Report Blames Rumsfeld for Detainee Abuses
Report Blames Rumsfeld for Detainee Abuses
WASHINGTON — A report released Thursday by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said top Bush administration officials, including Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, bore major responsibility for the abuses committed by American troops in interrogations at Abu Ghraib in Iraq; Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and other military detention centers.
The report was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican. It represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, and it explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.
The report also rejected previous claims by Mr. Rumsfeld and others that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse.
The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the report says, “was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own” but grew out of interrogation policies approved by Mr. Rumsfeld and other top officials, who “conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees.”
By the time of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Mr. Rumsfeld had formally withdrawn approval for use of the harshest techniques, which he authorized in December 2002 and then ruled out a month later. But the report said that those methods, including the use of stress positions and forced nudity, continued to spread through the military detention system, and that their use “damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”
Most of the report, the product of an 18-month inquiry and interviews with more than 70 people by committee staff members, remains classified. But the 29-page summary offers the clearest timeline to date linking the acts of Mr. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials to abusive treatment in the field.
A spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld, Keith Urbahn, said a dozen earlier investigations had found no such connection, and he dismissed the report as “unfounded allegations against those who have served our nation.”
“Because of irresponsible charges by a few individuals in positions of responsibility in Congress, millions of people around the world have been led to believe that the United States condones torture,” Mr. Urbahn said.
Committee staff members said the report was approved by a voice vote without dissent, but only 17 of the committee’s 25 members were present for the vote. Mr. McCain, who was tortured while he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, has been an outspoken opponent of harsh interrogation tactics, but some other Republicans have defended such methods as legal and necessary.
Many of the particulars in the summary were made public at hearings the committee held in June and September, including the fact that members of President Bush’s cabinet discussed specific interrogation methods in White House meetings.
The report documents how the military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, became a crucial source for interrogations as the Bush administration looked for tougher methods after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The SERE training was devised decades ago to give American military personnel a taste of the treatment they might face if taken prisoner by China, the Soviet Union or other cold war adversaries. “The techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody,” Mr. Levin said in a statement.
In his statement on Thursday, Mr. McCain called the adoption of SERE methods “inexcusable.”
The report found that senior Defense Department officials inquired about SERE techniques for prisoner interrogations as early as December 2001, when the war in Afghanistan was weeks old and American troops were just beginning to capture people suspected of being members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
In September, the committee released a December 2001 letter from the head of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which runs the SERE program, to a deputy of William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s general counsel, saying the agency’s officials “stand ready to assist” Pentagon efforts at prisoner “exploitation.”
The committee’s report says little about the Central Intelligence Agency, except to note that that agency also drew on the SERE program for harsh methods it used in secret overseas jails for Qaeda suspects. The C.I.A. has said it used waterboarding, a method of near-drowning previously used in the Navy’s SERE program, on three captured terrorism suspects in 2002 and 2003.
Unlike the military, the C.I.A. is still permitted to use some coercive methods, though the precise rules are classified. The agency has said that it no longer uses waterboarding.
More Articles in Washington » A version of this article appeared in print on December 12, 2008, on page A14 of the New York edition.