Day 1: Pentagon declined to answer questions about detainees

McClatchy NewspapersJune 15, 2008 

WASHINGTON — At the request of chief Pentagon spokesman Col. Gary Keck, McClatchy submitted 15 questions to the Department of Defense on Oct. 1, 2007. In addition to the list of questions, McClatchy provided a spreadsheet with the names, nationalities and internment numbers of 63 of the 66 former detainees whom its reporters had interviewed.

Keck responded with a short statement and said in a phone conversation that no Pentagon officials would be available to speak about past events concerning U.S. detention operations.

On Oct. 9, McClatchy responded with a list of three questions about current U.S. detention operations, none of which was answered.

McClatchy contacted Keck again shortly before publication of this project and was told "we don’t feel that we can provide you with any specifics that would be of great value."

The following senior U.S. defense or White House officials are among those who declined, personally or through their representatives, or ignored McClatchy requests for interviews:

  • Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
  • Sandra Hodgkinson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.
  • William Haynes II, former Department of Defense general counsel.
  • Marshall Billingslea, former acting assistant U.S. secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and current deputy undersecretary of the Navy.
  • David Addington, longtime legal adviser and now chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
  • Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
  • Timothy E. Flanigan, former deputy assistant to President Bush and deputy White House counsel.
  • Alberto Gonzales, former White House counsel and attorney general.
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England.

The 15 questions from Oct. 1, Keck's response and the three questions from Oct. 9, which were never answered, are listed below in their original forms. These don't include e-mails and phone conversations that took place during many other attempts to lobby Keck for interviews with defense officials.


Date: Mon, 1 Oct 2007 10:11:29 -0700 (PDT)

From: "tom lasseter"

Subject: RE: RE: Media Request/McClatchy Newspapers (UNCLASSIFIED)

To: "Keck, Gary L Col OSD PA"

Col. Keck,

Thank you for your reply.

I am looking to have a pretty broad conversation about all three installations. We have interviewed more than 60 former GTMO detainees, and a large number of political/security officials in Afghanistan, NGO officials, etc.

That said, I'm listing several questions below to give you an idea of what sorts of things I'd like to talk about.

(Also — A list of former detainees interviewed is attached. I would look forward to any information about their cases. We have the CSRT/ARB transcripts for most of them. There is, of course, a wide gulf between what most of these former detainees say they were doing when detained, and what the charges in the CSRT/ARB transcripts reflect.)

1. I would like to discuss the evolution of the detention facilities at Kandahar, Bagram and Guantanamo. What were the discussions about setting them up? What was the initial thinking about how long the facilities would operate?

2. Once decisions were made to open these facilities, what sort of training was implemented for the units who would be assigned to those locations? Were there any reporting/supervisory mechanisms outside of the normal chain of command put in place to ensure that the installations operated appropriately?

3. In interviews with more than 60 former detainees, most said that they were hit, kicked or abused in other ways at Bagram or Kandahar. They described those two places as being far worse than Guantanamo in terms of physical treatment, especially in the early years of late-2001 to 2004. There are also many allegations of interrogators in those two places using guards to soften detainees before questioning. Was there any concern at the time about misconduct by guards and/or interrogators at those two installations?

4. How did practices such as hanging detainees by their wrists, and delivering knee strikes as a corrective measure, come to be SOP at Bagram?

5. Many detainees described instances in which guards threw Qurans into buckets used as latrines at Kandahar before the detention facility there was closed. Were there ever any formal allegations about this sort of behavior? If so, was there an investigation?

6. Why was the detention facility at Kandahar closed?

7. There appear to be several Afghans who were sent to Kandahar/Bagram and then to GTMO based on false allegations made by tribal/political rivals. What safeguards were in place to prevent this sort of thing in Afghanistan, a country notorious for deeply-rooted tribal and political conflict? Many political/security officials interviewed in Afghanistan pointed to this as a particular blind spot for U.S. forces there.

8. Many of the detainees spoke about Forced Cell Extractions by the IRF at GTMO, often describing pretty rough physical treatment. Have there been reviews of the SOP of the IRF? Were there ever concerns along those lines?

9. There appears to have been a relatively sophisticated network of religious leadership among the detainees at GTMO that called for hunger strikes and suicide attempts as forms of protest. Were there concerns about such leadership in the cell blocs?

10. Are there concerns that GTMO has served as a sort of intellectual Jihadi finishing school for detainees? That it in some cases took men who were criminals or low-level insurgents and turned them into something much harder/radical by the time they were released?

11. I would like to discuss the CSRT/ARB process — how the process was designed, the fact gathering behind the cases against detainees, the criteria for decisions re: whether a detainee was an enemy combatant, attempts to collect witness testimony from Afghanistan, etc.

12. Is there any concern about GTMO sliding into prison culture in which detainees and guards get locked into a back and forth struggle — detainees throw feces/urine/water, guards call the IRF, detainees throw more feces, etc.? Does that sort of situation open the door for detainees being held at GTMO as much for their behavior in the cell blocs as the allegations against them re: insurgent/terrorist ties?

13. There has been a broad range of allegations about Quran abuse, harassment during prayer times by guards, etc. at these three installations. Is there any truth to that? Has there been a concerted effort to exploit religious/cultural sensitivities of detainees to manipulate them for interrogation purposes?

14. What steps are taken to try to prevent detainees being subjected to abuse when they are transferred back to their home countries?

15. Also — In addition to Kandahar, Bagram and Guantanamo, several of the ex-detainees spoke about mistreatment at FOBs in eastern and southern Afghanistan where they were held before being transferred to Kandahar/Bagram. I would like to discuss this.

Thank you for your time, Tom


Subject: RE: RE: Media Request/McClatchy Newspapers (UNCLASSIFIED)

Date: Tue, 2 Oct 2007 09:57:13 -0400

From: "Keck, Gary L Col OSD PA"

To: "tom lasseter"

Tom,

Since we have had the same kinds of questions from many reporters over the years we have found it useful to provide the following responses on this general subject. You can certainly contact the GTMO or Afghanistan public affairs office for more information on either of their detainee operations if you would like. If you really want to have a process discussion on CSRT/ARBs while you are here next week, give me a call when you get to town.

You can attribute to a department of defense spokesman:

"The Department of Defense policy is clear — we treat all detainees humanely. The United States operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for unlawful enemy combatants at war with this country. These unlawful combatants have provided valuable information in the struggle to protect the U.S. public from an enemy bent on murder of innocent civilians. As instructed by Al Qaeda training documents such as the Manchester Manual, detainees have frequently made allegations of abuse while in detention in order to garner public support."

"There have been 13 major reviews conducted of detention operations over the past several years, none of which found there was any policy that ever condoned abuse. The reviews have resulted in numerous recommendations which have been implemented and have improved our detention operations. Any credible allegations of illegal conduct by U.S. military personnel are taken seriously and looked into in painstaking detail. If and when applicable, offenders have been punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

"Detainees who are cleared by the US Government for transfer from Guantanamo depart once their respective governments (1) provide credible assurances that they will be treated humanely and (2) that the countries will take tangible steps to mitigate the threat that these individuals pose to the United States and its allies. Detainees are not repatriated to countries where it is more likely than not that they will be tortured. Of the 445 who have departed, less than 10% were determined to be "no longer enemy combatants" (NLEC). While the vast majority of those who departed Guantanamo were still considered "enemy combatants," when repatriated, nations accepting them have agreed to manage their threat."


Subject: RE: RE: Media Request/McClatchy Newspapers (UNCLASSIFIED)

Date: Tue, 2 Oct 2007 11:46:45 -0400

From: "Keck, Gary L Col OSD PA"

To: "tom lasseter"

Tom,

I don't think we can really give you any help from the policy level on these types of questions beyond what I have provided. Almost everything you are asking about would be handled well below the OSD level. If you can narrow allegations to specific individuals then the service PA representatives might be able to track down action taken by a commander if warranted.

Gary L. Keck

COL, US Army

Director, DoD Press Office

(703) 697-2300


Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2007 12:31:27 -0700 (PDT)

From: "tom lasseter"

Subject: Re: FW: Fwd: RE: RE: Media Request/McClatchy Newspapers (UNCLASSIFIED)

To: "Keck, Gary L Col OSD PA"

Col. Keck,

I am interested to speak with someone about current detainee operations at Bagram and Guantanamo.

I would like to ask them:

1. Are there currently any concerns about mistreatment of detainees at those installations?

2. What sort of intelligence value do the detainees at those installations represent? Are most detainees held in those two installations former commanders/high-level operatives of al Qaida or other terrorist organizations?

3. How many detainees are currently being held at Bagram and Guantanamo?

Thank you, Tom


Subject: RE: FW: Fwd: RE: RE: Media Request/McClatchy Newspapers (UNCLASSIFIED)

Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2007 15:48:40 -0400

From: "Keck, Gary L Col OSD PA"

To: "tom lasseter"

Tom,

Let me see what I can do.

Gary L. Keck

COL, US Army

Director, DoD Press Office

(703) 697-2300


On May 21, McClatchy sent a final note asking Keck whether the Defense Department would have any further comment:

From: tom lasseter

Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 6:17 PM

To: Keck, Gary L Col OSD PA

Subject: Media Request/McClatchy Newspapers (UNCLASSIFIED)

Col. Keck,

Sir, this is Tom Lasseter from McClatchy. I wanted to submit a request again to discuss the questions I forwarded to you last year, which are listed below. (Refers to questions sent Oct. 1, 2007)

Thank you for your time, Tom


RE: Media Request/McClatchy Newspapers (UNCLASSIFIED)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 12:36 PM

From: "Keck, Gary L Col OSD PA"

To: Tom Lasseter

Tom,

I'll see what I can do. Much of your request is about allegations of abuse. I doubt I can get anyone at the DoD level to discuss these as allegations of abuse are handled by the specific commands who have responsibility for facilities. Your questions about GTMO are best addressed by JTF GTMO as there have been many changes over the years. There have been numerous investigations into allegations of abuse and when they were determined to have occurred then people have been held accountable. It may be difficult to get folks who know the thought process for sure pertaining to decisions made in the early days of the War on Terror. Many officials have changed since those days. We can give you current information only on our policy on detention operations.

Gary L. Keck

COL, US Army

Director - DoD Press Office

(703) 697-2300


RE: Media Request/McClatchy Newspapers (UNCLASSIFIED)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 2:21 PM

From: "Keck, Gary L Col OSD PA"

To: Tom Lasseter

Tom,

I have had our folks take a look at these and we don't feel that we can provide you with any specifics that would be of great value. There have been lots of changes over the past 7 years. We have made every effort to conduct detention operations in a safe and humane manner. Specific questions about GTMO should be addressed to them. Many reporters have visited GTMO - you may consider requesting a visit with JTF-GTMO to learn more firsthand. Since 2002, JTF-GTMO has hosted over 3,000 media visits, including roughly 70 from McClatchy/Miami Herald. Cmdr. Storum's number is (contact information removed).

I can provide you with this for your piece if you decide to write:

"Our policy is, and always has been, to treat detainees humanely."

"All credible allegations of abuse are thoroughly investigated and individuals are held accountable for their actions."

"13 major reviews of detention operations have not found any policy that ever condoned or tolerated abuse of detainees. Recommendations resulting from those reviews have improved our operations over time."

"It should be noted that the Manchester Manual instructs al Qaeda members on the legal and public relations benefits of publicizing mistreatment while in detention."

"The closing chapter of the Manchester Manual teaches al Qaeda operatives how to operate in a prison or detention center. It directs detainees to "insist on proving that torture was inflicted" and to "complain of mistreatment while in prison."

"We typically do not respond to each and every allegation of abuse made by past and present detainees."

Gary L. Keck

COL, US Army

Director - DoD Press Office

(703) 697-2300

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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