US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that he rescinded the use of controversial interrogation techniques for detainees at Guantanamo Bay in early 2003 because he had learned that Pentagon lawyers thought some of them were illegal and verged on torture.
"We didn't want to be doing something that people had concerns about in the department," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference.
Rumsfeld was responding to the disclosure of a 2004 memorandum by Alberto Mora, a Republican appointee who retired last year as general counsel of the Navy, that described how he successfully opposed the coercive interrogation methods approved by Rumsfeld on Dec. 2, 2002.
Mora's memorandum also detailed his frustrations at failing to influence the legal discussion that led to new, less coercive methods approved by Rumsfeld the following April. Mora acknowledged in the memorandum that those methods were "well within the boundaries authorized by law."
Rumsfeld said he had been unaware in 2002 of any internal objections to the more coercive techniques until four to six weeks after he signed the directive approving them. Those methods included yelling at detainees, keeping them in physically stressful positions for up to four hours, and "mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with a finger and light pushing."
He dismissed the significance of a handwritten postscript he had added to the Dec. 2, 2002, directive that read: "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"
Rumsfeld works standing up at a special desk in his Pentagon office.
"Maybe it shouldn't have gone out, but it did, and I wrote it and life goes on," he said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the military commander responsible for the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay confirmed on Tuesday that officials there last month turned to more aggressive methods to deter prisoners who were carrying out long-term hunger strikes to protest their incarceration.
The commander, General Bantz Craddock, head of the US Southern Command, said soldiers at Guantanamo began strapping some of the detainees into "restraint chairs" to force-feed them and isolate them from one another after finding that some were deliberately vomiting or siphoning out the liquid they had been fed.
"It was causing problems because some of these hard-core guys were getting worse," Craddock said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. Explaining the use of the restraint chairs, he added, "The way around that is you have to make sure that purging doesn't happen."
After the New York Times reported on Feb. 9 that the military had begun using restraint chairs and other harsh methods, military spokesmen insisted that the procedures for dealing with the hunger strikes at Guantanamo had not changed. They also said they could not confirm that the chairs had been used.
On Tuesday, Craddock said he had reviewed the use of the restraint chairs, as had senior officials at the Department of Defense, and they concluded that the practice was "not inhumane." Craddock left no doubt, however, that commanders had decided to try to make life less comfortable for the hunger strikers, and that the measures were seen as successful.
"Pretty soon it wasn't convenient, and they decided it wasn't worth it," he said.