New York Times (pg. A1)  [Printer-friendly version]
June 17, 2006


By Eric Schmitt

United States Special Operations troops employed a set of harsh,
unauthorized interrogation techniques against detainees in Iraq during
a four-month period in early 2004, long after approval for their use
was rescinded, according to a Pentagon inquiry released Friday.

The investigation is the last of 12 major inquiries to be made public
that focus on allegations of detainee abuse by American personnel in
Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the first to focus on Special
Operations troops, who operate with more latitude than other military
units. It detailed harsh treatment that continued at isolated bases
even after the abuses first surfaced at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Special Operations interrogators gave some detainees only bread or
crackers and water if they did not cooperate, according to the
investigation, by Brig. Gen. Richard P. Formica of the Army. One
prisoner was fed only bread and water for 17 days. Other detainees
were locked for as many as seven days in cells so small that they
could neither stand nor lie down, while interrogators played loud
music that disrupted their sleep.

The inquiry also determined that some detainees were stripped naked,
drenched with water and then interrogated in air-conditioned rooms or
in cold weather. General Formica said it appeared that members of the
Navy Seals had used that technique in the case of one detainee who
died after questioning in Mosul in 2004, but he reported that he had
no specific allegations that the use of the technique was related to
that death.

Despite the findings, General Formica recommended that none of the
service members be disciplined, saying what they did was wrong but not
deliberate abuse. He faulted "inadequate policy guidance" rather
than "personal failure" for the mistreatment, and cited the
dangerous environment in which Special Operations forces carried out
their missions. He said that, from his observations, none of the
detainees seemed to be the worse for wear because of the treatment.
"Seventeen days with only bread and water is too long," the general
concluded. But he added that the military command's surgeon general
had advised him "it would take longer than 17 days to develop a
protein or vitamin deficiency from a diet of bread and water."

General Formica's review focused on the Combined Joint Special
Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula, which included soldiers from
the Army's Fifth and 10th Special Forces Groups. It did not cover the
actions in Iraq of more highly classified Special Operations units,
including Delta Force and some Navy Seal groups, or other specialized
units including Task Force 6-26, a subject of extensive allegations of
misconduct that were reported by The New York Times in March. General
Formica recommended eight changes, including more training for Special
Operations interrogators, minimum standards for detention conditions
and new policies regulating the use of indigenous forces who worked
with those in Special Operations. Pentagon officials said Friday that
all eight had been carried out.

General Formica said that the Special Operations forces mistakenly
used 5 of 12 interrogation techniques between February and May 2004
that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then the top commander in Iraq, had
withdrawn in October 2003 because military lawyers had found they were
too harsh. "It is regrettable," General Formica said in an interview
at the Pentagon with three reporters on Friday. "But they were
erroneously given the wrong policy."

General Sanchez had approved the harsher techniques, like blaring loud
music and using military dogs to frighten Iraqi captives, in September
2003. But confusion over use of the techniques became widespread, even
after they were barred a month later except when approved by General
Sanchez. Many of the American captors at the Abu Ghraib prison have
also said they believed the techniques were authorized, even without
General Sanchez's approval.

The report made public on Friday was a heavily redacted copy of the
75-page classified document that General Formica completed 20 months
ago. Members of Congress were briefed on it about a year ago. The
Pentagon had refused requests since then from The New York Times and
other news organizations to provide a declassified version of it.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had promised that declassified
versions of all major inquiries would be made public, but this one was
released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the
American Civil Liberties Union.

Senior Defense Department officials said General Formica's review was
not intended to be a wide-ranging evaluation of Special Operations'
detention and interrogation practices. General Formica conducted
interviews regarding three separate episodes of alleged detainee abuse
involving Special Operations, some of them referred from another Army
inquiry by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay. General Formica also reviewed the
findings of seven other instances that had been previously

General Formica said there was no physical or medical evidence to
substantiate allegations by several members of an Iraqi family that
American interrogators at Abu Ghraib in December 2003 had beaten and
slapped them, and then sodomized them with a water bottle. In
addition, he said, the family members were known to be insurgent
sympathizers. In a second case, General Formica said two Iraqi
detainees at a safe house in April 2004 were fed only bread and water
for 13 and 17 days, respectively. But he said allegations that a
former Iraqi policeman and an Iraqi-born Lebanese interpreter, both
working with the Americans, had beaten and kicked them were

General Formica found that in the third case at a Special Operations
outpost, near Tikrit, in April and May 2004, three detainees were held
in cells 4 feet high, 4 feet long and 20 inches wide, except to use
the bathroom, to be washed or to be interrogated. He concluded that
two days in such confinement "would be reasonable; five to seven days
would not." Two of the detainees were held for seven days; one for
two days, General Formica concluded.

Of the seven other previously investigated cases, General Formica
concluded that allegations in two were unfounded and that one did not
involve Special Operations, the report said. In two other cases,
investigations were still pending when General Formica completed his
report in November 2004. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Mark
Ballesteros, said Friday that those inquiries had been completed, but
that he would not comment on their findings.

General Formica said in the interview on Friday that he believed that
the Special Operations troops thought they were following authorized
procedures, and corrected them after he pointed out their error. "I
didn't find cruel and malicious criminals that are out there looking
for detainees to abuse," he said.