|Pentagon Approved Tougher Interrogations
By Dana Priest and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 9, 2004; Page A01
In April 2003, the Defense Department approved interrogation techniques for use at the
Guantanamo Bay prison that permit reversing the normal sleep patterns of detainees and
exposing them to heat, cold and "sensory assault," including loud music and
bright lights, according to defense officials.
The classified list of about 20 techniques was approved at the highest levels of the
Pentagon and the Justice Department, and represents the first publicly known documentation
of an official policy permitting interrogators to use physically and psychologically
stressful methods during questioning.
The use of any of these techniques requires the approval of senior Pentagon officials
-- and in some cases, of the defense secretary. Interrogators must justify that the
harshest treatment is "militarily necessary," according to the document, as
cited by one official. Once approved, the harsher treatment must be accompanied by
"appropriate medical monitoring."
"We wanted to find a legal way to jack up the pressure," said one lawyer who
helped write the guidelines. "We wanted a little more freedom than in a U.S. prison,
but not torture."
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "These procedures are tightly
controlled, limited in duration and scope, used infrequently and approved on a
case-by-case basis. These are people who are unlawful combatants, picked up on the
battlefield and may contribute to our intelligence-gathering about events that killed
Defense and intelligence officials said similar guidelines have been approved for use
on "high-value detainees" in Iraq -- those suspected of terrorism or of having
knowledge of insurgency operations. Separate CIA guidelines exist for agency-run detention
It could not be learned whether similar guidelines were in effect at the U.S.-run Abu
Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, which has been the focus of controversy in recent days. But
lawmakers have said they want to know whether the misconduct reported at Abu Ghraib --
which included sexual humiliation -- was an aberration or whether it reflected an
aggressive policy taken to inhumane extremes.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. military and the CIA have detained
thousands of foreign nationals at the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, as well as at
facilities in Iraq and elsewhere, as part of an effort to crack down on suspected
terrorists and to quell the insurgency in Iraq. The Pentagon guidelines for Guantanamo
were designed to give interrogators the authority to prompt uncooperative detainees to
provide information, though experts on interrogation say information submitted under such
conditions is often unreliable.
The United States has stated publicly that it does not engage in torture or cruel and
inhumane treatment of prisoners. Defense officials said yesterday that the techniques on
the list are consistent with international law and contain appropriate safeguards such as
legal and medical monitoring. "The high-level approval is done with forethought by
people in responsibility, and layers removed from the people actually doing these things,
so you can have an objective approach," said one senior defense official familiar
with the guidelines.
But Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said the tactics outlined
in the U.S. document amount to cruel and inhumane treatment. "The courts have ruled
most of these techniques illegal," he said. "If it's illegal here under the U.S.
Constitution, it's illegal abroad. . . . This isn't even close."
According to two defense officials, prisoners could be made to disrobe for
interrogation if they were are alone in their cells. But Col. David McWilliams, a
spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, said stripping prisoners was not part of the
permitted interrogation techniques. "We have no protocol that allows us to disrobe a
detainee whatsoever," he said. Prisoners may be disrobed in order to clean them and
administer medical treatment, he said.
Several officials interviewed for this article, including two lawyers who helped
formulate the guidelines, declined to be identified because the subject matter is so
With the proper permission, the guidelines allow detainees to be subjected to
psychological techniques meant to open them up, disorient or put them under stress. These
include "invoking feelings of futility" and using female interrogators to
question male detainees.
Some prisoners could be made to stand for four hours at a time. Questioning a prisoner
without clothes is permitted if he is alone in his cell. Ruled out were techniques such as
physical contact -- even poking a finger in the chest -- and the "washboard
technique" of smothering a detainee with towels to threaten suffocation. Placing
electrodes on detainees' bodies "wasn't even evaluated -- it was such a no-go,"
said one of the officials involved in drawing up the list.
During the Pentagon debates, one participant drew on his memory of a scene from the
movie "The Untouchables," in which a police officer played by actor Sean Connery
bent the rules to persuade mobsters that they should provide evidence against Mafia
kingpin Al Capone. Much like the officer, the participant suggested, interrogators could
shoot a dead body in front of a detainee, then suggest to him that is what they did to
people who refused to talk.
Pentagon lawyers declared the technique out of bounds, and it was discarded.
The guidelines were the product of three months of discussion between military lawyers,
medical personnel and psychologists, and followed several incidents of abuse of prisoners
In late 2002, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, until recently commander of the detention
operation at Guantanamo Bay, asked the Pentagon for more explicit rules for interrogation,
four people involved in the process said.
"They don't want to be in the situation where we are making things up as we go
along," said one lawyer involved in the sessions.
"We wanted to outline under what circumstances we could make them feel
uncomfortable, a little distressed," another lawyer involved said. During the
discussions, "the political people [at the Pentagon] were inclined toward aggressive
techniques," the official said. Military lawyers, in contrast, were more conservative
in their approach, mindful of how they would want U.S. military personnel held as
prisoners to be treated by foreign powers, the official said.
Mark Jacobson, a former Defense Department official who worked on detainee issues while
at the Pentagon, said that at Guantanamo and the Bagram facility in Afghanistan, military
interrogators have never used torture or extreme stress techniques. "It's the fear of
being tortured that might get someone to talk, not the torture," Jacobson said.
"We were so strict."
Interrogation teams routinely draw up detailed plans, which list all techniques they
hope to use. These plans are passed to superior officers for discussion and pre-approval,
"I actually think we are not aggressive enough" at times in interrogation
techniques, he said. "I think we are too timid."
In a March 11 interview at his office at the Guantanamo Navy base -- one of his last
interviews before leaving to take over detention facilities in Iraq -- Miller said that
his interrogators treated prisoners humanely and that the operation had yielded important
On Thursday, the U.S. military acknowledged that two Guantanamo Bay guards had been
disciplined in cases involving the use of excessive force against detainees. Detainees
released from the facility have given disparate accounts of their stay there, some
praising the food and free schooling, others claiming that guards roughed them up.
Two Afghans died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan in December 2002. Both deaths were
classified as homicides by the U.S. military. Another Afghan died in June 2003, at a
detention site near Asadabad, in Kunar province.