A report issued Thursday by the U.S. Defense Department blames the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay on low level soldiers who went beyond the rules, and inadequate enforcement of military discipline. As a result, the report says the U.S. commander in Iraq issued a new set of interrogation rules last month, in addition to other earlier changes in detainee procedures.
The nine-month investigation by the Navy's Inspector General concludes that there was no policy to abuse detainees. That is what Defense Department officials and senior military officers have been saying since photographs of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan began appearing early last year. The report says in spite of the well-publicized exceptions, the tens of thousands of prisoners held in the war on terrorism have been treated humanely.
Presenting the report Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the inspector general, Vice Admiral Albert Church, responded to pointed questions from senators who expressed concern that his investigation did not go far enough in questioning senior officials to determine whether there was a systemic problem behind the abuse.
"Clearly some things were done wrong," said Admiral Church. "Clearly some things, in hind sight, Senator, would be done differently. And I think I've captured those."
The admiral's report, which mainly compiled information gathered by other investigations, concludes that there were relatively few cases of abuse, that most were minor, and many occurred in the heat of battle, at the time the detainees were arrested, not at detention facilities. The report says the widespread nature of the abuse, across continents and in different military services, suggests there was no single cause for the incidents. But the admiral disagreed with one senator's charge that his report attempts to dismiss the abuse scandal as just one big misunderstanding.
"We spent nine months, over 800 interviews, reviewed thousands and thousands of pages of documents, leveraged [used] all the other reports and I understand that I was picked because they wanted an independent look at exactly what happened, how it happened, why it happened," he said. "And I think I've laid that out with some precision. I took it where it led. And the facts are the facts. And I understand that some people won't like the facts, and in some cases the conclusions. But it's not all one big misunderstanding, sir."
Admiral Church's report concludes that there were at least two efforts to specify which interrogation techniques were allowed, and which were not. He says that created some confusion. According to the rules, only relatively mild techniques such as poking a prisoner in the chest or gentle pushing, were allowed. But the admiral also concluded there was a lack of clarity on what non-military interrogators, like those from the CIA, could do in military prisons. And the report says the urgency of gathering intelligence in the wake of the September 11 attacks contributed to a more aggressive, and unauthorized, approach by some interrogators.
The report also says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved harsher techniques for two particular prisoners, a move the report says contributed to an atmosphere in which the boundaries of proper procedures became blurred. Secretary Rumsfeld ordered this review last May. Other official inquiries into specific aspects of the abuse and detention operations are continuing.
In the latest effort to ensure there is no more abuse, U.S. Army General George Casey, the commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, issued new guidelines late last month. According to the report, the new document further limits the number of authorized interrogation techniques, requires additional training of troops, and orders commanders to verify their compliance with the rules.