April 17, 2008 – Washington, DC — Military interrogators assaulted Afghan detainees in 2003, using investigation methods they learned during self-defense training, Pentagon documents released Wednesday show. [Note: VCS is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit to obtain documents from the Administration related to torture.]
Detainees at the Gardez Detention Facility in southeastern Afghanistan reported being made to kneel outside in wet clothing and being kicked and punched in the kidneys, nose and knees if they moved, according to the documents.
A 2006 Army review concluded that the detainees were not abused but that the incident revealed “misconduct that warrants further action.”
The documents, which were turned over Wednesday evening to the American Civil Liberties Union, focus on the 2003 death of Afghan detainee Jamal Nasser, who died in U.S. custody at the Gardez facility.
The documents detail interrogation techniques used on eight detainees, including Nasser, who were suspected of weapons trafficking.
The Army review found that abuse did not cause Nasser’s death. But the documents include interviews with some interrogators who acknowledged slapping the detainees – a technique they learned during survival training at the Army’s SERE school. SERE stands for Survive, Evade, Resist and Escape.
“You say you gave permission for (redacted) to hit detainees during interrogations; did you have a memorandum or order from your higher headquarters authorizing that?” a military criminal investigator asked one of the interrogators, according to a November 2004 transcript among the more than 300 pages of documents.
“No, I did not have a memorandum and had not seen one,” the interrogator answered, according to the transcript. “I used tactics that were used in SERE.”
The investigator continued: “Did you see (redacted) hit detainees during the interviews?”
“Yes, open or closed slaps, not punches,” the interrogator answered.
In another interview that day, according to the documents, the Army investigator asks whether “you ever heard of a tactic of pouring cold water or a water and snow mix on persons captured?”
“They do spray cold water on prisoners,” the interrogator answered, referring to SERE lessons. That interrogator was unaware, however, of men in his unit pouring cold water over the detainees, as the Afghans later complained.
ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said such interrogation techniques are taught at SERE schools only to show soldiers how to withstand them from enemy captors. She called the methods, when used together, a form of torture.
“They were intended to be defensive methods, not offensive methods,” Singh said. “This raises serious questions about the interrogation methods that were being applied in Afghanistan.”
SERE methods were also used on detainees by military interrogators in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Singh said.
The Pentagon and the Army did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday evening.
The 2004 criminal inquiry of Nasser’s death was among a string of probes into alleged abuse of prisoners in U.S. jails in Afghanistan.
Trying to deflect the kind of scandal that followed the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan ordered a review of their secretive network of about 20 jails at bases across Afghanistan.
Nasser was among eight detainees who were held at Gardez for between 18 and 20 days. The Army concluded he died of a stomach ailment.