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Abuse report blames low-level leaders

From wire reports

WASHINGTON – A comprehensive U.S. military review of prisoner interrogation policies and techniques for the global war on terrorism concluded that no civilian or uniformed leaders directed or encouraged the prisoner abuse documented in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The report found there is “no single overarching explanation” for the abuse and that many of them occurred when soldiers came in contact with detainees on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than in U.S. detention facilities. It also found that interrogators, for the most part, followed U.S. and international standards for treating detainees humanely and that “there is no link between approved interrogation techniques and detainee abuse.”

The review led by Navy Vice Adm. Albert T. Church did cite, however, a number of “missed opportunities” in the development of interrogation policies, according to a 21-page executive summary of his findings due to be released today. The Associated Press obtained a copy Wednesday.

Among the missed opportunities was a failure to provide commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan with specific and early guidance on interrogation techniques. “We cannot say that there would necessarily have been less detainee abuse had these opportunities been acted upon,” Church wrote.

Had that guidance been provided earlier, “interrogation policy could have benefited from additional expertise and oversight,” he wrote.

While the review largely summarizes previous military reports about Defense Department detention operations, it specifically points out that aggressive efforts to increase the quality of human intelligence after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks might have led Pentagon officials to approve the use of interrogation techniques that were on the borderline of acceptable treatment. As previously disclosed, the report says military lawyers initially debated the use of 39 sometimes controversial techniques – such as water boarding, a tactic that mimics drowning – but pared that list to 35. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved 24 techniques.

The report, to be presented on Capitol Hill this morning, says Rumsfeld twice approved questionable techniques for use against “resistant” detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a defense official who quoted parts of the document’s executive summary Wednesday. “These interrogations were sufficiently aggressive that they highlighted the difficult question of precisely defining the boundaries of humane treatment of detainees,” Church’s report says.

The review, ordered by Rumsfeld, is designed to be the broadest look at what might have caused the abuse that became notorious after photographs and videos emerged last year from the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

While the Pentagon is still waiting for specific reports examining pieces of its detention operations, Church’s review was intended to be the umbrella military investigation, coming on the heels of incremental investigations that looked at the roles of military police, military intelligence, Special Operations and general officers.

None of the internal military reviews has discovered a policy of abuse, nor have any found culpability by top military officers or civilian defense officials. An independent review delivered last year by former defense secretary James Schlesinger found that high-level authorities failed in their duty to craft clear guidelines for prisoner treatment, but said they were not directly responsible for the abuse.

Human rights organizations have criticized the investigations as falling short of assessing the appropriate criminal responsibility for abuse that in some cases led to deaths, calling the investigations whitewashes that specifically decline to place blame on commanders. One general officer has been suspended from command as a result of Abu Ghraib.

Church’s review, according to officials familiar with it, sheds little new light on what has been a year of high-level investigations, and one defense official characterized it as a “gap-filler.”

The probe also found, in the cases of detainee operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that the dissemination of approved interrogation policy to commanders in the field was generally poor. And in Iraq in particular it found that compliance with approved policy guidance was generally poor.

By contrast, compliance with the authorized interrogation methods was in nearly all cases exemplary at Guantanamo Bay, where terrorism suspects have been held since January 2002, the report said. It attributed this to strict command oversight and effective leadership, as well as adequate resources.

Church examined the 187 Pentagon investigations of alleged prisoner abuse that had been completed as of Sept. 30, 2004, of which 70 he counted as having substantiated actual abuse. Six of the 70 involved prisoner deaths. Of those 70, only 20 were related to interrogations; the other 50 were not associated in any way with questioning.

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