New York — U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the expansion of a secret program that encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners to obtain intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq, the New Yorker magazine reported Saturday.
- Source: Rumsfeld: U.S. interrogation techniques don’t violate Geneva Conventions
He is, of course, quite right. Article 13 of the third convention, concerning the treatment of prisoners, insists that they “must at all times be protected… against insults and public curiosity”. This may number among the less heinous of the possible infringements of the laws of war, but the conventions, ratified by Iraq in 1956, are non-negotiable. If you break them, you should expect to be prosecuted for war crimes.
This being so, Rumsfeld had better watch his back. For this enthusiastic convert to the cause of legal warfare is, as head of the defence department, responsible for a series of crimes sufficient, were he ever to be tried, to put him away for the rest of his natural life.
- One Rule For Them…
The Defence Department strongly denied the claims made in the report, which cited unnamed current and former intelligence officials and was published on the magazine’s website. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita issued a statement calling the claims “outlandish, conspiratorial and filled with error and anonymous conjecture.”
The story, written by reporter Seymour Hersh, said Mr. Rumsfeld decided to expand the program last year, broadening a Pentagon operation from the hunt for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to interrogation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
Seven soldiers are facing military charges related to the abuse and humiliation of prisoners captured by the now-infamous photographs at the prison. Some of the soldiers and their lawyers have said military intelligence officials told military police assigned as guards to abuse the prisoners to make interrogations easier.
The story, which hits newsstands Monday, said the initial operation Mr. Rumsfeld authorized gave blanket approval to kill or capture and interrogate “high-value” targets in the war on terrorism. The program stemmed from frustrating efforts to capture high-level terrorists in the weeks after the start of U.S. bombings in Afghanistan.
The program had approval from President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Mr. Bush was informed of its existence, the officials told Mr. Hersh.
Under the program, Mr. Hersh wrote, special forces carried out instant interrogations — using force if necessary — at secret CIA detention centres scattered around the world. The intelligence would be relayed to the commanders at the Pentagon.
Last year, Mr. Rumsfeld and Stephen Cambone, his undersecretary for intelligence, expanded the scope of the Pentagon’s program and brought its methods to Abu Ghraib, Mr. Hersh wrote.
Critics said the interrogation rules, first laid out in September after a visit to Iraq by the commander of the prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, amounted to a green light for abuse.
Defence Department officials deny that, saying prisoners always are treated under guidelines of the Geneva Convention.
“No responsible official of the Department of Defence approved any program that could conceivably have been intended to result in such abuses as witnessed in the recent photos and videos,” Mr. di Rita said in his statement.
“This story seems to reflect the fevered insights of those with little, if any, connection to the activities in the Department of Defence.”
Mr. di Rita also said Mr. Cambone has never had any responsibility for any detainee or interrogation programs.
The intelligence sources told the magazine photos of sexual abuse were used to intimidate prisoners and detainees into providing information on the insurgency. It was thought some prisoners would do anything — including spying on their associates — to avoid dissemination of the shameful photos to family and friends.
One intelligence official said the CIA ended its involvement with the program at Abu Ghraib prison by last fall.
“They said: ‘No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan — pre-approved for operations against the high-value terrorist targets — and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law and people pulled off the streets,”‘ the source said.