Pentagon grilled on Iraq jail interrogation rules

Top Pentagon officials conceded on Thursday some of the interrogation methods approved for use by the US military on Iraqi prisoners may violate the Geneva Convention governing treatment of war prisoners.

The admission came as senators investigated disclosures of sexual and psychological abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad that prompted outrage around the world and undermined US efforts to stabilise the occupied country.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Democrats confronted Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the No 2 official at the Pentagon, and Gen Peter Pace, the No 2 US general, with "rules of engagement" for interrogations approved by the top commander in Iraq, Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez.

Those methods included sleep and sensory deprivation, forcing prisoners to assume "stressful" body positions for up to 45 minutes, threatening them with guard dogs, keeping them isolated for longer than 30 days, and dietary manipulation.

Senator Jack Reed asked Pace if a foreign nation held a US Marine in a cell, naked with a bag over his head, squatting with his arms uplifted for 45 minutes, whether would that be a good interrogation technique or a Geneva Convention violation.

"I would describe it as a violation, sir," replied Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"As I read General Sanchez's guidance, precisely that behaviour could have been employed in Iraq," said Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Reed then asked Wolfowitz a similar question. Wolfowitz initially tried to sidestep it, but eventually replied, "What you've described to me sounds, to me, like a violation of the Geneva Convention."

The Pentagon later released a statement saying the scenario posed by Reed was "contrary to our regulations" -- although it did not specify in what way -- and called Reed "mistaken."

Interrogation methods questioned

US interrogation techniques have come under scrutiny amid revelations prisoners were kept naked, stacked on top of one another, forced to engage in sex acts and photographed in humiliating poses.

Human rights activists have said the US interrogation methods clearly violated the Geneva Convention and a separate international treaty against torture.

Pressed by Reed as to who was responsible for the Iraq interrogation guidelines, Pace said: "I did not personally see them, and I do not know to what level they were visible or reviewed. ... I am not personally aware of any discussions, beyond the theatre, of the interrogation techniques in Iraq."

Wolfowitz said he was not aware of any discussions about those interrogation techniques and Sanchez's order.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who paid a surprise visit to Iraq and Abu Ghraib on Thursday, told a different Senate committee on Wednesday that Pentagon lawyers endorsed the interrogation methods used by the US military.

A former US intelligence official said that in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, support within the government across the political spectrum emerged for "extreme pressure" as a means for interrogation of terrorism suspects.

The former official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that was true despite widespread acknowledgment in the intelligence community that such measures were not an effective or reliable means of gaining accurate information.

He said first-hand experience had taught veteran intelligence officers that the use or threat of extreme measures made suspects so scared they would testify to almost anything they thought the interrogators wanted to hear.

"If they thought you wanted to hear Martians were behind an attack, the suspects would try to sell you that," he said.

Two British citizens who were held for more than two years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, said on Thursday they were abused by US military interrogators using methods similar to those that have come to light in Abu Ghraib.

In an open letter to President George W Bush and members of the Armed Services Committee, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal said they were "deliberately humiliated and degraded by the use of methods that we now read US officials denying."

They said they had to squat with their hands chained between their legs and fastened to the floor for hours while being questioned. Dogs were used to frighten prisoners and detainees were left naked in the interrogation room and "women were brought into the room who would inappropriately provoke and indeed molest them," the two wrote.

[Source: By Will Dunham, Reuters, Washington, 14May04]

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War in Iraq
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