Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Army intelligence officials in Iraq developed and circulated "wish lists" of harsh interrogation techniques they hoped to use on detainees in August 2003, including tactics such as low-voltage electrocution, blows with phone books and using dogs and snakes -- suggestions that some soldiers believed spawned abuse and illegal interrogations.

The discussions, which took place in e-mail messages between interrogators and Army officials in Baghdad, were used in part to develop the interrogation rules of engagement approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then commander of U.S. troops in Iraq. Two specific cases of abuse in Iraq occurred soon after.

Army investigative documents released yesterday, as well as court records and files, suggest that the tactics were used on two detainees: One died during an interrogation in November 2003 while stuffed into a sleeping bag, and another was badly beaten by inexperienced interrogators using a police baton in September 2003. The documents indicate confusion over what tactics were legal in Iraq, a belief that most detainees were not covered by Geneva Conventions protections and alleged abuse by interrogators who had tacit approval to "turn it up a notch."

I admit to being puzzled by that phrase "inexperienced interrogators." It was inexperience that caused these interrogators to beat a man with a police baton? If they had been experienced, would they have beaten him better? Or is it that experienced interrogators would have known better than to beat the detainee? Does it take experience to know that it's wrong to beat a person on the soles of his feet and on his back and buttocks while the person is in a painful stress position? How much experience does an interrogator need to have before he knows that?

And then there's that last sentence. These detainees were treated this way because the Americans were confused about whether such tactics were legal or not? This was an issue of believing that the Geneva Conventions did not protect "most detainees" from being stuffed into sleeping bags and tied with electrical cord? Are we to conclude that the only way to figure out whether it's all right to "fear up" detainees with dogs and snakes is to know whether the Geneva Conventions apply to "most detainees"?

Call me naive, or uninformed, but I would have thought knowing right from wrong is a matter of basic conscience -- something every mentally healthy person possesses. I wouldn't have thought one could be "confused" about whether it was okay to allow a man to die inside a sleeping bag tied with electrical cord while you interrogate him.

So you can imagine my relief when I got to the last paragraph of the article and discovered that at least one member of the military is not confused about these things.

Another interrogator, with the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion, wrote a response to the headquarters e-mail with cautions that "we need to take a deep breath and remember who we are." "It comes down to standards of right and wrong -- something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient," the soldier wrote. "We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there."

Maybe copies of that e-mail should be sent to all the inexperienced interrogators in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever else they may be located.

No comments: