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Stunted intelligence

"Stunted intelligence" Continued...

Issue: "Bush: Hail to the chief," Jan. 29, 2005

Critics continue to claim that Abu Ghraib abuses demand an overhaul of Army interrogation policies and a chain-of-command review. Most recently grilling attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales, Senate critics of the administration have sought to blur the line between the scandalous actions of night-shift prison guards in Iraq and the administration's attitudes toward torture and the Geneva Convention. "So there's a certain kind of sense by many of us here that the administration-and you're the point person on the administration-has not been forthcoming on the whole issues of torture, which not just were committed at Abu Ghraib but is happening today, today," charged Sen. Ted Kennedy in questioning Mr. Gonzales.

He and others are sending a message as dangerous as it is wrong, argues former defense secretary James Schlesinger. As testimony from current courts-martial bears out, lax oversight created an environment that stoked a few soldiers' sadistic tendencies.

In the climate of ongoing hyper-handwringing, U.S. interrogators at the front lines are forced to soften their approach to interrogation, with serious effects. "A chilling effect on interrogation means that we take in less intelligence; that intelligence may come in belatedly, too late to take necessary corrective actions," the former Nixon, Ford, and Carter Cabinet secretary said. The effect, he told Senate investigators in September, has already been made clear: "The Marines, for example, up in Fallujah and Anbar no longer move on the basis of intelligence unless that intelligence can be confirmed. And as a result they are missing opportunities to deal with some of the insurgents."

If the widespread publicity of the Abu Ghraib photos sparked the conversation, Mr. Schlesinger says the resulting dialogue was based on false pretenses. "The photographs are quite misleading," he told a Senate panel. "In contrast to the inferences that some initially drew, those photographs have nothing to do with interrogation policy. None of the detainees abused in the photographs were targets of intelligence or of interrogation to gain intelligence."

But the uproar has netted real results. And Army officials complain that interrogation policies have grown so weak that detainees know how to beat the system: "Interrogators and detainees both know what the limits are," said a senior Army officer recently at an off-the-record briefing at the Pentagon. "They go through and practice it. They know that if the United States captures them, they will get a medical exam. They'll get their teeth fixed. They will get essentially a free physical and they will be released if they don't talk after a certain amount of time."

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