A military interrogation expert, Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman, told Congress on Thursday that prior to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, he witnessed interrogations of Iraqi detainees that he considers violations of the Geneva Conventions.
One interrogation was conducted by an Air Force civilian and a contractor employed by his own organization, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. It had sent a small team to Iraq in September 2003 to help a special forces task force improve its interrogations of stubborn prisoners. The team was asked to demonstrate an interrogation on an Iraqi prisoner. It was an unusual role for the organization, which trains soldiers how to resist interrogations, not conduct them.
Kleinman said his two colleagues forcibly stripped an Iraqi prisoner naked, shackled him and left him standing in a dank, six-foot cement cell with orders to the guards that the prisoner was not to move for 12 hours.
Kleinman said he stopped the interrogation.
The men, Terrence Russell and Lenny Miller, had learned the harsh techniques working with the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program for U.S. forces, which conducts stressful mock interrogations to prepare soldiers to withstand and resist abusive questioning in the event they are taken prisoner. The program uses methods derived from the real-life experiences of American prisoners of war.
Russell is a civilian JPRA employee. Miller was a contractor who no longer works for JPRA.
Joint Forces Command, which oversees JPRA, did not investigate Kleinman's allegations because they were made directly to the task force in Iraq, said spokesman Capt. Dennis Moynihan.
Kleinman called his now retired commander, Col. John Moulton II, to express concern about harsh methods he saw in several interrogations.
He said Moulton checked with his superiors and called him back to say the techniques had been specifically approved. Moulton later told investigators that he understood that the Pentagon's general counsel or higher had approved the measures, and that the prisoners were considered terrorists and were not protected by the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions did apply in Iraq.
The Senate Armed Services Committee released responses from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and legal counsel John Bellinger regarding their knowledge of the CIA interrogation program when Rice was the national security adviser and Bellinger was the National Security Council's top lawyer.
“I recall being told … that these techniques had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm,” Rice wrote.