11-16-2010By David Danzig
Law and Security
A regulation that human rights advocates have long sought to overturn may severely hamper the ability of U.S. interrogators to question terrorism suspects and individuals captured on the battlefield, more than a dozen former interrogators and intelligence officials told Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today.
“We are very concerned about a handful of changes that were written into the [Army Field Manual on Interrogation] in 2006,” the former interrogators wrote in a letter delivered to the Secretary today.
Signatories to the letter include Ali Soufan, a leading FBI interrogator who questioned high level Al Qaeda suspects such as Abu Zubaydah; Steve Kleinman, a leading author of the 2006 Defense Science Board Educing Information report which the Obama administration has used to help chart interrogation policy; and COL Stuart Herrington, an intelligence officer who ran high value detainee interrogation operations for the U.S. Army in Vietnam, Panama, and Iraq.
At issue is an appendix added to the manual in 2006. The appendix, known as Appendix M, “places unnecessary restrictions on an effective interrogation technique known as ‘separation,’” the former interrogators and intelligence officials wrote.
Since it was adopted, rights advocates have asked the Pentagon to eliminate the appendix. They point to guidelines in the appendix that could be construed as permitting U.S. interrogators to use sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation techniques on high value detainees.
Appendix M identifies a select interrogation technique to be used only against so-called “unlawful enemy combatants” for the first time since the initial version of the manual was written in 1956, and this technique is particularly vulnerable to abuse according to a torture in their letter, saying “Regardless of the form in which they are used, we do not believe the abusive techniques set forth in Appendix M will enhance the ability of United States interrogators to question detainees effectively.”
But they also argue that the appendix is hampering U.S. intelligence gathering efforts by restricting the use of separation. The letter quotes Col. Herrington:
In all the interrogation centers that I have worked in or run, we separated the “guests” from one another. Most welcomed this. A prisoner might cooperate if decently and cleverly treated, but only if we could provide a discreet environment where he could feel comfortable spending long hours talking with us. That meant each “guest” had to have a private room, and could not be exposed to any other detainee (encounters in the hallways, for example). This was Rule #1 in our centers. Iraqi general officers housed in our “guest center” did not want to be seen by other Iraqi officers and were grateful for the comfortable, compartmented environment that we provided.
The interrogators and intelligence officials continue, “Separation must not be confused with isolation. The former seeks only to protect a detainee from the negative influences of—or unnecessary exposure to—other detainees. The latter is commonly employed as a means of punishment and/or coercion in an ill-conceived effort to ‘break’ a detainee.”
Writing just two years after the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the authors of Appendix M included what they call, “more stringent than normal safeguards” in authorizing the use of separation.
Separation, which was lumped together with the authorization for the use of sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation tactics, became a “restricted technique,” requiring special authorization from the combat commander, a 4-star commanding general or admiral.
“Incorrectly linking the use of potentially abusive questioning tactics with the ‘separation’ approach has severely, and unnecessarily, restricted the use of this valuable technique,” the interrogators and intelligence officials write.
“If this had been in place when I was in Iraq, Panama or Vietnam, I would not have been able to do my job,” Col. Herrington told Human Rights First.
Eliminating Appendix M would not take an act of Congress. It can be reviewed and updated at any time according to Army Field Manual regulations. As the interrogators and intelligence officials make clear, it is time to eradicate an interrogation policy that not only opens the door to human rights violations but also makes us less safe.
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