Newly Unredacted Report Confirms Psychologists Supported Illegal Interrogations In Iraq and Afghanistan

April 30, 2008 12:00 am

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Documents Obtained By ACLU Also Uncover “Widespread Use” Of Rescinded Unlawful Interrogation Techniques And Failure Of Medical Personnel To Report Abuses

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union announced today the release of newly unredacted documents from the Defense Department’s internal investigations into charges of detainee abuse. Uncensored documents from the Church Report, obtained as a result of the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, include new details exposing the role of psychologists in military interrogations. The documents also uncover new information about the failure of military medical personnel to report abuses at Abu Ghraib, the military’s use of unlawful interrogation methods subsequent to a directive that was ostensibly meant to end such practices, and detainee deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The documents reveal that psychologists and medical personnel played a key role in sustaining prisoner abuse — a clear violation of their ethical and legal obligations,” said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU. “The documents only underscore the need for an independent investigation into responsibility for the systemic abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody abroad.”

In 2006, the ACLU received a highly redacted version of the Church Report, which was commissioned by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a comprehensive review of military interrogation operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay based on 187 investigations into detainee abuse that had been closed as of September 30, 2004. The report did not analyze information relating to 130 abuse cases that remained open as of that date, and issues of senior official responsibility for detainee abuse were beyond its mandate. Written by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the report skirts the question of command responsibility for detainee abuse, euphemistically labeling official failure to issue interrogation guidelines for Iraq and Afghanistan as a “missed opportunity.”

The report states that “analogous to the BSCT in Guantanamo Bay, the Army has a number of psychologists in operational positions (in both Afghanistan and Iraq), mostly within Special Operations, where they provide direct support to military operations. They do not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations.”

The documents also uncover new information about the failure of Army medics to report the notorious abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib. According to the report, “enlisted medics witnessed obvious episodes of detainee abuse apparently without reporting them to superiors.” One episode involved a detainee whose wounded leg was intentionally hit. Two others involved detainees handcuffed uncomfortably to beds for prolonged periods, such that one eventually suffered a dislocated shoulder and another experienced excruciating pain when eventually forced to stand. Another incident involved a medic who witnessed pictures of naked detainees in a pyramid but did not report the episode to superiors.

The unredacted sections of the report provide new evidence confirming the use of abusive interrogation techniques after they were no longer authorized. According to the report, “the use of some of the techniques…continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum.” The report goes on to blame dysfunctional command procedures for the military’s failure to follow the law, stating, “the relatively widespread use of these techniques supports our finding that the policy documents were not always received or thoroughly understood.”

“Four years have passed since the Abu Ghraib photographs were first published, and yet no senior official has been held responsible for the abuse and torture of prisoners,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “Senior officials made torture into official policy. Accountability is long overdue.”

The documents made public today by the ACLU reveal new information on detainee deaths that were likely the result of abuse. The ACLU previously obtained autopsy and investigative reports for some of these deaths:

  • In November 2003, a detainee at Abu Ghraib in Iraq died with “compromised respiration.” The Church Report states that “medical personnel may have acted to misrepresent circumstances.” See:
  • In November, 2003, a detainee at Forward Operating Base Tiger in Iraq died of asphyxia during an interrogation. The Church Report states that “circumstances should have led” medical personnel “to consider detainee abuse.” See:
  • In June 2003, a detainee in Al Nasiriyah, Iraq died of strangulation. His ribs and neck bone were also broken. According to the Church Report, the “investigation suggests he was beaten and then dragged by the neck by a guard.” See:

The House Judiciary Committee will conduct a hearing on May 6 to investigate the issue of accountability for the authorization of torture and abuse by high-level officials.

In October 2003, the ACLU — along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace — filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for records concerning the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad. To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s FOIA lawsuit.

The newly unredacted documents and the full Church Report are available online at:

In addition, many of the FOIA documents are also collected and analyzed in a recently published book by Jaffer and Singh, Administration of Torture. More information is available online at:

The documents received in the ACLU’s FOIA litigation are online at:

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