A report released yesterday by the Senate Armed Services Committee said that top Bush Administration officials bore major responsibility for the abuses committed by American troops in interrogations at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and other military detention centers: “The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive (interrogation) techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
The report, which represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, rejects the contention by the Bush Administration that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe. The report also rejects previous claims that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the report says, “was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own” but grew out of interrogation policies approved by Mr. Rumsfeld and other top officials, who “conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees.” The portions made public today also include information about the use of Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) techniques–designed to simulate abusive tactics used by our enemies to elicit false confession–against detainees in U.S. custody.
The report, as Mark Benjamin at Salon.com writes, “is all about naming names, and the summary is stunningly frank in its conclusions, particularly in comparison to the passive language employed by most government investigations into abuse.”
Although most of the report remains classified, the release of the unclassified portions underscores the need for a complete and open investigation into U.S. government detention and interrogation practices since September 11, 2001, and for accountability for those who authorized or engaged in prisoner abuse. “The United States must openly confront its role in sanctioning cruel treatment so that the American public and Congress can learn from past mistakes and prevent future abuse,” said Deborah Colson, Interim Director of Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program.
HRF is also urging President-elect Obama to establish a nonpartisan commission to investigate the facts and circumstances relating to U.S. government detention and interrogation operations since September 11.
“The next president must restore America’s commitment to humane treatment and prevent future sanctioning of cruel treatment by directing the new attorney general to investigate potential criminal conduct related to detainee abuse,” said Colson. “Prosecution is a strong deterrent against abuse and would send a signal that no one is above the law,” added Colson.