Washington, June 19 : Vice President Dick Cheney probably knew that the US military was using torture on Iraqi detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at prisons in Iraq, a former American Army officer has said.
Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, testified before a House panel following revelations that detainees were subjected to beatings and other aggressive interrogation techniques with the authorisation of government attorneys.
"At what level did American leadership fail?" Colonel Wilkerson said during a hearing before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties.
"I believe it failed at the highest levels of the Pentagon, in the Vice President's Office and perhaps even in the Oval Office," The Washington Times quoted Wilkerson, as saying.
Painful interrogation techniques were apparently authorised in a February 7, 2002, order signed by President George W Bush that also said al Qaeda and Taliban detainees were not to be considered prisoners of war. The order was based on a legal memo from the White House counsel's office.
Prisoner-of-war status is supposed to protect captives from torture under the Geneva Conventions.
After they received the President's order, Pentagon officials compiled a list of interrogation techniques that later were used on detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo and elsewhere, according to documents released by the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.
The documents state that CIA agents contributed to the plan to use the aggressive interrogation techniques.
During an Oct. 2, 2002, meeting with military and intelligence officials at Guantanamo, the documents state that CIA counterterrorism lawyer Jonathan Fredman said torture "is basically subject to perception."
Wilkerson said, "The president may have been ignorant of the worst parts of the failure."