We don’t know precisely when the officers of the CIA began applying such “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the agency calls them, to their “high-value detainees,” but we can see signs of the trend toward using these techniques very soon after the attacks of September 11, and also signs of strong interest in learning immediately the results of interrogation coming from high up in the security bureaucracies, including from the office of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. As early as October 2001, after the capture of John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan, a Navy admiral told the intelligence officer interrogating Lindh that “the secretary of defense’s counsel has authorized him to ‘take the gloves off’ and ask whatever he wanted.”10
Lindh’s interrogators stripped the young American, who had been shot in the foot, taped him to a stretcher, propped it up against a shipping container in the cold open air of Afghanistan, and proceeded to interrogate him in marathon sessions that went on for days. According to documents that were leaked to a Los Angeles Times reporter, Lindh’s responses during these interrogation sessions were cabled back to the Defense Department as often as every hour. During the coming months and years, as the United States gradually built a network of secret and semisecret prisons in Bagram and Kandahar, Afghanistan; Guantánamo, Cuba; Qatar and Diego Garcia, as well as Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper, Iraq, this direct attention from senior officials in Washington has remained constant. As Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the head of the Joint Intelligence and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib, told General Taguba in December 2003, “Sir, I was told a couple times…that some of the reporting was getting read by Rumsfeld, folks out of Langley [CIA headquarters], some very senior folks.” For Jordan, that meant a lot of pressure to produce. It also meant that what went on at Abu Ghraib and other interrogation centers was very much the focus of the most senior officials in Washington.
In an earlier article in these pages,11 I wrote about the case of an Iraqi man who had spent time in Abu Ghraib and had given a sworn statement, after his release, to investigators of the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID). This statement had been leaked, along with those of twelve other detainees, to The Washington Post, which posted them on its Web site. Here now is General Fay’s full account of what happened to the anonymous prisoner, and his analysis of who was responsible:
In October 2003, DETAINEE-07, reported alleged multiple incidents of physical abuse while in Abu Ghraib. DETAINEE-07 was a [military intelligence] hold and considered of potentially high value. He was interrogated on 8, 21 and 29 October; 4 and 23 November and 5 December. DETAINEE-07’s claims of physical abuse (hitting) started on his first day of arrival. He was left naked in his cell for extended periods, cuffed in his cell in stressful positions (“High cuffed”), left with a bag over his head for extended periods, and denied bedding or blankets. DETAINEE-07 described being made to “bark like a dog, being forced to crawl on his stomach while MPs spit and urinated on him, and being struck causing unconsciousness.”
On another occasion DETAINEE-07 was forced to lie down while MPs jumped onto his back and legs. He was beaten with a broom and a chemical light was broken and poured over his body. DETAINEE-04 witnessed the abuse with the chem.-light. During this abuse a police stick was used to sodomize DETAINEE-07 and two female MPs were hitting him, throwing a ball at his penis, and taking photographs. This investigation surfaced no photographic evidence of the chemical light abuse or sodomy. DETAINEE-07 also alleged that CIVILIAN-17, MP Interpreter, Titan Corp., hit DETAINEE-07 once, cutting his ear to an extent that required stitches. He told SOLDIER-25, analyst, B/321 [Military Intelligence Brigade], about this hitting incident during an interrogation. SOLDIER-25 asked the MPs what had happened to the detainee’s ear and was told he had fallen in his cell. SOLDIER-25 did notreport the detainee’s abuse. SOLDIER-25 claimed the detainee’s allegation was made in the presence of CIVILIAN-21, Analyst/Interrogator, CACI [Corporation], which CIVILIAN-21 denied hearing this report. Two photos taken at 2200 hours, 1 November 2003, depict a detainee with stitches in his ear; however, we could not confirm the photo was DETAINEE-07.
Based on the details provided by the detainee and the close correlation to other known MP abuses, it is highly probable DETAINEE-07’s allegations are true. SOLDIER-25 failed to report the detainee’s allegation of abuse. His statements and available photographs do not point to direct [military intelligence] involvement. However, MI interest in this detainee, his placement in Tier 1A of the Hard Site, and initiation of the abuse once he arrived there, combine to create a circumstantial connection to MI (knowledge or implicit tasking of the MPs to “set conditions”) which are difficult to ignore. MI should have been aware of what was being done to this detainee based on the frequency of interrogations and high interest in his intelligence value.
What is interesting here is not simply that General Fay confirms the account of Detainee-07 but the strange Kabuki dance the general performs when he comes to the point of assigning responsibility. During a period of about two months, military police beat the detainee savagely into unconsciousness, ripped his ear, urinated on him, “high-cuffed” him to the bars of his cell for hours so that the skin of his hand split and oozed pus, and sodomized him with a police baton—to give only a brief summary of what, in the detainee’s statement, is an exhaustive and exhausting catalog of imaginative and extremely disgusting tortures carried out over many days. Now during this time, as General Fay meticulously confirms, military intelligence soldiers interrogated Detainee-07 on at least six occasions, as befits a prisoner judged of “potentially high value.” General Fay, however, finds here only a “circumstantial connection to MI,” concluding that the intelligence officers “should have been aware of what was being done to this detainee.”
The problem here is that it is quite obvious from the report that military intelligence officers were “aware of what was being done to the detainee”—indeed, that they ordered it. Throughout the general’s patient recounting of his forty-four “serious incidents”—his careful sifting of them into categories (“Nudity/Humiliation,” “Assault,” “Sexual Assault,” “Use of Dogs,” “The ‘Hole,’” and “Other”), his determination to classify them according to responsibility (“MI,” “MP,” “MI/MP,” or “UNK,” for unknown), and his dogged effort to separate what he calls “violent/sexual abuse incidents” (which is to say those, generally speaking, committed by military police, which were not a matter of policy) from “misinterpretation/confusion incidents” (those committed by military intelligence soldiers, who, however, were “confused” about what was permitted at Abu Ghraib as a matter of policy)—throughout all this runs a tone of faintly hysterical absurdity. Throughout we see distinctions that are not distinctions at all, and that recall nothing so much as the darkest passages of Catch-22; for example, this passage, on “sleep adjustment”:
Sleep adjustment was brought with 519 [Military Intelligence Battalion] from Afghanistan. It is also a method used at GTMO [Guantánamo]…. At Abu Ghraib, however, the MPs were not trained, nor informed as to how they actually should do the sleep adjustment. The MPs were just told to keep a detainee awake for a time specified by the interrogator. The MPs used their own judgment as to how to keep them awake. Those techniques included taking the detainees out of their cells, stripping them and giving them cold showers. CPT Wood stated she did not know this was going on and thought the detainees were being kept awake by the MPs banging on the cell doors, yelling, and playing loud music.
Abu Ghraib was a mess; training was deficient; the chain of command was dysfunctional. But that military intelligence soldiers would have had no idea what was being done to prisoners whom they spent hours and hours each day interrogating is simply not credible.
What is credible, or at least comprehensible, is the subtle bureaucratic strategy that has been adopted in these reports, and which has been visible, indeed obvious, from the moment the story of Abu Ghraib broke. For at that moment, in late April, a bureaucratic and political war erupted over torture and its implications, and over Abu Ghraib and how broad-reaching and damaging the scandal that bore its name was going to be. On one side were those within the administration, many of whom had opposed the use of “enhanced interrogation tactics” from the beginning, including many in the judge advocate generals’ offices of the various military services and career lawyers in the Justice Department, who for the last four months have been leaking a veritable flood of documents detailing legally questionable and politically damaging administration decisions about torture and interrogation. On the other side are those at the highest political levels of the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the White House who have struggled, so far successfully, to keep Abu Ghraib from becoming what it early on threatened to be: a scandal that could bring down many senior officials in the Department of Defense, and perhaps the administration itself.
With no fear of a full, top-to-bottom investigation from a Congress that is firmly in Republican hands, administration officials, and particularly those at the Department of Defense, have managed to orchestrate a slowly unfolding series of inquiries, almost all of them carried out within the military by officers who by definition can only direct their gaze down the chain of command, not up it, and who are each empowered to examine only a limited and precisely defined number of links in the chain that connects the highest levels of the government to what happened on the ground in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in the war on terror. Thus General Taguba investigated the military police, General Paul Mikolashek, as the Army’s inspector general, reported on detention procedures, General Fay on military intelligence, and so on.
Beyond the reports themselves, the key strategy of the defense is both to focus on the photographs and to isolate the acts they depict—which, if not the most serious, are those with the most political effect—from any inference that they might have resulted, either directly or indirectly, from policy. Thus the dogged effort to isolate these acts as “violence/sexual abuse incidents” that originated wholly in the minds of sadistic military police during the wee hours, and that, above all, had nothing whatever to do with what was done “to set the conditions” for interrogation—even though this division is quite artificial and many of the latter activities, as vividly demonstrated by the sufferings of Detainee-07, were conducted by precisely the same people and were equally, or more, disgusting, sadistic, and abusive.