Army report ties general to abuse at Iraqi prison

Sanchez said to approve severe interrogation and issue confusing guidelines

The Nation

August 27, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Classified parts of the report by three Army generals on the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison say Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former top commander in Iraq, approved the use in Iraq of some severe interrogation practices intended to be limited to captives held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Afghanistan.

Moreover, the report contends, by issuing and revising the rules for interrogations in Iraq three times in 30 days, Sanchez and his legal staff sowed such confusion that interrogators acted in ways that violated the Geneva Conventions, which they understood poorly anyway.

Military officials and others in the Bush administration have repeatedly said the Geneva Conventions applied to all prisoners in Iraq, even though members of al-Qaida and the Taliban held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo did not, in their estimation, fall under the conventions.

But classified passages of the Army report say the procedures approved by Sanchez on Sept. 14, 2003, and the revisions made when the Central Command found fault with the initial policy, exceeded the Geneva guidelines as well as standard Army doctrines.

Sanchez and his aides have previously described the series of orders he issued, although not in as much detail as the latest report, which was released Wednesday with a few classified sections omitted. They have described his order of Oct. 12 as rescinding his order of Sept. 14.

But the Army's latest review instead finds that the later order "confused doctrine and policy even further," a classified part of the report says. It says the memorandum, while not authorizing abuse, effectively opened the way at Abu Ghraib last fall for interrogation techniques that Pentagon investigators have characterized as abusive, in dozens of cases involving dozens of soldiers at the prison in Iraq.

The techniques approved by Sanchez exceeded those advocated in a standard Army field manual that provided the basic guidelines for interrogation procedures. But they were among those previously approved by the Pentagon for use in Afghanistan and Cuba, and were recommended to Sanchez and his staff in the summer of 2003 in memorandums sent by a team headed by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a commander at Guantanamo who had been sent to Iraq by senior Pentagon officials, and by a military intelligence unit that had served in Afghanistan and was taking charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib.

The report says the abusive techniques not sufficiently prohibited by Sanchez included isolation and the use of dogs in interrogation. It says military police and military intelligence soldiers who used those practices believed they had been authorized by senior commanders.

"At Abu Ghraib, isolation conditions sometimes included being kept naked in very hot or very cold, small rooms, and/or completely darkened rooms, clearly in violation of the Geneva Conventions," a classified part of the report said.

The passages involving Sanchez's orders were among several deleted from the version of the report by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay that was made public by the Pentagon on Wednesday. Classified parts of the 171-page report were provided to the New York Times by a senior Defense Department official who said fuller disclosure of the findings would help public understanding of the causes of the prisoner abuse scandal.

Army officials said yesterday that some sections of the report had been marked secret because they referred to policy memorandums that were still classified. But the report's discussion of the September and October orders, while critical of Sanchez and his staff, do not disclose many new details of the orders and do not appear to contain sensitive material about interrogations or other intelligence-gathering methods.

They do show in much clearer detail than ever before how interrogation practices from Afghanistan and Guantanamo were brought to Abu Ghraib, and how poorly the nuances of what was acceptable in Iraq were understood by military intelligence officials in Iraq.

The classified sections of the Fay report reinforce criticisms made in another report, by the independent panel headed by James R. Schlesinger, the former defense secretary. That panel argued that Sanchez's actions effectively amounted to an unauthorized suspension of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq by categorizing prisoners there as unlawful combatants.

The Schlesinger panel described that reasoning as "understandable," but said Sanchez and his staff should have recognized that they were "lacking specific authorization to operate beyond the confines of the Geneva Convention."

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