Michael Isikoff for Newsweek, March 21 issue, 3/15/2005
A pentagon report last week absolved top Defense officials of any blame for abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq. But the inquiries and the political falloutare not over.
NEWSWEEK has learned that an investigation by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami has confirmed some of the allegations in recently disclosed e-mails by FBI agents, reporting that military interrogators sexually humiliated prisoners at Gitmo.
The inquiry largely concerns a small group of mostly female interrogators who say they were urged by superiors to be "creative" in late 2002 when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expressed frustration about the lack of actionable intelligence being gleaned from prisoners at the base. That may have led some interrogators to take liberties, officials said.
In one instance, investigators have found evidence that a male interrogator pinned down a Gitmo prisoner while female colleagues "rubbed up against the guy" and sexually taunted him, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.
It is still unclear whether other FBI allegations will be confirmed. But, sources tell NEWSWEEK, SouthCom considers the evidence serious enough that about four of the interrogators (one of whom is pregnant) were recently notified they are being called up from reserve status and returned to active duty because commanders are considering courts-martial.
Another headache for the Pentagon: there are believed to be photographs of some of the sexual mistreatment, raising the prospect of new Abu Ghraib-like snapshots further damaging America's image.
The SouthCom inquiry and other prisoner-abuse investigations may derail President Bush's pending nomination of Pentagon general counsel William Haynes to a U.S. Court of Appeals seat in Richmond, Va., one of seven that Senate Dems have said they may filibuster. Haynes was directly involved in setting U.S. interrogation policies and oversaw a Pentagon "working group" that in the spring of 2003 embraced the reasoning in a now discredited Justice Department "torture" memo.
Sources tell NEWSWEEK that a classified version of last week's Pentagon report refers to still-secret memos and other material that could be problematic for Haynes. These include documents reflecting strong objections from senior U.S. military lawyers to the aggressive interrogation techniques that Haynes had urged at Gitmo. Another is a previously unknown March 14, 2003, memo by the then Justice lawyer John Yoo to Haynes titled "Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants," which tracks the analysis in the since-rescinded torture memo.
Pentagon officials strongly defend Haynes, saying he tried to navigate a difficult course in setting proper guidelines for interrogators. But White House aides worry that the nominee is in serious trouble. One senior GOP Senate source called him "DOA." Though Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter publicly pledged to bring up all of Bush's controversial judicial picks for a vote, "the committee will not be getting to [Haynes] in the near future," an aide said.