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August 27, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

New interrogation study
Amid the current debate over past harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects by the CIA, the Obama administration made clear this week it is prepared to add new interrogation techniques beyond the relatively mild approved methods outlined in the Army Field Manual.

The administration stated Monday, in announcing the work of a White House-level task force on the issue, that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate past abuses does not mean that tough interrogations will be abandoned.

The Justice Department announcement on the task force includes a little-noticed reference to plans for developing better interrogation methods.

In addition to producing a "best practices" system for questioning captured terrorists, the task force urged setting up "a scientific research program for interrogation be established to study the comparative effectiveness of interrogation approaches and techniques, with the goal of identifying the existing techniques that are most effective and developing new lawful techniques to improve intelligence interrogations."

President Obama approved the recommendation, administration officials said in a background briefing Tuesday.

The approval means intelligence officials, psychiatrists, human-behavior experts and others will work on ways to make people talk in captivity.

The likely source for the research is expected to be the Intelligence Science Board, which studied and reported on U.S. interrogations several years ago. The board is made up of former intelligence officials and scientists.

One senior Obama administration official told reporters the president has approved that recommendation and that the new techniques could go beyond those outlined in the Army Field Manual, which currently limits both military and intelligence interrogations.

"There has been a lot of academic and scientific research done in the past half-dozen years or so looking at elicitation techniques and ways to gain information from individuals who may be under detention," the official said, noting that "we want to make sure that we're able to leverage anything that is newly identified as far as appropriate techniques that should be used."

Asked about going beyond the Field Manual, which authorizes the use of such techniques as sleep deprivation and harsh temperatures, the official said any new measures would depend on the outcome of a study by the scientific panel.

"I think the study is really focused not just on the possibility of new techniques - and as I said earlier I think the best learning on this is to get away from speaking about individual techniques in isolation - but also to study the propriety and effectiveness of existing practices to see which ones work best and how they're going to be best deployed to achieve best results," the official said.

Any new interrogation practices recommended by the scientific study "would be dealt with appropriately in the same way that the executive order contemplated that possibility from the outset," he said.

Asked if the new technique would be made public, the official said Congress would be notified, "but it's really premature to sort of make any judgments on that score at this point because we're just getting off the ground here with our thinking."

A second senior official went further and said: "I think that it would be fair to say that any new techniques that might, in fact, be allowed, there would be full transparency on that.

"We want to make sure that what we do is consistent with the executive order," this official said. "But, in fact, what the executive order asked was for the task force to study and evaluate these practices and to identify whether or not there's any additional or different guidance on interrogation."

Both officials briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for attribution.

Gen. Jing visit
Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said that U.S. and Chinese officials have held discussions on the long-standing U.S. invitation to China's top strategic forces general to visit the United States but that the commander, Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, still has not made the trip.

"Gen. Jing met with a couple of visiting U.S. military leaders and congressmen over the past years, though his proposed visit to the U.S. is yet to be realized due to domestic agenda," Mr. Wang said in an e-mail to Inside the Ring. He declined to elaborate on Gen. Jing's domestic agenda.

President George W. Bush asked Chinese President Hu Jintao during an April 2006 summit if the commander of China's nuclear forces could visit the United States for talks with his American counterparts. Mr. Hu agreed he would facilitate the visit of Gen. Jing, who met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Beijing in 2005.

The Pentagon has growing concerns over China's strategic nuclear forces buildup and worries that China has a two-track nuclear policy of saying one thing in public and doing another in secret.

The annual Pentagon report on China's military power, released in March, stated that China's plans to apply its stated policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons is "unclear."

"The PRC government has provided public and private assurances that its 'no first use' policy has not and will not change," the report said.

"Nevertheless, periodic PRC military and civilian academic debates have occurred over whether a 'no first use' policy supports or detracts from China's deterrent, and whether or not 'no first use' should remain in place," it said.

Also, there are questions about whether or not a conventional strike on China's strategic forces would nullify the pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

"These debates add a further layer of ambiguity to China's strategic intentions for its nuclear forces," the report said.

A defense official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the unanswered questions about China's nuclear forces are the main reason the Pentagon wants to develop dialogue on the subject.

Mr. Wang, the Chinese Embassy spokesman, insisted that China's nuclear doctrine is "consistent, clear and transparent."

"China has faithfully abided by its commitment that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances and that it will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones," he said.

"In fact, China is the only nuclear-weapon state that has undertaken such a commitment, and this policy will not change in the future."

Mr. Wang said China has not taken part in a nuclear arms race in the past and will not do so "ever."

"As a peace-loving and responsible country, China opposes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their means of delivery," he said.

U.S.-China exchange
Army officials are trying to put the best face on the less-than-friendly reception given to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who got an earful of criticism from two Chinese generals during a visit to China last week.

On Aug. 20 in Beijing, Gen. Ge Zhenfeng, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, accused the United States of failing to respect China's interests, triggering an argument and rebuttal from the Army four-star, according to defense officials familiar with the exchange.

Then during a second meeting the same day, Gen. Chen Bingde, the PLA chief of staff, took the unusual step of allowing foreign news reporters to listen in during a photo session before the meeting when he told Gen. Casey that the United States was "challenging and violating our core national interests, and we have to react."

Such coverage of U.S.-China meetings normally is limited to a few minutes of photographs before reporters are shuffled out of the meeting room and doors are closed.

Gen. Chen then told Gen. Casey that the U.S. had undermined trust by selling arms to Taiwan and that Washington is only friendly when it seeks Beijing's cooperation on terrorism and piracy, but then does "anything they want, even to offend the Chinese people." He said, "I don't think that kind of cooperation can continue."

Gen. Casey stated that "it's difficult to build a lasting relationship when we start from a point that 'we have a problem and it is you.' "

Gen. Casey's spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Spiegel, said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Afghanistan, where the general was traveling, that he did not know what was said by Gen. Casey during the meetings on Taiwan but that he "did not want to get into the politics of it."

"He's downplaying it," Col. Spiegel said of the meetings.

"The Chinese had some points to make. He had some points to make, and then they got down to the real substance: pursuing cooperation on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and cultural exchanges," he said.

The two militaries are planning to conduct officer exchanges, military sports exchanges and some special events, such as military band exchanges and possibly a visit to China by the Army's parachute team the Golden Knights, he said.

Gen. Casey felt that despite the rhetoric, the China visit was productive, Col. Spiegel said.

During a stop later in Tokyo, Gen. Casey was asked by a reporter about the China visit and said China suggested a U.S.-China joint exercise simulating a response to a disaster that could be arranged in the next year.

The state-run news agency Xinhua did not report on the arguments but quoted Gen. Ge as saying the United States needed to "remove obstacles" to better ties, like U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

China cut off military exchanges with the Pentagon in October in anger over the announced $6.5 billion arms package to Taiwan.

Defense officials said at the time that China then demanded that the arms sale be halted before resuming ties. Some military exchanges and meetings have resumed, but ties remain strained over the arms package, which includes attack helicopters, air-defense missiles, anti-tank missiles and other goods, but not additional F-16s sought by the island's government.

John J. Tkacik Jr., a former State Department China affairs specialist, said the Chinese generals' harsh comments reflect an effort to increase pressure on the United States on the arms sales.

"The Chinese military is bumping up a notch their pressure on the U.S. over Taiwan, and they apparently think that equating their strategic goal of absorbing Taiwan with America's strategic goals of eradicating global terrorism and African piracy is a credible argument with the U.S. military," Mr. Tkacik told Inside the Ring.

"The Chinese also want to make excuses for not pressuring either North Korea or Iran on their nuclear ambitions, so they point to U.S. support for democratic Taiwan and say, 'See here, if you Americans would only cut loose of Taiwan, we could help more with these other rogues.' "

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