U.S. practices at Abu Ghraib barred in '80s

Interrogators now taught psychological methods

May 11, 2004|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The abuse of prisoners in Iraq shows a pattern of harsh, coercive U.S. interrogation practices that were supposed to have ended with the Cold War.

From the 1960s into the 1980s, the United States trained its interrogators - or taught its Cold War allies - to exploit dread, nakedness, solitary confinement, sensory deprivation and other coercive measures to break a prisoner's will.

None of these practices is now officially sanctioned by the Army, and training at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., gives prominent attention to the practices allowed or forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.

But the investigation of conditions at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, reports by human rights groups, and accounts by soldiers and prisoners reveal striking similarities to the discredited practices of past decades.

Pictures and published accounts from soldiers and prisoners show naked detainees in vulnerable or humiliating sexual postures, being kept hooded and threatened with electrocution or attack by dogs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that it repeatedly warned U.S. officials about degrading and inhumane treatment used against detainees that in some cases was "tantamount to torture."

Amnesty International says that as early as July, it informed U.S. officials about allegations of ill-treatment by the military that included beatings, electric shock, sleep deprivation, hooding, and prolonged forced standing and kneeling.

Not limited to Iraq

Such treatment was not limited to Iraq, Amnesty International said in a statement last week. The group reported that numerous people held at the U.S. bases in Bagram and Kandahar, Afghanistan, say they were subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Forms of torture were taught by the Central Intelligence Agency to U.S. allies as late as the 1980s, according to documents obtained by The Sun in 1997 under the Freedom of Information Act.

The CIA's Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual - 1983, which intelligence sources said at the time was an updated version of the Vietnam-era KUBARK manual, taught such methods as stripping suspects naked, keeping them blindfolded, in solitary confinement and depriving them of sensory input.

"The more complete the deprivation, the more rapidly and deeply the subject is affected," the 1983 manual stated. Some of the techniques resembled closely the methods used by a U.S.-trained military unit in Honduras, Battalion 316.

Between 1984 and 1985, after congressional committees began questioning training techniques being used by the CIA in Latin America, the manual was substantially revised, with warnings that certain interrogation methods were forbidden.

The early KUBARK manual mentioned electric shock, noting that approval from headquarters is required if the interrogation is to include bodily harm or "if medical, chemical or electrical methods or materials are to be used to induce acquiescence."

For years, U.S. interrogation experts have cast doubt on the effectiveness of torture as an aid to gaining information, aside from its illegality. They say tortured prisoners are likely to say anything to end their suffering, and are thus unreliable.

Despite widespread condemnation of the practice, the State Department reported last year allegations that some nations allied with the United States in the war on terror, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, still practice torture.

Current training of U.S. interrogators instead employs a variety of sophisticated psychological methods to break down a prisoner's resistance.

Properly used, interrogation can produce information that can save American lives without resorting to illegal techniques, says Kerry Hamm, an Army interrogator from 1987 to 1998.

"There are things that are permissible that are not pleasant or comfortable," he said. "Even hard-core guys who are trained to resist can fold or break when everything is used properly."

He attributed the abuses in Iraq to "a lack of experience and a lack of accountability."


The training currently used says that the Geneva Conventions, as well as U.S. policy, "expressly prohibit acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to inhumane treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation."

It lays out a series of measures designed to achieve the same result without such cruelty, starting with the preparation that occurs before questioning of a prisoner. Instead of physical force, the methods outlined play on emotions, ego, strain and even boredom.

"Every source has a breaking point," the manual states. "The number of approaches used is limited only by the interrogator's skill. Almost any ruse or deception is usable as long as [the Geneva Conventions] are not violated."

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