WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved a plan that brought unconventional interrogation methods to Iraq to gain intelligence about the growing insurgency, ultimately leading to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the New Yorker magazine reported on Saturday.
Rumsfeld, who has been under fire for the prisoner abuse scandal, gave the green light to methods previously used in Afghanistan for gathering intelligence on members of al Qaeda, which the United States blames for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the magazine reported on its Web site.
Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said he had not seen the story and could not comment. The article hits newsstands on Monday.
U.S. interrogation techniques have come under scrutiny amid revelations that prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad were kept naked, stacked on top of one another, forced to engage in sex acts and photographed in humiliating poses.
Rumsfeld, who has rejected calls by some Democrats and a number of major newspapers to resign, returned on Friday from a surprise trip to Iraq and Abu Ghraib prison, calling the scandal a “body blow.” Seven soldiers have been charged.
The abuse prompted worldwide outrage and has shaken U.S. global prestige as President Bush seeks re-election in November. Bush has backed Rumsfeld and said the abuse was abhorrent but the wrongful actions of only a few soldiers.
The U.S. military has now prohibited several interrogation methods from being used in Iraq, including sleep and sensory deprivation and body “stress positions,” defense officials said on Friday.
The New Yorker said the interrogation plan was a highly classified “special access program,” or SAP, that gave advance approval to kill, capture or interrogate so-called high-value targets in the battle against terror.
Such secret methods were used extensively in Afghanistan but more sparingly in Iraq – only in the search for former President Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. As the Iraqi insurgency grew and more U.S. soldiers died, Rumsfeld and Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone expanded the scope to bring the interrogation tactics to Abu Ghraib, the article said.
The magazine, which based its article on interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, reported the plan was approved and carried out last year after deadly bombings in August at the U.N. headquarters and Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad.
A former intelligence official quoted in the article said Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, approved the program but may not have known about the abuse.
The rules governing the secret operation were “grab whom you must. Do what you want,” the unidentified former intelligence official told the New Yorker.
Rumsfeld left the details of the interrogations to Cambone, the article quoted a Pentagon consultant as saying.
“This is Cambone’s deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the program,” said the Pentagon consultant in the article.
U.S. officials have admitted the abuse may have violated the Geneva Convention, which governs treatment of prisoners of war.
The New Yorker said the CIA, which approved using high-pressure interrogation tactics against senior al Qaeda leaders after the 2001 attacks, balked at extending them to Iraq and refused to participate
After initiating the secret techniques, the U.S. military began learning useful intelligence about the insurgency, the former intelligence official was quoted as saying.