon official in July 2002 sought the advice of military psychologists to help design aggressive detainee interrogation techniques that would later be linked with prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, a Senate investigation has found.

"The revelation, part of a probe by the Senate Armed Services Committee that is to be unveiled during hearings Tuesday, provides dramatic new evidence that the use of the aggressive techniques was planned at the top levels of the Bush administration and were not the work of out-of-control, lower-ranking troops."

Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, released new documentary evidence on the origins of the techniques at a hearing this morning.

In his opening statement, Levin asked: "[H]ow did it come about that American military personnel stripped detainees naked, put them in stress positions, used dogs to scare them, put leashes around their necks to humiliate them, hooded them, deprived them of sleep, and blasted music at them. Were these actions the result of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own? It would be a lot easier to accept if it were. But that's not the case. The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. In the process, they damaged our ability to collect intelligence that could save lives."

The investigation appears to refute a key aspect of the administration's story.

Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post that the investigation "has concluded that top Pentagon officials began assembling lists of harsh interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002 for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and that those officials later cited memos from field commanders to suggest that the proposals originated far down the chain of command, according to congressional sources briefed on the findings.

"The sources said that memos and other evidence obtained during the inquiry show that officials in the office of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld started to research the use of waterboarding, stress positions, sensory deprivation and other practices in July 2002, months before memos from commanders at the detention facility in Cuba requested permission to use those measures on suspected terrorists.

"The reported evidence . . . also shows that military lawyers raised strong concerns about the legality of the practices as early as November 2002, a month before Rumsfeld approved them. The findings contradict previous accounts by top Bush administration appointees, setting the stage for new clashes between the White House and Congress over the origins of interrogation methods that many lawmakers regard as torture and possibly illegal. . .

"The new evidence challenges previous statements by William J. 'Jim' Haynes II, who served as Defense Department general counsel under Rumsfeld and is among the witnesses scheduled to testify at today's hearing. . . .

"Haynes and other senior administration officials also visited Guantanamo Bay in September 2002 to 'talk about techniques,' said one congressional official. Also on the trip was David S. Addington, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney."

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