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Disagreement widespread within US government over 2002 harsh interrogations

Even some military lawyers opposed the techniques, according to congressional testimony this week.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 21, 2008


The Army lawyer's memo could not have been blunter. It argued that a plan to employ harsh interrogation techniques on prisoners at the US detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would be legally questionable and morally wrong – and risk a public-relations nightmare.

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Plus, there was no evidence that shackling prisoners into stressful positions, disrupting their sleep, or subjecting them to cold would actually work, wrote Army Col. John Ley in a secret 2002 memo to the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The plan does not adequately lay out how using these techniques will result in our forces getting any useful information," wrote Colonel Ley in his now-declassified two-page analysis.

Six years on, it is increasingly clear that the Bush administration's 2002 decision to proceed with harsh questioning of some terror suspects interned at Guantánamo was a matter of tremendous controversy within the United States government itself.

Last month, a Justice Department audit revealed that many FBI agents deployed to the Cuban base refused to participate when military interrogators used harsh techniques and protested the use of those techniques to their superiors.

In recent days a series of congressional hearings also has made plain that some military lawyers shared these concerns. Indeed, a few were aghast that the US was turning to techniques which, depending on their application, might cross the threshold of torture.

The policy decision to approve these methods "damaged and continues to damage our nation in ways that appear never to have been considered or imagined by its architects and supporters, whose policy focus seems to have been narrowly confined to the four corners of the interrogation room," Alberto Mora, former Navy general counsel, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 17.

Democratic congressional leaders billed coordinated hearings in House and Senate committees over the last two weeks as an effort to discover the origins of the Bush administration's interrogation policy.

In December 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved the use of harsh techniques, including stress positions, on Guantánamo prisoners. This move paved the way for detainee abuse that occurred later in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin (D) of Michigan on June 18.