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WASHINGTON – Despite criticism it failed to properly train soldiers in Iraq to comply with international human-rights laws, the Pentagon has approved a new interrogation-training program that “de-emphasizes” compliance with the Geneva Conventions regulating the handling of prisoners, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by WorldNetDaily.
Details of the program, developed by the U.S. Army for reservists and National Guard members, were finalized in January – the same month the Pentagon started a criminal investigation into Iraqi prisoner abuses.
The top military investigator in the mushrooming prisoner-abuse scandal has criticized commanders for failing to provide adequate human-rights training for soldiers guarding and interrogating Iraqi prisoners at detention facilities in Iraq.
Several soldiers, most of whom are army National Guard members or reservists, face charges of mistreating inmates held at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba testified yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the soldiers received “no training whatsoever” in proper prisoner screening and interrogation either before their deployment to Iraq or during their duty at the prison. In his report, filed in March, he found that commanders failed even to post provisions of the Geneva Conventions at prisons.
The Geneva Conventions protect all enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees from inhumane treatment such as violence, intimidation, insults and public curiosity.
Such legal human-rights training remains absent from the official list of “critical” tasks (page 1, page 2) to be covered in a new crash course in prisoner screening and interrogation that the U.S. Army is developing for reservists and National Guard members.
“They don’t think GENCON (Geneva Conventions) is a critical task, despite it being absolutely critical in doing our job,” a senior military intelligence official said.
The training focuses instead on the various “approach strategies” for tactical questioning of enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees. Soldiers are also taught how to work with Arabic interpreters to “exploit” intelligence sources.
Top military brass approved the training program’s critical task list on Jan. 4. A criminal investigation into Iraqi prisoner abuses began Jan. 14.
However, a formal U.S. military review of detention and interrogation operations began five months earlier, on Aug. 11, after the International Committee of the Red Cross complained of widespread human-rights violations at U.S.-run prisons. Red Cross officials asked U.S. military authorities to ensure that soldiers transferring and holding Iraqi suspects receive training in the laws regulating tactical questioning.
That doesn’t appear to be the case even now.
The new training program – written by U.S. Army TRADOC, where army training is developed – is part of a larger Pentagon plan to improve so-called “actionable intelligence” by turning soldiers into “human sensors” in the field. It condenses an 18-week interrogation and counterintelligence course for active-duty soldiers into just six weeks, four weeks of which is satisfied through correspondence classes.
The acceleration also worries some military intelligence officials.
In fact, the head of course development at Army intelligence headquarters at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., complained that the training was “woefully inadequate” and would fail to produce “competent” human-intelligence collectors.
“After considerable analysis, they [instructors] concluded that a six-week course could not produce a competent, skill-level 10 HUMINT [human intelligence] Collector,” wrote Walter Crossman, chief of the Enlisted Course Development Branch, in a Jan. 21 letter to the commander of training and development support at Fort Huachuca.
“Training HUMINT Collectors requires extensive hands-on practical exercises in the art of interrogation and other collection methods,” he added in his three-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by WorldNetDaily (page 1, page 2, page 3).
Crossman and instructors counter-proposed an 8-week course, but were turned down. The 6-week course is scheduled to go into effect in fiscal 2006.
Only two weeks of the course involve actual classroom instruction, during which drill sergeants or other instructors will go over slides with reservists. Only one slide out of nearly 70 in the interrogation section of the course mentions the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare, and only in brief, sources familiar with the program say. It simply issues a general warning to soldiers not to use “coercion” against detainees under questioning.
Some officials fear that teaching reservists and National Guard members interrogation tactics without teaching them the Geneva Conventions at length could invite more human-rights abuses.
“The direction being pushed is to emphasize questioning and approaches, which are at best tricky under Geneva, but yet the legal aspects are de-emphasized,” said the senior official who asked not to be identified.
Phone calls to an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon were not immediately returned.
The Pentagon official behind the broader effort to reform battlefield-intelligence collection is Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence.