Senate Report Adds To Debate Over Torture Memos

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday released a report on the brutal treatment of terror detainees and prisoners by members of the military. The 232-page report follows last week's release by President Obama of Bush-era memos that justified the use of harsh tactics by the CIA.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We have more details this morning on the way the government developed harsh interrogation methods. Justice Department memos released last week focused on the CIA. Now, a report from the Senate Armed Services Committee looks at the military's role in extreme interrogations.

NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now to talk more about this. And Ari, give us a snapshot of where this report came from.

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, it was a long investigation that was finished back in November and has been in a declassification process since then. It's more than 200 pages, and it's basically a point-by-point timeline of how the abusive interrogation tactics developed over the years.

MONTAGNE: And the most significant new information there?

SHAPIRO: Well, the timeline's very interesting in that American officials started looking into potential harsh interrogation policies in December of 2001. And you may remember that President Bush didn't say that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to al-Qaida until early 2002.

And throughout this report, we see the tactics for harsh interrogations sort of came before the legal approval of the harsh interrogations. So by the time the Justice Department gave legal guidance saying you can do X, Y, Z to these high-level detainees, the legal framework for those interrogations was, to a large extent, already established. People knew what they wanted to do and were just waiting for permission to do it.

MONTAGNE: And tell us about the role that the military played.

SHAPIRO: Well, we see in this report a battle between top civilian officials at the Pentagon, such as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and lawyers in the military and at the State Department who thought that the interrogation tactics were illegal. And there are several examples in this report of lawyers who were thought to be unsympathetic to the administration's desire to use these harsh interrogation tactics having inquiries quashed because the secretary of Defense and his staff didn't want reports out there saying that these tactics could potentially violate U.S. and international law.

This report says military abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay was not an anomaly. This is a quote from the report here: The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of a few bad apples acting on their own. The report goes on: The fact is that 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.

MONTAGNE: And Ari, what impact will this report have on calls for accountability?

SHAPIRO: Well, I think the momentum has been gathering in the last week and is continuing to gather now. There are members of Congress who had supported an inquiry all along into potential wrongdoings by the Bush administration. Those calls are now growing louder.

Yesterday, President Obama left the door open for the attorney general to decide to prosecute Justice officials who authorized harsh interrogation tactics. And the president said he could support a bipartisan congressional inquiry in the Bush-era detention practices as long as it doesn't become partisan.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's justice correspondent, Ari Shapiro.

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