On April 24, 1863, President Lincoln signed his General Order No. 100, written by Columbia University professor Francis Lieber, to decree that “military necessity does not admit of cruelty.” The United States military formally respected that rule for nearly 140 years—until, on December 2, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed a memorandum on “Counter-Resistance Techniques” prepared for him by his general counsel, William J. Haynes II.
The Rumsfeld memo authorized the military commander in charge of Guantánamo “to employ, in his discretion,” special “counter-resistance” techniques “during the interrogation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay.” The memo purported to be a response to requests from military officers in charge at Guantánamo, who in October 2002 complained to senior Pentagon officials that “the current guidelines for interrogation procedures at GTMO limit the ability of interrogators to counter advanced resistance.” In the memo, Haynes states that he has “discussed this with the Deputy [Paul Wolfowitz], Doug Feith and General Myers” and that he recommends authorizing most of a proposed three-step interrogation plan. In this sequence, relatively benign techniques (“Category I”) such as yelling and deception are supplanted by increasingly harsh ones—“Category II” and “Category III”—such as prolonged stress positions, deprivation of light and sound, hooding, forced grooming, removal of clothing, and manipulation of “individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress.” The memo also concluded that, beyond these fifteen, three additional Category III techniques, including waterboarding, “may be legally available,” although it stated that “as a matter of policy, a blanket approval” of those techniques “is not warranted at this time.”
In fact, all fifteen techniques approved by Rumsfeld violated the US Army Field Manual rules governing the conduct of military interrogations, as well as the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But they were used over a period of fifty-four days on Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Guantánamo detainee who was alleged to have been trying to enter the US in August 2001 as the twentieth September 11 hijacker.
The decision to explicitly approve the use of cruel measures by military interrogators, for the first time in more than a century, was taken during the time when General Richard Myers was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from October 1, 2001, until 2005; as the memo states, Haynes “discussed” the decision with Wolfowitz, Myers, and Feith, with Haynes further noting that “I believe all join in my recommendation” for approving these fifteen techniques. One would have expected Myers to address in his memoir this important historical matter in which he was involved. That he has chosen not to do so is a striking feature of his account of his four years as the most senior person in a US military uniform. It undermines the book’s authority.
With regard to the interrogation of detainees after September 11, it is well established that the path to torture was based on three key decisions. First, on February 7, 2002, President Bush decided that none of the detainees held at…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.