US detainee abuses approved by senior officials: Senate report News
US detainee abuses approved by senior officials: Senate report

[JURIST] US senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) [official websites] on Thursday released the executive summary [text, PDF; press release] of a Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] report that says senior US officials are to blame for the use of abusive interrogation techniques against detainees held in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The report cites a February 2002 memorandum [text, PDF; JURIST report] signed by President George W. Bush, stating that the Third Geneva Convention [text] guaranteeing humane treatment to prisoners of war did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees, and a December 2002 memo [text, PDF] signed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [official profile], approving the use "aggressive techniques" against detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, as key factors that lead to the extensive abuses. Dismissing arguments that the abuses were simply the result of poor decisions by lower-level officers, the committee wrote:

The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

The report said that government officials inappropriately sought out and applied interrogation techniques that US forces were taught to resist – including waterboarding [JURIST news archive], stress positions, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity – against detainees. It also said that standard reviews of the interrogation policies were circumvented, and that officials sought out legal advice that favored the use of aggressive techniques, while discounting advice which challenged it. The report was unanimously approved by present committee members on November 20, and the remainder of its text is classified.

The report is the result the committee's inquiry into what caused detainee abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archives] prisons, and follows hearings on the matter in June [JURIST report] and September [committee materials]. The Bush administration has received widespread criticism for the contents of various documents [GWU materials] from the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and Office of Legal Counsel supporting the use of harsh interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive] against detainees.