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General granted latitude at Abu Ghraib prison

The senior U.S. military officer in Iraq borrowed heavily from a list of high-pressure interrogation tactics used at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and approved tough tactics for prisons in Iraq.
In this undated still photo, an Iraqi detainee appears to be intimidated by a U.S. soldier using a trained dog inside the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad.
In this undated still photo, an Iraqi detainee appears to be intimidated by a U.S. soldier using a trained dog inside the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad.The Washington Post file
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, borrowed heavily from a list of high-pressure interrogation tactics used at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and approved letting senior officials at a Baghdad jail use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water on detainees whenever they wished, according to newly obtained documents.

The U.S. policy, details of which have not been previously disclosed, was approved in early September, shortly after an Army general sent from Washington completed his inspection of the Abu Ghraib jail and then returned to brief Pentagon officials on his ideas for using military police there to help implement the new high-pressure methods.

The documents obtained by The Washington Post spell out in greater detail than previously known the interrogation tactics Sanchez authorized, and make clear for the first time that, before last October, they could be imposed without first seeking the approval of anyone outside the prison. That gave officers at Abu Ghraib wide latitude in handling detainees.

Unnamed officials at the Florida headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, which has overall military responsibility for Iraq, objected to some of the 32 interrogation tactics approved by Sanchez in September, including the more severe methods that he had said could be used at any time in Abu Ghraib with the consent of the interrogation officer in charge.

As a result, Sanchez decided on Oct. 12 to remove several items on the list and to require that prison officials obtain his direct approval for the remaining high-pressure methods. Among the tactics apparently dropped were those that would take away prisoners' religious items; control their exposure to light; inflict "pride and ego down," which means attacking detainees' sense of pride or worth; and allow interrogators to pretend falsely to be from a country that deals severely with detainees, according to the documents.

Tough tactics
The high-pressure options that remained included taking someone to a less hospitable location for interrogation; manipulating his or her diet; imposing isolation for more than 30 days; using military dogs to provoke fear; and requiring someone to maintain a "stress position" for as long as 45 minutes. These were not dropped by Sanchez until a scandal erupted in May over photographs depicting abuse at the prison.

The Army has never said whether any of the particularly tough tactics that were authorized were used on detainees at Abu Ghraib or the other U.S.-run detention camps in Iraq before October, in the five-month period after the end of major combat operations in May 2003.

Officials have said that Sanchez approved the use of only one of the more severe techniques -- long-term isolation -- on 25 occasions after Oct. 12 and before the third set of rules was issued this May. The officials have described the abusive acts committed by Army personnel at Abu Ghraib before and during this time as aberrant activities conducted outside the rules.

One of the documents, an Oct. 9 memorandum on "Interrogation Rules of Engagement," which each military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib was asked to sign, sets out in detail the wide range of pressure tactics approved in September and available before the rules were changed on Oct. 12. They included methods that were close to some of the behavior criticized this March by the Army's own investigator, who said he found evidence of "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuse" at the prison.

The document states that the list of tactics in the memorandum is derived from a Sept. 10, 2003, "Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy" approved by Combined Joint Task Force-7, which Sanchez directs. While the document states that "at no time will detainees be treated inhumanely nor maliciously humiliated," it permits the use of yelling, loud music, a reduction of heat in winter and air conditioning in summer, and "stress positions" for as long as 45 minutes every four hours -- all without first gaining the permission of anyone more senior than the "interrogation officer in charge" at Abu Ghraib.

No mention of Geneva Convention
Although the September document calls attention to the strictures of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it neither quotes from that statute nor makes any reference to the Geneva Conventions' rules against cruelty and torture involving detainees.

Wendy Patten, a lawyer and U.S. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said two provisions in the Oct. 9 document are particularly troubling. First, she noted its reference to "dietary manipulation -- minimum bread and water, monitored by medics" as a technique permitted with the approval of the interrogation officer in charge. "This seems a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, which require daily food rations to have enough quantity, quality and variety to maintain good health, prevent weight loss and prevent nutritional deficiencies," Patten said.

She also expressed concern about the policy's blanket approval of "incentive item removal -- regarding religious items" as a tactic that may be used on civilian detainees, which she said appears to conflict with a Geneva Conventions requirement that detainees enjoy "complete latitude in the exercise of their religious duties."

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman did not defend these tactics. He said "there are a number of investigations that are looking not only into interrogation procedures and processes, but how they were implemented. The baseline standard for all interrogation as well as the security procedures for holding detainees has always been humane treatment."

The list of interrogation options in the document closely matches a menu of options developed for use on detainees held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay and approved in a series of memos signed by top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. In January 2002, for example, Rumsfeld approved the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners there; although officials have said dogs were never used at Guantanamo, they were used at Abu Ghraib.

Then, in April 2003, Rumsfeld approved the use in Guantanamo of at least five other high-pressure techniques also listed on the Oct. 9 Abu Ghraib memo, none of which was among the Army's standard interrogation methods. This overlap existed even though detainees in Iraq were covered, according to the administration's policy, by Geneva Convention protections that did not apply to the detainees in Cuba.

The documents obtained by The Post, which include memos from Abu Ghraib and statements made by prison officials for the Army's investigation, make clear that this overlap was no accident. No formalized rules for interrogation existed in Iraq before the policy imposed on Sept. 10, one day after Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller -- who was then in charge of the Guantanamo site -- departed from Iraq. He was accompanied on the Iraq visit by at least 11 senior aides from Guantanamo, including officials from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency.

No awareness of boundaries
While that list of options was subsequently truncated on Oct. 12, some military personnel at the jail told Army investigators that they lacked awareness or understanding of the changes.

For example, Spec. Luciana Spencer, a member of the 66th Military Intelligence Group who was removed from interrogations because she had ordered a detainee to walk naked to his cell after an interview, told investigators that the military police did not know their boundaries. "When I began working the night shift I discussed with the MPs what their SOP [standard operating procedure] was for detainee treatment," Spencer said in a statement. "They informed me they had no SOP. I informed them of my IROE [interrogation rules of engagement] and made clear to them what I was and wasn't allowed to do or see."

A civilian contractor, Adel Nakhla, an interpreter for military intelligence, told investigators he was briefed on interrogation rules only after being implicated in an abusive event.

Yelling at detainees, a technique approved in September that appears to have been dropped in October, was nonetheless used throughout the last quarter of 2003, Army investigators were told. "It's not common but it happens sometimes," Roman Krol, a military intelligence interrogator, told investigators on Jan. 31. "We asked them [military police] if they could come in and randomly yell at the detainee."

Moreover, when intelligence officers arranged for military police to help impose some of the more severe tactics, they often failed to specify how to do so, leaving wide latitude for potentially abusive behavior. Steven Anthony Stefanowicz, a civilian interrogator at Abu Ghraib, said, for example, that "the MPs are allowed to do what is necessary to keep the detainee awake in the allotted period of time. . . . I've referred to the MPs to give the detainee his special treatment . . . hence the MPs are not directed when and how this is to be administered."

Capt. Donald J. Reese, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company who assigned MPs to work in the isolation tiers, told investigators "it appeared that the MI [military intelligence] tactics were very aggressive and then appeared to taper in intensity as time went along."

But the atmosphere at Abu Ghraib was hardly one of strict adherence to the rules, other officials said. A photograph of the pyramid of naked Iraqi detainees -- one of the most notorious portraits of abuse -- was used as a screen saver on a computer in the isolation area where intelligence officers worked, according to Spencer's statement.

Some of the rules for U.S. military personnel at the prison made it easy for people to duck responsibility for their actions, a factor that may also have opened the door to abuse.

The acronym MI "will not be used in the area," according to an undated prison memo titled "Operational Guidelines," which covered the high-security cellblock. "Additionally, it is recommended that all military personnel in the segregation area reduce knowledge of their true identities to these specialized detainees. The use of sterilized uniforms is highly suggested and personnel should NOT address each other by true name and rank in the segregation area."