Rumsfeld loosened interrogation rules, claims 'New Yorker'

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The Independent US

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, personally authorised a loosening of the rules under which military personnel could attempt to squeeze information from detainees in prisons in Iraq, setting the stage for the abuse scandal that has now engulfed the White House, according to The New Yorker magazine.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, personally authorised a loosening of the rules under which military personnel could attempt to squeeze information from detainees in prisons in Iraq, setting the stage for the abuse scandal that has now engulfed the White House, according to The New Yorker magazine.

The article, written by the highly regarded reporter Seymour Hersh on the basis of interviews with unnamed former and current intelligence officials, drew a swift denial from the Pentagon. A spokesman said the claims were "outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture". However, the report's appearance on newsstands across America this morning will encourage critics who argue that responsibility for the abuse, committed at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and graphically shown in disturbing photographs, does not stop with seven military guards now facing courts martial but goes far higher up the chain of command, possibly to the Defence Secretary himself.

The Republican senator John McCain added his voice yesterday to calls for an investigation that looks beyond the soldiers now being charged. "We need to take this as far up as it goes and we need to do it quickly," he said on the NBC news programme Meet the Press.

As described in The New Yorker, Mr Rumsfeld, together with his undersecretary for defence intelligence, Stephen Cambone, decided last autumn to expand a secretive Pentagon programme first applied to capturing and interrogating al-Qa'ida operatives in Afghanistan to the Iraqi prisoners.

Mr Hersh wrote: "According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency."

Mr Hersh said the Central Intelligence Agency strongly disapproved of the extension of the tactics to Iraq and refused to be a part of it. "They said, 'No way'," a source told him. "We signed up for the core programme in Afghanistan ­ pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets ­ and now you want to use it for cab drivers, brothers-in-law and people pulled off the streets."

Lawrence Di Rita, a Pentagon spokesman, insisted the claims were unfounded. "No responsible official of the Department of Defence approved any programme that could conceivably have been intended to result in such abuses as witnessed in the recent photos and videos," he said. "This story seems to reflect the fevered insights of those with little, if any, connection to the activities in the Department of Defence."

The issue of whether the incidents of abuse were aberrations or exposed a more systemic acceptance of such practices inside the military will be a focus of the courts martial of the seven, the first of which opens on Wednesday. Defence lawyers are expected to argue that the accused were following orders that encouraged them to rough up detainees.

The article in The New Yorker article contends that among those who approved or were at least aware of the secret interrogations' programme when it was first deployed in Afghanistan included the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and President George Bush. But as few people as possible were "read into" what it was about. "We're not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness," was the attitude, one source told Mr Hersh. "The rules are 'Grab whom you must. Do what you want.'"

A critical moment, the magazine said, came when the commander at the Guantanamo Bay prison, Maj-Gen Geoffrey Miller, travelled to Iraq last autumn and recommended the adoption of tactics developed for suspects in Afghanistan.

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