WASHINGTON – The military agency that helped to devise harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as “torture” in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon’s chief lawyer and warned that it would produce “unreliable information.”
“The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel,” says the document, an unsigned two-page attachment to a memo by the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. Parts of the attachment, obtained in full by the Washington Post, were quoted in a Senate report on harsh interrogation released this week.
It remains unclear whether the attachment reached high-ranking officials in the Bush administration. But the document offers the clearest evidence that has come to light so far that those who helped formulate the harsh interrogation techniques voiced early concerns about the effectiveness of applying severe physical or psychological pressure.
The document was included among July 2002 memoranda that described severe interrogation techniques used against Americans in past conflicts and the psychological effects of such treatment. JPRA ran the military program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, which trains pilots and others to resist hostile questioning.
The reasoning in the JPRA document contrasted sharply with arguments being pressed at the time by current and former military psychologists in the SERE program, including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who later formed a Spokane company that became a CIA contractor advising on interrogations. Both men declined to comment on their role in formulating interrogation policy.
The cautionary attachment was forwarded to the Pentagon’s Office of the General Counsel as the administration finalized the legal underpinnings to a CIA interrogation program that would sanction the use of 10 forms of coercion, including waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning. The JPRA material was sent from the Pentagon to the CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo, and on to the Justice Department, according to testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
An Aug. 1, 2002, memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel authorized the use of the 10 methods against Abu Zubaida, the nom de guerre of an al-Qaida associate captured in Pakistan in March 2002. Former intelligence officials have recently contended that Zubaida provided little useful information about the organization’s plans.
Senate investigators were unable to determine whether William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s general counsel in 2002, passed the cautionary memo to Rizzo or to other Bush administration officials reviewing the CIA’s proposed program.
Haynes declined to comment, as did Rizzo and the CIA. Jay Bybee, who as an assistant attorney general signed the Aug. 1, 2002, memo, did not respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he believed the attachment was deliberately ignored and perhaps suppressed. Excerpts from the document appeared in a report on the treatment of detainees released this month by Levin’s committee. The committee report says the attachment echoes JPRA warnings issued in late 2001.
“It’s part of a pattern of squelching dissent,” said Levin, who said there were other instances in which internal reviews of detainee treatment were halted or undercut. “They didn’t want to hear the down side.”
A former administration official said the National Security Council, which was briefed repeatedly that summer on the CIA’s planned interrogation program by George Tenet, then director of central intelligence, and agency lawyers, did not discuss the issues raised in the attachment.
There was no consideration within the National Security Council that the planned techniques stemmed from Chinese communist practices and had been deemed torture when employed against American personnel, the former administration official said. The U.S. military prosecuted its own soldiers for using waterboarding in the Philippines and had put Japanese officers on trial for war crimes for its use against Americans and other allied nationals during World War II.