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Guantanamo techniques improperly used elsewhere, report finds

WASHINGTON—Military interrogators working in Iraq and Afghanistan improperly embraced harsh techniques that had been approved only for use on detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a 321-page report released Thursday by the Army Inspector General.

The report, written by Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek, said commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan incorporated the harsher techniques into their interrogation policies based in part on memos they had read about the Guantanamo interrogations.

But the report said the commanders failed "take into account that different standards applied" to Guantanamo, where suspected members of al-Qaida were not covered by the Geneva Conventions, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Geneva Conventions largely applied.

Mikolashek's report, the result of a five-month investigation into how Army policies might have contributed to prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, found no evidence of a "systemic failure."

But his report is certain to bolster criticism by human rights advocates that Bush administration policy toward prisoners at Guantanamo created an atmosphere that led to prisoner abuse elsewhere. Democrats in Congress were quick to criticize the report.

"Interrogation techniques witnessed by the International Committee of the Red Cross during visits to Abu Ghraib appear consistent with techniques that we now know were approved and later rescinded by high-level Defense Department officials or by commanders in the theater in Iraq," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said at a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing where the report was unveiled. "In light of the frequently changing `rules of engagement,' as they were called, for interrogators in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, it is difficult to believe that there were not systemic problems with our detention and interrogation operations."

Mikolashek, however, told the committee that his investigation of individual abuse cases found "they were not the result of any widespread systemic failure, but ... the result of an individual's failure to adhere to known standards of discipline, training or Army values."

Mikolashek said he found no direct link between the application of interrogation techniques and 94 confirmed cases of abuse that were reviewed by his office.

In all, Mikolashek examined 125 possible instances of abuse. Of those, 19 involved natural deaths or deaths that were justified. In 12 cases, there was insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion about the incident.

Of the remaining 94 cases, 20 involved a captive's death, and the others involved either the theft of personal belongings or other physical abuse. Forty-five occurred when a detainee was taken captive. Another 40 took place at detention facilities, including Abu Ghraib in Iraq or the U.S.-operated Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.

Only eight cases took place during the interrogation process.

"But what we did find was that when people really stepped out of the bounds of those approach techniques or just the normal bounds of discipline and behavior, that's when abuse occurred," Mikolashek said.

In one case, according to Mikolashek's report, a detainee "who was overweight and in poor physical health" died during an interrogation by two warrant officers "who routinely slapped and beat the detainees they were questioning." The officers received reprimands and the case is under "further review," but Mikolashek said no one attempted to stop their abusive techniques.

Mikolashek's investigation is one of 11 Pentagon probes into prisoner abuse triggered by the Abu Ghraib scandal and the first to study the link between that scandal and interrogation policies at Guantanamo.

During the fall of 2002, officers in charge of supervising interrogations at Guantanamo sought approval for more aggressive measures. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld eventually approved the use of 26 specific "counter-resistance techniques" but required the use of seven safeguards, including approval from commanders.

However, when the techniques were imported to Afghanistan and Iraq, not all the safeguards were communicated to interrogators, Mikolashek found. Not all interrogators were trained on the use of the techniques, he said, and some interrogators were not even aware which policy was in place.

"These are very high-risk measures that require an awful lot of oversight, supervision and insurance," Mikolashek said. "And they were not always disseminated thoroughly, properly and well understood, nor were there all the safeguards in place ... to ensure the techniques were properly applied."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.