Thursday, May 1, 2008

ACLU: Pentagon Documents Highlight Interrogation Methods

ACLU: Pentagon Documents Highlight Interrogation Methods

By Adam Goldman

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New York - The military continued to use abusive interrogation methods on detainees after a 2003 directive meant to end such practices, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday after reviewing newly released documents.

The Department of Defense documents shed light on the use of psychologists in military interrogations and the failure of medical workers to report abuse of detainees, the ACLU said.

"The documents reveal that psychologists and medical personnel played a key role in sustaining prisoner abuse - a clear violation of their ethical and legal obligations," ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said.

A Pentagon spokesman said medical workers understood the responsibility to provide humane medical care to detainees.

The ACLU obtained the documents - newly unredacted data from what is known as the Church Report - in connection with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in 2004. The government did not release details on the interrogation methods that continued to be used after 2003, she said.

The documents also show "the use of some of the techniques ... continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum."

The report says, "The relatively widespread use of these techniques supports our finding that the policy documents were not always received or thoroughly understood."

The Pentagon says it conducted a thorough review of prisoner interrogation policies after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. The Church Report concluded that no uniformed or civilian leaders directed or encouraged the prisoner abuses committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Humane treatment of detainees "is and always has been the Department of Defense standard," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros said Wednesday.

"The Church Report is one of a dozen major reviews, assessments or investigations related to detention operations," he said. "None of them found that there was a governmental policy directing, encouraging or condoning abuse."

The report was largely disclosed in 2005, and a declassified version of the review was made public last year. Some of the documents were initially redacted because they were classified, Singh said. The government claimed that if the information were released it would cause serious damage to national security. The newly released documents are part of the Church Report not previously released.

Singh called the government's argument bogus, saying it furthered a pattern "of claiming national security as pretext for withholding information to cover up embarrassing information."

The ACLU has been highly critical of the report, saying the Pentagon didn't analyze all open abuse cases at the time. The ACLU says the report shows "enlisted medics witnessed obvious episodes of detainee abuse apparently without reporting them to superiors."

Singh said the documents make it clear that the psychologists were employed in the context of military operations. They were not there to serve as mental health providers, she said.

Ballesteros pointed to the executive summary of the report, which states that medical personnel "understood their responsibility to provide humane medical care to detainees, in accordance with U.S. Military medical doctrine and the Geneva Conventions."

He said the report also discusses the role of behavioral science workers, who were not involved in detainee medical care or permitted access to detainees' medical records for purposes of developing interrogation strategies.

"More than 600 criminal investigations have been initiated into allegations of detainee mistreatment. More than 250 servicemembers have been held accountable for their roles in those cases," he said.

The ACLU submitted a freedom of information request in October 2003 and sued in June 2004 demanding immediate disclosure of records relating to prisoners held in facilities abroad. The litigation is ongoing.

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