WASHINGTON Military officials tasked with training U.S. troops to evade enemy interrogations provided Pentagon lawyers a list of abusive tactics that could be used in prisons like Guantanamo Bay, a top Senate Democrat disclosed Tuesday.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the harsh techniques were then pursued despite strong objections in November 2002 by the military's uniformed lawyers.
"If we use those same techniques offensively against detainees, it says to the world that they have America's stamp of approval," said Levin, D-Mich., at the onset of a committee hearing.
"That puts our troops at greater risk of being abused if they're captured. It also weakens our moral authority and harms our efforts to attract allies to our side in the fight against terrorism."
The hearing is the committee's first look at the origins of the harsher methods used in Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq and how policy decisions on interrogations were vetted across the Defense Department. Its review fits into a broader picture of the government's handling of detainees, which includes FBI and CIA interrogations in secret prisons.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the administration's legal analysis on detainees and interrogations following the Sept. 11 attacks will "go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and shortsighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation's military and intelligence communities."
Asked about Graham's assertion, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "We have great respect for Lindsey Graham. We're not going to review every legal opinion that has ever been proffered by this government.
"I'm telling you what the policy, what our policy has been, has been to deal with these detainees humanely, get the information from them that we can to protect this country. And as we've been working through the process with Congress and putting in place laws to deal with them in a legal way," Fratto said.
The Pentagon's top civilian lawyer at the time, chief counsel William "Jim" Haynes, was expected to testify. Also present were Richard Shiffrin, Haynes' former deputy on intelligence matters, as well as legal advisers at the time to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Guantanamo Bay prison.
According to the Senate committee's findings, Haynes became interested in using harsher interrogation methods as early as July 2002 when his office inquired into a military program that trained Army soldiers on how to survive enemy interrogations and deny foes valuable intelligence.
Haynes and other officials wanted to know if the program known as "Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape" training could be used used to develop more effective interrogation methods.
Shiffrin said his interest was not so much in trying reverse engineer the tactics to be used against the enemy but rather tapping military expertise in interrogations.
In response, the head of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which ran the SERE program, offered that resistance training included sensory deprivation, sleep disruption, stress positions, waterboarding and slapping.
Several of those techniques, including stress positions, were later approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a December 2002 memo.
Levin said these techniques were approved despite fierce objections a month earlier by the military services' lawyers. In separate memos, the lawyers told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the techniques warranted further study and could be illegal.
The committee also released previously secret and privately held memos dating from the 2002 inception of the harsh interrogation program at Guantanamo.
In one of them, the top military lawyer at Guantanamo, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, explains that the Defense Department had made a practice of hiding prisoners who were being treated harshly, even abusively, from the International Committee of the Red Cross, a non-governmental body empowered to monitor compliance with Geneva Convention rules for the treatment of military prisoners.
Beaver also confirmed that the military was secretly using previously forbidden techniques, such as sleep deprivation, but hiding them so as not to draw "negative attention," according to minutes of the meeting.
"Officially it is not happening," Beaver said, according to minutes from the meeting. "It is not being reported officially. The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention."
Beaver said interrogators should "curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around."
Beaver was speaking at an Oct. 2, 2002 meeting between CIA and military lawyers and military intelligence officials on how to counter the resistance of Guantanamo detainees to military interrogation.
Beaver's comments suggest that the CIA's practice of hiding unregistered "ghost detainees" from the ICRC at military jails may have been as much in service to the Pentagon's interrogation program as it was to the CIA's.
A senior CIA lawyer at the meeting, John Fredman, explained that whether harsh interrogation amount to torture "is a matter of perception." The only sure test for torture is if the detainee died.
"If the detainees dies you're doing it wrong," Fredman said.
Associated Press Writer Pamela Hess contributed to this report.