In response to sharp public criticism, the Department of Defense modified its Field Manual on intelligence interrogation, (PDF) taking pains to note that many practices associated with Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo were illegal. Observers have, however, continued to criticize the manual’s Appendix M—a series of harsh measures that may be authorized under special circumstances for limited periods of time by senior commanders. Now fourteen prominent figures from the intelligence community, each well known for his expertise in interrogations, have written to Defense Secretary Gates raising objections to Appendix M. The authors argue that the Appendix conflates a legitimate and useful technique called “separation” with a number of abusive practices that were recently used in association with it. As a result, “separation” itself has been placed on the list of techniques that can only be employed with special authorization. The writers argue that Appendix M should be “deleted in its entirety” but that the use of “separation” should be given a green light.
Stuart Herrington, a retired Army colonel, notes that “separation” appears to have been confused with “isolation”:
In all the interrogation centers that I have worked in or run, we separated the “guests” from one another. Most welcomed this. A prisoner might cooperate if decently and cleverly treated, but only if we could provide a discreet environment where he could feel comfortable spending long hours talking with us. That meant each “guest” had to have a private room, and could not be exposed to any other detainee (encounters in the hallways, for example). This was Rule #1 in our centers. Iraqi general officers housed in our “guest center” did not want to be seen by other Iraqi officers and were grateful for the comfortable, compartmented environment that we provided.
By contrast, Appendix M appears to contemplate that severely abusive techniques may be associated with “separation,” including the use of earmuffs and pitch-black goggles for periods of up to 12 hours, as well as a sleep-deprivation regime under which a prisoner is allotted no more than 4 hours of sleep a day for up to 30 days. The interrogators call these techniques “ineffective” and “counterproductive.” “The use of sensory deprivation techniques, extreme isolation and stress positions is likely to lead to false information, facilitate enemy recruitment, and further erode the reputation of the United States,” they write. The group includes, in addition to Herrington, retired Generals Harry Soyster, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and David Irvine, former FBI interrogators Ali Soufan and Jack Cloonan, former CIA agents Frank Anderson, Bob Baer, Vincent Cannistraro, Joe Navarro, and Haviland Smith, and military intelligence officers Pat Lang, Steve Kleinman, and Malcolm Nance.
Matthew Alexander, a former senior military interrogator who developed the information that led to the killing of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, told me that he had not signed the letter, but said, “I’m in complete agreement with the letter–separation is not solitary confinement, it rests on the prisoner’s consent, and it can be an extremely effective technique.” Alexander also called for the elimination of Appendix M, which he said placed undue restrictions on the senior interrogator and contemplated the use of techniques that were ineffective and counterproductive.
The letter is also drawing support from human-rights advocates. Calling Appendix M a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Human Rights First has issued a report (PDF) backing up the interrogators. “In addition to opening the door to abuse, Appendix M also takes a valuable interrogation approach, ‘separation,’ and puts it out of reach in situations where it could be employed effectively (and humanely),” the human-rights organization states.