WASHINGTON — The U.S. military hid the locations of suspected terrorist detainees and concealed harsh treatment to avoid the scrutiny of the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to documents that a Senate committee released Tuesday.
"We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques," Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, a military lawyer who's since retired, said during an October 2002 meeting at the Guantanamo Bay prison to discuss employing interrogation techniques that some have equated with torture. Her comments were recorded in minutes of the meeting that were made public Tuesday. At that same meeting, Beaver also appeared to confirm that U.S. officials at another detention facility — Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan — were using sleep deprivation to "break" detainees well before then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved that technique. "True, but officially it is not happening," she is quoted as having said.
A third person at the meeting, Jonathan Fredman, the chief counsel for the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, disclosed that detainees were moved routinely to avoid the scrutiny of the ICRC, which keeps tabs on prisoners in conflicts around the world.
"In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD (Defense Department) has 'moved' them away from the attention of the ICRC," Fredman said, according to the minutes.
The document, along with two dozen others, shows that top administration officials pushed relentlessly for tougher interrogation methods in the belief that terrorism suspects were resisting interrogation.
It's unclear from the documents whether the Pentagon moved the detainees from one place to another or merely told the ICRC they were no longer present at a facility.
Fredman of the CIA also appeared to be advocating the use of techniques harsher than those authorized by military field guides "If the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong," the minutes report Fredman saying at one point.
Beaver testified that she didn't recall making the comment about avoiding "harsher operations" while ICRC representatives were around, but she said she probably was referring to the need to conduct extended periods of interrogations of detainees without disruption.
The minutes of the Guantanamo meeting were among 25 documents released Tuesday by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and is leading a probe of the origins of cruel treatment of detainees in President Bush's "war on terrorism."
The administration overrode or ignored objections from all four military services and from criminal investigators, who warned that the practices would imperil their ability to prosecute the suspects. In one prophetic e-mail on Oct. 28, 2002, Mark Fallon, then the deputy commander of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigation Task Force, wrote a colleague: "This looks like the kind of stuff Congressional hearings are made of. ... Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this." The objections from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines prompted Navy Capt. Jane Dalton, legal adviser to the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, to begin a review of the proposed techniques.
But Dalton, who's now retired, told the hearing Tuesday that the review was aborted quickly. Myers, she said, took her aside and told her that then-Defense Department general counsel William Haynes "does not want this ... to proceed." Haynes testified that he didn't recall the objections of the four uniformed services.
Officials in Rumsfeld's office and at Guantanamo developed the techniques they sought by reverse-engineering a long-standing military program designed to train U.S. soldiers and aviators to resist interrogation if they're captured.
The program, known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, was never meant to guide U.S. interrogation of foreign detainees.
An official in Haynes' office sought information about SERE as early as July 2002, the documents show. Two months later, a delegation from Guantanamo attended SERE training at Fort Bragg, N.C. Levin said, "The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees." The documents confirm that a delegation of senior administration lawyers visited Guantanamo in September 2002 for briefings on intelligence-gathering there. The delegation included David Addington, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney; Haynes; acting CIA counsel John Rizzo; and Michael Chertoff, then the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and now the homeland security secretary. Few of the Republicans at Tuesday's hearing defended the Bush administration’s detainee programs. Guidance provided by administration lawyers "will go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and shortsighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation's military intelligence communities," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C..
Regarding the ICRC, the United States long has complained that other countries such as China or the old Soviet Union prevented independent access to prisoners or made their conditions look better when outsiders were inspecting. The Bush administration appears to have engaged in similar practices, however.
Bernard Barrett, the ICRC’s Washington spokesman, said, "We knew that we did not always have full access to all detainees. It was a fairly serious issue." “It’s been addressed,” he said. “We are confident we now have access to all detainees at Guantanamo.”