Architect Of Torture Policy Testifies

One of the architects of the Bush Administration's interrogation policies has testified before Congress. Former Pentagon official Douglas Feith said he was smeared in a recent book about the policy. The book's author defended his account.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There were fiery debates on Capitol Hill today about torture. Two witnesses, one of them a former member of the Bush administration, faced off before a congressional committee. They accused each other of twisting the truth and rewriting history, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: Today's marquis witness was Douglas Feith. He used to be the number three man at the Pentagon, and here's what he said about the man at the other end of the witness table, Philippe Sands.

Mr. DOUGLAS FEITH (Former Undersecretary for Defense for Policy): Mr. Sands dragged me into his book and painted me as a villain without any evidence for his key accusation that I opposed the use of Common Article 3.

SHAPIRO: Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits torture. Philippe Sands argues in his book, "Torture Team," that Feith violated international law by pushing cruel interrogation techniques.

Mr. PHILIPPE SANDS (Author, "Torture Team"): Having decided to circumvent these international constraints on its aggressive interrogation, it seems that some key questions were not asked. Was the administration satisfied that these new techniques could produce reliable information? Could the techniques undermine the war on terror by alienating allies? Would the fact of aggressive interrogation be used as a recruiting tool? It seems that Mr. Feith was involved in many aspects of these decisions.

SHAPIRO: Some of that involvement is enshrined in documents. For example, in a 2002 memo from the Pentagon's top lawyer, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allowed interrogators to go beyond techniques that the military was allowed to use. The documents show that Feith endorsed those so-called enhanced interrogation methods.

Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York asked Feith...

Representative JERRY NADLER (Democrat, New York): Do you believe that the interrogation techniques to which you recommended Secretary Rumsfeld give blanket approval - stress positions, isolation, nudity, the use of dogs - qualify as humane?

SHAPIRO: Feith replied...

Mr. FEITH: I imagine one could apply these things in an inhumane fashion, or one could apply them in a humane fashion. The general guidance...

Rep. NADLER: How could you force someone to be naked and then go 20 hours interrogations...

Mr. FEITH: It doesn't say naked.

Rep. NADLER: Removal of clothing. Removal of clothing doesn't mean naked?

Mr. FEITH: Removal of clothing is different from naked.

Rep. NADLER: Really?

Mr. FEITH: It talks about removing of comfort item and of clothing that would make - the idea was to induce stress.

SHAPIRO: Philippe Sands argued that the interrogation methods are fundamentally inhumane.

Mr. SANDS: If any of these techniques were used on an American serviceman or servicewoman in any circumstances, this country quite rightly would say these standards are not being met. They are being violated.

SHAPIRO: Feith responded that some of the techniques include yelling at the detainee or deceiving them, like saying your buddy turned you in, when it's not true.

Mr. FEITH: That's one of the techniques that went beyond the field manual that they were asking for permission for. Multiple interrogator techniques, which we understood was good cop, bad cop. This goes on in American jails every day.

SHAPIRO: Feith acknowledged government numbers that show hundreds of detainees have been abused, in some cases murdered, but he said he bears no responsibility. He went on for minutes while Congressman John Conyers tried to ask a question.

Representative JOHN CONYERS (Democrat, Michigan): All right, so...

Mr. FEITH: The fact is, the fact is I don't deny that there were terrible, reprehensible cases of abuse and bad behavior and possibly even torture in various places against detainees. None of them was sanctioned by law or policy.

Rep. CONYERS: Have you ever been considered an uncontrollable witness?

Mr. FEITH: Well, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of allegations that are easy to...

Unidentified Man: Gentlemen, his time has expired and the witness need not answer the rhetorical question.

Rep. CONYERS: Why not?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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