Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

How the Press, the Pentagon, and Even Human Rights Groups Sold Us an Army Field Manual that (Still) Sanctions Torture

With the Army Field Manual likely to become the new standard for interrogation, the truth behind it is more crucial than ever.
 
 
Share
 
 
 

 A January 17th New York Times editorial noted that Attorney General designate Eric Holder testified at his nomination hearings that when it came to overhauling the nation's interrogation rules for both the military and the CIA, the Army Field Manual represented "a good start." The editorial noted the vagueness of Holder's statement. Left unsaid was the question, if the AFM is only a "good start," what comes next?

TheTimes editorial writer never bothered to mention the fact that three years earlier, a different New York Times article introduced a new controversy regarding the rewrite of the Army Field Manual. The rewrite was inspired by a proposal by Senator John McCain to limit U.S. military and CIA interrogation methods to those in the Army Field Manual. (McCain would later allow an exception for the CIA.)

According to the Times, a new set of classified procedures proposed for the manual was "was pushing the limits on legal interrogation." Anonymous military sources called the procedures "a back-door effort" to undermine McCain's efforts at the time to change U.S. abusive interrogation techniques, and stop the torture.

A Forgotten Controversy

Over the next six months or so, a number of articles in the New York Times , the Washington Post , and the L.A. Times described the course of the controversy. By mid-June 2006, the Times was reporting that, under pressure from unnamed senior generals and members of Congress (including McCain, and Senators Warner and Graham), the Pentagon was rethinking its plan to have a classified annex to the AFM, which would include a different set of interrogation rules for "unlawful combatants," like the detainees at Guantanamo. Included in the discussion about these classified procedures were, reportedly, members of the State Department and various human rights organizations.

According to an article in the L.A. Times, this latest fight over the classified procedures went back at least to mid-May 2006. The manual itself had been written at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, roughly a year earlier, and then sent to the Pentagon for further evalution. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's right-hand man, Stephen Cambone, was put in charge of its final draft. According the L.A. Times , members of Congress were "keen to avoid a public fight with the Pentagon." The announcement that the controversial and still unknown procedures might not be included in the manual was seen as a success by human rights groups.

Yet the proverbial chickens never hatched, and by early September 2006 the new Army Field Manual was finally released. The section on special interrogation procedures for "unlawful combatants" was included as a special appendix (Appendix M), and published in unclassified format. According to a L.A. Times story on September 8th, Cambone was crowing that the new Army Field Manual instructions would give interrogators "what they need to do the job." The article noted:

The new manual includes one restricted technique that will only be used on so-called unlawful combatants – such as Al Qaeda suspects -- not traditional prisoners of war.

That technique, called "separation," involves segregating a detainee from other prisoners. Military officials said separation was not the equivalent of solitary confinement and was consistent with Geneva Convention protections.

As for the proposed secrecy surrounding the new techniques, the Pentagon had decided it couldn't keep them secret forever. Senator Warner was also on record as against any classified annex to the manual.

Not long ago, I wrote about what was included in Appendix M, which purports to introduce the single technique of "separation." In fact, the Appendix M includes instructions regarding solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and, in combination with other procedures included in the Army Field Manual, amounted to a re-introduction of the psychological torture techniques practiced at Guantanamo, and taught by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE psychologists and other personnel at the Cuban base and elsewhere.