During weeks of steady interrogation, soldiers at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, forced a suspected terrorist to wear a leash, perform dog tricks, wear women’s underwear on his head and dance with a male interrogator -- treatment that U.S. military investigators said was degrading and abusive.
The investigators recommended that the prison commander, Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, be reprimanded for not monitoring those interrogations, the investigators told a Senate committee Wednesday.
But the top U.S. commander in charge of the prison, defending his rejection of that advice, told senators that the interrogation techniques violated no U.S. law or policy.
Furthermore, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock said his investigators had not convinced him that the techniques were degrading and abusive to the detainee -- a Saudi named Mohammed Al-Qahtani, whom U.S. officials call “the 20th hijacker” because they think he intended to participate in the Sept. 11 attacks.
“It may well be the case, but their report did not prove it conclusively to me,” said Craddock, the chief of U.S. Southern Command in Miami.
Several senators reacted angrily, some saying Craddock’s decision demonstrated the Pentagon’s refusal to hold senior officials accountable for abuses at U.S. military prisons worldwide.
“Gen. Craddock, I think what you’ve done is taken an investigation which was sincere and detailed and turned it into a justification and exoneration for a senior officer ... which is consistent with all these other investigations,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said. “We’re in this muddle because no one’s taken responsibility at a senior level for what’s been done.”
Others questioned Craddock’s assertion that because Miller had little experience with detainees when he took charge at Guantanamo Bay, he should not be held accountable for every aspect of prison operations.
“Why, if this is such a valuable and important operation, would we appoint somebody in charge who had no experience?” asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who criticized vague ground rules that the investigators said allowed interrogators to cross the line into abuse.
“I hold no brief for the prisoners,” McCain said. “I do hold a brief for the reputation of the United States of America as to adhering to certain standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be.”
The Senate hearing was held to accept the report by Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt and Army Brig. Gen. John T. Furlow, whom Craddock had assigned to investigate visiting FBI officials’ allegations of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo.
Schmidt and Furlow found evidence that military interrogators had violated Army procedures by shackling detainees’ hands and feet to the floor and, in one case, duct-taping the head and mouth of a detainee who refused orders to be quiet.
Among the 24,000 interrogations they investigated, they found three instances of methods that violated Army regulations or Defense Department guidelines.
None of the methods constituted “inhumane” treatment or “torture,” the investigators determined.
The investigators detailed a number of interrogation techniques -- the use of military dogs; temperature adjustments to discomfort detainees; sleep deprivation; and the use of female interrogators to sexually humiliate prisoners -- that drew FBI objections but that the Defense Department had approved.
The Pentagon has since banned many of the methods.
The investigators recommended that a Naval Reserve lieutenant commander be punished for threatening to kill a detainee and his family. Craddock ordered further investigation into the incident before accepting that recommendation.
The interrogation of Al-Qahtani for more than seven weeks beginning in 2002 received the most attention during Wednesday’s hearing.
Schmidt and Furlow testified that Miller deserved admonishment.
“In my opinion, he failed to monitor and place limits on the application of authorized interrogation techniques and allowed this interrogation [under] potentially unnecessary and degrading abusive treatment,” said Schmidt.
Some senators dismissed such concerns.
“When you contrast these interrogation techniques with those used in other countries, those fighting us, it’s hard to understand why we’re so wrapped up in this investigation,” Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.
If anything, Inhofe said, the investigators’ discovery of so few abuse cases suggested that military interrogations might not be coercive enough.
“It makes me wonder if we’re really getting the most out of these detainees,” he said.