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Report says top officials set tone for detainee abuse

Abusive interrogation techniques in Abu Ghraib followed approval of their use in Guantánamo, says a report by Senate Armed Services Committee.

By Staff writer / April 22, 2009

Abuse: This 2004 photo shows a US soldier holding a dog in front an Iraqi detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. A Senate report released Tuesday said tactics such as using dogs for intimidation were first approved as interrogation techniques in Guantánamo Bay before they showed up in Abu Ghraib.

The Washington Post/AP

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Senior US officials, not rogue underlings, were responsible for the abusive treatment of detainees in US custody.

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That’s the bottom line of a newly declassified, bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee released Tuesday night.

The report is likely to amplify growing calls among Democrats on Capitol Hill for an accounting of Bush-era abuses that includes top policymakers and the lawyers who advised them.

“The record established by the committee’s investigation shows that senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, in a statement Tuesday night.

“Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses,” he added.

Senator Levin has asked the Justice Department to launch a process “to establish accountability of high-level officials, including lawyers.”

The 18-month inquiry was approved unanimously by the Armed Services panel in November 2008, but it could not be released until vetted by the Pentagon. Some phrases and paragraphs in the 232-page report are still blacked out, but the panel is negotiating release of the remaining redacted material.

In a narrative that reads like a film script, the report documents how coercive methods used by Chinese communists to elicit false confessions from American POWs during the Korean War made it into interrogation rooms for detainees in US custody.

A key element was the redefining of the legal framework for the treatment of detainees after the 9/11 attacks. Drawing on more than 200,000 pages of classified and unclassified documents, the report tracks a legal paper trail and its consequences on the ground.

Policy changes came from the top and set a tone for the abuses on the ground that followed, the report concludes.

“Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO [Guantánamo Bay],” the report said.

Standards became subjective

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