By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 17, 2008 - The Defense Department will take action if an upcoming congressional report on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody yields new information, a Pentagon spokesman said. "We'll look at the report in detail. If there is any new information in there that we feel we need to address, we will certainly act upon it," Bryan Whitman told reporters last week.
The Senate Armed Services Committee report culminates a two-year investigation that included hundreds of hours of interviews with current and former Defense Department personnel and a review of almost 200,000 pages of documents provided by the Pentagon.
One finding detailed in the executive summary released last week is that the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.
According to the report, interrogation techniques such as stripping clothes off detainees, placing them in stress positions and using dogs for intimidation appeared in Iraq only after being approved for use in Afghanistan and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The report also states that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's December 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques, and subsequent policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials, "conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody."
"Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there," according to one of the report's 19 conclusions.
The congressional findings also conclude that the actions and "errors in judgment" of other senior Defense Department officials, compounded by insufficient oversight, led to aggressive or abusive treatment of detainees.
Whitman said the Defense Department has not had an opportunity to review the report in its entirety. But he said that seven of the 19 conclusions in the Senate report duplicate conclusions Pentagon officials drew from their own investigations.
To review and track the 492 recommendations generated by a dozen previous reviews, the Defense Department established a senior detainee oversight leadership committee, he said.
"We've taken many steps over the past years to ensure the proper and humane treatment of detainees," said Whitman, adding that none of the earlier investigations found that any policy condoned or tolerated abuse.
"Any credible allegations of abuse by U.S. military personnel are taken seriously and looked into in painstaking detail. If and when we have found people have violated our trust, applicable offenders have been punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," he added.