NPR logo

Officials' Testimony On Interrogations Scrutinized

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Officials' Testimony On Interrogations Scrutinized


Officials' Testimony On Interrogations Scrutinized

Officials' Testimony On Interrogations Scrutinized

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

On Wednesday, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hold its first hearing into torture since the Obama administration declassified memos authorizing harsh interrogations.

In the weeks since those memos became public, researchers have compared the documents with testimony from previous hearings on torture. They have looked for contradictions between what government officials claimed when the program was classified and what we know now that the program is public. The project's leader, Karen Greenberg, has concluded that "we've been spun every which way."

Greenberg directs the Center on Law and Security at New York University. As soon as the torture memos were released, her team of researchers plunged into the Congressional Record. They went line by line through old testimony about harsh interrogations and compared the real history of America's post-Sept. 11 interrogation policy with what officials said at the time.

'A Major Discrepancy'

One hearing they studied took place a year ago, when former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo testified about the interrogation memos he helped create. Yoo said in his written testimony, "Interrogation policy did not arise in the abstract, but in the context of a specific person at a specific point in time."

Yoo went on to describe the capture of Abu Zubaydah, the high-value detainee who was picked up in March 2002.

Article continues after sponsorship

But a recently declassified report from the Senate Armed Services Committee suggests Yoo's statement was not correct. According to the report, harsh interrogation policies did take shape in the abstract, months before Zubaydah's capture.

"This is an example of a major discrepancy in terms of what they say they were doing with torture, which was responding to a specific situation, and what they were in fact doing about torture, which was creating a policy that could be used as they saw fit," Greenberg says.

Yoo did not respond to a request for comment about his testimony.

Interrogation Procedures

Another questionable statement took place after the Abu Ghraib detainee abuses in 2004 when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers testified before the House Armed Services Committee.

They were asked whether the Army has different interrogation procedures for important detainees.

"The treatment is the same," Myers responded.

"The treatment is consistent for each and every prisoner?" asked Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA).

Rumsfeld responded: "In terms of the Geneva Conventions."

But the Senate committee's report shows that the Pentagon designed much harsher interrogation programs for some high-value military detainees than for other prisoners, particularly at Guantanamo Bay.

A spokesman for Rumsfeld, Keith Urbahn, said Tuesday the secretary was talking specifically about Iraq in his testimony. Urbahn said if the hearing had been focused on Guantanamo or Afghanistan, where interrogation policies were different, Rumsfeld's answer might have been different.

What Was Approved?

There are also questions about testimony from Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who oversaw troops in Iraq.

In 2004, Sanchez told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he never approved harsh interrogations.

"The only approvals I ever had at my desk," he said, "were for continued segregation beyond 30 days, and there were 25 of those who were approved. I never saw any other method come to my level requesting approval."

In 2003, Sanchez did approve an interrogation program that could include dogs, stress positions and other harsh techniques.

Reached on his cell phone Tuesday, Sanchez explained that the documents he signed in 2003 "were laying out the realm of the possible in terms of interrogation approaches that potentially could be used." Sanchez said he never authorized anyone to actually use those techniques.

"There were very specific approval processes, control mechanisms and oversight mechanisms that had to be followed before any interrogation approach that was listed could be used," he said.

Jim Haynes, who was the Pentagon's top lawyer, has also said things that are hard to reconcile with what we know now.

Haynes' office told the Defense Department's inspector general, "There is no evidence that SERE techniques were ever adopted at Guantanamo or anywhere else."

SERE is the military training program that teaches U.S. soldiers how to withstand torture.

According to the Senate Armed Services Committee report, in 2002 officials at Guantanamo asked the Pentagon for permission to use techniques including "those used in U.S. military interrogation resistance training."

'Not Surprised'

"It's false testimony as far as I'm concerned," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) in an interview.

"If people don't tell us the truth about their role in the activities, of course I'm offended by it," said Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. "But I'm not surprised because right from the beginning, top civilian leaders from the Bush administration have acted as though they have nothing to do with this."

Levin wants the attorney general to appoint someone apolitical to investigate accountability, including whether people made false statements to Congress.