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US Interrogator: Abuses in Iraq Violated International Law

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t r u t h o u t | 09.26

US Interrogator: Abuses in Iraq Violated International Law

Thursday 25 September 2008


by: Pamela Hess, The Associated Press

Washington - A military interrogation expert, Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman, told Congress on Thursday that prior to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, he witnessed interrogations of Iraqi detainees that he considers violations of the Geneva Conventions.

One interrogation was conducted by an Air Force civilian and a contractor employed by his own organization, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. It had sent a small team to Iraq in September 2003 to help a special forces task force improve its interrogations of stubborn prisoners. The team was asked to demonstrate an interrogation on an Iraqi prisoner. It was an unusual role for the organization, which trains soldiers how to resist interrogations, not conduct them.

Kleinman said his two colleagues forcibly stripped an Iraqi prisoner naked, shackled him and left him standing in a dank, six-foot cement cell with orders to the guards that the prisoner was not to move for 12 hours. Had the prisoner passed out, he would have hit his head on a wall, Kleinman said.

Kleinman stopped the interrogation, which had veered from his careful plan into abuse.

"Until their time in Iraq they had never seen a real world interrogation," he said.

The men, Terrence Russell and Lenny Miller, had learned the harsh techniques working with the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program for U.S. forces, which conducts stressful mock interrogations to prepare soldiers to withstand and resist abusive questioning in the event they are taken prisoner. The program uses methods derived from the real-life experiences of American prisoners of war. The techniques include forced nudity, stress positions, exposure to extremes in weather and waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.

Russell is a civilian JPRA employee involved in research and program development. Miller was a contractor who no longer works for JPRA, according to the military.

Joint Forces Command, which oversees JPRA, did not investigate Kleinman's allegations because they were made directly to the task force in Iraq , said spokesman Capt. Dennis Moynihan.

Attempts to locate Russell and Miller independently were unsuccessful.

At the time, Kleinman called his now retired commander, Col. John Moulton II, to express concern about the harsh methods he saw being used in several interrogations. He said Moulton checked with his superiors and called him back to say the techniques had been specifically approved. Moulton later told investigators that he understood that the Pentagon's general counsel or higher had approved the measures, and that the prisoners were considered terrorists and were not protected by the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions, however, did apply in Iraq .

The Senate Armed Services Committee also released responses from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and legal counsel John Bellinger regarding their knowledge of the CIA interrogation program when Rice was the national security adviser and Bellinger was the National Security Council's top lawyer.

She and Bellinger were also briefed on SERE interrogation methods at the White House in 2002 or 2003.

"I recall being told ... that these techniques had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm," Rice wrote.

Rice told the committee the CIA had sought NSC approval before embarking on its own harsh interrogation program in the spring of 2002. Rice said she asked then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to review its legality. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the White House on legal matters, later determined the CIA's program to be legal.

Rice also said Bellinger advised her regularly about "concerns and issues" relating to the Pentagon's interrogation and detention program at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. She said the Justice Department never discussed with her the FBI's now documented concerns with interrogation practices at Guantanamo Bay and CIA detention facilities.

Bellinger said he knew the FBI refused to participate in some CIA interrogations, which included waterboarding for at least three detainees. He was also aware of allegations of abuse at Guantanamo in 2003.

Also Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee took a step closer to forcing the Justice Department to hand over secret legal memos authorizing the Bush administration to use harsh and potentially illegal interrogation techniques on detainees.

By a 10-9 vote, the committee agreed to give the chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., authority to subpoena the memos from the Office of Legal Counsel. It is now up to Leahy to decide whether to issue the subpoena, which the Justice Department likely will fight because much of the information in the memos is highly classified.

Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse did not answer a question about whether the department would comply with such a subpoena.

"We regret that the committee authorized the subpoena," Roehrkasse said in a statement. "We will continue to work with them to ensure that their legitimate oversight needs are met."

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