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Thursday, May 13

Abu Ghraib, 9/11 complicate intelligence reforms

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - Sometime in July, the independent commission looking into the Sept. 11 terror attacks will release its analysis, citing a glaring failure to gather critical human intelligence.

Policy-makers will have to decide how to repair this crucial component in the national security framework.

Some of the fixes will entail building better spy networks, especially in the Arab world.

But the second major component of the human intelligence equation is information often gathered from interrogating prisoners. Military commanders on the ground in Iraq desperately need this information to find out how the insurgency is operating and killing American troops. Spy agencies need it if they ever hope to infiltrate al-Qaida in time to stop another attack.

The scandal over the abuse of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, however, is changing the way human intelligence is gathered, prompting military commanders to err on the side of restraint.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller announced that physical stress tactics will no longer be used in interrogations. Before his Iraq duties, Miller was commander of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility that primarily holds prisoners from the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

The CIA, which sent interrogators to Abu Ghraib, is reassessing its methods.

The private contractors hired to question prisoners are under strict orders to comply with established military methods.

In the coming months, policy-makers and citizens - through public opinion - must decide how much they want to restrict the interrogation process as they peer into the future through the twin prisms of Sept. 11 and Abu Ghraib.

Anthony Lake, President Clinton's national security adviser, argues hyperaggressive tactics ultimately sow more destruction than they prevent.

``Since 9/11, we've been in one of these periods where anything goes, and now we're paying for it,'' he said.

While no one is advocating the kind of abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib, there is concern the scandal is being exaggerated and the reaction will have consequences.

The prisoners in Abu Ghraib were ``not there for traffic violations,'' Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., recently reminded his colleagues. ``I am outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations while our troops ... are fighting and dying.''

Root causes

Most of the half dozen investigations now probing what happened at Abu Ghraib are focused on whether the abuse was deviant behavior by a few or originated in the chain of command.

Critics of the interrogation tactics the Pentagon approved for use in Iraq, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, claim the entire system is flawed, and inevitably led to the abuses. They argue the sleep deprivation, loud noise, uncomfortable positions and other methods the Pentagon routinely used created a slippery slope that the overworked, poorly trained guards at Abu Ghraib slid down.

The Defense Department used an interrogation system built around two categories: standard methods, mostly emotional manipulation and physical techniques designed to create discomfort; and disorientation, which requires special command approval.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told lawmakers Wednesday the interrogation methods approved for Abu Ghraib were consistent with the Geneva Conventions, international guidelines for treating prisoners of war.

But that met with plenty of skepticism.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., contended some of the procedures requiring special approval ``go far beyond the Geneva Conventions,'' which explicitly forbid ``physical or moral'' coercion.

Rumsfeld countered that all interrogation methods being used in Iraq have been vetted by Pentagon lawyers for compliance with the Geneva Conventions. But for the time being, at least, some of the practices requiring command approval have been discontinued for use in Iraq.

The suspected terrorists and detainees from Afghanistan being held at Guantanamo Bay are a different story.

Before the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the Pentagon decided it would not consider captives there as POWs deserving of treatment under the Geneva Conventions.

Rumsfeld has insisted that most are treated ``consistent with'' the conventions.

Eighteen months ago, two Afghans being detained by Americans died in what medical examiners concluded was a ``homicide.''

No one has been prosecuted, but Pentagon officials say they are investigating all questionable cases of detainee treatment in Afghanistan and will take the appropriate measures.

Pendulum of reform

Reforming intelligence gathering has become something of an American pastime.

The answer to the intelligence failures surrounding the Pearl Harbor attack was to create the CIA in 1947.

The covert operations abuses of the Cold War - coup and assassination attempts by the CIA - led to the famous 1975 hearings by former Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, and the establishment of permanent intelligence committees in Congress.

The thinking was that congressional oversight of the intelligence network would ensure the kind of openness and accountability essential to a legitimate foreign policy. But that was back when the nation's intelligence agencies were up against a structured system of nations ultimately held in check by the threat of nuclear war.

Fighting the shadowy specter of terrorism requires different tactics altogether.

It remains to be seen what Americans will accept and reject, especially if Sept. 11 is eclipsed by another date on the calendar.