WASHINGTON - The Army is putting the finishing touches on a new interrogation manual that will specifically prohibit the harsh practices that have come to light since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, officials said. It will also highlight international treaties on humane treatment of detainees and require more oversight by commanders.
The new training manual, expected to be finished in the next two months, will specifically prohibit methods including sleep deprivation, confinement to a darkened cell, stripping prisoners and the use of police dogs, said Thomas A. Gandy, director of counterintelligence and human intelligence for the Army.
Those tactics were approved by senior Pentagon officials and top military officers, though some were later rescinded after complaints by military lawyers. And while the methods were not included in the 13-year-old Army interrogation manual, neither were they ever specifically prohibited, leaving interrogators a great deal of leeway.
"The techniques are roughly the same" in the new manual as in the old one, Gandy said in an interview at his Pentagon office. "What's changed is you've got a very, very controlled environment for interrogations. We never told people `no dogs,' but it didn't specifically say, `No.'"
The various investigations into the prisoner-abuse scandal clearly showed that some military interrogators were uncertain what constituted improper behavior. Some soldiers said they didn't see abuse, said Gandy, a burly West Point graduate with the blunt demeanor of a TV cop. "But we said, `What about the naked guys?'"
Gandy said that while the new Army training procedures have not been released, military intelligence soldiers are being trained on its principles, which he said follow the Geneva Conventions.
Gandy said that includes no physical or mental torture, or any form of coercion, slapping, humiliation, striking or threatening.
The point of interrogation is to develop a rapport with the detainee and glean "actionable intelligence" - fresh information that can ideally prevent a bombing or reveal the whereabouts of a top insurgent or terrorist financier. "It's always been a mind game, not a physical game," said Gandy.
Acceptable tactics will be carefully laid out in a classified training circular that will go to interrogators and other intelligence officials in September. Gandy said that to avoid tipping off current and future detainees, the specifics will not be made public.
"The theory is keep them uncertain about their future," said Gandy, who served in a variety of military intelligence assignments from Germany to Central America.
Some tactics, such as demonstrations of force, will still be allowed with limits. For example, an interrogator can throw items - a chair or a book - against a wall to rattle a detainee and encourage him to talk. "But what I won't do is throw it by your head," Gandy explained. "One's a threat, one's a demonstration."
Some in Congress argue that there has been too much focus on stamping out aggressive interrogation tactics and not enough on picking up actionable intelligence. Sen. Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican, said at a hearing last week that one of the tactics rejected by officials involved mild noninjurious physical contact, such as grabbing and poking in the chest.
"If our guys want to poke somebody in the chest to get the name of a bomb maker so they can save the lives of Americans, I'm for it," he said. "Boy, at a certain point we have to introduce a note of proportion."
Alexandra Arriaga, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, said she welcomed the new Army effort. "The idea for tightening up the rules for what is and is not acceptable ... sounds like a very good plan," said Arriaga. But she questioned whether all U.S. government personnel, such as those working for the CIA, would accept the regulations. CIA employees also have been caught up in allegations of abuse.
The Army manual, however, will address the relationship between soldiers and people working for government agencies such as the CIA. The CIA, for example, will no longer be able to hide detainees off the books at military facilities or take custody of prisoners, said Gandy. The investigations into Abu Ghraib found the CIA kept up to 30 so-called "ghost detainees" from the Red Cross and other international organizations.
The Army manual also will spell out the relationship between interrogators and military police, a previously vague area that also led to abuses at Abu Ghraib. Members of the 372nd Military Police Company, the Maryland-based Army Reserve unit at the heart of the scandal, said they were encouraged by military intelligence officers to soften up Abu Ghraib detainees before an interrogation session.