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Senate Panel: Military Agency Had Hand in Developing CIA Interrogation Methods

Report also says experts helped create legal justification for abusive techniques

by Julian E. Barnes

WASHINGTON - A U.S. military agency that trains troops to resist and survive torture offered critical help in developing harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA, according to a Senate committee report to be released Wednesday.

A man walks across the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at the lobby of the CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Alex Wong) The military expertise also was used by the Justice Department to develop controversial legal justifications for abusive interrogation methods, according to the report by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, said the report "connects the dots" to show how the techniques familiar to the military experts found their way into controversial memos by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that authorized abusive interrogation practices.

Last week, the Obama administration released Justice Department memos outlining many of the harsh techniques used by the CIA. Most of the techniques were used at the military's Survive, Evade, Resist and Escape, or SERE, schools to prepare American service members for possible torture in captivity overseas.

The report fills in key details about the development of the Bush administration's controversial detention and interrogation policies, which were ordered discontinued by President Barack Obama when he took office.

The 200-page Senate report was completed last November, before the Justice Department memos were released. Defense Department officials only recently signed off on its release.

In the summer of 2002, according to the Senate report, the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which oversees the SERE schools, was asked to help overcome resistance by Al Qaeda operatives to interrogations.

Senior Defense officials, including Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith's office, gave SERE officials their approval to assist the CIA, according to the report. Feith was considered a key architect of Bush administration war and detention policies.

In a memo uncovered by the Senate investigators, Joseph Witsch, an instructor with the personnel recovery agency, wrote that interrogation methods in use at the time were "far too limited in scope" to be useful on Al Qaeda terrorists.

"We must have a process that goes beyond the old paradigm of military interrogation for tactical information or criminal investigation for legal proceedings," Witsch wrote.

The techniques described to the CIA by SERE school officials at the time included many of the techniques that eventually became part of the agency's program, including cramped confinement, waterboarding, manhandling, slaps to the face and abdomen, stress positions and others.

Levin said that top civilians in the Bush administration allowed the SERE program to be used to mistreat detainees.

"They took a program called SERE, totally distorted it and put it to a purpose it was never intended to be put," Levin said.

The report notes that a week after the personnel recovery agency described the harsh techniques to Defense Department lawyers, former Assistant Atty. Gen. Jay Bybee issued a memo allowing the CIA to use 10 of the SERE techniques against Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to have been a high ranking Al Qaeda official.

The Senate report found that at the SERE schools, safeguards were used when demonstrating torture techniques on American service members. However, many of the safeguards were left out when taught to CIA interrogators.

For instance, the limit on the amount of water poured on a detainee during a waterboarding, for example, was raised from two pints to 1.5 gallons.

The report notes that other military officials forcefully warned against using the SERE techniques against detainees. Some warned that use of the techniques would be illegal. Others emphasized that they would be counterproductive.

Lt. Col. Morgan Banks, a senior Army SERE psychologist, wrote in a 2002 memo cited by the Senate report that while applying pain could make detainees talk, it could not make them tell the truth.

"This will increase the amount of information they will tell the interrogator," Banks wrote, "but it does not mean the information is accurate."

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