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Meet The Army Spies In Charge Of Rewriting The U.S.'s Torture Legacy

A small counterintelligence office is leading the effort to rewrite the Army Field Manual, the government-wide guide to interrogation.

Posted on February 18, 2016, at 10:22 a.m. ET

Karel Prinsloo / AP

A U.S. soldier walks through the empty prison cells used as torture chambers, Tuesday, Sept 16, 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison just outside Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)

WASHINGTON — A small espionage office within the United States Army, known as G2X, is leading the effort to overhaul the Army Field Manual, the congressionally mandated interrogation guide that’s now applicable to the entire United States government.

G2X, a small office under the Army’s intelligence arm, is housed within the Army’s greater G2 intelligence office, led by Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, and is the combined home of the service branch’s counter- and human intelligence missions.

In passing an anti-torture statute inside this year’s annual defense spending priorities bill, Congress required that the Field Manual be the government-wide policy on interrogation tactics. Additionally, lawmakers required a comprehensive update to the document, a Defense Department guide that outlines what is and isn’t permissible in an interrogation room. Critics of the manual have said it’s written loosely enough that it could allow for techniques like sleep deprivation, humiliation, and other inhumane interrogation tactics.

Congress, though, did not specify who in the government would shepherd the review process through. G2X has taken the lead in what many interrogation professionals hope will be an interagency update, with substantial input from defense interrogation professionals and the FBI-led High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or the “HIG.” That group was started in 2009 as the Obama White House’s alternative to the now-defunct CIA torture program.

In the months since the passage of the defense bill, defenders of the HIG have been concerned that the group would be elbowed out of the Field Manual’s update, but recent meetings between HIG personnel and defense officials have made the group more optimistic.

G2 representatives have been in talks with HIG personnel, said Army spokesman Troy Rolan.

“In accordance with the timeline stated in the [National Defense Authorization Act] provision, the Army will be conducting a deliberate, detailed review of the [Field Manual] with the HIG, the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and other DoD components,” he said. “This review will also include consultation with the Attorney General, the Director of the FBI, and the Director, National Intelligence.”

Rolan declined to name G2X individuals involved in the update, saying the information is “not releasable.”

The FBI, which provided the information linking G2X with the field manual’s update, has said it’s satisfied with the level of involvement the HIG’s small, elite group of interrogators — which numbers less than 50 — is getting in the Field Manual update process. Despite this, though, neither the HIG’s director nor the FBI press office immediately knew exactly who — or even which office — at the Defense Department was in charge of the Field Manual update.

“That’s not for me to know,” HIG Director Frazier Thompson told BuzzFeed News when asked who his group was working with the overhaul the interrogation guide. “At this point in time I’m satisfied with the level of interaction between us and the folks rewriting it. Can we always do more? Absolutely. And I stand by ready and willing for my folks to engage as needed to rewrite [the Army Field Manual].”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.