WSJ editorial falsely claimed Abu Ghraib report absolved senior officials


An April 27 Wall Street Journal editorial claimed that the Schlesinger report on the Abu Ghraib prison abuses concluded that they "weren't related to interrogations at all" and that "[t]hat should have put the nail in the coffin of the theory that high-level Bush Administration discussions about techniques for handling al Qaeda detainees somehow resulted in the abuses in Iraq." In fact, the Schlesinger report, compiled from an independent inquiry headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, explicitly states that abuses did occur during interrogations. In addition, the report includes evidence that policy decisions by President Bush and political appointees in the Pentagon and Justice Department contributed to the abuse.

While the report does state that the photographed abuses at Abu Ghraib were "not part of authorized interrogations," it goes on to report that other non-photographed abuses "did occur at interrogation sessions." From the reportPDF file:

The pictured abuses, unacceptable even in wartime, were not part of authorized interrogations nor were they even directed at intelligence targets. ... However, we do know that some of the egregious abuses at Abu Ghraib which were not photographed did occur at interrogation sessions and that abuses during interrogation sessions occurred elsewhere [p. 5].

Furthermore, The New York Times reported on April 28 that the Army planned to issue a revised interrogations manual that was created in response to the Abu Ghraib scandal. According to the Times:

The Army is preparing to issue a new interrogations manual that expressly bars the harsh techniques disclosed in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and incorporates safeguards devised to prevent such misconduct at military prison camps in the future, Army officials said Wednesday. The new manual, the first revision in 13 years, will specifically prohibit practices like stripping prisoners, keeping them in stressful positions for a long time, imposing dietary restrictions, employing police dogs to intimidate prisoners and using sleep deprivation as a tool to get them to talk, the officials said. Those practices were not included in the manual in use when the bulk of the abuses occurred at Abu Ghraib in Iraq in the fall of 2003, but neither were they specifically banned."

The Journal also asserted that its own claim about interrogations, falsely attributed to the Schlesinger panel, "should have put the nail in the coffin of the theory that high-level Bush Administration discussions about techniques for handling al Qaeda detainees somehow resulted in the abuses in Iraq." In fact, Schlesinger's report documents how senior military officers in Iraq promulgated an unlawful interrogation policy based on confusion resulting from Bush's decision that certain detainees were so-called "enemy combatants" not subject to the Geneva Conventions. The Schlesinger report found that interrogation techniques that the Pentagon approved for use at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, "migrated" to Iraq, even though the White House repeatedly stated that Iraqi detainees were entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions, unlike suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan, whom the Pentagon detained and interrogated at Guantánamo.

In February 2002, Bush decidedPDF file that Guantánamo detainees were not entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions. Bush's decision was based on legal opinionsPDF file from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which then-White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales summarized in a late-January memoPDF file for Bush, in which he wrote that Secretary of State Colin Powell "has requested that you reconsider that decision."

In April 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld approved policy guidelinesPDF file setting out 24 specific interrogation techniques for Guantánamo. The Schlesinger report states that the Pentagon working group that developed these guidelines "relied heavily on the OLC," [p. 35] which had also drafted the infamous "torture memo"PDF file arguing that the president has the authority to order torture in certain circumstances.

The Schlesinger report [p. 9PDF file] chronicles how in August 2003, the Pentagon sent Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a commander at Guantánamo Bay, to Iraq to assess interrogations at Abu Ghraib. The report noted that Miller took the Pentagon's April 2003 policy guidelines for interrogating Guantánamo terror detainees to Iraq "as a possible model for the command-wide policy." A month later, the senior commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, drew on these guidelines when he approved techniques that applied to Abu Ghraib.

The report also noted that the counterterrorism task force relied on Bush's February 2002 decision -- which was supposed to apply only to "enemy combatants" -- to justify their use of impermissible techniques:

MG Miller had indicated his model was approved only for Guantánamo. However, CJTF-7 [Combined Joint Task Force 7], using reasoning from the President's Memorandum of February 7, 2002, which addressed "unlawful combatants," believed additional, tougher measures were warranted because there were "unlawful combatants" mixed in with Enemy Prisoners of War and civilian and criminal detainees" [p. 37].

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