It is no secret that American military personnel at Guantanamo Bay and other US-run prisons have stripped detainees naked, used dogs to scare them, hooded them, and deprived them of sleep. But an 18-month-long US Senate investigation has been trying to get to the bottom of who thought of these techniques, and who authorised them.
Documents have been uncovered showing that senior Pentagon officials played a more active role than previously thought in developing some of the methods.
A senior staffer for Vice-President Dick Cheney also went to Guantanamo Bay to discuss how interrogations were conducted.
But the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin, says it is not simply a case of a few bad apples acting on their own.
“The truth is that senior officials in the US Government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorised their use against detainees,” Senator Levin said.
The Senate investigation shows that military officials, including psychologists, who had the job of training US troops to resist enemy interrogations, were asked to give Pentagon lawyers a list of tactics that could be used in prisons like Guantanamo Bay.
Previously secret memos also show that in July 2002 the Pentagon’s former top civilian lawyer directed his staff to start researching the use of practices like stress positions and sensory deprivation.
William Haynes then went to Guantanamo a few months later, with the vice-president’s senior counsel, to talk about the techniques.
A month later, the top US military lawyer at the prison wrote a memo recommending the use of interrogation methods like removing clothing, forcing shaving of facial hair, and the use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce fear of suffocation.
Now retired, Colonel Diane Beaver says she was “shocked” that no one questioned her recommendation and that many of her suggestions were approved in late 2002 by the then-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“I never received a phone call; I never received an email; I never received anything. Asking me anything, like are you a lunatic? What were you thinking? Or great opinion,” Colonel Beaver said.
Senator Levin was scathing in his appraisal of what the new techniques led to.
“When Secretary Rumsfeld approved the use of abusive techniques against detainees he unleashed a virus which ultimately infected interrogation operations conducted by the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Senator Levin said.
While it has been known for some time that military lawyers voiced strong objections to the harsh interrogation techniques in early 2003, for the first time the new memos show that those concerns were being raised in November 2002 before Mr Rumsfeld officially approved them.
The White House says the abuse of detainees has never been the policy of the Bush administration and that all detainees have been treated humanely, and in accordance with the law.