In his memoir, Donald Rumsfeld admits five mistakes, sort of

5. Treatment of detainees

Rumsfeld argues that he did not approve of the harsh techniques that US military officials initially requested to use against suspected terrorist captives.

“If you ask most Americans how many detainees were waterboarded at Guantanamo, the likely answers range from three to hundreds,” he writes. “The correct answer is zero. When military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay sent up their chain of command a request to use waterboarding in late 2002, I rejected it. To my knowledge, no US military personnel involved in interrogations waterboarded any detainees – not at Guantanamo Bay, or anywhere else in the world.”

He lists the US commanders who requested the use of techniques that also included “making the detainee believe that he, or a family member, might suffer death or severe pain if he failed to cooperate, exposure to the cold, and the use of mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger, and light pushing.”

Rumsfeld writes that he later approved “only twenty four of the thirty-five techniques” that officials recommended. He does not detail these techniques, but he does cover his bases on accountability, noting that “each of the techniques I approved, I was told, had been unanimously supported by the members of the legal review team, as well as by each of the service secretaries and each of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff involved in the process.”

He does accept criticism on one point, however: scrawling a note on a memo outlining a technique that could require a detainee to stand for up to four hours while interrogators questioned him. “ ‘I stand for 8-10 hours a day,’ I wrote, ‘Why is standing limited to four hours?’ My offhand comment was a statement of fact. I used a stand-up desk and spent much of the day on my feet,” he points out. But Rumsfeld concedes, “It was a mistake to make that personal observation to my general counsel. It certainly was not a signal to the Department that it would be okay to stretch the rules, as some have suggested.”

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