To extract information from suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved harsh interrogation techniques in late 2002 that were not in accordance with standard U.S. military doctrine, defense officials said yesterday.
The approval led to aggressive questioning of at least one prisoner thought to have information at the time about possible terrorist acts. Interrogators learned about a planned attack from him and about terrorist financing, one official said, without elaborating on the information or identifying the prisoner.
But in early January 2003, the harsher methods were halted, and Rumsfeld ordered a review of tactics that could be applied in questioning prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, the officials said.
The review was prompted in part by concerns raised by military lawyers about some of the procedures. Lawrence T. DiRita, Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, said the defense secretary wanted a more systematic approach to the interrogation process.
As a result of the review, which lasted three months and involved considerable argument among legal experts, intelligence officials and others, a set of interrogation guidelines emerged for the Guantanamo Bay prison that Rumsfeld approved in April 2003. Those procedures were less coercive than the ones that he had authorized the previous autumn, the officials said.
The Washington Post reported the existence of the April 2003 policy earlier this month. But yesterday's briefing for reporters at the Pentagon provided new details about how it evolved and disclosed Rumsfeld's role in approving it.
The revised measures were implemented by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, Guantanamo Bay's commander at the time. Miller provided them to U.S. commanders in Iraq last summer as a model for development of a separate -- and further reduced -- set of techniques for the questioning of detainees there.
In providing the timeline, Pentagon officials said it reflected their efforts, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, to reconstruct the origins of U.S. policy on interrogation of detainees in Iraq as well as other captives in the war on terrorism.
Officials declined to detail the list of approved measures, which remains classified. But sources familiar with the list have said it includes such techniques as disrupting the sleep patterns of detainees and exposing them to heat, cold, loud music, bright lights and other "sensory assault."
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal has highlighted confusion, at least in lower military ranks, about what types of interrogation techniques were permitted and under whose authority. It also has ignited open disagreement among generals over what the proper relationship should be between guards and interrogators at military detention centers. And it has raised questions about whether even some approved U.S. interrogation procedures are in compliance with international law on the treatment of detainees.
Many of the seeds of these controversies were planted with establishment of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in 2002 to hold captives from the Taliban militia and al Qaeda terrorist network. In early 2002, President Bush designated those captives "unlawful enemy combatants" and decided to treat them "consistent with" but not subject to the Geneva Conventions.
That opened the door to use of interrogation procedures harsher than U.S. soldiers had been trained to perform under standard doctrine.
"By the fall of 2002, some questions were being raised about what the limits should be on interrogation techniques," a military lawyer, one of three officials at the Pentagon briefing, said yesterday.
"You had intelligence officials that were tugging in a direction that might have been different from lawyers, and that's fair," added DiRita, the only official in the briefing who agreed to be named. "This is a process that involves, by definition, some tension."
During the review in early 2003, which was led by William J. Haynes, the Pentagon's general counsel, senior military legal officers objected to some interrogation techniques being considered by an interagency working group. The officers complained that the techniques did not fit with existing doctrine.
But the final policy approved by Rumsfeld "did not raise any legal objections," the military lawyer said.
"What the secretary ultimately authorized is far less than what some people in the organization would have liked," said a civilian defense attorney involved in the process.
Asked the extent to which U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay used the earlier authority from Rumsfeld in 2002 to conduct more aggressive interrogations, DiRita said that period was still being assessed under a recent directive from Rumsfeld to determine how current guidelines evolved.
"We're still learning about this," DiRita said. "But it appears that a range of techniques were authorized -- a very small number" and were used in "a very few cases."