Detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, pray before dawn in the Camp 4 detention facility. A report from the Senate Armed Services Committee concludes that abuses of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Gitmo were wrongly blamed on a few troops who were not obeying orders. (BRENNAN LINSLEY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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A new report about treatment of detainees in U.S. custody suggests Bush administration officials should have listened to the military's judge advocates who warned against converting a survival school training regime into a policy for aggressive interrogation.
The report from the Senate Armed Services Committee, approved Nov. 21 but not released until Dec. 11, concludes that abuses — interrogation techniques that appear to have crossed the line into torture or inhumane conduct — were wrongly blamed on a few troops who were not obeying orders.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee chairman, said in a statement that the blame falls on military leaders. Abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base and other locations "cannot be chalked up to the activities of a few bad apples," he said.
"Attempts by senior officials to portray that to be the case while shrugging off any responsibility for abuses are both unconscionable and false," Levin said. "Our investigation is an effort to set the record straight."
Harsh treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, authorized in late 2002, has "damaged both America's standing and our security," Levin said. "America needs to own up to its mistakes so that we can rebuild some of the good will that we have lost."
The committee's full report on its investigation will not be released until the Pentagon reviews it for classified material, but the executive summary, which was released, shows that military lawyers objected to expanding interrogation methods to include putting detainees in stress positions for extended periods, taking away their clothing, depriving them of light and sound, or exploiting phobias, such as a fear of dogs.
In some cases, military lawyers worried that maltreatment could violate federal law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, exposing U.S. personnel who used the techniques to possible prosecution.
In particular, lawyers resisted plans to use techniques out of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training to try to get information from detainees.
Levin said SERE training — aimed at helping U.S. troops who might be captured — was "never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody," and many experts say they believe information gained using the procedures is not necessarily truthful.