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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.

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The article falsely claims the AFM bans manipulation of sleep patterns. Regarding any controversy, the article explains:
Three expanded techniques -- good cop, bad cop; pretending to be an official from another country; and detention in a separate cell from others -- are allowed but require approval from senior officers. Officials originally considered keeping those three techniques classified but decided to make them public for the sake of full transparency.

The Post article also briefly mentioned the generally positive response of human rights groups:

"This is the Pentagon coming full circle," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "This is very strong guidance."

As for the human rights organizations, Amnesty International later essentially signed off on the AFM. In an article from the Winter 2007 issue of Amnesty International Magazine, Jumana Musa, quoted in the L.A. Times article above, had this to say about the new AFM:

AIUSA also worked with U.S. representatives and senators to introduce legislation to create a single, transparent standard for interrogations and to limit the CIA to approved interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.

In a telephone interview for this article, Mr. Malinowski said he supported using the Army Field Manual as a replacement for the CIA "enhanced interrogation techniques," and described the question of abuse in Appendix M as not entirely clear. He maintained, however, that the current Army Field Manual was merely a start, and that a new overhaul of interrogation techniques was on the agenda.

A call made to Amnesty International's press contact regarding this issue, and an e-mail sent to Jumana Musa, were both unreturned.

The truth behind the Army Field Manual is more important than ever

Two conclusions can be drawn from the above examination of the "selling" of the Army Field Manual to the American public in the late summer of 2006 and beyond. One is that reporters on the beat were very aware of the origins and implications of the issues surrounding Geneva and the AFM, and the controversies surrounding the use of isolation and other techniques under the rubric of "Separation." The extremely muted or non-existent discussion in the mainstream press of these issues after the AFM was introduced means that a decision to suppress these issues was made at an editorial level , and were not the result of laziness or dilatory reporting on behalf of reporters.

Secondly, the role of some human rights organizations in promoting the new Army Field Manual -- in particular, the actions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch -- are curious, to say the least. Press reports and the interview with Malinowski show that inclusion of certain human rights organizations in the vetting of the AFM started at the very beginning. We may not be able to find out what went on in the editorial offices of the nation's top newspapers, but we should know more about the discussions within the human rights organizations on how they advised, or were fooled, by talks with Bush administration and Pentagon personnel.

Meanwhile, other human rights organizations, such as the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights, have criticized the language and techniques described in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, and called for rescission of the offending text. In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in May 2007, Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR, and retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, MD, former Commanding General of the Southeast Regional U.S. Army Medical Command, wrote:

The new Army Field Manual on human intelligence gathering... explicitly prohibits several SERE-based techniques, yet Appendix M of the manual explicitly permits what amounts to isolation, along with sleep and sensory deprivation. The manual is silent on a number of other SERE-based methods, creating ambiguity and doubt over their place in interrogation doctrine....

PHR, therefore, respectfully urges you to take the following actions: