Pentagon orders humane treatment of all U.S. detainees

September 07, 2006|By David Wood | David Wood,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Under the glare of world condemnation for abuse of U.S. detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the Pentagon ordered for the first time yesterday that all of its prisoners in the war on terrorism be treated humanely under international law. It took the highly unusual step of publishing on the Army Web site a new military interrogation manual that prohibits such practices as hooding, using electric shock, depriving detainees of sleep or forcing them to stand naked or perform sexual acts.

The new directive incorporates the language of the 1949 Geneva Conventions outlawing "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment," as well as torture, threats or acts of violence and bodily injury or reprisals against detainees. Until now, unconventional forces such as al-Qaida have been considered by the Bush administration to be outside the protection of international law.

The new policy directs that any U.S. government agency wishing to interrogate detainees under Pentagon control must abide by the restrictions, an apparent effort to prevent CIA operatives from mistreating prisoners. Non-Defense Department interrogators, including contractors, will be required to work under strict military supervision.

Publication of the manual, which was completed more than a year ago, was held up because of disagreements within the Bush administration over how far it should go in extending the legal protections of the Geneva Conventions to "unlawful combatants" or nonstate terrorists.

"Suffice it to say that it was a robust discussion," said Cully Stimson, a senior Pentagon official responsible for detainee affairs. "It was important to get it right, and we did get it right."

Extraordinary steps

He declined to say what finally broke the logjam. But others said the view that prevailed was that the detainee abuse scandals badly hurt the U.S. image around the world and that the country had to take extraordinary and public steps in response.

The Army's senior intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. John F. Kimmons, said he was "very comfortable" having terrorists read the interrogation manual, which is intended to end the sort of torture and humiliation of detainees that took place at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and U.S. facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2003 and 2004.

The manual also details 19 methods of questioning prisoners, including the "false flag" technique to convince a detainee that the interrogator is not an American, and the "Mutt and Jeff," or "good cop-bad cop" routine familiar to devotees of TV police dramas.

Releasing the manual publicly was an issue "that we, frankly, wrestled with for several months," said Kimmons, adding that "the enemy regularly reads our field manuals as a matter of course." But he said it was important to detail all the techniques clearly and openly so that U.S. and coalition soldiers can be thoroughly trained in order to end the type of abuses that became routine at Abu Ghraib.

"No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices," he told reporters. "Any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable utility, and ... it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used."

Preventing abuse

The new manual, which defines approved and prohibited techniques for all detainees held by the Defense Department, states explicitly for the first time that "all captured or detained personnel, regardless of status, shall be treated humanely ... and no person in the custody or under the control of DOD, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment."

Some of the interrogation techniques now explicitly prohibited were used at Guantanamo under the approval of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2002, including the use of dogs to threaten detainees and forcing male prisoners to wear women's underwear, investigators reported last summer.

Military officials stressed that the manual was "not written for lawyers." It specifically prohibits:

Forcing a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.

Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; using duct tape over the eyes.

Applying beatings, electric shock, burns or other forms of physical pain.

"Waterboarding," or mock drowning.

Using military working dogs to threaten or frighten detainees.

Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.

Conducting mock executions.

Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water or medical care.

If these specifics do not apply, the manual advises an interrogator to ask himself this question: If the technique he wants to try on a detainee were used by the enemy against one of his own soldiers, would he consider it abuse?

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