WASHINGTON — The CIA, which had authority to use harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorist detainees, advised U.S. military officials at Guantanamo in 2002 on how far they could go in extracting information from captives there, documents released at a Senate hearing Tuesday show.
"If the detainee dies you're doing it wrong," Jonathan Fredman, chief counsel to the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, told a meeting of officials on Oct. 2, 2002, according to minutes from the meeting.
That meeting came a week after a delegation of senior Bush administration officials visited the Guantanamo Naval base, where the Bush administration has set up a prison camp for suspected terrorists. In addition to Fredman, attendees at the meeting included Lt. Col. Jerald Phifer, who was in charge of Guantanamo's Joint Task Force 170, and Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, who was Task Force 170's legal officer.
The officials who had visited Guantanamo the week before were David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s top lawyer; acting CIA counsel John Rizzo; and Michael Chertoff, head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, and now President Bush's Homeland Security secretary.
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The CIA involvement clearly bothered some at Guantanamo. "This looks like the kinds of stuff Congressional hearings are made of," Mark Fallon, deputy commander of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo, wrote in an Oct. 28, 2002 e-mail to his headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va. "Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.”
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is investigating the origin of techniques that resulted in abuse at Guantanamo, Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, and elsewhere, said the documents show that the abuse was not the result of "a few bad apples" within the military _ as the White House has claimed.
"The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees," said Levin, a Michigan Democrat.
The documents and testimony at the hearing show how Pentagon officials "reverse engineered" a military program designed to help captured U.S. soldiers and aviators resist interrogation and turned it into the foundation of the harsh interrogation program.
Techniques used in a program to prepare U.S. servicemen, known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), were instead put to use against detainees at Guantanamo.
Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, a retired Air Force psychologist, testified that the training was never intended to be used in interrogations of enemy combatants.
"It’s not the same at all as something that would be applied in an interrogation setting," Ogrisseg said.
The documents show that the SERE techniques were the genesis of the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees that resulted in abuses, including the death of several prisoners. The techniques have been denounced internationally as torture.
The documents show that an official in Haynes’ legal office at the Defense Department contacted the agency responsible for SERE as early as July 2002.
A Dec. 18, 2002 memorandum containing guidelines for detainee interrogations at Guantanamo makes it clear that the harsh interrogation techniques that U.S. military trainers had long feared would be used against captured Americans had been viewed as acceptable when dealing with suspected terrorists. A McClatchy investigation shows that abuse was common at U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan, even against many prisoners who it would turn out had little knowledge of al Qaida and no links to terrorism.
"The premise behind this is that the interrogation techniques used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations," the memorandum said. "The same tactics and techniques can be used to break real detainees."