March 10, 2005

Church Report: Torture and Abuse Not U.S. Policy, Clears Top Officials

Navy Vice Admiral Albert Church will testify before Congress today that while prisoner abuse and torture has occured at the hands of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the abuse was not due to US policy, was not wide spread, and not systematic--multiple sources are reporting this morning. The Church report also outlines a number of new recommendations aimed at further reducing prisoner abuse.

The New York Times (subscription) sums up the findings:

Admiral Church's report faults senior American officials for failing to establish clear interrogation policies for Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving commanders there to develop some practices that were unauthorized, according to the report summary. But the inquiry found that Pentagon officials and senior commanders were not directly responsible for the detainee abuses, and that there was no policy that approved mistreatment of detainees at prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Kevin McCullough, who has much more, summarizes the Church reports findings:
1. There was no policy that condoned torture.

2. There was no policy that encouraged abuse.

3. There was a lot of inconsistency across interrogation techniques. Many of those techniques were developed in the combat theater and migrated to other areas.

4. There was a general lack of military command guidance in dealing with the CIA. [Church] found 30 ghost detainees. One such detainee was in that status for 45 days.

5. There were missed interrogation opportunities in part because the military failed to take account of lessons from prior conflicts
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6. There was no guidance to CENTCOM or by CENTCOM on interrogations.

While the general thrust of the Church report is that US policy did not directly lead to the torture and abuse of detainees, the international media has jumped on the report, following the lead of the New York Times, focusing instead on tales of the abuse that did take place. The International Herald Tribune, based in France, runs with the headline "Abuse of Afghan villagers by GIs is reported to Congress" and cites the New York Times as its source.

It is our opinion that the specific tales of abuse should have remained classified and the report should only contain a general accounting of abuses. The inevetable outcome of the public airing of specific abuses will be to bolster the claims of terrorists that the fight against Coalition forces in Iraq is a just one. Members of Congress could have been briefed on the classified portions of the document in private.

The goal of the report, it should be remembered, is to find ways to prevent abuse in the future. The Times claims that:

Three senior defense officials said Wednesday that the new procedures clarified the prohibition against the use of muzzled dogs in interrogations, gave specific guidance to field units as to how long they could hold prisoners before releasing them or sending them to higher headquarters for detention, and made clear command responsibilities for detainee operations.
Vice Admiral Church and other Pentagon officials are scheduled to testify before Congress today.

UPDATE: Interesting note from Wired:

A 21-page unclassified summary of the report was to be released at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The full 368-page report is classified.
Is the story run by the New York Times, and sure to be the focus of the foreign and jihadi press, about abuses part of the classified report? If so, who leaked it?

UPDATE: This in from American Forces Press Service:

The latest review of detention operations has found “no policy that considered or condoned torture,” said the officer appointed to lead the investigation.
Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, director of the Navy staff, also said he found no policy “that condoned or in any way encouraged abuse of detainees.”

The admiral said the investigation did find inconsistencies with regard to the development, promulgation and dissemination of interrogation techniques. These techniques “migrated” from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, he said.

“As with previous investigations, we found there was a lack of guidance for the interrogators dealing with other government activities, specifically the (CIA),” he said.

Church said he did receive cooperation from the CIA and was able to determine that there were 30 so-called “ghost detainees” – one of whom was jailed for 45 days before being added to the prison population.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld assigned Church to conduct the investigation on May 25, 2004. The admiral was to identify and report on all interrogation techniques “considered, authorized, employed or prohibited” in the global war on terror. He was to look at to what extent interrogation techniques migrated from one command or operation to another. He also was to investigate DoD support or participation in interrogations conducted by other governmental agencies.

Church and his investigators traced how all the interrogation techniques were developed, and how they were considered inside the Pentagon. Church said he and his staff were interested in responses to “who requested what, what the responses were, how that was promulgated, how techniques migrated, (and) how they were actually employed in the field by the interrogators.”

To this end, Church and his investigators conducted more than 800 interviews and combed through thousands of pages of documents. They also built on investigations conducted previously and worked closely with the Schlesinger Panel – an independent group that examined detainee operations.

Church also investigated the 70 authenticated cases of detainee abuse. He said these cases resulted in six deaths, 26 cases of serious abuse and 38 minor cases. The admiral said only about a third were related to interrogation. This included asking for information at the point of capture.

He said there was no pattern to the cases. “They were in (Guantanamo), Afghanistan, Iraq and across the spectrum – active, Reserve, Guard, Navy, Marine and Army. So there was no pattern in these abuses, and none of them related to any of the interrogation techniques that were authorized,” he said.

Church cited a number of “missed opportunities.” He said the services should have incorporated the detainee affairs lessons from past conflicts as it was readying for war. He also said DoD provided no specific guidance to U.S. Central Command on detainee interrogation, nor did CENTCOM provide guidance to the theaters regarding interrogation policy or interrogation techniques.

Senior defense and military officials said they will comb the Church report for more recommendations to make detainee operations better, without choking off the vital flow of human intelligence necessary to fight the global war on terrorism.

The Army is tracking more than 400 different recommendations out of the 11 major investigations, inspections and reports that have been completed prior to the Church report. More than 40 percent of the recommendations have been completed and put in place.

Since the pictures of detainee abuse appeared almost a year ago, reports of detainee abuse have declined by 80 percent. The Army has worked to clarify policy, especially the roles of military intelligence interrogators and military police, senior military officials said.

The service has implemented major changes in training. The Army has taken the recommendations to heart and instituted changes from initial-entry training to the highest level of military education. In addition, MPs receive an additional 55-hour course on detainee operations before deploying.

An example of how seriously the service took the incidents of detainee abuse is the change in the prisoner-to-guard ratio. In April 2004 it was 75 detainees to one guard. Now the ratio is 8-to-1, and the Army is creating new units so the imbalance never occurs again, military officials said.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 11:07 AM | Comments |