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Lawmaker Says Pentagon Sought Cruel Interrogation Methods

A key U.S. lawmaker says senior Bush administration officials sought extreme interrogation techniques to use against detainees in military prisons. His Senate panel found that military officials who helped train U.S. troops to resist interrogations in captivity assisted Defense Department lawyers in drafting a list of extreme tactics that could be used against detainees. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is investigating the origins of the harsh interrogation techniques used on detainees at the military prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, is committee chairman:

"The truth is, that senior officials in the U.S. government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees," said Senator Levin. "In the process, they damaged our ability to collect intelligence that could save lies."

The committee found that Pentagon lawyers sought information about a program used to train U.S. troops to resist enemy interrogation, and that some of the techniques used in the program - including stress positions and sleep deprivation - were approved for use on detainees by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in December 2002.

Under Senator Levin's questioning, Richard Shiffrin, former deputy general counsel for intelligence at the Defense Department, said Pentagon lawyers pursued the aggressive interrogation techniques because they were concerned the military was not effectively obtaining information from detainees.

LEVIN: "Was this effort because of some frustration with the lack of intelligence that was coming up?"

SHIFFRIN: "That is the sense I got."

But the harsh interrogation techniques were approved despite opposition from some lawyers in the uniformed services, who sent memos to the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying the techniques warranted further examination and could be illegal. Alberto Mora is a former general counsel for the Navy.

"Our nation's policy decisions to use so-called harsh interrogation techniques in the war on terror was a mistake of massive proportions," said Alberto Mora. "It damaged and continues to damage the nation.

But William Haynes, the Pentagon's top lawyer who resigned in February, told the committee he was unaware of the memos.

Senator Levin found the comments incredulous.

HAYNES: "I did not know they existed."

LEVIN: "You didn't know those memos existed?"

HAYNES: "Senator, I don't recall seeing them, and I don't recall knowing about the memoranda."

Haynes testified that Rumsfeld rescinded some of the harshest techniques in January 2003, six weeks after he had approved them.

But Pentagon investigators found that some of those techniques were later used without authorization in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Lindsey Graham is a South Carolina Republican and an expert in military law:

"It is clear to me that these techniques do encompass techniques that we were defending against and became an offensive weapon," said Senator Graham. "It is clear to me they migrated all over the military and it is clear to me it created confusion for those serving this country."

At the White House, spokesman Tony Fratto offered the Bush administration's response to the Senate hearing.

"It has always been the policy of this government to treat these detainees humanely and in line with our laws and our legal obligations," said Tony Fratto.

The Senate committee began its investigation in early 2007, and is expected to release a final report later this year.