The JPRA called it ‘torture’

THE JPRA CALLED IT ‘TORTURE’…. One of the principal pushback arguments from the right this week is that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the Bush administration did not constitute “torture.” It’s part of the same semantics game proponents of the policies have been playing for years: define “torture” to exclude administration-endorsed tactics and boast proudly, “We don’t torture.”

But in 2002, the military not only advised against the harsh interrogation methods, officials also felt comfortable using the appropriate label for the tactics.

The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as “torture” in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon’s chief lawyer and warned that it would produce “unreliable information.”

“The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel,” says the document, an unsigned two-page attachment to a memo by the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. Parts of the attachment, obtained in full by The Washington Post, were quoted in a Senate report on harsh interrogation released this week.

It remains unclear whether the attachment reached high-ranking officials in the Bush administration. But the document offers the clearest evidence that has come to light so far that technical advisers on the harsh interrogation methods voiced early concerns about the effectiveness of applying severe physical or psychological pressure.

Since the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency ran the SERE training program, presumably it knows what, exactly, constitutes torture and what doesn’t. For that matter, the fact that the JPRA concluded that torture doesn’t work and shouldn’t be used probably should have had some influence in the administration.

The next question is whether anyone in a position of authority actually saw the JPRA’s warnings. We know that when Philip Zelikow, a top State Department lawyer under Condoleezza Rice, wrote a memo rejecting the OLC’s arguments in 2005 justifying abusive interrogation techniques, the Bush White House “attempted to collect and destroy all copies” of his memo. Did something similar happen with the JRPA’s memos? The thought has apparently occurred to some people.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he thinks the attachment was deliberately ignored and perhaps suppressed. … “It’s part of a pattern of squelching dissent,” said Levin, who added that there were other instances in which internal reviews of detainee treatment were halted or undercut. “They didn’t want to hear the downside.”

Some of this is, of course, based on speculation. As Alex Koppelman noted, “The question is whether any key administration officials knew about this memo or its conclusions, and the Post doesn’t have an answer for that.”

Perhaps if there were some kind of larger investigation of the administration’s conduct, we could fill in the blanks.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation