U.S. Military Bars Some Iraq Interrogation Methods

The U.S. military, facing a scandal over the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail, has prohibited several interrogation methods from being used in Iraq, including sleep and sensory deprivation and body "stress positions," defense officials said on Friday.

The officials, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said these techniques previously required high-level approval from the U.S. military leadership in Iraq, but now will be banned completely.

The officials said the decision was made on Thursday by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, on the same day that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with him on a surprise trip to the country and visited the Abu Ghraib facility on the outskirts of Baghdad.

A senior Central Command official said the U.S. military leadership in Iraq never actually approved a request from personnel at any prison to use any of the techniques that now are being prohibited, although these methods had been listed as among those for which approval could be requested.

Officials refused to say the methods were barred because they were onerous or violated the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

The interrogation methods that Sanchez has now prohibited were included on a list of techniques that U.S. military jailers holding thousands of prisoners in Iraq were permitted to use if they gained the approval of the top American military leadership in the country, the officials said.

From that list, Sanchez has decided to continue to allow jailers to request the option of isolating a prisoner for more than 30 days at a time, officials said.

All the other items on the list -- none of which ever gained approval from Sanchez to actually be used -- have been prohibited, the officials said, including "dietary manipulation," sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, forcing a prisoner to assume body "stress positions" for longer than 45 minutes, and threatening a detainee with guard dogs.

Senate Democrats this week angrily confronted top Pentagon officials with this list, which circulated among members of Congress and leaked to the press, and argued that the interrogation methods ran afoul of the Geneva Convention.

Scandal and scrutiny

U.S. military interrogation techniques have come under scrutiny following revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib, which had been a torture center under ousted President Saddam Hussein. Prisoners were kept naked, stacked on top of each other, compelled to wear hoods over their heads, forced to engage in sex acts, struck by American jailers, and photographed in humiliating poses. Seven U.S. soldiers face criminal charges.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told reporters that there has been "a rigorous process since long before these allegations came to light" to review interrogation practices by the U.S. military in Iraq. But Di Rita indicated that "the heightened scrutiny of the last couple of weeks" might have played a role in Sanchez's decision.

Di Rita said Rumsfeld did not direct Sanchez to make the move.

Asked whether these methods had been prohibited because they were deemed too onerous to use on prisoners, Do Rita said, "They are clearly the types of activities that somebody felt needed higher-level authority and a disconnect from the unit so that there could be a more objective evaluation of it, if they wanted to be used. They were clearly in a slightly different category. But I wouldn't try and attach words like onerous to it."

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

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