Army intelligence officials in Iraq developed and circulated “wish lists” of harsh interrogation techniques they hoped to use on detainees in August 2003, including tactics such as low-voltage electrocution, blows with phone books and using dogs and snakes — suggestions that some soldiers believed spawned abuse and illegal interrogations.
The discussions, which took place in e-mail messages between interrogators and Army officials in Baghdad, were used in part to develop the interrogation rules of engagement approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then commander of U.S. troops in Iraq. Two specific cases of abuse in Iraq occurred soon after.
Army investigative documents released yesterday, as well as court records and files, suggest that the tactics were used on two detainees: One died during an interrogation in November 2003 while stuffed into a sleeping bag, and another was badly beaten by inexperienced interrogators using a police baton in September 2003. The documents indicate confusion over what tactics were legal in Iraq, a belief that most detainees were not covered by Geneva Conventions protections and alleged abuse by interrogators who had tacit approval to “turn it up a notch.”
In both incidents, a previously disclosed Aug. 14, 2003, e-mail from the joint task force headquarters in Baghdad to top U.S. human-intelligence gatherers in Iraq is cited as a potential catalyst.
Capt. William Ponce wrote that “the gloves are coming off” because casualties were mounting and officers needed better intelligence to fight the insurgency. Ponce solicited “wish lists” from interrogators and gave them three days to respond. That message was forwarded throughout the theater, including to officials at Abu Ghraib, where notorious abuse followed.
At the 4th Infantry Division’s detention facility in Tikrit, the e-mail caused top intelligence officials to develop a list including open-hand strikes, closed-fist strikes, using claustrophobic techniques and a number of “coercive” techniques such as striking with phone books, low-voltage electrocution and inducing muscle fatigue. The list was sent back to Baghdad on Aug. 17.
Interrogators used the perception of newfound latitude to interview an unidentified detainee on Sept. 23, 2003. According to the detainee’s statement, he was made to lie across folding chairs while an interrogator beat the soles of his feet with a police baton. He said he was later hit in the back and the buttocks with the baton while in a painful stress position.
A military intelligence staff sergeant who supervised the interrogators said a “fear up” approach had been approved for the interrogation. The unnamed sergeant wrote in a rebuttal to a reprimand that senior leaders were blurring the lines between official enemy prisoners of war and terrorists not afforded international protection.
“This situation is made worse with messages from higher echelons soliciting lists of alternative interrogation techniques and the usage of phrases such as ‘the gloves are coming off,’ ” he wrote.
At the same time, in Qaim, interrogators with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) received the e-mail from Baghdad. One veteran interrogator responded that restrictions on interrogation tactics hurt efforts in Afghanistan and that “today’s enemy” only understands force. He went on to “firmly agree that the gloves need to come off.”
“Other techniques would include close confinement quarters, sleep deprivation, white noise, and a [litany] of harsher fear-up approaches,” he wrote on Aug. 14, 2003, adding that “fear of dogs and snakes appear to work nicely.”
According to court records and testimony in cases against three 3rd ACR soldiers and a military intelligence warrant officer in the death of Iraqi Gen. Abid Mowhoush, interrogators there regularly stuffed detainees into a sleeping bag and wound them with an electrical cord as part of a “claustrophobic technique” that high-ranking officials believed was approved. Mowhoush, who had been beaten, died while being interrogated in a sleeping bag in November 2003.
Another interrogator, with the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion, wrote a response to the headquarters e-mail with cautions that “we need to take a deep breath and remember who we are.” “It comes down to standards of right and wrong — something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient,” the soldier wrote. “We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there.”