Sy Hersh's piece on the stifling of General Antonio Taguba's inquiry into Abu Ghraib begs a big question: What would Taguba have uncovered if he had been free to investigate?
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Buried within three of the Pentagon's official investigations into torture, there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the answer is a separate, harsher set of rules for detainee and interrogation operations led by Special Operations Forces -- the elite units specializing in unconventional warfare -- than those that apply for the rest of the U.S. military. Yet none of the inquiries follows through on how highly trained SOF units, increasingly important in the war on terrorism, could have created detention facilities so brutal as to give them the motto "No Blood, No Foul" absent official guidance.
In 2004, in order to undercut calls for an independent inquiry into Abu Ghraib, Donald Rumsfeld appointed a panel chaired by ex-defense secretary James Schlesinger to investigate the Defense Department's detainee operations. Schlesinger found (pdf) that, essentially, there were two distinct sets of rules for interrogating detainees in Defense Department custody: one for the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay, where the Bush administration decreed that the Geneva Conventions don't apply, and another for department operations everywhere else. Outside of Guantanamo Bay, military interrogators were supposed to rely on an Army field manual, known as FM 34-52, that complied with the Geneva Conventions. For years, the Pentagon's line was that the only set of authorizations for interrogations were FM 34-52, or the enhanced techniques to be used only at Guantanamo -- nothing else. (Last year, the Army updated FM 34-52, rechristening it FM 2-23.2 and intending the Geneva-compliant manual to apply in Guantanamo as well.)
Except that Schlesinger's report hinted at another set of rules for interrogations. During December 2002 and January 2003, Rumsfeld furiously reviewed and revised the procedures for interrogations in Guantanamo Bay -- but it turned out that those techniques didn't remain in the island prison. In late January 2003, intending to facilitate Rumsfeld's review, the U.S. command staff in Afghanistan provided to U.S. Central Command "a list of techniques being used in Afghanistan, including some not explicitly set out in FM 34-52." Schlesinger never specified what the techniques were. But he wrote that they were subsequently "included in a Special Operations Forces (SOF) Standard Operations Procedures document published in February 2003."