WASHINGTON – In late 2002, U.S. interrogators of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay (search) sought approval to use harsher methods than are called for in standard military doctrine, and some of those techniques were used until military lawyers objected, officials said Thursday.
Larry Di Rita, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search), refused to identify the techniques, which he described as "non-doctrinal," meaning they were not in accordance with military doctrine, which was written to apply to interrogations of prisoners of war, not terrorists.
The military lawyers believed that some of those techniques went too far, other officials said.
Military doctrine for interrogations is designed to comply with the Geneva Conventions (search) that protect prisoners of war. The Bush administration has argued that the Geneva protections do not apply to Al Qaeda terrorists because they do not represent a nation state and do not follow the rules of warfare.
Di Rita stressed that military commanders at Guantanamo Bay faced a difficult situation because the individuals held there — mostly Taliban and Al Qaeda (search) fighters captured during the war in Afghanistan in late 2001 — were considered terrorists and some had time-sensitive intelligence.
"It was a hard darn problem," he said. The focus of interrogations was on uncovering any information about future terrorist attacks, he added.
Adding urgency was the suspicion that one prisoner at Guantanamo — whom Di Rita did not identify — had information about a planned future attack on the United States.
The interrogators at Guantanamo Bay wanted to use harsher methods against that prisoner. Military lawyers apparently objected to at least some of those proposed methods, and "as that anxiety became more apparent," Rumsfeld ordered Jim Haynes, the Pentagon's top lawyers, to create a working group to examine the issues more fully, a senior Pentagon official said.
The official and a uniformed lawyer involved in the process briefed reporters on condition they not be identified.
It was not until mid-April 2003, after a comprehensive review by Pentagon lawyers, policy-makers, intelligence officers and military officials, that Rumsfeld approved an interrogation guideline for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, Di Rita said.
Before that, approval for "non-doctrinal" interrogation techniques was on a case-by-case basis, Di Rita said.
The uniformed lawyer who briefed reporters said he and other military attorneys had no objections to the final Rumsfeld guidelines, which the official said complied with all international laws.
Di Rita said the Rumsfeld guidelines are classified secret and will not be made public.
Di Rita said the Pentagon has not been entirely clear in public statements about events related to interrogation policies and practices at Guantanamo Bay because it has not fully recreated a timeline that reaches back to the start of interrogations at Guantanamo Bay in January 2002.
"We're rediscovering a lot of this in the context of trying to make sure we fully understand all aspects of detainee operations," he said, adding that Rumsfeld has ordered Pentagon officials to systematically review how detainee and interrogation guidelines evolved.