April 21, 2009
By blurring the lines between terrorism and combat--and by linking the 9/11 rationale to groups only tangentially connected to al-Qaeda--the Bush administration spread the policy of harsh interrogations far beyond terror suspects who worked directly for Osama bin Laden, newly released Justice Department memos reveal.
Most significantly, the Bush administration let the interrogation policy spill over into U.S.-occupied Iraq, where ambushes of American and allied troops were regarded as the legal and moral equivalent of terrorist attacks against civilians on U.S. soil, one of the memos, dated May 30, 2005, makes clear. That belief, in turn, appears to have set the stage for the Abu Ghaib prison abuse scandal.
The memo--written by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel--describes the criteria for identifying a "high value" detainee who would be a candidate for "enhanced interrogation techniques." While describing the supposedly restrictive nature of the criteria, Bradbury actually reveals how broad the category was.
Such a detainee is someone "who, until time of capture, we have reason to believe: (1) is a senior member of al-Qai'da or an al-Qai'da associated terrorist group (Jemaah Islamiyyah, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Zarqawi Group, etc.), (2) has knowledge of imminent terrorist threats against the USA, its military forces, its citizens and organizations, or its allies; or that has/had direct involvement in planning and preparing terrorist actions against the USA or its allies, or assisting the al-Qai'da leadership in planning and preparing such terrorist actions; and (3) if released, constitutes a clear and continuing threat to the USA or it allies," the memo states.
In other words, an Iraqi insurgent allegedly linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who led a particularly violent faction of the Iraqi war against U.S. occupation, could qualify for harsh interrogation if he might know about future attacks on American or allied troops inside Iraq.
Though terrorism is classically defined as acts of violence directed against civilians to achieve a political goal, the Bush administration broadened the concept to include attacks by Iraqis against U.S. or allied soldiers occupying Iraq. So, for instance, a suspected Iraqi insurgent who might know about the location of roadside bombs would fall under these criteria.
Since the Bush administration blamed Zarqawi for much of the violence against U.S. forces in Iraq, that would have opened the door for rough treatment of any number of captured Iraqis. Indeed, that is what some of the prison guards at Abu Ghraib claimed to have thought they were doing, softening up Iraqi detainees for questioning by U.S. intelligence interrogators.
The Justice Department memos also buttress the testimony of former Army Sgt. Sam Provance, who served as a military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib for four months starting in September 2003 and was the only one in such a position to blow the whistle on the cover-up that sought to focus blame for the scandal on low-level military police.
"While serving with my unit in Iraq," Provance said in a statement submitted to Congress, "I became aware of changes in the procedures in which I and my fellow soldiers were trained. These changes involved using procedures which we previously did not use, and had been trained not to use, and in involving military police (MP) personnel in 'preparation' of detainees who were to be interrogated.
"Some detainees were treated in an incorrect and immoral fashion as a result of these changes. After what had happened at Abu Ghraib became a matter of public knowledge, and there was a demand for action, young soldiers were scapegoated while superiors misrepresented what had happened and tried to misdirect attention away from what was really going on."
As a computer expert working the night shift, Provance came to know many of the interrogators, including a female who "told me detainees were routinely stripped naked in the cells and sometimes during interrogations (she said one man so shamed had actually made a loin cloth out of an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) bag, so they no longer allowed him to have the MRE bag with his food).
"She said they also starved them or allowed them to only have certain items of food at a time. She said they played loud music--'Barney I Love You' being the interrogators' favorite. She said they used dogs to terrify and torment the prisoners. She also said they deprived them of sleep for long periods of time."
Provance said these strategies were "all part of a carefully planned regimen that had been introduced after the arrival of the teams from The Guantanamo Bay prison facility where detainees from the "war on terror" had been concentrated.
Provance also recounted a conversation at the Camp Victory dining facility where one military intelligence guard "told an entire table full of laughing soldiers about how the MP's had shown him and other soldiers how to knock someone out and to strike a detainee without leaving marks. They had practiced these techniques on unsuspecting detainees, after watching, he had participated himself."