WASHINGTON — Top officials — including former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were responsible for the use of "abusive" interrogation techniques on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a bipartisan Senate report concluded Thursday.
The long-awaited Senate Armed Services Committee report bluntly refuted the Bush administration's repeated claims that the abuses, which helped fuel the Iraq insurgency and damaged America's reputation around the world, were the work of a few low-level "bad apples."
"Senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees," said the report's 19-page unclassified executive summary. "Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."
"Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low-ranking soldiers while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the panel's chairman, who released the executive summary with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee's top Republican.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The report "details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies in violation of the Geneva Convention and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated," said McCain, a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
The 250-page classified report, which is undergoing a Pentagon declassification review, was the most comprehensive to date of a series of official investigations into the abuses of suspected terrorists who were detained after President George W. Bush launched his "global war on terror" after the 9/11 attacks.
The Senate report traces the abuses to a Feb. 7, 2002, Bush memo that declared that international law on the treatment of war prisoners embodied in the 1949 Geneva Convention didn't apply to al Qaida or to the Taliban.
The report outlines how senior U.S. officials, including Rumsfeld, Myers and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice shaped the policy decisions that led to the use of interrogation techniques that the administration insists were legal but that numerous legal authorities and some former military officers have denounced as torture and war crimes.
Detainee abuses led to attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, according to testimony to the committee by a former Navy general counsel, Alberto Mora. "There are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," he said.
It's not clear, however, if the report will lead to legal proceedings against any of the officials or military officers named or whether the incoming Obama administration will pursue allegations of possible crimes committed during President Bush's war on terror.
"We welcome this report," said Brooke Anderson, the Obama transition team's national security spokeswoman. "We will review these findings carefully. President-elect Obama has said that Americans do not engage in torture and that we must send a message to the world that America is a nation of laws and that we stand against torture."
Obama, who's vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, must decide whether to authorize some kind of fact-finding effort into questionable aspects of Bush's war on terror, which in addition to rejecting the laws of war and approving harsh interrogation policies include denying detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment, sending suspected terrorists to third countries that use torture and eavesdropping without court approval.
The White House said it would have no comment on the new report, referring calls to the Pentagon. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mail that the findings of the committee's 18-month investigation were still being reviewed.
He indicated, however, that military officers could face prosecution.
"Any credible allegations of abuse by U.S. military personnel are taken seriously and looked into in painstaking detail," he wrote. "If and when applicable, offenders have been punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
The report said that the inhumane interrogation techniques were "based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions" from captured American prisoners and adapted for use against U.S. detainees.
Instructors from the Pentagon agency that trains soldiers to resist such treatment were sent to Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq to assist in adapting the Chinese methods, it said.
The abusive techniques — waterboarding, nudity, stress positions, exploiting phobias, and treating detainees "like animals" — were "at odds with the commitment to humane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody" and inconsistent with the goal of collecting accurate information, the report concluded.
Rice, as national security adviser, and other Cabinet officers participated in meetings where specific interrogation techniques were discussed, the report said.
The report said that Rumsfeld's authorization of the techniques at Guantanamo "was a direct cause of detainee abuse there." By approving a memo from Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes, Rumsfeld "contributed to the use of abusive techniques," including using military dogs, forced nudity and stress positions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it said.
Myers' decision to cut short a legal and policy review of the techniques sparked by the concerns of military legal authorities was "inappropriate and undermined the military's review process," the report said.
Others criticized included:
_ Army Col. Randy Moulton, the commander of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which trains soldiers to resist abusive interrogations. The report said that Moulton, "who had no experience in detainee interrogations," had authorized instructors in the Army's "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape," or SERE, program to actively participate in interrogations using abusive tactics. This "was a serious failure in leadership that led to the abuse of detainees" in U.S. custody.
_ Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who introduced the techniques. It said that Miller ignored warnings from Pentagon and FBI investigators that the techniques were "potentially unlawful" and that their use would strengthen detainee resistance. Miller, it said, also helped to bring harsh interrogation methods to Iraq during visits in August and September 2003.
_ Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq. Sanchez committed a "serious error in judgment" by approving the use of military working dogs and stress positions, which it said were "a direct cause of detainee abuse in Iraq."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY: