Ways to implement waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques, used at Guantanamo Bay despite legal objections, are actively sought by US military officials, said a senior Democratic senator.
US military memos, saying that the techniques should be curbed while international monitors were present, were also shown to the committee.
This hearing is the committee’s first attempt aiming at discovering the origins of the harsh interrogation methods used in Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and how policy decisions on interrogations were agreed across the US department of defence.
The CIA has admitted the use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning, on several suspected al-Qaeda leaders, and at Abu Ghraib, US soldiers were photographed using dogs against prisoners.
The international human rights groupes have widely condemned the interrogations.
‘Irresponsible and shortsighted’
The Bush administration’s legal analysis on detainees and interrogations following the September 11, 2001, attacks would “go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and shortsighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation’s military and intelligence communities“, said Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator.
At the hearing, the Pentagon’s most senior civilian lawyer at the time, William Haynes, was expected to testify.
Also present were Richard Shiffrin, Haynes’ former deputy on intelligence issues, as well as the legal advisers at the time to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The senate committee’s findings show that Mr Haynes became interested in the use of harsher interrogation methods as early as July 2002, when his office inquired into a military programme that trained soldiers on how to resist enemy interrogations.
The committee said Mr Haynes, as well as other officials wanted to know if the programme, known as Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, could be used to develop more effective interrogation methods.
The use of military expertise in interrogations was his main interest, said Shiffrin.
The committee was told by the head of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which ran the SERE programme, that the programme included resistance to sensory deprivation, sleep disruption, stress positions, waterboarding (photo)
The committee further released previously secret memos dating from 2002, when the programme of harsh interrogations began at Guantanamo Bay.
In one of the memos, Lieutenant-Colonel Diane Beaver, the most senior military lawyer at Guantanamo, says the US defence department hides prisoners from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which monitors the treatment of military prisoners, as detainees were being treated harshly, or abusively.
Previously forbidden techniques, such as sleep deprivation, was secretly used by the military, also said Lieutenant-Colonel Diane Beaver, but they hide them so as not to draw “negative attention”, according to minutes of the committee meeting.
“Officially it is not happening”, she said, according to minutes from the meeting.
“The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinising our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave.”
“This would draw a lot of negative attention.”
Interrogators should “curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around“, said Ms Beaver.
‘A matter of perception’
Lieutenant-Colonel Diane Beaver was speaking at an October 2, 2002, meeting between CIA and military lawyers and military intelligence officials on how to break down the resistance of Guantanamo detainees to interrogations.
At the meeting, John Fredman, a senior CIA lawyer, said that it “is a matter of perception” whether harsh interrogation amount to torture.
“If the detainee dies you’re doing it wrong”, Mr Fredman said, according to a memo.
In a memo dated October 11, 2002, Ms Beaver also wrote that because detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison were not considered prisoners of war, abusive methods could be used against them. Extended isolation, 20-hour interrogations, death threats and waterboarding were included in her proposed methods.
On Tuesday, Ms Beaver told the committee that she was surprised her memo justifying harsh interrogation techniques was the sole opinion relied on by the Pentagon.
“I did not expect that my opinion … would become the final word”, she said.
The US government had “twisted the law to create the appearance of legality”, Carl Levin (photo), the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, told a hearing.
“If we use those same techniques offensively against detainees, it says to the world that they have America’s stamp of approval”, he said on Tuesday, in Washington DC.