U.S.: The Other Ways to Interrogate Militant Suspects

4 MINS READSep 7, 2006 | 23:31 GMT
The U.S. government announced Sept. 6 that it has changed the Army field manual covering the rules for interrogating detainees. The updated manual, titled "Human Intelligence Collector Operations," specifically bans certain techniques whose use at U.S. facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib, Iraq, sparked international outrage. The new procedures, which appeared in the lead-up to the November mid-term elections in the United States, are intended to end the controversy over the way the U.S. government has treated detainees, especially in Cuba and Iraq. However, they will have little — if any — effect on how the U.S. military gets information from suspects outside of U.S. jurisdiction. Washington, in fact, will continue to get intelligence from suspected militants not in U.S. custody the same way it has in the past — by letting cooperative foreign governments do the interrogations and pass on the intelligence afterward. Although the U.S. military insisted that many of the tactics used against prisoners at Abu Ghraib, for example, were unauthorized, the new manual specifically pinpoints such actions as unacceptable. For instance, it prevents interrogators from forcing detainees to strip naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner. It also bans the placement of hoods or sacks over detainees' heads and outlaws duct-tape blindfolds, beatings, electric shocks and burnings. The technique of "water-boarding," in which detainees are made to feel as if they are drowning, mock executions and exposing detainees to excessive heat and cold are also prohibited. Dogs, which had been used to intimidate and frighten detainees, cannot be used in any aspect of interrogation, although they can still be used to guard detainees. The new manual was accompanied by a Defense Department directive that prohibits "cruel, inhumane treatment," as well as "outrages against personal dignity" and "threats or acts of violence." Included in this are murder, torture, corporal punishment, mutilation and rape, among other things. Again, however, these are prohibitions regarding suspects in U.S. custody. Obtaining information from a suspected militant in a foreign country often involves a rendition, a clandestine operation that involves snatching suspects from one country and transferring them to a third country — usually the suspect's home country — for interrogation by local authorities. The interrogation techniques used in these third countries often are harsher than those used in the United States. Following the interrogation, any information obtained is passed to U.S. intelligence or law enforcement personnel in the country. Renditions of suspected militants have been part of the U.S. effort all along, and are likely to continue. U.S. intelligence also will continue to have direct access to many suspected militants captured in foreign countries. In this process, Washington makes a formal request though diplomatic channels to the host government. In most cases, that access is granted, sometimes immediately, other times within several days after the initial capture. U.S. intelligence personnel interview the suspect and then leave the country, which is now left to deal with the suspect — and any prosecution. Renditions have caused controversy in the past, particularly in Italy, where Italian authorities have issued arrest warrants for several U.S. personnel allegedly involved in the rendition in February 2003 of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian cleric living in Milan and wanted for alleged militant links. However, in most cases, renditions are carried out with the tacit approval of the host country government. In the case of Nasr, the controversy had more to do with internal Italian politics than Rome's cooperation with Washington. In some cases, the U.S. State Department obtains the results of an interrogation from a foreign government through a "letter rogatory" — a formal request to a foreign court for judicial assistance, usually in obtaining evidence. The State Department then provides the information to the U.S. Justice Department, which can use it to prosecute a case. As the United States prepares for midterm elections, the new manual and accompanying directive could be a Bush administration attempt to gain back some of the footing it lost over the prison scandals, although groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will not stop investigating the treatment of suspected militants by the United States. Ultimately, however, the United States will obtain information from many suspects in foreign countries much as it has in the past.

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