The Torture Question
October 18, 2005
In mid-August, a FRONTLINE documentary crew made the perilous journey to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Entering
the 280-acre compound in the middle of the night, escorted by helicopters and a convoy of armed Humvees, the crew was following
50 detainees fresh from the battlefield. As they were ordered to kneel in formation on the concrete floor, one detainee nervously
asked the FRONTLINE cameraman, "Is this Abu Ghraib?" The answer brought a shudder.
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Laying the Groundwork
Soon after 9/11, Congress gives the president unprecedented power to fight the war on terror. And a small circle
of lawyers develop a legal framework allowing the U.S. to redefine the rules in a new kind of war.
The Afghanistan War Prisoners
In the CIA-FBI tug of war, those detainees not taken by the CIA become the military's. Rumsfeld, seeking fast "actionable
intelligence," wants "Geneva" out of the way so coercive interrogations can occur.
Gitmo's Camp X-Ray
From the start, things don't go well in the interrogation area at Guantanamo: bad facilities, inept interrogators, MP/MI
conflict. Rumsfeld isn't happy. He finds a "can-do" general for Gitmo.
A New Commander & New Tactics
Gen. Miller arrives at Gitmo and things change. Meanwhile, administration lawyers redefine "torture" and Rumsfeld permits
tougher techniques. But criticism grows inside the Pentagon and FBI.
Taking the Gloves Off
With Iraq's growing insurgency and the desperate need to get actionable intelligence, the rules on interrogation techniques
at Abu Ghraib and throughout Iraq become anybody's guess.
Abu Ghraib - And Beyond
Harsh techniques used at Guantanamo become common inside the prison's "hard site." Home videos document how the brutal
environment affected everyone. Interrogators describe abuse that goes beyond Abu Ghraib.
Abu Ghraib has always been a terrifying place to Iraqis -- Saddam Hussein used it as his primary torture chamber -- but
in 2004, when graphic photographs of American soldiers abusing prisoners surfaced, Abu Ghraib took on deeper meaning.
"The details of what happened in those cellblocks between the American soldiers and Iraqi detainees are well known," says
producer/director Michael Kirk, "but how and why it happened is what took us into the heart of Abu Ghraib that night."
In "The Torture Question", FRONTLINE traces the history of how decisions made in Washington in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 -- including an internal administration battle over the Geneva Conventions -- led to a robust interrogation policy that laid the groundwork for prisoner abuse in Afghanistan; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba;
The political firestorm ignited by the Abu Ghraib photos and the shocking revelations that followed resulted in 12 Department of Defense investigations. One of them, a commission of ex-defense secretaries, found that there were lapses in oversight in the Pentagon, but that
the practices had not been condoned. So far there have been arrests and convictions of some low-level soldiers and reprimands
for the colonel in charge of Abu Ghraib, Thomas Pappas, as well as for Army Reserve Gen. Janis Karpinski.
"They can do whatever they want; they could make it appear any way they want. I will not be silenced," Karpinski tells FRONTLINE. "I will continue to ask how they can continue to blame seven rogue soldiers on the nightshift when there is a preponderance of information right now, hard information from a variety of sources, that
"The Torture Question" traces the aggressive development of the administration's interrogation policy in the aftermath
of 9/11, where the push for "actionable intelligence" led to authorization for interrogators to strip detainees, degrade prisoners
with sexual humiliation techniques and use dogs for intimidation.
Former White House and Justice Department legal advisers who were involved in drafting many of the administration's boldest
proposals agreed to talk to FRONTLINE. "There was a powerful set of shared assumptions we had in the wake of 9/11, and one
of the most powerful was the assumption that we would never be forgiven if we failed to do something that was within the power
of our government lawfully to protect the public from a further attack," says Associate White House Counsel Bradford Berenson.
The legal framework developed by administration lawyers like Berenson, Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo provided the impetus for unprecedented rules for interrogating detainees, rules authorized by Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld -- rules officials insist never condoned torture.
FRONTLINE follows the implementation of the Rumsfeld rules from the battlefields of Afghanistan to the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, where eventually the FBI began to document a trail of abuses by interrogators.
In one e-mail, an agent reports on conditions in an interrogation room: "[T]he A/C had been turned off, making the temperature
in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of
hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."
In this report, American soldiers give first-hand accounts of their involvement in the harsh treatment of prisoners. Moreover,
one former Army interrogator and member of a special intelligence team insists that the use of torture was happening all over Iraq. Other military sources,
some of whom had to be disguised, confirm that prisoner abuse is a more widespread problem than previously reported.
"The Torture Question" provides the context for understanding how the rules were confused, how lines of authority were
blurred, and what happens when the authorization of "coercive interrogation" makes it way into the battle zone.