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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Minutes from a Torturers' Meeting at Guantanamo

Posted by Valtin at 1:22 PM |

What follows below was transcribed from a PDF of the original document (or a copy of same), posted on the website of Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It, along with a wealth of other documentation, was used in preparing the SASC's highly critical report late last year on interrogations and detainee treatment, which concluded that high officials bore responsibility for the mistreatment and torture of prisoners under U.S. control.

The document below constitutes the minutes from a meeting held at Guantanamo in early autumn, 2002. It is presented with minimal editorial comment, as I believe it speaks for itself. So far as I know, no other transcription of this document, minus certain excerpts, has ever been published or posted before. It is done so here as a public service, to promote the position that prosecution of the government's torture crimes is of paramount importance.

Cast of characters:
Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo; Lt. Col. Jerald Phifer, who sent a memo to Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more "severe interrogation techniques" (Dunleavy told a superior that Phifer was his "point of contact" on interrogation matters); Major John Leso, a military psychologist, who was present at the torture interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani(Leso, like Major Burney in the minutes, were members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team [BSCT] -- Burney is reportedly a psychiatrist -- last month, the Convening Authority of Military Commissions at Guantanamo dropped the charges against al-Qahtani, concluding his treatment amounted to torture); Dave Becker, representing the Defense Intelligence Agency; and John Fredman, then chief counsel to the CIA's counter-terrorism center.

I'd like to make only two observations that I think are relevant at this point. One, it is clear that coercive interrogations amounting to torture had already begun at Guantanamo prior to this October 2002 meeting. In the document itself, the participants have a general discussion recalling how prisoner "063", Mohammed al-Qahtani, "has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors," indicating, perhaps, that al-Qahtani was some kind of experimental test case. (H/T to Trudy Bond, who noted this fact in an article published at Counterpunch earlier this year.)

Secondly, it struck me when transcribing these minutes the degree to which John Fredman, the CIA legal counsel and rep to this meeting, dominated the discussion. All the participants seem to bow to his authority, especially on legal issues, with Lt. Col. Beaver chiming in as well. While the BSCT members -- who are the medical professionals present -- appear to criticize "fear-based" interrogations techniques at the beginning of the meeting, in favor of rapport-building, as well as abusive environmental "approaches," as the discussion veers more and more to propositions regarding blatant torture, like the "wet towel" (waterboarding) technique, nary a protest is heard from these individuals, who have by their actions disavowed the ethics of their medical and/or psychological professions.

One final note: the acronym LEA refers to Law Enforcement Agency, and basically refers to the FBI. The acronym SERE, which appears throughout, refers to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program found in the various military branches. Meant to inoculate U.S. servicemen against the rigors of enemy capture and torture, Sen. Levin's investigation documented the various ways in which SERE methods were reverse-engineered to provide torture techniques for use by the military and CIA on prisoners held under U.S. control. So far as we know, the first approach by the Defense Department (specifically, by DoD Chief Counsel William J. Haynes, II) to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, parent department for SERE, regarding information on SERE techniques, was in December 2001, well before any legal memo by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel allowing (illegally) for abusive treatment of detainees. There can be no alibi that DoD was following legal advice or protected by presidential order at that point in time.

Re transcription: I have tried to follow as much as possible the layout, spelling, punctuation, and font emphasis of the original. Bullets have been changed to asterisks, arrows to long dashes. All brackets and parentheses are as in original, unless otherwise indicated.
Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes

Persons in Attendance:

COL Cummings, LTC Phifer, CDR Bridges, LTC Beaver, MAJ Burney, MAJ Leso, Dave Becker, John Fredman, 1LT Seek, SPC Pimentel

The following notes were taken during the aforementioned meeting at 1340 on October 2, 2002. All questions and comments have been paraphrased:

BSCT Description of SERE Psych Training (MAJ Burney and MAJ Leso)

* Identify trained resisters
      * Al Qaeda Training

* Methods to overcome resistance
      * Rapport building (approach proven to yield positive results)
      * Friendly approach (approach proven to yield positive results)
      * Fear Based Approaches are unreliable, ineffective in almost all cases

* What's more effective than fear based strategies are camp-wide environmental stratetgies designed to disrupt cohesion and communication among detainees
      * Environment should foster dependence and compliance

LTC Phifer: Harsh techniques used on our service members have worked and will work on some, what about those?

MAJ Leso: Force is risky, and may be ineffective due to the detainees' frame of reference. They are used to seeing much more barbaric treatment.

Becker: Agreed.

-- At this point a discussion about ISN 63 [Mohammed al-Qahtani] ensued, recalling how he has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors. After short discussion the BSCT continued to address the overall manipulation of the detainees' environment.

BSCT continued:

* Psychological stressors are extremely effective (ie, sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time)

COL Cummings: We can't do sleep deprivation

LTC Beaver: Yes, we can -- with approval.

* Disrupting the normal camp operations is vital. We need to create an environment of "controlled chaos"

LTC Beaver: We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross -- added by transcriber] is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques. We must have the support of the DOD.

Becker: We have had many reports from Bagram about sleep deprivation being used.

LTC Beaver: True, but officially it is not happening. It is not being reported officially. The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention.

COL Cummings: The new PSYOP plan has been passed up the chain

LTC Beaver: It's at J3 at SOUTHCOM.

Fredman: The DOJ has provided much guidance on this issue. The CIA is not held to the same rules as the military. In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD has "moved" them away from the attention of the ICRC. Upon questioning from the ICRC about their whereabouts, the DOD's response has repeatedly been that the detainee merited no status under the Geneva Convention. The CIA has employed aggressive techniques on less than a handful of suspects since 9/11.

Under the Torture Convention, torture has been prohibited by international law, but the language of the statutes is written vaguely. Severe mental and physical pain is prohibited. The mental part is explained as poorly as the physical. Severe physical pain described as anything causing permanent damage to major organs or body parts. Mental torture described as anything leading to permanent, profound damage to the senses or personality. It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you're doing it wrong. So far, the techniques we have addressed have not proven to produce these types of results, which in a way challenges what the BSCT paper says about not being able to prove whether these techniques will lead to permanent damage. Everything on the BSCT white paper is legal from a civilian standpoint. [Any questions of severe weather or temperature conditions should be deferred to medical staff.] Any of the techniques that lie on the harshest end of the spectrum must be performed by a highly trained individual. Medical personnel should be present to treat any possible accidents. The CIA operates without military intervention. When the CIA has wanted to use more aggressive techniques in the past, the FBI has pulled their personnel from theatre. In those rare instances, aggressive techniques have proven very helpful.

LTC Beaver: We will need documentation to protect us

Fredman: Yes, if someone dies while aggressive techniques are being used, regardless of cause of death, the backlash of attention would be extremely detrimental. Everything must be approved and documented.

Becker: LEA personnel will not participate in harsh techniques

LTC Beaver: There is no legal reason why LEA personnel cannot participate in these operations

-- At this point a discussion about whether or not to video tape the aggressive sessions, or interrogations at all ensued.

Becker: Videotapes are subject to too much scrutiny in court. We don't want the LEA people in aggressive sessions anyway.

LTC Beaver: LEA choice not to participate in these types of interrogations is more ethical and moral as opposed to legal.

Fredman: The videotaping of even totally legal techniques will look "ugly".

Becker: (Agreed)

Fredman: The Torture Convention prohibits torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The US did not sign up on the second part, because of the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment), but we did sign the part about torture. This gives us more license to use more controversial techniques.

LTC Beaver: Does SERE employ the "wet towel" technique?

Fredman: If a well-trained individual is used to perform [sic] this technique it can feel like you're drowning. The lymphatic system will react as if you're suffocating, but your body will not cease to function. It is very effective to identify phobias and use them (ie, insects, snakes, claustrophobia). The level of resistance is directly related to person's experience.

MAJ Burney: Whether or not significant stress occurs lies in the eye of the beholder. The burden of proof is the big issue. It is very difficult to disprove someone else's PTSD.

Fredman: These techniques need involvement from interrogators, psych, medical, legal, etc.

Becker: Would we blanket approval or would it be case by case?

Fredman: The CIA makes the call internally on most of the types of techniques found in the BSCT paper, and this discussion. Significantly harsh techniques are approved through the DOJ.

LTC Phifer: Who approves ours? The CG? SOUTHCOM CG?

Fredman: Does the Geneva Convention apply? The CIA rallied for it not to.

LTC Phifer: Can we get DOJ opinion about these topics on paper?

LTC Beaver: Will it go from DOJ to DOD?

LTC Phifer: Can we get to see a CIA request to use advanced aggressive techniques?

Fredman: Yes, but we can't provide you with a copy. You will probably be able to look at it.
An example of a different perspective on torture is Turkey. In Turkey they say that interrogation at all, or anything you do to that results in the subject betraying his comrades is torture.

LTC Beaver: In the BSCT paper it says something about "imminent threat of death",...

Fredman The threat of death is also subject to scrutiny, and should be handled on a case by case basis. Mock executions don't work as well as friendly approaches, like letting someone write a letter home, or providing them with an extra book.

Becker: I like the part about ambient noise.

-- At this point a discussion about the ways to manipulate the environment ensued, and the following ideas were offered:

* Medical visits should be scheduled randomly, rather than on a set system
* Let detainee rest just long enough to fall asleep and wake him up about every thirty minutes and tell him it's time to pray again
* More meals per day induce loss of time
* Truth serum; even though it may not actually work, it does have a placebo effect.

Meeting ended at 1450.

***********
The Immediate Aftermath

It is worth noting some of the administrative responses to this meeting. On October 11, a week after the Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting, LTC Jerald Phifer wrote a request to Major General Michael B. Dunleavy, Commander at Guantanamo, requesting use of Counter-Resistance Strategy techniques. He divided them into three categories of intensity.

Category I included direct approach and rapport building techniques, but also false identification of national identity of the interrogator, yelling at the detainee, and "techniques of deception." Category II techniques included use of stress position, isolation up to 30 days, light/auditory deprivation, 20 hour interrogations, nudity, hooding, and use of phobias "to induce stress." Category III techniques included the "wet towel" (waterboarding) treatment, threats of death to the prisoner or his family, and exposure to cold.

On the same day, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo, LTC Diane E. Beaver, wrote a legal brief that concluded "the proposed strategies do not violate federal law." She did suggest, though, that Category II and III techniques undergo further legal review "prior to their commencement." Still on the same day, Maj. Gen. Dunleavy wrote a memo to the Commander of U.S. Southern Command asking for approval of the techniques. He concluded, without exception, that "these techniques do not violate U.S. or international laws.

On October 25, 2002, General James T. Hill, Commander at SOUTHCOM, forwarded the request to use the techniques to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While he worried about the legality of some of th Category III techniques, particularly the death threats, he urged them to consider that he wanted "to have as many options as possible at my disposal."

A few days after that, on October 28, 2002, Mark Fallon, Deputy Commander at Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) sent a memo to a colleague. He was uneasy about what he had read in the Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes. He told his colleague the comments of Beaver and others "looks like the kinds of stuff Congressional hearings are made of." The techniques "seem to stretch beyond the bounds of legal propriety."
Quotes from LTC Beaver regarding things that are not being reported give the appearance of impropriety.... Talk of "wet towel treatments" which results in the lymphatic gland reacting as if you are suffocating, would in my opinion; shock the conscience of any legal body looking at using the results of the interrogations or possibly even the interrogators. Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.
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