When the U.S. military began sending terror suspects to Guantanamo in 2002, President Bush proclaimed that it was unwavering U.S. policy that they would be treated "humanely." But according to a report made available to NEWSWEEK and other organizations, internal Defense Department memos show that U.S. interrogators quickly strayed from that approach, devising elaborate plans to break down the resistance of two high-value detainees by stripping them and forcing them "to bark and perform dog tricks." These techniques were derived in part from classified U.S. military training slides that recommended subjecting detainees to "religious disgrace" and a process of "degradation" that included addressing them as though they were "an animal," the memos show.
The memos, which relate to the interrogations of Mohammed al Khatani and Mohammedou Wali Slahi, are contained in a newly declassified Senate Armed Services Committee report to be released Wednesday by its chairman, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin. While the basic outlines of these interrogations were previously known, the report provides new details and will likely add fresh momentum to calls for a "truth commission" or similar Justice Department investigation of U.S. interrogation practices—both of which President Obama suggested for the first time Tuesday that he was willing to support.
The report, an advanced copy of which was provided to several news organizations, draws on newly declassified documents that Levin says bolsters his principal message: That the abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo were not caused by "a few bad apples," as Bush administration officials repeatedly asserted. Instead, Levin said in a statement Tuesday, it was the product of high-level White House decisions to utilize a controversial series of "enhanced" and coercive interrogation techniques despite vociferous warnings by U.S. military lawyers and FBI officials that they could subject U.S. officials to prosecutions for torture and war crimes.
These techniques, many of which were simultaneously adopted by interrogators working for the CIA, originated with psychologists who worked on the Defense Department's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program, which is intended to teach U.S. military personnel to resist interrogation tactics like those used by Chinese Communists during the Korean War. In the days after the 9/11 attacks, Levin's report states, these tactics were adapted by SERE psychologists for use against terror suspects. Training slides obtained by the senate panel show SERE instructors recommended such techniques as an "invasion of personal space by a female" and "stripping the individual, having the guards address the individual as if that person were an 'animal' or 'very low status' and controlling use of the latrine."
According to the minutes of one October 2002 meeting attended by U.S. military officials at a visiting CIA lawyer at Guantanamo, also cited in the Levin report, other techniques discussed included subjecting detainees to waterboarding to simulate suffocation and identifying the phobias of prisoners—such as "insects, snakes, claustrophobia"—and using those fears against them. Those minutes and other documents quoted in the report shed new light on an Aug. 1, 2002, internal Justice Department memo, made public last week, describing CIA interrogators' plans to put another high-value detainee, Abu Zubaydah, into a dark, cramped "confinement box" and then unleash an insect inside—in an effort to exploit his fears of insects.
Some of the aggressive interrogation techniques covered in the various memos recently disclosed (including stress positions, hooding and sleep deprivation) were adopted and approved for use against Khatani, a Saudi native picked up in Afghanistan who U.S. officials have identified as a member of Al Qaeda and the 20th member of the 9/11 hijacker group. A Jan. 17, 2003, memo describing the techniques "used" against Khatani during the previous seven weeks cites "stripping, forced grooming, invasion of space by a female interrogator, treating Khatani like an animal, using a military working dog, and forcing him to pray to an idol shrine."
While many of these techniques were documented in a 2005 Pentagon report, that document suggested that some of the methods—such as subjecting Khatani to menacing, growling dogs—had not been approved by high-level commanders at Guantanamo. But Levin's report includes quotes from an interview with Jane Dalton, the legal counsel to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which Dalton said that she and Major Gen. Geoffrey Miller, then the Guantanamo Commander, "discussed the use of dogs for interrogation purposes" in early November 2002. According to the report Dalton "said that the 'theory was that certain individuals are afraid of dogs' and that, while … Miller talked about dogs being outside the interrogation room, they discussed the purpose of the dogs' presence during interrogations was that it 'exploits [the detainee's] fear.''' Miller, however, told the panel that he had removed the use of dogs from Khatani's interrogation plan and only approved their use "for security around the perimeter of Camp X-Ray," the area at Guantanamo where Khatani was being held.
The use of these interrogation techniques triggered repeated and strong protests from military criminal investigators and FBI agents then at Guantanamo, several of which are cited in the report. "I … am extremely concerned that the use of many of these techniques will open any military members up for potential criminal charges," wrote one colonel in a Nov. 14, 2002, e-mail to Miller. Another FBI special agent wrote a legal analysis on December 2, 2002, concluding that some of the techniques being used against Khatini were "examples of coercive interrogation techniques which may violate" the federal torture law and warned that "it is possible that those who employ these techniques may be indicted, prosecuted and possibly convicted if the trier of fact determines that the user had the requisite intent." Those warnings are especially noteworthy given that Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the U.S. military commissions, told the Washington Post last January that she refused to approve 9/11 conspiracy charges against Khatani because she concluded that he had been subjected to "torture" during the course of his interrogation.
But Khatani wasn't the only Guantanamo detainee subjected to some of these same techniques, according to the Levin report. Another Jan. 16, 2002, memo outlining the interrogation plan for Slahi states that he would be questioned for up to 20 hours per day, have water poured on his head to keep him awake, and be subjected to the presence of dogs who would be made to bark in order to "agitate the detainee and provide shock value." The memo also describes techniques aimed at breaking down Slahi's ego, including ridiculing him, making him wear a mask and forcing him to wear signs ridiculing him as a "liar" or a "coward." Finally, the memo stated that interrogators would also force Slahi to wear a dog collar and instruct him to bark and perform dog tricks "to reduce the detainee's ego and establish control."
Late Tuesday, a spokesman said the Defense Department would have no comment on the report until Wednesday.