New York Times (pg. A1), 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techniques against detainees in Iraq during a four-month period in early 2004, long after approval for their use was rescinded, according to a Pentagon inquiry released Friday.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 investigated.

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 unsubstantiated.

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.