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Newly declassified Defense Department documents describe a pattern of “abusive” behavior by U.S. military interrogators that appears to have caused the deaths of several suspected terrorists imprisoned at a detention center in Afghanistan in December 2002, just two days after former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques against prisoners in that country.
The previously secret pages were part of a wide-ranging report into detainee abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay known as the Church Report, named after Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the former Naval inspector general, who conducted the investigation at the request of Rumsfeld. That report, released 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 declassified Pentagon documents, coupled with a report issued last December by the Senate Armed Services Committee, tell a different story and lend credence to claims by civil libertarians and critics of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that refusal to release a fully classified version of the Church Report several years ago amounted to a cover-up.
The two pages from the Church Report obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Bush administration and the Pentagon were released Wednesday. The documents state that the interrogation and deaths of detainees held at Bagram Air base in Afghanistan was “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.”
According to the declassified Church Report documents, on Dec. 4, 2002, a prisoner died while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. Six days later, another prisoner died. Two days before the detainees were tortured and died, on Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld authorized “aggressive interrogation techniques,” leading to “interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials [that] conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody,” the Senate Armed Services Committee report said.
Both deaths, the documents say, "share some similarities."
"In both cases, for example, [the prisoners] were handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake," the documents say. "Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of "compliance blows" which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma."
"In both instances, the [detainee] deaths followed interrogation sessions in which unauthorized techniques were allegedly employed, but in both cases, these sessions were followed by further alleged abusive behavior outside of the interrogation booth," the declassified documents say.
“None of these techniques have ever been approved in Afghanistan,” according to two pages of the declassified Church report. “Of these, three (marked with X) are alleged to have been employed during interrogations. These techniques—sleep deprivation, the use of scenarios designed to convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent for him and/or his family, and beating are alleged to have been used in the incidents leading to the two deaths at Bagram in December 2002, which are described at greater length later in this report.”
Moreover, the declassified documents names a private contractor, David Passaro, who conducted at least one interrogation that allegedly led to the death of a prisoner. Under the subhead "Migration of Interrogation Techniques," the two-pages from the Church Report discusses an investigation undertaken by military officials to determine whether military interrogators or military police were responsible for the brutal interrogations that apparently caused the deaths of the prisoners, which the documents suggest was the case.
Following an investigation one day after a second detainee died, an Army lieutenant "prohibited several interrogation techniques implicated in the detainees' deaths.."
Specifically, he prohibited the practice of handcuffing as a means of enforcing sleep deprivation, hooding a detainee during questioning, and any form of physical contact used for the purpose of interrogation," according to the two-pages from the Church Report. "It should be noted that handcuffing as a means of enforcing sleep deprivation was never approved in any interrogation policy; and in any event...constituted the only interrogation guidance in Afghanistan at the time. Although some of the measures were later reversed in the March 2004 interrogation guidance, as described previously, they do not indicate initial action was taken."
The report goes on to say that a criminal investigation concluded in October 2004 with the recommendation that criminal charges be filed "against 28 soldiers in connection with the deaths." But the Bush administration officials who authorized and implemented the policies were not held accountable. Indeed, Vice Admiral Church, who conducted the investigation, never bothered to interview then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who, according to published documents was responsible for implementing the brutal interrogations, because he did not believe it to be necessary.
A declassified version of Church's report released in March 2004 said the Department of Defense "did not promulgate interrogation policies . . . that directed, sanctioned or encouraged the torture or abuse of detainees."
In a rare display of criticism of the Bush administration, the Washington Post’s editorial page said the Church Report was “a blatant example of . . . Whitewashing” aimed at protecting the most senior members of the Bush administration who approved of and implemented torture against suspected terrorists.