School for Scandal; Coercive Interrogation Policy Developments

Article excerpt


In the summer of 2002, Brig. Gen. John Custer was on assignment from the Army's Military Intelligence training school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Military officials will not disclose the objective of Gen. Custer's work in Guantanamo, but after his return he revised military training techniques used in the Department of Defense's most elite interrogation schools.

In a 2003 interview published in the base newspaper, the Fort Huachuca Scout, Gen. Custer himself said that he was proud of integrating the "lessons learned" at Guantanamo into military intelligence doctrine. In the same interview, Gen. Custer said that TRADOC, the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, had approved the revisions he recommended and increased funding for Fort Huachuca to raise the number of interrogation trainees by 400 percent this fiscal year.

Citing the need to maintain "operational security," an Army spokesman at TRADOC declined to discuss the specific changes that resulted from Gen. Custer's recommendations. But if my reading of Gen. Custer's on-the-record statements is correct, it is the first indication of a command-level decision to incorporate the coercive interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo into standard military intelligence procedures. At the time of his Guantanamo mission, Gen. Custer was deputy commanding general at Fort Huachuca. His current position is director of intelligence (J2) for U.S. Central Command, where he reports directly to CENTCOM Commanding Gen. John Abizaid.

There are indications of a change in military interrogation techniques in Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's report on the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib. In his report, Gen. Taguba references an earlier mission to Abu Ghraib by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was then in charge at Guantanamo. According to Gen. Taguba, Gen. Miller advised that prison guards employ "emerging strategic interrogation techniques" in their handling of detainees, so as to create "conditions for successful exploitation" during interrogations. Gen. Taguba further says that Gen. Miller used Joint Task Force-Guantanamo "procedures and interrogation authorities as baselines for its observations and recommendations."

Put simply, military police guards who say they were acting under the direction of military-intelligence personnel are probably telling the truth. The interrogation techniques the world has become familiar with through the leak of photographs at Abu Ghraib were refined at Guantanamo over the past two-and-a-half years. But the photographs don't tell the whole story. The approach relies on carrot and stick. In addition to coercive interrogation tactics, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo also uses rewards and incentives to encourage cooperation. It is probable that the objective of Gen. Custer's assignment to Guantanamo was to integrate JTF-GTMO techniques into standard military-intelligence training and interrogation techniques, especially the Strategic Debriefer Course and Intelligence Support to CounterTerrorism Course taught at Fort Huachuca.

Gen. Custer's Guantanamo mission did not occur in a vacuum. After September 11, a broad spectrum of authorities across American society debated the ethics and utility of torturing terrorist suspects. In 2002, law professor Alan Dershowitz published an essay, "Torture of Terrorists," which recommended a quasi-judicial approach, including the issuance of "torture warrants." Talk of torture was widespread throughout the media.

The following year, the Defense Department sponsored a Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics that featured a debate over torture. The annual JSCOPE conference exists to "clarify ethical issues for the conduct of military professionals," according to organizers. The conference drew 200 attendees, primarily from the armed services and service academies.

Air Force Maj. …