Spencer Ackerman on TPMMuckraker raises the question as to whether Special Forces have their own, especially brutal, rules (Standard Operating Procedure) for treatment of detainees. (The recent Defense Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) report emphasized the key role of Special Forces, in collaboration with military psychologists, in adapting the SERE torture techniques for US use on detainees):
Separate Interrogation Rules For Special Forces?
By Spencer Ackerman – June 18, 2007, 3:58 PM Sy Hersh’s piece on the stifling of General Antonio Taguba’s inquiry into Abu Ghraib begs a big question: What would Taguba have uncovered if he had been free to investigate?
Buried within three of the Pentagon’s official investigations into torture, there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the answer is a separate, harsher set of rules for detainee and interrogation operations led by Special Operations Forces — the elite units specializing in unconventional warfare — than those that apply for the rest of the U.S. military. Yet none of the inquiries follows through on how highly trained SOF units, increasingly important in the war on terrorism, could have created detention facilities so brutal as to give them the motto “No Blood, No Foul” absent official guidance.
In 2004, in order to undercut calls for an independent inquiry into Abu Ghraib, Donald Rumsfeld appointed a panel chaired by ex-defense secretary James Schlesinger to investigate the Defense Department’s detainee operations. Schlesinger found (pdf) that, essentially, there were two distinct sets of rules for interrogating detainees in Defense Department custody: one for the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay, where the Bush administration decreed that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply, and another for department operations everywhere else. Outside of Guantanamo Bay, military interrogators were supposed to rely on an Army field manual, known as FM 34-52, that complied with the Geneva Conventions. For years, the Pentagon’s line was that the only set of authorizations for interrogations were FM 34-52, or the enhanced techniques to be used only at Guantanamo — nothing else. (Last year, the Army updated FM 34-52, rechristening it FM 2-23.2 and intending the Geneva-compliant manual to apply in Guantanamo as well.)
Except that Schlesinger’s report hinted at another set of rules for interrogations. During December 2002 and January 2003, Rumsfeld furiously reviewed and revised the procedures for interrogations in Guantanamo Bay — but it turned out that those techniques didn’t remain in the island prison. In late January 2003, intending to facilitate Rumsfeld’s review, the U.S. command staff in Afghanistan provided to U.S. Central Command “a list of techniques being used in Afghanistan, including some not explicitly set out in FM 34-52.” Schlesinger never specified what the techniques were. But he wrote that they were subsequently “included in a Special Operations Forces (SOF) Standard Operations Procedures document published in February 2003.”
That February 2003 document was never included in the appendix of the Schlesinger report. A later investigation, by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, didn’t shed any additional light on the February 2003 SOF procedures, either. Yet Church reported that some interrogation procedures that deviated from FM 34-52 were “developed independently” by interrogators in Afghanistan. Both Church and Schlesinger sidestepped the question of how or why interrogators in Afghanistan would have come up with an alternative set of interrogation measures absent orders from the Pentagon, especially since Church described those measures as “similar to the counter resistance techniques that the Secretary had approved for GTMO” in an early — and quickly rescinded — iteration. Among those approved GTMO techniques: “deprivation of light/auditory stimuli”; “mild, non-injurious physical contact, e.g., grabbing, poking or light pushing”; “stress positions, like standing”; “removal of clothing” and more.
To date, the role of what Special Operations Forces are allowed to do in detention and interrogation operations remains opaque. The only Pentagon investigation into Special Operations’ role in detainee abuse, led by Brigadier General Richard Formica in 2004, focused (pdf) only on specific allegations of abuse, not on what standard detention and interrogation procedures are for SOF. Formica nevertheless found that for four months in 2004, interrogators used techniques “including sleep management, stress positions, dietary manipulation, and yelling/loud music that were not specifically authorized” by the U.S. command in Iraq — and which the command had, in October 2003, expressly foresworn. Formica attributed the use of those techniques to a misunderstanding.
Even if Formica had broadened his focus, however, there’s no guarantee that he would have been able to determine anything. Hersh reports that in one investigation by the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division into a SOF task force suspected of abusing detainees, task force members used fake names and took other measures to obstruct the inquiry. Similarly, Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told Hersh that he distrusts the classified reports he receives from the Pentagon about what SOF forces are up to around the globe.
Knowing whether SOF plays by a different set of detention and interrogation rules would help explain how Human Rights Watch could have documented a SOF detention facility rife with abuse, down to the gruesome motto, “No Blood, No Foul.” As Hersh writes, SOF activities have massively expanded worldwide in the years since 9/11, with little oversight into the rules under which they operate. In particular, three big questions remain outstanding:
* What additional interrogation techniques are contained in the February 2003 Standard Operation Procedure?
* Are they still in place?
* And is there any other guidance differentiating what SOF task forces can do from that of the rest of the U.S. military?
Taguba wasn’t able to get the answers. Neither has the new Democratic Congress. Even without Rumsfeld in charge, the Pentagon wants to keep it that way.
Unresolved is whether the new Army Field Manual setting rules for interrogations applies to Special Forces. We already know that it doesn’t apply to the CIA.
June 18th, 2007