New Army manual prohibits harsh interrogation

Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON - The Army is putting the finishing touches on a new interrogation manual that will specifically prohibit the harsh practices that have come to light since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, officials said. It will also highlight international treaties on humane treatment of detainees and require more oversight by commanders.

The new training manual, expected to be finished in the next two months, will specifically prohibit methods including sleep deprivation, confinement to a darkened cell, stripping prisoners and the use of police dogs, said Thomas A. Gandy, director of counterintelligence and human intelligence for the Army.

Those tactics were approved by senior Pentagon officials and top military officers, though some were later rescinded after complaints by military lawyers. And while the methods were not included in the 13-year-old Army interrogation manual, neither were they ever specifically prohibited, leaving interrogators a great deal of leeway.

"The techniques are roughly the same" in the new manual as in the old one, Gandy said in an interview at his Pentagon office. "What's changed is you've got a very, very controlled environment for interrogations. We never told people 'no dogs,' but it didn't specifically say, 'No.'"

The various investigations into the prisoner-abuse scandal clearly showed that some military interrogators were uncertain what constituted improper behavior. Some soldiers said they didn't see abuse, said Gandy, a burly West Point graduate with the blunt demeanor of a TV cop. "But we said, 'What about the naked guys?'"

Gandy said that while the new Army training procedures have not been released, military intelligence soldiers are being trained on its principles, which he said follow the Geneva Conventions.

Gandy said that includes no physical or mental torture, or any form of coercion, slapping, humiliation, striking or threatening.

'Actionable intelligence'

The point of interrogation is to develop a rapport with the detainee and glean "actionable intelligence" - fresh information that can ideally prevent a bombing or reveal the whereabouts of a top insurgent or terrorist financier. "It's always been a mind game, not a physical game," said Gandy.

Acceptable tactics will be carefully laid out in a classified training circular that will go to interrogators and other intelligence officials in September. Gandy said that to avoid tipping off current and future detainees, the specifics will not be made public.

"The theory is keep them uncertain about their future," said Gandy, who served in a variety of military intelligence assignments from Germany to Central America.

Some tactics, such as demonstrations of force, will still be allowed with limits. For example, an interrogator can throw items - a chair or a book - against a wall to rattle a detainee and encourage him to talk. "But what I won't do is throw it by your head," Gandy explained. "One's a threat, one's a demonstration."

Some in Congress argue that there has been too much focus on stamping out aggressive interrogation tactics and not enough on picking up actionable intelligence. Sen. Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican, said at a hearing last week that one of the tactics rejected by officials involved mild noninjurious physical contact, such as grabbing and poking in the chest.

"If our guys want to poke somebody in the chest to get the name of a bomb maker so they can save the lives of Americans, I'm for it," he said. "Boy, at a certain point we have to introduce a note of proportion."

Alexandra Arriaga, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, said she welcomed the new Army effort. "The idea for tightening up the rules for what is and is not acceptable ... sounds like a very good plan," said Arriaga. But she questioned whether all U.S. government personnel, such as those working for the CIA, would accept the regulations. CIA employees also have been caught up in allegations of abuse.

The Army manual, however, will address the relationship between soldiers and people working for government agencies such as the CIA. The CIA, for example, will no longer be able to hide detainees off the books at military facilities or take custody of prisoners, said Gandy. The investigations into Abu Ghraib found the CIA kept up to 30 so-called "ghost detainees" from the Red Cross and other international organizations.

The Army manual also will spell out the relationship between interrogators and military police, a previously vague area that also led to abuses at Abu Ghraib. Members of the 372nd Military Police Company, the Maryland-based Army Reserve unit at the heart of the scandal, said they were encouraged by military intelligence officers to soften up Abu Ghraib detainees before an interrogation session.

"That's clearly not allowed," said Gandy. The roles of the military police and military intelligence soldiers are strictly separate, according to the manual, though the MPs can pass on to military intelligence information about detainees, such as what they are saying or cliques they belong to, but only through their MP chain of command. "What we don't want is for MPs to interrogate," said Gandy.

Role of contractors

The manual will also spell out the accepted roles of military contractors and military medical personnel. Contractors were also caught up in the prison scandal for allegedly taking part in abuse. The new regulations will say military interrogators are to supervise contractors, who must never be in charge of interrogations. In addition, medical personnel will not be able to share with interrogators any medical information about detainees, Gandy said.

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine in January said military doctors "breached the laws of war" by helping intelligence officers carry out coercive and potentially torturous interrogations at detention facilities in Iraq and Cuba.

But the latest investigation into the detainee scandal, released last week by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, said, "We found no instance where detainee medical information had been inappropriately used during interrogations." Still, Church said it is a potential problem not addressed by the Geneva Conventions or Pentagon policy.

As a result of the prison scandals, commanders are requiring more meetings and training sessions, said Gandy.

Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander of detention operations at Guantanamo Bay, routinely brings together military police and intelligence soldiers to talk about the operations and any problems, he said. Every 90 days, there is a training session in Iraq to discuss issues related to interrogations.

While Gandy and others argue that more training is needed, the final investigation into prisoner abuse said that the problems were not with the Army interrogation manual. Rather, it was the insistence of top officers that the tactics laid out in the manual weren't sufficient for getting information from hardened detainees.

Church, the Navy admiral who spearheaded the 10th probe into the detainee operation, told the Senate last week that the "initial push" for more aggressive interrogation techniques "beyond those found" in the Army field manual came in October 2002. At the time, military officers at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found that "counter resistance techniques" were needed to pry intelligence from detainees "who were trained to oppose U.S. interrogation methods."

That event led top Pentagon officials and commanders to order tactics that included hooding, removal of clothing and use of dogs to induce stress. Such tactics "migrated" from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq.

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