Sanchez's Torture Memos
On Sept. 14, 2003, and Oct. 12, 2003, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez issued guidance for interrogations in Iraq. His memos acknowledge that detainees in Iraq are protected by the Geneva Conventions. But that understanding isn't apparent in the lists of approved interrogation approaches and techniques that follow. Most scholars I've talked to agree that the interrogation rules spelled out for Abu Ghraib go beyond the limits of Geneva.
Nonetheless, Sanchez continues to stand by his decisions. In a passage of his autobiography describing his post-Abu Ghraib testimony on Capitol Hill, he offers this defense:
In the closed hearing, Senator Jack Reed was obsessed with finding an intelligence stovepipe "shadow" chain of command that circumvented the normal flow of orders. Senator Reed embraced virtually every improper conclusion made by the rest of the committee, and concluded that I was being circumvented as commanding general in Iraq when it came to interrogations, intelligence and detention operations. He was absolutely flabbergasted that he could not link Secretary Rumsfeld and the administration to the Abu Ghraib scandal via a "smoking gun" memorandum. Senator Reed also expressed absolute disbelief when I told him that no such guidance had been issued from higher headquarters.
The entire Senate hearing was stressful, but I thought Abizaid, Miller, Warren and I accomplished a lot. We clearly stated the context and rationale for decisions made and, I believe, we were all transparent on policies and directives. In retrospect, it was clear to me that some of the committee's members did not like the truth. They would not accept it, because it did not fulfill their political agendas.
Unfortunately, Senator Jack Reed continued his erroneous statements about me after the hearing. As a distinguished graduate of West Point, he should have known better, because cadets there are taught that integrity and honor are part of a warrior's ethic. He had apparently been designated the Democratic point man, because he repeated reports that I was in command of everything going on in Iraq, including the CIA, Special Forces, and all interrogations. And then he and other Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee portrayed my memorandums of September 14, 2003, and October 12, 2003, as having opened the door to aggressive interrogation techniques that went far beyond those listed in the Army Field Manual. However, this was not an issue of aggressive techniques. It was an issue of what the Geneva Conventions allowed.
In responding through various communication channels (such as follow-on investigations and resopnses to congressional questions for the record), I tried to explain the context and reasons behind the publication of the memorandums -- that there were no standards or guidance from the Army or anyone else in the Department of Defense as to what interrogation procedures should be used; that, as a result, absolutely no boundaries existed; that the Army Field Manual does not establish any controls or safeguards, and leaves the entire universe of techniques available for use; that I had given up on the Department of Defense ever issuing guidelines, and subsequently had exercised leadership by instituting specific standards so that we could get some controls into the Iraq interrogation environment; and most important, that every technique listed in the memorandums fell within the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions, and therefore could not be labeled torture. No one, however, wanted to listen. My explanations fell on deaf ears.
That same month, Sanchez revised his interrogation guidance a third time, on the advice of the former Guantanamo Bay commander brought in to run detention operations in Iraq. Sanchez writes:
[In April 2004] MG Geoff Miller was assigned as our deputy commanding general for detention operations, and immediately took steps to eliminate the possibility of abuse occurring in the future. After conducting a comprehensive review of our theater-wide procedures, Miller suggested that we modify my October 12, 2003, memorandum, which listed certain approved interrogation techniques. "Sir, we're never going to use these tougher techniques," said Miller. "It'll be too hard for us to ever get the legal concurrences to use them and they would probably yield little intelligence. So we should remove them. That will also make the list more acceptable in terms of a printed document."
COL Marc Warren also stated his opinion: "Sir, there is nothing wrong with the policy we have now," he said. "These techniques are not in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Such a change would only be more aesthetically appealing with the items off the list. However, I have no problem if you wish to follow MG Miller's advice."
"Okay, if it'll help us with perception, let's go ahead and reissue the guidance with those techniques off the list," I said. So on May 13, 2004, we issued a new memorandum [on interrogation] to that effect.
So, to sum up, Sanchez believes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib (1) were the acts of a few bad apples, (2) had nothing to do with interrogation, despite the findings of the Taguba and Fay-Jones reports, and (3) had nothing to do with his memoranda.
In my next post, I'll examine these assertions through the words of several witnesses from Abu Ghraib.
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