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The steady trickle of torture accounts from American detention centers overseas has inflamed the Arab world, and the stories have done incalculable harm to the global war on terror.

It should tell us something about how far off the rails we have gone that the Pentagon is now defying a court order to release the remaining Abu Ghraib photographs. They are, evidently, too explosive. Some who have seen the pictures speak of depictions of rape and murder, unspeakable violence inflicted upon women and young boys.

Terrorists and murderers? The Army inspector general estimated that up to 80 percent of those held for security or intelligence reasons were potentially eligible for release upon proper review of their cases. Abu Ghraib, and all that has followed, affected me in a very personal way.

I spent 40 years in the Army Reserve and for 18 of those years one of my assignments was with the counterintelligence faculty of the Sixth Army Intelligence School. Over those many years I taught prisoner of war interrogation and military law to hundreds of soldiers, Marines and airmen.

Army doctrine for interrogations has always been developed by the Army Intelligence School, which conforms strictly to federal law and the Geneva Conventions. There is no midnight class where interrogators are taught how to beat a defenseless prisoner senseless without leaving marks.

There is no ambiguity about what is or is not permitted and the distinctions have always been, up to now, bright-line: "The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor condoned by the U.S. government." That's straight out of Army Field Manual 34-52, the interrogation bible.

The psychology of interrogation builds on fear of the unknown, ego, basic wants and needs. A specific approach, now in the news, is "Fear Up (Harsh)," which is intended to scare the bejeebers out of someone, sufficiently to persuade cooperation.

To quote from the interrogators' bible: "Great care must be taken when doing this so that any actions taken would not violate the Geneva Conventions. A good interrogator will implant in the source's mind that the interrogator himself is not the object to be feared, but is a possible way out of the trap. The fear can be directed toward reprisals by international tribunals, the government of the host country, or the source's own forces."

Consider, then, Pvt. Willie Brand, 26, a father of four. Pvt. Brand dealt with two Afghan prisoners who died in custody. The first was the brother of a suspected Taliban commander; the second was a common taxi driver.

Brand says he was taught to strike shackled prisoners just above the knee with blows to the common peroneal nerve as a way of incapacitating prisoners and gaining their compliance. He admitted that he had struck the first prisoner, who later died, four times so that he could place a hood over his head. The second prisoner was struck "somewhere in the area of 37 times, less than 40 for sure," after Brand became frustrated with the prisoner's recalcitrance.

The Army determined that both deaths were primarily caused by severe trauma to the legs, which led to a blood clot and pulmonary embolism in one prisoner and heart failure in the other (in which sleep deprivation was also a causative factor). The Bagram facility also chained prisoners to the ceilings of isolation cells for prolonged periods as standard practice.

Said Pvt. Brand: "I just don't understand how, if we were given training to do this, you can say that we were wrong and should have known better."

The $64,000 question, which is coming ever into sharper focus, is this: Who told Brand and his chain of command (and others throughout Afghanistan and Iraq) that prolonged ceiling chainings, sexual humiliation and nudity, interrogations with unmuzzled guard dogs and beating the life out of shackled prisoners was acceptable under Army doctrine? No one on the ground in those countries had authority to override the torture prohibitions of Field Manual 34-52 (or federal law).

Has our nation adopted a policy that allows or encourages the systematic, life-threatening torture of anyone who has the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and may therefore be suspected of being a terrorist?

How far up the military/civilian chain of command does the responsibility for illegal torture go? It goes far enough, we now have learned, that in 2003, the Judge Advocates General of all the services - officers wearing stars - made vigorous objection to overriding the torture prohibitions of FM 34-52, but they were overruled.

That seems to take the matter into the office of the Secretary of Defense, if not higher. Someone also decided those JAG objections should be classified as secret, and they were just recently unclassified under pressure from Sen. Lindsey Graham, an Air Force Reserve JAG officer.

We can court-martial every junior enlisted soldier (and anyone else) who thought he or she was "just following orders," but that all begs the more serious question of who authorized this monumental calamity. The only people who can get to the truth of that searing question are the 535 members of Congress, most of whom, so far, would prefer to change the subject.

But, the issue goes squarely to what we are as a nation. Christopher Dawson, the Catholic theologian, wrote: "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil they set out to destroy."


David Irvine is a Salt Lake City attorney and a retired Army brigadier general. He was commissioned as a strategic intelligence officer in the Army Reserve and is a graduate of the Army Command & General Staff College, the Army War College and national strategic studies seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He was a counterintelligence faculty member for 18 years with the Sixth U.S. Army Intelligence Training Army Area School.