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Manual spells out rules on interrogation techniques

WASHINGTON—Under the torture ban sponsored by Sen. John McCain, Americans questioning suspected terrorists would be limited to techniques authorized by the Army's manual on intelligence interrogation, a guide that clearly spells out the rules.

The manual says "the use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor condoned by the U.S. Government." Defense officials say those rules will remain the standard.

"We have had requirements for humane treatment from the beginning," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday on Fox News. "Anytime there has been something other than humane treatment, there has been prosecution."

Even with a dozen major reviews and the prosecution of more than 200 U.S. troops for incidents of abuse, the American military is struggling to overcome the black eye it received over abusive treatment reported at U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The manual was last updated in 1992 and is being revised. Defense officials declined to talk about the changes until they're completed. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, said the manual was being updated to "reflect the current world situation" and that "humane treatment will remain the standard."

Andrea Jones, a McCain spokeswoman, said McCain was confident that the Army wouldn't add anything to its manual that could counteract or weaken his amendment. McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday that his amendment made "it pretty clear what would have to be in the field manual."

President Bush on Thursday accepted McCain's measure to ban cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of terrorist suspects by American interrogators. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have endorsed it by wide margins.

The manual outlines 17 acceptable methods ranging from direct questioning to providing incentives or manipulating prisoners' emotions, fears, pride and egos. Threats and the use of force, drugs, brainwashing and mental torture or coercion are prohibited.

"Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation," according to the manual. "Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear."

Interrogators are advised to use patience and tact, exert self-control and remain objective, dispassionate and professional during questioning.

According to a Defense Department background paper dated June 22, 2004, the interrogation manual was used as the guide at Guantanamo Bay for all of 2002.

But the manual was written for the interrogation of prisoners in a conventional war, and new rules were needed to deal with the more than 500 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon said in the paper. In December 2002, Rumsfeld approved 17 additional techniques that the Defense Department's civilian general counsel had recommended.

These techniques appear to have been grounded in a January 2002 memo by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general, who wrote that suspected al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners weren't subject to treatment standards outlined by the Geneva Conventions.

The new techniques were part of a three-tier system that required approval by various levels of the military chain of command before they could be used.

Category I included yelling at a detainee, using multiple interrogators and deception.

Category II techniques included stress positions, using false documents or reports, isolation for up to 30 days, deprivation of heat and light, using hoods during transportation and questioning, interrogations lasting up to 20 hours, removing comfort items, switching from hot to cold meals, removing clothing and forced grooming, including the shaving of beards, which devout Muslim men wear. Interrogators were allowed to use dogs and exploit other phobias to induce stress.

Category III techniques allowed death threats against the prisoner or his family, exposure to cold weather and water, a wet towel or dripping water to induce the sensation of suffocation or drowning, and mild physical force.

Rumsfeld rescinded the techniques under Categories II and III in mid-January 2003, about six weeks after they were implemented. In April 2003, the list was narrowed to 24 techniques, the original 17 from the manual plus another seven, including some Category II techniques such as dietary and environmental manipulation, sleep deprivation, isolation and deprivation of light and sound.

These 24 techniques are still in effect as approved interrogation approaches, but none of them "ordered, authorized, permitted or tolerated torture," according to the Pentagon's background paper. It's unclear whether the additional seven will remain in the new manual.

A directive issued last month forbids using dogs during questioning and tightens other rules.

Torin Nelson, an Army interrogator for 13 years, said he thought that the overall deterioration of U.S. human-intelligence assets over the past 30 years, inexperience and poor training among new interrogators, a permissive command atmosphere and a desire for revenge after the Sept. 11 attacks had led to many cases of abuse.

"Because of that, they lost the message that we had established years ago: that you can play by the rules and still get what you need as long as you have a qualified person doing the job," he said.

The manual can be found online at


(Knight Ridder correspondent William Douglas contributed to this report.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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