Hot Docs: Harsh Interrogation Techniques in Iraq, America's $950 Billion Hospital Bill

Today's selection of timely reports.


Controversy Over Detainee Interrogations in Iraq: As it looks into the issue of detainee treatment, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony about the use of certain interrogation techniques in Iraq. The SERE techniques (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) in question were designed to train military personnel on how to resist questioning, not how to conduct an interrogation. However, these protocols were followed by often inexpert military interrogators in Iraq, resulting in sessions that "deferred to the adversary in setting standards of conduct," says U.S. Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman. "Senior officers challenged my on-the-ground assessment of

unlawful interrogation methods with the argument that psychologically and physically punishing interrogations are acceptable because that is how they would expect to be treated if captured by the enemy." He observes that this practice has damaged the reputation of the United States, and "the geostrategic consequences are likely to last decades." The proceedings also elicited responses from Condoleezza Rice and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger about meetings they attended to discuss these techniques, and the legal recommendations that were given.

The National Hospital Bill: In 2006, U.S. hospitals billed almost $950 billion for inpatient care—about two thirds of which was charged to Medicare or Medicaid. The total represents more than 39 million hospital stays. The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project draws data from federal, state, and company sources to track the nation's healthcare costs and who is paying them. The report on 2006 data points out that the five most expensive inpatient conditions (all of which are related to heart disease, pregnancy, or infant care) account for about 20 percent of the national bill.

Helping Yemen Fight Terrorism: In light of a recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Yemen by an al Qaeda-affiliated group, Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Michael Knights looks at how the United States should support antiterrorism operations in that country. A post-9/11 uptick in cooperation between the two nations has subsided, and Knights points out that the United States now provides relatively little aid to Yemen compared with that given to other western and Gulf nations. Warning that the weakening of Yemen's governance and economy could lead to "state failure," Knight writes that Washington should commit to supporting the Yemeni government: "The chances of receiving counterterrorism cooperation from a collapsed Yemen are zero, and the cost of rebuilding a failed state far outweighs the costs of preventing such a collapse."

Can Nonprofits Help Out in a Disaster?: A new report by the Government Accountability Office found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has more work to do when it comes to evaluating the abilities of volunteer groups to help out in a disaster. The study looked at the Red Cross, Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention, Catholic Charities, and the United Way. It found that "evidence suggests that without government and other assistance, a worst-case large-scale disaster would overwhelm voluntary organizations' current sheltering and feeding capabilities." The GAO report also found that while the federal government and the organizations have started to identify mass care capabilities, "most existing assessments are locally or regionally based and do not provide a picture of nationwide capabilities."

U.S.-Muslim Relations: Improving the United States' relationship with Muslim countries is key to strengthening national and worldwide security, according to a new report. "Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World" describes how national and Muslim leaders must work together to tackle current issues, such as improving governance in Muslim countries and using diplomacy to "[reduce] extremism." The report is a product of the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement with the assistance of the organizations Search for Common Ground and the Consensus Building Institute.