Sunday, September 23, 2007

Researching interrogation

Since the United States kicked off its “Global War on Terrorism” (and I fully recognize how problematic this phrase is; it’s really more like “America’s Global War on Terrorism Waged in Afghanistan and Iraq with a Coalition of the Increasingly Tired and Skeptical”), governments and non-government agencies alike have spilled a lot of electronic ink writing about interrogation, detention, and torture. The Internet has played a critical role in the dissemination of information about torture, as well as detention and interrogation practices in the GWOT. Not only have internet and traditional print journalism used the Internet to disseminate articles, but numerous activist groups, particularly the American Civil Liberties Union, have used the Freedom of Information Act to gain public access to over one hundred thousand pages of government documents generated in the GWOT. Some of the databases I’ve found include:

Minnesota Human Rights Library
The Federation of American Scientists
The Center for Public Integrity
The National Security Archive at George Washington University

The ACLU database seems to be the most comprehensive, with (by its count) over 100,000 pages of information available from ten different federal agencies. Plus, unlike other databases, they’ve transformed most of the scanned documents, stored as PDFs, into keyword searchable text. It’s a great public service, and they deserve your donation.

As I write about my experience reading interrogation, detention, and torture documents, I’ll provide either a link to the document itself, or the database name, location and a unique search term. For example, the ACLU’s number for the Presidential order suspending the Geneva Conventions is DODDIA000201-DIDDIA000202, which I’ll denote as (ACLU DODDIA000201-DIDDIA000202). That way, you can look at the documents yourself.

Faced with 100,000 pages of government documents, though, you might well ask: where do I begin? It depends on which agency you’re interested in, and which time period, and which facilities. I started with the Department of Defense, specifically the Taguba report, and chained my way from there through a long list of documents. I’m nowhere near done, and have no hope of reading everything. It’s also been very confusing, since the DoD has (as of 2005; I’m honestly not sure if there are more ongoing) conducted no less than thirteen separate investigations, totaling nearly 500 recommendations and findings, each report dealing with a different aspect of detention, interrogation, and torture issues. As you’ll quickly discover, a single DoD investigation might be accompanied with thousands of pages of supporting documentation, which is where the most interesting details are usually located. And that’s just the DoD.

So – if I were starting now, I’d begin with the Office of Inspector General’s report, Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse, dated August 26, 2006. It wasn’t available when I started poking around at the beginning of 2007, but was released in May ’07 with minimal redactions. It’s manageable reading – about 120 pages long – and provides a summary of all the investigations that DoD has conducted since 2003, as well as a set of its own findings. On page 32, there’s a timeline for the investigations along with all their informal titles (e.g., “Fay/Jones"), which are much more manageable than the official report titles (AR 15-6 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Prison and 205th Military Intelligence Brigade LTG Anthony R. Jones, AR 15-6 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Prison and 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, MG George R. Fay. Phew!).

The DOD IG report is more than a tour guide to the DoD investigations. The report was generated by a multidisciplinary team chartered by the DoD Inspector General (DoD IG) on May 13, 2004, with monitoring “allegations of abuse among Enemy Prisoners of War and other detainees (hereafter referred to collectively as detainees)” (p.1). Their findings are interesting reading in their own right, because the report so clearly illustrates how contradictory policy statements regarding the handling of detainees (and the report tells us that DoD had apprehended seventy thousand people since operations in Afghanistan began in 2001) contributed to the abuse of people in DoD detention facilities. In fact, it’s hard after reading this report to credibly pin the Abu Ghraib scandal on the Granier-England-Frederick-et al “bad apples.” Instead, the DoD IG report, as well as other DoD reports, reveal a great deal of institutional confusion about what constituted appropriate-versus-inappropriate interrogation approaches among DoD personnel. Specifically, guidance from the President and the Secretary of Defense about a) the legal and judicial processes governing enemy combatants, and b) authorizing techniques that clearly violated existing Army policy and Geneva conventions, opened the door for the proliferation of coercive interrogation techniques. I’ll be writing more about that in future posts.

If you prefer hardcopy, Karen Greenberg and Joshua Dratel have assembled a volume, The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib (Cambridge University Press, 2005; ISBN-10 0-521-85324-9) that lays out the evolution of the legal arguments using primary documents, and that includes some of the DoD reports in hardcopy. At 1249 pages, it’s hefty, but worth the investment if you’re really interested in GWOT interrogation, detention, and torture.

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