Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to portions of a report released Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The report's executive summary, made public by the committee's Democratic chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and its top Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said Rumsfeld contributed to the abuse by authorizing aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay on Dec. 2, 2002.
He rescinded the authorization six weeks later. But the report said word of his approval continued to spread within U.S. military circles and encouraged the use of harsh techniques as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report concluded that Rumsfeld's actions were "a direct cause of detainee abuse" at Guantanamo and "influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques... in Afghanistan and Iraq."
"The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own," the executive summary said.
"Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at (Guantanamo)."
The detainee scandal at Abu Ghraib and later revelations of aggressive U.S. interrogations such as "waterboarding" led to an international outcry and charges that the United States allowed prisoners to be tortured, a claim denied by the Bush administration.
The Bush administration has since recanted the policies under pressure from Congress, while President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The report found that the military derived the techniques from a Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape program, or SERE, which trains U.S. soldiers to resist enemy interrogation that does not conform to the Geneva Conventions or international law.
"These policies are wrong and must never be repeated," McCain, who last month lost the U.S. presidential election, said in a statement released with the executive summary.
McCain said the report revealed an "inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody."
"The message from top officials was clear," Levin said. "It was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees."
The full report, billed as the most thorough examination of U.S. military detainee policy by Congress, remains classified.
Committee staff said the full report was approved on Nov. 20 in a unanimous voice vote by 17 of the panel's 25 members. The panel consists of 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans.
The executive summary also traces the erosion of detainee treatment standards to a Feb. 7 2002, memorandum signed by President Bush stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the U.S. war with al Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or legal protections.
"The president's order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment," the summary said.
Members of Bush's Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed, according to the report.
The committee also blamed former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers for undermining the military's review of interrogation methods.
Editing by Anthony Boadle