AMERICAN military officials tasked with training US troops to resist enemy interrogations provided Pentagon lawyers with a list of abusive tactics that could be used in prisons such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the Senate armed services committee heard yesterday.
It also emerged at the hearing that US officials "hid" Guantanamo prisoners who had been harshly interrogated from the international committee of the Red Cross, the body empowered to monitor compliance with Geneva Convention rules on treatment of military prisoners.
The hearing is the committee's first look at the origins of the harsher methods used in the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and how policy decisions on interrogations were vetted across the defence department.
Its review fits into a broader picture of the US government's handling of detainees, which includes FBI and CIA interrogations in secret prisons.
Democrat Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the committee, said harsh techniques were pursued despite strong objections in November 2002 by the US military's uniformed lawyers.
"If we use those same techniques offensively against detainees, it says to the world that they have America's stamp of approval," said Mr Levin.
"That puts our troops at greater risk of being abused if they're captured. It also weakens our moral authority and harms our efforts to attract allies in the fight against terrorism."
The committee released previously secret memos dating from the 2002 inception of the harsh interrogation programme at Guantanamo. In one of them, the top military lawyer there, Lieutenant-Colonel Diane Beaver, explains that the defence department had made a practice of hiding prisoners who were being treated harshly, even abusively, from the International Committee of the Red Cross, a non-governmental body empowered to monitor compliance with Geneva Convention rules for the treatment of military prisoners.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said the administration's legal analysis on detainees and interrogations following the 9/11 attacks would "go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and shortsighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation's military and intelligence communities".
According to the Senate committee's findings, the Pentagon's top civilian lawyer at the time, Jim Haynes, became interested in using harsher interrogation methods as early as July 2002 when his office inquired into a military programme that trained soldiers on how to survive interrogations and deny foes valuable intelligence.
Mr Haynes and other officials wanted to know if the programme – known as "Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape" training – could be used to develop more effective interrogation methods.
Richard Shiffrin, Mr Haynes's former deputy on intelligence, said his interest was not so much in trying to "reverse engineer" tactics to be used against the enemy but rather in tapping military expertise in interrogation.
In response, the head of the joint personnel recovery agency, which ran the survival programme, said resistance training included sensory deprivation, sleep disruption, forcing prisoners to stay in stress positions, waterboarding (simulated drowning) and slapping. Several of those techniques, including stress positions, were approved by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in a 2002 memo.
Levin said these techniques were approved despite fierce objections a month earlier by the military services' lawyers.
In separate memos, the lawyers told the joint chiefs of staff that the techniques warranted further study and could be illegal.
Democrats contend that the Senate investigation will refute the Bush administration's argument that abuse in some military prisons was only the fault of a handful of personnel.
Shocking revelations from senior officer
THE memos from Lieutenant-Colonel Diane Beaver are the most shocking aspect of the information revealed by the Armed Services Committee hearings. In essence, they confirm the US military was actively involved in hiding from the International Committee of the Red Cross prisoners it had "harshly" interrogated.
Lt-Col Beaver confirmed that the military was secretly using previously forbidden techniques, such as sleep deprivation, but hiding them so as not to draw "negative attention".
"Officially, it is not happening," she said, according to minutes from the meeting. "It is not being reported officially. The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinising our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention."
Lt-Col Beaver said interrogators should "curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around".
The officer was speaking at a meeting on 2 October, 2002, between CIA and military lawyers and military intelligence officials on how to counter the resistance of Guantanamo detainees to military interrogation.
Lt-Col Beaver's comments suggest the CIA's practice of hiding unregistered "ghost detainees" from the ICRC at military jails may have been as much in service to the Pentagon's interrogation programme as it was to the CIA's.
A senior CIA lawyer at the meeting, John Fredman, explained that whether harsh interrogation amounts to torture "is a matter of perception".
"If the detainees die, you're doing it wrong," he said.