Military's Interrogation Techniques: A History

Defense officials and military commanders eagerly adopted the methods of training used to teach U.S. soldiers to resist torture - so called SERE techniques - for hundreds of low-value military detainees, according to a declassified report by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The report, from Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI)'s staff, concludes that senior military officials "authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques" and conveyed the message throughout the chain of command that physical degradation was tolerable and, at times, the only appropriate treatment for detainees.

The report will likely be dismissed by Bush administration officials as a partisan put-on and a rehash of -- and respin on -- known facts. But Levin's investigators, armed with subpoena power, uncovered what appears to be a much more pervasive pattern of abuse than has previously been acknowledged by Defense officials.

The report fills in some detail on the history of interrogation techniques at Gitmo. They were requested by Gitmo's intelligence chief on October 11, 2002 and approved by Sec. Donald Rumsfeld less than a month later. In January of 2003, official Navy SERE trainers arrived at Guantanamo Bay to train interrogators in their methods.

Recommended Reading

The report describes some confusion among military lawyers, who assumed that Rumsfeld's authorization of the rough techniques in Gitmo meant that they were also the approved techniques for prisoners in Afhganistan. And it quotes a lawyer for a Special Missions Unit -- an elite, secret counterterrorism squad -- as saying that Rumsfeld's approval of the techniques provided the best legal argument for his soldiers' use of them in the battlefield. SERE instructors were shipped to Iraq to help other top-secret units learn to interrogate suspects.

Though some top generals wrote formal objections to the rough techniques, they were ignored by the chain of command, according to the report. Abu Ghraib, in particular, is portrayed as a heaven for interrogators and a cesspool for prisoners being regularly abused and subject to beatings. Warnings from military psychologists that the techniques were counterproductive were not heeded.