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Senate Panel's Report Links Detainees' Murders to Bush's Torture Policy

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Thursday, 30 April 2009 06:13

A combination of "enhanced interrogation" techniques approved by high-level Bush administration officials coupled with a series of brutal beatings administered by military interrogators were directly responsible for the December 2002 deaths of two detainees at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, according to a report released last week by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The report classified their deaths as homicides. In other words, the two prisoners were tortured to death.

One of the detainees, identified in the report as Dilawar, was the subject of the Academy Award winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.

According to the Armed Services Committee report, another detainee identified as Habibulllah was killed two days after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques against prisoners in Afghanistan. Dilawar was murdered six days after Habibullah. The report labeled their deaths homicides.

The details of their murders at the hands of military interrogators have been previously reported. But the Senate report includes new information about the behind-the-scenes meetings that took place between high-level Pentagon officials in the months before their deaths where "enhanced interrogation" policies implemented at Bagram were discussed.

Previous reports, including one from the Army's criminal investigative unit, have pinned Dilawar and Habibullah's deaths on rogue soldiers and on-the-ground military officials but have never linked the murders directly to the interrogation policies enacted by the Bush administration.

Indeed, a report into detainee abuse completed in 2004 by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the former Naval inspector general, who conducted an investigation into detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan at the request of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, specifically cleared Pentagon officials stating they "did not promulgate interrogation policies . . . that directed, sanctioned or encouraged the torture or abuse of detainees."

A declassified version of the 360-page Church report, delivered to Congress in March 2004, said there was "no policy that condoned or authorized either abuse or torture," which critics of the Bush administration believed was a cover-up.

But the Armed Services Committee report undercuts those specific conclusions contained in the Church report and flatly states that policy directives authorized by Rumsfeld were a contributing factor to the deaths of Dilawar and Habibullah.

The Armed Services Committee report says, "the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment at the hands of Bagram personnel, caused or were direct contributing factors in the two homicides."

in February, the American Civil Liberties Union obtained under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit two-pages from the Church report that had been classified. Those documents included details of two detainee deaths at Bagram in December 2002 believed to be Dilawar and Habibullah, but those pages did not identify the detainees who were killed by name.

The Armed Services Committee traced the murder of Dilawar and Habibullah's to interrogation policies at Bagram that were first proposed by Pentagon officials in October 2001, just days after the U.S. launched an attack against the Taliban government.

At that time, a Special Mission Unit Task Force (SMU TF) was charged with interrogating prisoners believed to have been linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Armed Services Committee report says in October 2001 the SMU TF was sent to Afghanistan "with a mission" and the rest of the description contained in the report from that point was redacted.

"While SMU TF operators conducted a limited amount of direct questioning, or, "-screening' of detainees while on the battlefield, it appears that they did not conduct interrogations until at least October 2002,"- the report says. "Prior to that point, SMU personnel had observed interrogations conducted by Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF-180), which had assumed control of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan at the end of May 2002."

A footnote contained in the Armed Services Committee report notes that Vice Admiral Church "examined interrogation techniques used by SMU in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility."-

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
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