Spencer Ackerman is cautiously optimistic about the details emerging on the interrogation teams that a task force within the Obama administration has been putting together. Ackerman was the first journalist to report the administration’s plans for these teams, which are being publicly revealed in a report due out today. Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post has the announcement, which Spence summarizes for us:
… To boil the piece down to its essence, the new High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group will be an interagency squad, but housed at the FBI and reporting to the National Security Council (not the attorney general and the director of national intelligence, as was once considered); it’ll make a “case by case” decision on Mirandizing detainees; it’ll create a “scientific” playbook of the most effective proven interrogation practices; it’ll be authorized to travel around the world. …
Additionally, one of the initial questions that the interrogation task force was set to answer was whether the group, which will be acronym-ized as the HIG, should be permitted to go outside the Army Field Manual when interrogating detainees:
Under the new guidelines, interrogators must stay within the parameters of the Army Field Manual when questioning suspects. The task force concluded — unanimously, officials said — that “the Army Field Manual provides appropriate guidance on interrogation for military interrogators and that no additional or different guidance was necessary for other agencies,” according to a three-page summary of the findings. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters freely.
Using the Army Field Manual means certain techniques in the gray zone between torture and legal questioning — such as playing loud music or depriving prisoners of sleep — will not be allowed. Which tactics are acceptable was an issue “looked at thoroughly,” one senior official said. Obama had already banned certain severe measures that the Bush administration had permitted, such as waterboarding.
Now, it’s important not to make too much of this. For one thing, as blogger Jeff Kaye has assiduously documented, the Army Field Manual has been revised in an appendix to allow some torture techniques into a document almost universally described as Geneva Conventions-compliant. For another, one of the approaches taken by the task force that advised the creation of the teams has been to look beyond specific techniques and focus on interrogation approaches geared around the specific detainee being interrogated. But at the same time, it was widely feared in progressive circles that the task force would ultimately erode President Obama’s January executive order restricting interrogation techniques to the boundaries of the Army Field Manual, and that fear hasn’t come to pass.