The Pentagon said it will take action if a U.S. Senate report on the torture of detainees provides new information. The bi-partisan report said top officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, set policies that launched a series of abusive interrogations in U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
The report by the Senate committee that oversees the military said senior officials, including former Secretary Rumsfeld, authorized "aggressive interrogation techniques," resulting directly in the abuse of detainees and sending a message to U.S. forces worldwide that mistreatment was allowed.
It said the abuse included putting detainees in stress positions, taking away their clothing, using dogs to scare the detainees, depriving them of sleep and using a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.
A spokesman for Rumsfeld called the allegation he condoned such abuse "unfounded," and said the report is "unencumbered by the preponderance of the facts."
The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, said in a news release it is "unconscionable" for senior officials to blame low-ranking troops for the abuse at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and other locations. The Democratic Party senator said the 18-month investigation "is an effort to set the record straight," in the hope that admitting America's mistakes will help "rebuild some of the good will" it has lost.
The top Republican on the committee is Senator John McCain, the former presidential candidate who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam 35 years ago. In the joint release with Senator Levin, he said it was "inexcusable" for the United States to use the kind of "abusive interrogation techniques" used by its enemies, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. He said, "These policies are wrong and must never be repeated."
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman reacted to the report Friday.
"There have been 12 major reviews conducted of detention operations, none of which found that there was any policy that ever condoned or tolerated abuse," he said.
But past reports have criticized permissive and contradictory orders coming from the Pentagon about the treatment of detainees. Whitman said the Defense Department cooperated with the senate investigators and will take a close look at their report.
"We'll look at the report in detail. If there is any new information in there that we feel we need to address, we will certainly act upon it," he said.
Whitman also noted that the U.S. military has taken extensive steps in recent years to end abuse and ensure that all detainees are treated humanely.
Still, the abuses of the past have hurt the U.S. reputation in the world, and have also made it more difficult to prosecute detainees. Officials said information obtained through torture or other abuse may not be admissible in U.S. courts. That is a main reason the Bush administration established a system of military commissions at the Guantanamo facility.
But critics like Anne Marie Brennan of Amnesty International said the system is unfair and the detainees should be moved to regular U.S. prisons and tried in regular U.S. courts.
"If trials are able to go forward, then trials can go forward. Obviously, evidence obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should be excluded," she said.
It will soon fall to the administration of President-elect Barack Obama to decide how to respond to the Senate report, and how to proceed with the detention, trial and possible release of the 250 men still held at Guantanamo.