Setting the Rules for Interrogations
The Army clarifies which techniques are forbidden
It has been the subject of what Pentagon officials last week referred to as "robust discussion"-and what others might safely call some serious political fighting. The Army Field Manual on interrogations was unveiled last week after more than a year of revisions and intergovernmental wrangling, and the result was a sound rebuke of the exercises in prisoner humiliation that came to light in the Abu Ghraib scandal.
The new manual clearly lists banned practices like hooding prisoners, duct-taping their eyes, forcing them to be nude, or threatening them with dogs. It also accords Geneva Conventions protection-which bars "outrages against personal dignity"-for all detainees, for the first time establishing a single standard of treatment for uniformed prisoners and would-be terrorists alike. The manual does not apply to those held in now-acknowledged CIA prisons, where techniques like waterboarding, which simulates drowning and is now explicitly prohibited in the new field manual, have been used. Still, it marks a sharp and significant rejection of the harsh methods backed by the Bush administration, say defense officials.
What's more, it represents a win for military lawyers who pushed for the Geneva protections-against the wishes of some senior political appointees. "We don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them," says Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army's senior intelligence officer. "I think the empirical evidence of the last five years-hard years-tells us that."
New reality. The manual, which replaces the 1992 version, reflects new realities. "It takes into consideration now that the foe we're fighting today ... will be a non-stateactor, such as a terrorist," says Cully Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs. Some of the lessons learned include the value of good press-and the damage that the abuses at places like Abu Ghraib prison have done to the U.S. image abroad. To that end, a push to classify three new approved techniques-including playing good cop/bad cop and pretending to be someone other than an American interrogator-was also abandoned. "From the standpoint of world opinion, it's vital that we don't have a separate set of rules that we're not going to release and disclose," says Victor Hansen, a former JAG officer who represented Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former head of coalition forces in Iraq, in Abu Ghraib inquiries. The manual is not without its controversies; for instance, suspected terrorists, with expressed command approval, may be separated from the general population-"so they cannot coordinate their stories," says Kimmons-which some argue could violate Geneva Conventions if it amounts to prolonged isolation.
As for concerns that publishing interrogation techniques would allow prisoners to prepare for interrogations and hinder intelligence gathering, Kimmons is philosophical. "Even classified techniques, once you use them on the battlefield over time, become increasingly known to your enemies." The manual stresses reporting both abuses-and alleged abuses-up the chain of command, and outlines procedures to follow when soldiers feel that leadership might be complicit. It also defines areas of responsibility. "Military police do not participate in interrogation," says Kimmons. "They do not 'soften up' our detainees."
Most important, defense officials say, is that the manual clearly specifies what's allowed-and what's not-for soldiers in the field. "We have used straightforward language in the field manual. It is not written for lawyers," says Kimmons. "We chose consciously not to be cute with this thing."
This story appears in the September 18, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.