- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

A new Pentagon report — the most comprehensive one issued thus far on the subject of prisoner abuses at terrorist detention facilities — has concluded that no civilian or uniformed military leaders directed or encouraged abuse of detainees. Although the classified report, ordered by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and conducted by Navy Vice Adm. Albert T. Church, found problems with the dissemination of information on approved interrogation policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, it also found that interrogators usually followed U.S. standards for the humane treatment of detainees.

The Church review found “no evidence to support the notion that the office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security staff, Centcom or any other organization applied explicit pressure for intelligence or gave ‘back-channel’ permission to forces in the field to use more aggressive interrogation techniques” than authorized by the Army’s manual or by command interrogation policy.

The Church report is the latest in a succession of military investigations of the mistreatment of detainees that followed the revelations of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. And, judging from the limited portions of the report made public thus far, it appears to be the latest in a series of Pentagon investigations to find that the problems were not the result of official policy. The Washington Post, reporting about the earlier military probes, noted yesterday: “None of the internal military reviews has discovered a policy of abuse, nor have any found culpability by military officers or civilian defense officials.” Of course, that’s exactly what bothers Democrats like Sen. Carl Levin about Adm. Church and his investigation, in which he conducted 800 interviews involving 70 cases in which abuse was substantiated: No credible information has been produced linking Mr. Rumsfeld or his top aides to mistreatment of prisoners.

Instead, the secretary has tried to improve upon techniques that had clearly been failing. For example, former U.S. military interrogator Chris Mackey criticized “ineffective schoolhouse techniques” that were being used in an effort to get detainees to talk. Mr. Mackey said that his interrogation team in Afghanistan “failed to break prisoners who I have no doubt knew of terrorist plots or at least terrorist cells that one day may do us harm.”

As the Church report was being released, Pentagon officials told the New York Times that Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has approved new interrogation techniques. Although the specifics have yet to be made public, it seems to us that the guidelines themselves constitute a balancing act: On the one hand, it is essential that American soldiers or intelligence officers who are responsible for interrogating terrorist suspects have a list of which techniques are permissible and which are impermissible in order to prevent mistreatment of detainees. At the same time, it is no less important to guard against the problem that American interrogators faced at Kandahar and Guantanamo Bay at the beginning of the current war: that the techniques they were using were failing to produce very much useful intelligence because the terrorists knew that the Americans were severely limited in the ways they could question prisoners.

Writing in the Winter 2005 edition of City Journal, Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald shows how at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were easily able to fend off the techniques used by American interrogators. The same pattern continued when detainees reached Guantanamo. Miss Mac Donald demonstrates what happened after Mr. Rumsfeld permitted tougher interrogation techniques on an al Qaeda suspect named Mohamed al-Kahtani. Kahtani, who may have been the missing 20th hijacker, had flown to Orlando International Airport on August 4, 2001, but was turned away by an alert customs agent. He returned to Afghanistan, where he was captured in December 2001 while fighting for Osama bin Laden. After months of intense debate, Kahtani was subject to marathon interrogation under the supervision of military doctors. He cracked, yielding information on his meetings with Osama bin Laden and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and on Adnan El Shukrijima, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists.

A workable interrogation policy is one that eschews torture but does not cripple the ability of American interrogators to use every lawful method to pry information out of terror suspects.

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