Senate Panel Hears Abuse Testimony

The Senate Armed Services Committee hears testimony from senior military officers regarding alleged detainee abuse at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay. A key witness is Air Force Lt. General Randall Schmidt, who authored the long-awaited report on abuse that was launched after the release of FBI documents, alleging interrogators abused and tortured the prisoners.

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Military investigators testified today that they found evidence of degrading and abusive treatment of prisoners at the US military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but they said it did not rise to the level of torture. Those were some of the findings of a long-awaited report looking at allegations of detainee abuse at Guantanamo. NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

This investigation was triggered by the release of FBI documents alleging abuse of detainees at Guantanamo. Investigators focused solely on interrogation techniques and examined nine separate allegations of detainee mistreatment. The bulk of the inquiry centered on one detainee, a Saudi national named Mohammed al-Qahtani. Pentagon officials describe him as being the 20th hijacker who was to have helped implement the September 11th terrorist attacks. Air Force Lieutenant General Randall Schmidt, the lead investigator, said interrogators used a number of techniques to get Qahtani to talk.

Lieutenant General RANDALL SCHMIDT (US Air Force; Lead Investigator): The mother and sister of the detainee were told they were whores. He was forced to wear women's lingerie, multiple allegations of homosexuality and that his comrades were aware of that. He was forced to dance with a male interrogator, was subject to strip searches for control measures, not for security, and he was forced to perform dog tricks--all this to lower his personal sense of worth.

NORTHAM: Schmidt told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Qahtani was also subjected to interrogations that lasted up to 20 hours a day for about two months. He said the investigative team, known as AR15-6, was concerned about the combined impact of the interrogation techniques.

Lt. Gen. SCHMIDT: And this AR15-6 team found that the cumulative effect of the interrogation was degrading and abusive regarding this particular single individual. I do not, however, consider this treatment to have crossed the threshold of being inhumane.

NORTHAM: Still, Schmidt recommended that the commander of Guantanamo at the time, Army Major General Geoffrey Miller, be reprimanded for failing to oversee Qahtani's interrogation. Miller was earlier implicated in the scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. But General Bantz Craddock, the head of Southern Command, overruled that recommendation. Instead he said he would refer the matter to the Army's inspector general.

General BANTZ CRADDOCK (Southern Command): With regard to Major General Miller, recommendation number 16, my reason for disapproving that recommendation is that the interrogation did not result in any violation of any US law or policy and the degree of supervision provided by Major General Miller does not warrant admonishment under the circumstances.

NORTHAM: Schmidt found that the military's policies on interrogation needed to be refined, that the field manual laying out what techniques could or could not be used was too broad and subject to interpretation, and that it was written for prisoners of war who were protected under the Geneva Conventions. But the prisoners at Guantanamo are considered enemy combatants and President Bush has deemed they are not allowed Geneva Convention guarantees. Schmidt said that most of the abuse allegations were authorized interrogation techniques. Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas said out of the thousands of interrogations conducted, the rate of abuse was infinitesimal.

Senator PAT ROBERTS (Republican, Kansas): Out of 24,000 interrogations, three total incidents. My math: That makes for an incident rate of 0.000125.

NORTHAM: But some senators pointed out that the report does not address nor resolve critical questions such as whether aggressive interrogation techniques produce good intelligence. The FBI is carrying out its own investigation that looks at its agents' concerns about detainee abuse. It will be the first major report that is not conducted by the military or implemented by the Pentagon. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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