Statement of Senator Carl Levin on Senate Armed Services Committee Report of its Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, Executive Summary and Conclusions [PDF]

On November 21st, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved its report on aspects of the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody since 2001. Today were releasing the executive summary and conclusions of that report. The Department of Defense is reviewing the body of the report for classification. Senator McCain and I have urged the Department to expedite that review.

The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody compromised our moral authority and damaged both our ability to attract allies to our side in the fight against terrorism and to win the support of people around the world for that effort. In May 2004, just after the pictures from Abu Ghraib became public, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said that the abuses depicted were simply the result of a few bad apples and that those responsible for abuse would be held accountable. More than seven months later, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Asked about accountability for detainee abuses, Gonzales said we care very much about finding out what happened and holding people accountable. Neither of those two statements was true.

Department of Defense investigations into detainee abuse failed to adequately assign accountability to those senior military and civilian officials who authorized abusive interrogation techniques.

Shortly after I became Chairman of the Armed Services Committee in January 2007, I set up an investigations unit of my Committee staff whose first order of business was to look into the origins of detainee abuses. Committee staff has spent more than a year-and-a-half conducting that investigation. Theyve reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents and conducted extensive interviews of more than 70 individuals, including a number of senior civilian and military officials. The Committee also held public hearings on June 17th and September 25th.

As we began to dig into what happened, the influence of SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape) resistance training techniques on our interrogation policies and practices became more and more obvious and became the focus of our investigation. SERE training is intended to be used to teach our soldiers how to resist interrogation by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions and international law. In SERE school, our troops who are at risk of capture are exposed in a controlled environment with great protections and caution - to techniques adapted from abusive tactics used against American soldiers by enemies such as the Communist Chinese during the Korean War. SERE training techniques include stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation and, until recently, the Navy SERE school used the waterboard. These techniques were designed to give our students a taste of what they might be subjected to if captured by a ruthless, lawless enemy so that they would be better prepared to resist. The techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.

So, how did it come about that American military personnel stripped detainees naked, put them in stress positions, used dogs to scare them, put leashes around their necks to humiliate them, hooded them, deprived them of sleep, and blasted music at them.

The Committee has previously released a large number of documents and information revealing the influence of SERE on the interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody beginning in 2002. For example, the investigation revealed that, beginning in the spring of 2002, Cabinet officials met in the White House to discuss the CIAs interrogation program. Resistance training (the R in SERE) was a subject of discussion. We discovered that in July 2002, at the request of DoD General Counsel Jim Hayness office, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) - the DoD agency that oversees SERE training - provided Hayness office a list of techniques used in SERE school and an assessment of the psychological effect of using those techniques on students. In December 2002, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld authorized some of those same techniques for use against detainees at GTMO. We discovered that, in January 2003, SERE instructors travelled to GTMO and trained interrogators to hit detainees and put them in stress positions. And the investigation revealed that instructors from JPRAs SERE school participated in at least one abusive interrogation and were present for others during a visit to Iraq in September 2003. The executive summary we are releasing today contains additional evidence of the influence of SERE on interrogations. I want to mention just one piece of that new evidence.

Following our first hearing in June, I sent a number of questions to Jay Bybee, who currently sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and was formerly the Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justices Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). When he was at OLC, Judge Bybee signed two legal opinions, both issued on August 1, 2002. The first Bybee OLC memo, which was sent to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, addressed the legal standards applicable to interrogations. The second Bybee OLC memo which was for the CIA and remains classified evaluated the legality of particular interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. Senior Administration lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, and Attorney General John Ashcroft were consulted on the development of OLCs legal analyses.

In his response to my questions, Jay Bybee said that, in July 2002 just before those two OLC opinions were issued and about the same time Jim Hayness office requested a list of SERE training techniques and information on the psychological effects of SERE (including waterboarding), the CIA provided OLC with an assessment of the psychological effects of SERE resistance training. Jay Bybee wrote me that the assessment provided by the CIA was used to inform the August 1, 2002 OLC legal opinion that has yet to be made public. (CIA officials, including George Tenet and acting General Counsel John Rizzo declined to answer questions relating to both that assessment and the CIAs interrogation program.)

Judge Bybees answers provide insight into how senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques used in SERE training, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.

The message from the top was clear; it was appropriate to consider degrading and abusive techniques for use against detainees. Given that message, Secretary Wolfowitzs characterization of detainee abuse as the result of a few bad apples is simply false. The Committee, in fact, reached the opposite conclusion.

Conclusion 1 of the Committees report states:

On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the Presidents determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

Conclusion 13 states:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfelds authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Secretary Rumsfelds December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Hayness recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMOs October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And the Committees 19th and final conclusion states:

The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfelds December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

The impact of Secretary Rumsfelds December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive techniques was profound. Shortly after his approval, the techniques and the fact the Secretary had authorized them became known to interrogators in Afghanistan. In fact, a copy of the Secretarys memo was sent from GTMO to Afghanistan. And in January 2003 the Officer in Charge of the Intelligence Section at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan said that she saw a power point presentation listing the aggressive techniques that had been authorized by the Secretary.

On January 24, 2003, the Staff Judge Advocate for Combined Joint Task Force 180 (CJTF-180), U.S. Central Commands (CENTCOM) conventional forces in Afghanistan, produced an Interrogation techniques memo. Unclassified portions of a report by Major General George Fay stated that the memo recommended removal of clothing a technique that had been in the Secretarys December 2 authorization and discussed exploiting the Arab fear of dogs another technique approved by the Secretary on December 2, 2002.

From Afghanistan, the techniques made their way to Iraq. According to the Department of Defense Inspector General, at the beginning of the Iraq war, special mission unit forces in Iraq used a January 2003 Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which had been developed for operations in Afghanistan. According to the DoD IG, the Afghanistan SOP had been:

[I]nfluenced by the counterresistance memorandum that the Secretary of Defense approved on December 2, 2002 and incorporated techniques designed for detainees who were identified as unlawful combatants. Subsequent battlefield interrogation SOPs included techniques such as yelling, loud music, and light control, environmental manipulation, sleep deprivation/adjustment, stress positions, 20-hour interrogations, and controlled fear (muzzled dogs)&

Special mission unit techniques eventually made their way into Standard Operating Procedures issued for all U.S. forces in Iraq. On September 14, 2003, Lieutenant General Sanchez issued the first Combined Joint Task Force 7 interrogation SOP. That SOP authorized interrogators in Iraq to use stress positions, environmental manipulation, sleep management, and military working dogs to exploit detainees fears in interrogations.

In the report of his investigation into Abu Ghraib, Major General George Fay said that interrogation techniques developed for GTMO were implemented at Abu Ghraib. Following a September 9, 2004 Committee hearing on his report, I asked Major General Fay whether the policy approved by the Secretary of Defense on December 2, 2002 contributed to the use of aggressive interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib, and he responded Yes.

The Committee reached a number of other conclusions that expose efforts by administration officials to place responsibility for detainee abuses mostly on lower ranking military personnel as both inaccurate and misleading. Here are a few more of the Committees conclusions.

  • Conclusion 2: Members of the Presidents Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIAs interrogation program during that period.
  • Conclusion 6: The Central Intelligence Agencys (CIA) interrogation program included at least one SERE training technique, waterboarding. Senior Administration lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, were consulted on the development of legal analysis of CIA interrogation techniques. Legal opinions subsequently issued by the Department of Justices Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) interpreted legal obligations under U.S. anti-torture laws and determined the legality of CIA interrogation techniques. Those OLC opinions distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws, rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and influenced Department of Defense determinations as to what interrogation techniques were legal for use during interrogations conducted by U.S. military personnel.
  • Conclusion 7: Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) efforts in support of offensive interrogation operations went beyond the agencys knowledge and expertise. JPRAs support to U.S. government interrogation efforts contributed to detainee abuse. JPRAs offensive support also influenced the development of policies that authorized abusive interrogation techniques for use against detainees in U.S. custody.
  • Conclusion 16: During his assessment visit to Iraq in August and September 2003, GTMO Commander Major General Geoffrey Miller encouraged a view that interrogators should be more aggressive during detainee interrogations.
  • Conclusion 17: Interrogation policies approved by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, which included the use of military working dogs and stress positions, were a direct cause of detainee abuse in Iraq. Lieutenant General Sanchezs decision to issue his September 14, 2003 policy with the knowledge that there were ongoing discussions as to the legality of some techniques in it was a serious error in judgment. The September policy was superseded on October 12, 2003 as a result of legal concerns raised by U.S. Central Command. That superseding policy, however, contained ambiguities and contributed to confusion about whether aggressive techniques, such as military working dogs, were authorized for use during interrogations.

The abuses at Abu Ghraib, GTMO and elsewhere cannot be chalked up to the actions of a few bad apples. Attempts by senior officials to portray that to be the case while shrugging off any responsibility for abuses are both unconscionable and false. Our investigation is an effort to set the record straight on this chapter in our history that has so damaged both Americas standing and our security. America needs to own up to its mistakes so that we can rebuild some of the good will that we have lost.

Executive Summary and Conclusions [PDF] - Released on December 11, 2008
Levin-McCain Joint Statement  - December 11, 2008
Part I of the Committee's Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody - June 17, 2008
Part II of the Committee's Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody - September 25, 2008