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Senate Report: Harsh Tactics Used In Attempt to Establish Non-Existent Iraq-al Qaida Link

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A report released Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee presented new details regarding Bush administration officials' approval of the military's use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects. The 232-page, newly declassified report was approved by the Armed Services Committee on November 20, 2008, and had since then been under review at the Department of Defense for declassification.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, wrote about the significance of the report on HuffPost:

In my judgment, the report represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration's interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse - such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan - to low ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a "few bad apples," were simply false.

The report revealed new information about the origins of the military's interrogation techniques. As the Washington Post writes:

[The report] sheds new light on the adaptation of techniques from a U.S. military program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), used to train American service personnel to resist interrogations if captured by an enemy that does not honor the Geneva Conventions' ban on torture.

The military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) has been reported to have reverse-engineered these methods to break al-Qaeda prisoners. The techniques, including waterboarding, or simulated drowning, were drawn from the methods used by Chinese Communists to coerce confessions from U.S. soldiers during the Korean War -- a lineage that one instructor appeared to readily acknowledge.

"We can provide the ability to exploit personnel based on how our enemies have done this type of thing over the last five decades," Joseph Witsch wrote in a July 2002 memo.

What is perhaps more alarming is that few, if any, of the top officials involved in allowing the use of these interrogations methods knew anything about their 'gruesome origins' nor bothered to actually investigate what it was they were approving, according to the New York Times:

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

Establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq was one of the factors motivating the use of these interrogation methods. From McClatchy:

A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.

"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

While the New York Times had previously reported in December about how the Armed Services Committee report pinned much of the blame for detainee abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib on Donald Rumsfeld--Rumsfeld said at the time that the report contained ""unfounded allegations against those who have served our nation"--Politico flags some of the new details about the former Defense Secretary's role:

The report contains a Jan. 11, 2003 memo written by a military lawyer in Afghanistan linking use of harsh techniques against prisoners directly to approval of the methods by Rumsfeld. "SECDEF's approval of these techniques provides us the most persuasive argument for use of 'advanced techniques." Rumsfeld a few days later rescinded authority for use of the techniques at Guantanamo but military lawyers in Afghanistan still considered them permissible.

As for the impact of the report, the Washington Post notes that "the new findings are expected to add further pressure on the White House to authorize an independent investigation of the Bush-era interrogation policies." Earlier in the day Tuesday President Obama said he was open to the possible prosecution of Bush administration officials.

HuffPost's Ryan Grim has more on what may be in store for Bush administration lawyers such as Jay Bybee:

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), in arguing for Bybee's impeachment, says that the purpose of the memos was not to give an honest legal analysis, but to deem legal behavior that is clearly illegal in order to encourage that illegal activity. The charge, says Nadler, would be something along the lines of conspiracy to abet torture.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) announced Tuesday he would hold a hearing looking into the role Bush administration lawyers played in justifying torture. Some lawyers, Conyers told the Huffington Post, were engaged in honest analysis of the law. Others, he said, were simple law breakers.

"There are some who tried to do a get-out-of-jail-free card. Obviously, there are some that that's all they were thinking," said Conyers, declining to name specific names, citing his upcoming hearings.

But he has a few in mind. "We're coming after these guys," he said.

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