Media Availability with Commander, U.S. Southern Command General James T. Hill
STAFF: He’s got about 25 minutes. It’s literally only 25minutes, so when we end it, we do have to end it. To talk to you and he’s agreed to talk to you in the gaggle today will be on the record. So with that, he’s going to talk about a few things and then I’ll open it up for a couple questions.
GEN. HILL: I came D.C. this week at the request of the SecDef to speak to members of Congress about the operations at the Joint Task Force Guantanamo and the dedication and commitment of the people assigned to this very challenging mission.
The message I conveyed is simple and straightforward. JTF Guantanamo is a professional, humane, detention and interrogation operation. It is bounded by law and guided by the American spirit. It has contributed and continues to contribute to winning the war on terror. I wanted to assure Congress, as I do you, that this system is not based on trust, rather, layers of checks and balances. Our leaders are continually checking and refining our procedures and balancing humane treatment of the detainees with the security requirements of our troops and our nation.
All detainees are treated humanely. And to the extent appropriate, consistent with military necessity in accordance with the principles of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949. Guantanamo guards provide an environment that is stable, secure, safe and humane. And it is that environment that sets the conditions for interrogators to work successfully and to gain valuable information from detainees because they have built a relationship of trust, not fear. The leadership at all levels ensures there is structure and that rules are followed, ensuring a safe, humane, and disciplined environment.
Detention and interrogation operations at Guantanamo support the war on terrorism by removing enemy combatants from the battlefield and gaining valuable intelligence that has aided our government in the war on terrorism and helps protect this nation and the world.
Development and approval of interrogation techniques is done in a deliberate manner with strict, legal and policy review to protect detainees, our institutions and our soldiers. Guantanamo has a strictly structured and disciplined interrogation system. While the purpose of the interrogation process is to obtain valuable information to carry out the war on terrorism, our priority is that it is done safely and humanely. All interrogation plans follow stringent guidelines and require chain-of-command approval. Interrogators can only use approved techniques and each interrogation has appropriate legal and command oversight.
We continually look for ways to improve our operations. The procedures are consistent, are constantly reviewed and modified, consistent with the JTF mission. I have personally been to Guantanamo numerous times and have witnessed the considerable improvement to operations and quality of life for everybody -- servicemen and detainees alike.
We also make changes based upon recommendations or observations from the ICRC. ICRC’s visited Guantanamo 18 times and they stay for about a month when they come. And we have enjoyed a good working relationship with the ICRC. We understand its mission and work to accommodate the ICRC while maintaining operational security and performing our missions.
Over the course of its visits, ICRC has made and continues to make very valuable comments and suggestions and we value their contribution and presence at Guantanamo. They have helped us build the facility that exists today at Guantanamo.
Since it began operations, there have been 25 CoDels that have boasted JTF Guantanamo. These visits have helped assure the American public that the operations at Guantanamo are professional and humane. Nevertheless, in my conversation over the last couple of days, I have sensed from many members on both sides of the aisle that the American people and the international community misunderstand much of what we do at JTF Guantanamo. The discipline, professionalism and dedication of the people at JTF Guantanamo embody the finest traditions of American military service, resulting in humane treatment of the detainees and valuable information that contributes to our national security.
So with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q: General, can I ask you are the guards at Guantanamo instructed to set conditions for interrogations?
GEN. HILL: When we say – and I use the term when I did that – when we use the term “set the conditions for interrogations,” let me talk about that. The guards perform a detention function first. They maintain a safe, humane, disciplined detention facility. That helps set the conditions for the fair treatment in the interrogation facility. In addition to that, in setting the conditions, we have an extensive computer network between all of the cellblocks so the guards in a passive manner watch all the detainees. If they see you talking to so-and-so, they put that into the computer system and we know that you talked to this detainee. We know, in some cases, what they’ve talked about. We know if you’ve had your lunch that day. We know if you’ve been despondent. We know if you’ve been homesick. We know what you’ve done in terms of your presence in the detention facility. That is given to the interrogators and that helps the interrogators format and formulate their interrogation plan. That is what is meant by “setting the conditions for interrogation.”
Q: Sir, can you tell us if some of these interrogation techniques are in use at Guantanamo Bay that have been discussed in relation to Iraq, for example: stress positions, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, the presence of dogs, isolation for longer than 30 days and dietary manipulation?
GEN. HILL: I am not familiar with what they’ve done in Iraq.
Q: I’m asking are the use…
GEN. HILL: And I am…
Q: … have been used…
GEN. HILL: … not going to get into any discussion of particular techniques at Guantanamo. I’ll go into one, though, and that’s dogs. The dogs have never been used at Guantanamo for interrogation purposes, period. There are three working dog teams at Guantanamo today doing their normal security process in EOD--explosive orders disposal, drugs, and normal security. Anecdotally we have a procedure if we know a detainee has a weapon, that we can use the dog to retrieve that weapon, so it protects the soldier. We’ve used it one time and it went down like this. We knew a detainee had a piece of metal with a jagged edge which he could use for a weapon. We went to the cell, we said give us the weapon – no. Give us the weapon, no. We brought the dog in. We said we will use the dog to retrieve the weapon if you don’t give us the weapon – no. Dog was on a leash, never let of the leash. When we went to unlock the cell door, the weapon came out, so the dog was never used.
So anyway, it’s never been used.
Q: Can you tell me why you don’t want to discuss which techniques are in use in Guantanamo?
GEN. HILL: Because we don’t want to disclose – we know for sure that the high-ranking, high-value targets have been trained in resistance techniques. We’ve got their manual and they have, in fact, demonstrated it. We’ve got people at Guantanamo who’ve never said a word to us. They are very good at it. So for me to disclose my techniques, then gives them the opportunity to figure out a way to resist those techniques. It’s an operational matter and we won’t go into it.
Q: Do they get newspapers and radio or on television?
GEN. HILL: They do not get newspapers, radio or television. They get mail. It is, in fact, read. And if anything comes in that’s censurable, we censure it. They have access to books.
Q: So if you talk to us about the techniques, how would they find out what you have said?
GEN. HILL: Because other people, if we have other detainees that come in. You pick up somebody else in the battlefield and bring him in, you’re bringing in someone who then spreads it around. In every other prison, there’s an informal network inside the Guantanamo that’s incredible and we have watched it happen where word will come in through the front door. And by within 10 or 15 minutes, it will have gone through every cell block, through the informal ability to translate our document – excuse me – to transmit messages.
Q: And you said that – you know, that [Inaudible] trained to and they are being, in some cases, resistant to your techniques. How does that compare with past experiences the United States has had with prisoners that they’re trying to interrogate? Would you say they are more resistant, less resistant, more effective or less…
GEN. HILL: I can’t answer that question. But we really never had – we’ve never had to deal with this kind of strategic interrogation business. When we started Guantanamo in January of ’02, we really were moving into uncharted waters. [Inaudible] in a new war in which we had not experienced before.
Q: You said there seem to be a great deal of misunderstanding of what it is that you’re doing. What did some of the members of Congress tell you that led you to believe that and what are some of the ideas that you can perhaps correct?
GEN. HILL: Well, I think there’s just a mystery about what goes on in Guantanamo. A lot of it’s our fault and that we haven’t opened it up as much a maybe we should have and could have. And I don’t think that’s really what they’re saying to me. That’s why I’m in here today.
Q: Can you open it up or I mean does that undermine your interrogation?
GEN. HILL: [Inaudible] in Guantanamo. Only two.
[To Staff] We’ve had 205…
Q: …253 visits by the press down there.
GEN. HILL: Mr. Miklazewski came in and did a report, the big report on it. And we had gradually opened it up more and more. So we’re happy to have people come down to look at it, within the bounds of what we can and can’t show you.
Q: General, can you…
GEN. HILL: But for the most part, we want to show you -- like the CoDels see -- that what we’re doing is humane treatment of these detainees.
Q: General, could you just a little bookkeeping, figure how many prisoners, roughly, today – roughly, how many are considered high-value captives?
GEN. HILL: Yeah.
Q: What kind of intelligence, roughly, have you gleaned that has contributed to the war on terrorism?
GEN. HILL: I won’t go into the specific intelligence.
Q: I’m not asking…
GEN. HILL: And I know that. We continue to get actionable intelligence from our interrogations, either directly lead us back to something or another strand that leads you to another finance piece of it that leads you back to this cell, those kind of things.
Q: In terrorists cell not cell block.
GEN. HILL: No in terrorists cells. Exactly. Excuse me. And the first part of your question, I’m sorry?
Q: Roughly, how many…
GEN. HILL: Oh, the numbers.
GEN. HILL: We’ve never had over 800 at any one time. And today there’s less than 600. It’s about 595.
Q: High-value target, roughly, how many of those would be considered high-value? A handful or 200?
GEN. HILL: Well, I graduate these things out, but at least a third of them – very high value that we know, for sure. But again, we’ve got guys that haven’t talked to us a bit.
Q: Without going into the specific techniques, is there a list of techniques that are approved and can be used at any time that another list of techniques that require higher command approve harsher techniques? And if there is such a list, who has to give the approval?
GEN. HILL: I wouldn’t say the harsher techniques. But I mean, I’ll walk you through the deliberate process that we got to where we got to on the techniques. I took over in August of 2002 and the detention – there were two joint task forces back then: one for detention, one for interrogation. We began to decide we really need to have one guy in charge of the whole thing and we began to move toward one joint task force. At the same time, and I’m … to put this back in context of the time, there was a spike in a lot of intell going on that we were picking up, in terms of more attacks and we knew that we had a very high value --at least one -- very high-value target detainee at Guantanamo that had direct knowledge and linkage to 9/11. And we were getting nothing out of him using the standard FM 34-52 -- if they’re right and I’m terrible with these numbers. I don’t even know acronyms, it’s terrible, in 36 years of doing this. In 34-52, it’s the standard manual for interrogation. This guy had been trained in resistance techniques and was using them.
The staff at Guantanamo working with behavioral scientists, having gone up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques which our lawyers decided and looked at, said were OK. I sent that list of techniques up to the Secretary and said, in order for us to get at some of these very high-profile, high-value targets who are resistant to techniques, I may need greater flexibility. But I want a legal review of it and you to tell me that, policywise, it’s the right way to do business. He did that. And he approved additional techniques, which I would not describe as harsh, but additional techniques and gave them to me the first part of December. And we began to use a few of those techniques, a few of those techniques on this individual. We did so for a period of about four to six weeks. Before then and during then, there is discussion, a consternation of were, in fact, we doing the right thing. And the Secretary called me and we talked. And he directed me to stop using those techniques and I agreed.
Q: When was this?
GEN. HILL: This was in early January of ’03.
Q: Who was voicing those concerns about [Inaudible]?
GEN. HILL: Various people. Various people.
Q: People at Guantanamo?
GEN. HILL: People at Guantanamo and people in this building.
Q: If they weren’t harsh…
GEN. HILL: I know.
Q: I know. I know. You’ve got everybody across the gamut of this issue that says you can’t do anything but ask them their name to – and I heard this on from some people on the Hill that we’ve used very harsh techniques. We wanted to do what is humane and what is legal and consistent with not only Geneva, which we’ve said we would do, and what is right for our soldiers and what is right from my standpoint. So the Secretary directed the General Council to form a working group to review all possible interrogation techniques. They did so, a high-level group, for the better part of two months – reviewed lots of different techniques. And then after vetting them with the Justice Department and through the Chiefs, the Secretary then gave me my list of authorized techniques, which I use today.
Q: And it was less or more than what [Inaudible]…
GEN. HILL: Oh, it was less. It was less than was looked at and the Secretary approved less than was recommended to him.
Q: You said that they were harsh, if – how would you describe them--and if they aren’t harsh, why would they be an additive to what you already had in order to glean something from them?
GEN. HILL: What works with interrogation is rapport between the interrogation team and the guy that they’re interrogating. That’s what works. Harshness – any kind of beating or clearly what you saw in this incredibly obscene pictures from Abu Ghraib. It doesn’t work as an interrogation technique. I mean, it just doesn’t work and we don’t do that.
Q: Would you characterize some of the techniques that you were originally using and then after this review you decided…
GEN. HILL: No, no. I won’t characterize the techniques…
Q: … you needed to…
Q: … not going to use them again?
GEN. HILL: No.
Q: You talk about resistance techniques, though. You said that you won’t characterize the actual interrogation techniques. You say that this particular individual you used resistance techniques. Could you at least describe those?
GEN. HILL: Sure. You asked me a question and I’ll give you this information back. I’ll make it convincing. I will lead you down one path that’s not even close to where you’re really wanting to go. I won’t answer your questions. I’ll just stare at you. I will
STAFF: Recite prayers.
GEN. HILL: Recite prayers
STAFF: From the Quran.
GEN. HILL: They’ll just start reciting prayers, those kind of things.
Q: I mean, that might, to some people, seem like common sense, rather than, you know, trained deliberate comprehensive interrogation resistant techniques.
GEN. HILL: Yes, sir?
Q: General, Amnesty, International alleged that Chinese government officials directed, in some cases, interrogations of Uighurs -- ethnic Uighurs -- Chinese nationals that are being held in Guantanamo. Is that true and if so, why?
GEN. HILL: We have had different nations who own, who have detainees from their nations at Guantanamo -- various delegations. They have come and they have talked to their detainees, but they do so, following our rules and under our direct supervision and never by themselves.
Q: Would you say that these discussions are interrogations as opposed to legal advice to a national…
GEN. HILL: [Inaudible] were discussions and they’re asking them questions.
Q: Did the Chinese…
GEN. HILL: But under our rules and under our direct supervision at all times.
Q: Did you allow the Chinese to question?
GEN. HILL: Did the Chinese come?
STAFF: We don’t talk about what countries come.
GEN. HILL: OK.
Q: General, can you come back to that one suspect you said that had direct knowledge of 9/11 and you subjected him to techniques from four to six weeks, then you got off on a tangent. What happened? Did you crack him? Did you get actionable intelligence or did he just resist?
GEN. HILL: He gave us some pretty good stuff and continues to do so.
Q: Would you attribute that to the additional list of techniques?
GEN. HILL: Yes.
Q: But you’ve stopped that at this point?
GEN. HILL: I interrogate today under the rules that the Secretary gave me on the 16th of April.
Q: And is that a special list that requires case-by-case approval…
GEN. HILL: In four separate…
GEN. HILL: … in four of the techniques, I have to notify the Secretary that I’m doing them – that we are going to do them and…
Q: …get permission or [Inaudible]…
GEN. HILL: I have to notify and I have to weigh the period – the days…
GEN. HILL: … for him to – seven days for him to – he can say no, don’t do it. And anything not on that list, I had to come back to him for permission to ask for, which I’ve never done.
Q: How many times have you submitted the request for those four techniques?
GEN. HILL: We have used those techniques on two people.
Q: Have you ever been denied-- if you’ve asked to use those [Inaudible]…?
GEN. HILL: I’m not going to get into that.
Q: So aside from the guy who had a connection with 9/11, what was the other – who you used the techniques on?
GEN. HILL: He had an al Qaeda operative of high intell value.
Q: These four techniques, would you say that individually and/or collectively that they’d be consistent with Geneva?
GEN. HILL: Yes.
Q: All four?
GEN. HILL: Yes.
Q: And collectively, you used…
GEN. HILL: Yes.
Q: … all four at the same time?
GEN. HILL: If I used all four at the same time…
Q: In any combination?
GEN. HILL: Yes.
Q: Were the ones that were pulled off the list, in some way, deemed inconsistent with Geneva?
GEN. HILL: I don’t know why they were pulled off the list. The working group did that. The working group then gave me my guidance and my direction from the Secretary.
Q: Are these techniques being tested legally outside the government by the ICRC or anyone like that, or are these tests entirely internal?
GEN. HILL: The techniques that we use are legally consistent with our laws.
Q: Are you using these four techniques that require the notification of the Secretary on these two individuals? Are you still using them on these two individuals today?
GEN. HILL: I’m not going to get into that.
GEN. HILL: I have the ability to use any of those techniques and we do.
Q: General, the approved techniques are consistent with Geneva. Do you have a problem with why the military lawyers were so upset during this process? What was bothering them about this?
GEN. HILL: I don’t know. Like I said earlier, there is a wide variety of opinions on all of this issue, which is why I sought legal opinion on it.
Q: Sir, the interrogators that went from Guantanamo to Iraq to advise, I’m wondering what specifically they were asked to do, what they did do and if they brought any of these four techniques with them to talk to the people in Iraq about that?
GEN. HILL: The…we were tasked to send a team consisting of people from Guantanamo over to look at the procedures going on in Iraq. They did that. That review is out there.
Q: This is General Miller’s [Inaudible]?
GEN. HILL: Exactly. And I do not know what was said by that team. But having said that, if they took anything that we were doing and said here’s what you need to do, it was consistent with standard treatment – standardized humane treatment.
Q: Do you know, sir, if there were a group of interrogators who went subsequent after General Miller’s initial visit?
GEN. HILL: We have been tasked to send interrogation teams over to assist because of the lack of interrogation teams to beef up the process.
STAFF: We’ve got time for one last one. Let’s see if somebody hasn’t had a chance. Anybody? OK, Eric, you got it.
Q: Have you ever used…your interrogators or any personnel at GTMO ever used chemicals or injections?
GEN. HILL: Absolutely, not.
GEN. HILL: Never.
Q: OK. One Haiti question.
GEN. HILL: Haiti question. Hey, I love it. Thank you very much.
Q: [Inaudible] How is it going? I know that they took over the 1st?
GEN. HILL: They assumed what’s called transfer of authority, the Brazilians did. And now we are in the process of working out transfer of responsibility and that is when the two commanders on the ground, General [Inaudible] and the Brazilian commander, agree that the Brazilians are ready to do it and that’s when.
Q: [Inaudible] responsibility that…
GEN. HILL: Do they have enough people on the ground and can do the mission? And then I’m going to go over on Wednesday and discuss that with them.
Q: [Inaudible] did the al Qaeda operative who you’ve used these techniques on, has he provided any information as a result? You said that the one with the ties to 9/11 had.
GEN. HILL: Yes.
Q: What about the second?
GEN. HILL: Yes.
STAFF: All right, we’re going to call it quits. We’re really are out of time.
STAFF: We really are…
Q: [Inaudible] command [Inaudible] simply SouthCom?
GEN. HILL: My instructions are for Guantanamo. Thank you all.