The physical and mental abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay Naval Base was the direct result of Bush administration policies and should not be dismissed as the bad work of guards and interrogators, a Senate report concludes.
The Armed Services Committee report concludes that harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA and the U.S. military were directly adapted from the training techniques used to prepare special forces personnel to resist interrogation by enemies that torture and abuse prisoners. The techniques included forced nudity, painful stress positions, sleep deprivation, and until 2003, waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.
The report is the result of a nearly two-year investigation that directly links President George W. Bush's policies after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, legal memos on torture, and interrogation rule changes with the abuse photographed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq four years ago. Much of the report remains classified. Unclassified portions of the report were released by the committee Thursday.
Administration officials publicly blamed the abuses on low-level soldiers — an assertion the report called "both unconscionable and false."
"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," the panel concluded. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."
"The message from top officials was clear; it was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees," said Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Arizona Republican and former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain said the link between the survival training and U.S. interrogations of detainees was inexcusable.
"These policies are wrong and must never be repeated," the former GOP presidential candidate said in a statement.
Lawrence Di Rita, a senior aide to former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the time the Abu Ghraib and other abuses took place, disputed the report.
"This oddly timed report provides no evidence that contradicts more than a dozen other investigations that found that there was no systematic or widespread detainee mismanagement," Di Rita told The Associated Press. "A relatively small number of people abused detainees, and they were brought to justice in criminal or civil proceedings."
The report comes as the Bush administration continues to delay and in some cases bar members of Congress from gaining access to key legal documents and memos about the detainee program, including an August 2002 memo that evaluated whether specific interrogation techniques proposed to be used by the CIA would constitute torture.
That memo, written by Jay Bybee, then-chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, was guided in part by an assessment of the psychological effects of resistance survival training on U.S. military personnel. The CIA provided that document to his office, Bybee told the Senate Armed Services Committee in an October letter, obtained by the AP.