30+ torture memos remain sealed while thousands of torture photos will eventually be released. Be prepared: Learn the deep history of US torture in SERE, Vietnam, Latin America, GMTO, Black Sites and beyond in American Torture.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Posted by Michael Otterman at 5:02 PM |

The recently declassified Inspector General Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse makes several important conclusions, but eclipsing them all is the revelation that SERE instructors were sent to Iraq in 2003 to train members of Task Force 20 in "counter-resistance" methods used at SERE. According to the report, in Iraq:
U.S. Joint Forces Command J-3 and the Commanding Officer, TF-20 gave a verbal approval for the SERE team to actively participate in “one or two demonstration” interrogations.

SERE team members and TF-20 staff disagreed about whether SERE techniques were in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. When it became apparent that friction was developing, the decision was made to pull the team out before more damage was done to the relationship between the two organizations. The SERE team members prepared After Action Reports that detailed the confusion and allegations of abuse that took place during the deployment. These reports were not forwarded to the U.S. Joint Forces Command because it was not a common practice at that time.
Psychologist Stephen Soldz has just written an excellent piece for CounterPunch further detailing the revelations of the Inspector General Report. It's important to remember that Task Force 20 later became Task Force 121, which in turn, became the infamous Task Force 626-- a squad that has been implicated in using torture in Iraq, tortures that have all the hallmarks of SERE techniques. [For a round-up of 626's exploits, see here and here.]

This is huge news, so much so that Senator Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the New York Times that he intends to hold Congressional hearings about how SERE training methods became the basis for US interrogation practice after 9/11. “They were put to a purpose that was never intended,” Levin said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More on CIA Prisons

Posted by Raj at 7:16 AM |

It was really good to see the UN Committee on Torture push for info into the Polish role in the CIA secret prisons program - we need to see what info was used by the Polish parliamentary group that recently stated that there was no evidence of their involvement.

Monday, May 21, 2007

UN panel urges Poland to publish report into possible involvement in renditions

Posted by Tom Moran at 9:28 AM |

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has urged the Polish government to share the findings of a report into alleged collusion in the CIA extraordinary rendition program. The request by the UN panel signals serious concern over the country's participation in renditions and the transfer of detainees.

Poland denies any involvement in the program but the report by the Polish parliament is confidential and all information remains undisclosed, thus failing to bring closure to the allegations. Human Rights Watch previously identified Poland as a possible European location for secret prisons. If the country genuinely has not partaken in any clandestine activity relating to rendition - a breach of international human rights standards - it would do well to make the findings of the inquiry public in the light of growing unrest over the war on terror and treatment of detainees.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Republican debate as a Jack Bauer contest

Posted by Tom Moran at 4:55 PM |

In addition to Raj's last post, today's LA Times piece by Rosa Brooks bolsters yesterday's Washington Post op-ed, further slamming the comments made at this week's Republican debate and calling it a "a Jack Bauer impersonation contest." Producers of the hit TV show "24" have previously been criticized by high ranking military officials for depicting the almost routine use of torture as a viable and productive interrogation strategy.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

More Opposition to Republican Presidential Candidates Support of Torture

Posted by Raj at 6:54 AM |

The backlash against the comments supporting torture made by most of the Republican candidates at the Tuesday Presidential debate continues. In a powerful OP-ED in the Washington Post today Charles C. Krulak a former commandant of the Marine Corps and Joseph P. Hoar a former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command respond to the debate claims and note that torture is both a betrayal of U.S. values and breeds more enemies. They note that:
"....it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation."
Andrew Sullivan, who has been a strong voice on the issue of torture generally, also swings hard at the torture supporters on stage in S.C.:
"Some issues really are paramount moral ones. Two candidates opposed it clearly and honorably: McCain and Paul. All the others gleefully supported it - including Brownback. He's a born-again Christian for torture. Giuliani revealed himself as someone we already know. He would have no qualms in exercising executive power brutally, no scruples or restraints. Romney would double the size and scope of Gitmo, to ensure that none of the detainees have lawyers, regardless of their innocence or guilt. That is in itself a disqualification for the presidency of the United States. A man who has open contempt for the most basic rules of Western justice has no business being president."

We really are seeing a battle for the moral core of the Republican party and judging by the comments on stage and the applause from the audience those morally opposed to torture are losing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"A counterterrorism win"

Posted by Michael Otterman at 11:04 AM |

Just read an excellent piece on interrogation by the NY Sun's Eli Lake-- who has spent the last few weeks reporting from Iraq. In it he describes how US forces captured a suspected insurgent, then set him free after it was determined they had the wrong man. While veiled threats were used, torture was not.
Major Christopher Norrie, who supervised the interrogation, described the episode as "a counterterrorism win for us." The story reminds us that while 4 out of 10 US soldiers believe torture should be allowed in Iraq to save US lives, some soldiers are mindful about the effects of torture on the hearts and minds of Iraqi citizens.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Proposed limitations on lawyer visits to Guantanamo reversed by Justice Department

Posted by Tom Moran at 12:35 PM |

In a motion filed Friday at the U.S. Court of Appeals in the DC Circuit, the Justice Department ruled that there is no need to limit the number of times lawyers can visit inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The Bush administration initially attempted to limit the number of visits to three.

The proposed measures were yet another attempt by the administration to impose increasingly harsh restrictions on access to detainees at Guantanamo, and further obstruct the legal channels between attorney and client. The national security line was cited as the reason for imposing the limitations, which also sort to curb detainee access to mail sent to them by their lawyers, which apparently updated them about terrorist attacks in Iraq, efforts in the war on terror and so on.

In a deepening quagmire of controversy for the administration, one has to ask the question of how exactly informing an inmate in solitary confinement of the latest reports from Iraq – which can be obtained from the mass media - can further endanger national security. Commenting on this reversal, Justice Department lawyers wrote that:

"Based on a current evaluation of resources and needs at Guantanamo, the (government) has decided this provision is no longer warranted.”

This is certainly encouraging news, although it only serves to reverse a proposed restriction rather than addressing any that are currently enforced - such as the limited amount of evidence defense lawyers are granted access to and the heavy redactment of many of these documents.

The U.K. as a Critical Friend - Implications for U.S. Gitmo Policy?

Posted by Raj at 7:22 AM |

The U.K. as a Critical Friend

That is the relationship the U.K. should have with the U.S. according to the results of a Guardian survey of the Labor Party's would be deputy leadership candidates. The candidates took shots at U.S. foreign policy on a range of issues from Climate Change to the ICC to Gitmo. Beyond the specifics, the candidates indicated a desire to move away from the Blair foreign policy.

Peter Hain the current Northern Ireland secretary stated the desire of the Labor Party to shift gears:

"The challenge has been how we work with a very rightwing president ... We must pursue a progressive internationalist foreign policy [and] strengthen and reform international institutions."

And Harriet Harman the justice minister underscored the need for a change in the British strategy:

"We need to draw the US closer to our politics, rather than embracing theirs. Bush's failure to plan for recovery and reconstruction in Iraq was a huge mistake which has only increased the threat of international terrorism."

This unfolding story is worth monitoring closely....we should anticpate real shifts in the U.K.-U.S. relationship in the coming months.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

New York Launch

Posted by Michael Otterman at 11:57 PM |

Just wanted to quickly mention the official New York launch for American Torture is this Tuesday at 8pm at the Book Revue in Huntington, Long Island. More details here. Hope to see you there-- I am looking forward to a good discussion.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Very Important Letter from Gen. Petraeus

Posted by Raj at 8:48 AM |

Andrew Sullivan draws attention to a very important letter from the top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Petraeus. In the letter the General seeks to tackle the worrying signs of the recent Army survey showing that torture and other illegal actions are often condoned by soldiers in Iraq. The General clearly recognizes that the lack of adherence to core international legal standards is both harmful to the army and hurts its overall mission in Iraq.
Key quote here:
"Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we—not our enemies—occupy the moral high ground. "
This is a very important moment in the fight to return the U.S. to a posture of adhering and supporting international legal norms - well done General, well done.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Another GTMO Bill

Posted by Michael Otterman at 4:01 PM |

This week another bill was introduced calling for the closure of Guantanamo. According to Rep. Jane Harman (D, California):
The bill requires the President to close the facility within one year of enactment, and gives him a range of choices for dealing with the detainees. These options include transfer to a detainee’s country of origin (so long as that country provides certain assurances regarding treatment of the detainee); transfer to a facility in the United States to be tried before military or civilian authorities (like the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and John Walker Lindh); transfer to a qualified international tribunal; or, if appropriate, outright release.


Guantanamo has become a liability. The real and perceived injustices occurring there have given our enemies an easy example of our failures and alleged ill intent. The prison is so widely viewed as illegitimate, so plainly inconsistent with America's proud legal traditions; it has become a stinging symbol of our tarnished standing abroad.
A sensible and much needed bill-- sadly, if it were to pass I fear that it has Bush veto written all over it.

Blair Legacy and Rendition

Posted by Raj at 7:10 AM |

As British Prime Minister Blair prepares for life after office, talk will inevitably start to shift to his legacy. Unfortunately for Mr. Blair one aspect of his legacy will be the British role in the CIA rendition flights.

Prime Minister Blair will give many speeches in the coming months, before and after his summer departure from office, let's hope he can admit publicly that on rendition he was very, very wrong.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

WP and NYT urge Democrats to restore habeas corpus

Posted by Tom Moran at 8:53 AM |

Also in relation to Mike and Raj's previous posts, both the Washington Post and New York Times have urged congressional Democrats to restore the right of habeas corpus and overturn the Military Commissions Act, using this week's review of the defense authorization bill as a means to push it through. If successful, this will be a crucial step forward.

Rumor From Capitol Hill Cont.

Posted by Raj at 6:54 AM |

There is momentum developing around the possible House Dem action on restoration of habeas corpus. As Mike noted yesterday there is a chance of it being placed into the Defense Department Authorization Bill during the Armed Services Committee markup....Andrew Sullivan is calling attention to the possibility which should help.

Habeas Restoration Alert

Posted by Michael Otterman at 12:13 AM |

Matt Stoller of MyDD is reporting that House Democrats on the Armed Services Committee may put a restoration of habeas corpus clause into the Defense Department Authorization Bill "being marked up tomorrow and Thursday." He's urging immediate action via emails and/or phone calls to members of the Armed Services Committee to express support. I couldn't agree more. Stoller provides a full contact list here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New work details the complicity of the medical profession in abusive interrogation

Posted by Tom Moran at 4:42 PM |

As the issue of “aggressive” interrogation has become increasingly prevalent on the public radar since the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004, the argument that torture reflects a problem with the barrel rather than merely a few bad apples (in reference to officially sanctioned U.S. interrogation policy), is obvious.

Reports abound about the methods used against suspected enemy combatants by military and CIA interrogators at notorious facilities such as Bagram Air Force Base and so-called “black sites” across Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But now a new book entitled "Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror" by Dr. Steven H. Miles, a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, takes a look specifically at the complicity of the medical profession in abusive interrogation.

Miles concludes that “In U.S. prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, medical personnel helped determine the nature and severity of torture. They ignored abuse. And they covered up the most heinous cases.” This is not new information but is nevertheless startling.

He sums up by qualifying a key point that "we need to go back to the framework of international law that we would be proud to uphold."

Gen. David Petraeus Worried By Findings in Torture Study

Posted by Raj at 7:20 AM |

Gen. David Petraeus responded to the findings we discussed yesterday that suggested an erosion of the moral foundation of U.S. troops in Iraq. To the General's credit he noted that:
(a) He was really concerned by the results
(b) Recognizes a need to do more to educate troops as to the importance of the rule of law
(c) Understands the costs, including to the U.S., of breaching the laws of war

For me the key quotes from Petraeus were the following:

“We can never sink to the level of the enemy....we have done that at times in theater, and it has cost us enormously.”


“So the first step is that we’ve got to . . . make sure that folks remember that that’s a foundation for our moral compass . . . anything we do that violates that is done at considerable peril.”

Let's hope the Pres, VP and the AG were listening....

Monday, May 07, 2007

All Classified GTMO Records "May" Be Destroyed

Posted by Michael Otterman at 4:44 PM |

Disturbing news from the National Coalition for History. According to a protective order filed by the US District Court for DC, all classified information used at Guantanamo military tribunals by defense counsel-- namely, all papers, correspondence, memoranda, logs, photographs, and videos-- are to be physically "destroyed" after the trial ends. Further, the order states that prosecutors "may" choose to destroy all their classified materials as well.

The order essentially creates a legal memory hole into which the government can drop any information it deems embarrassing or illegal at the conclusion of a tribunal hearing. This includes any Combatant Status Review Tribunal transcripts, interrogation logs, or "Immediate Response Force" videos that depict the infliction of torture or cruel or inhumane treatment.

So far, only one tribunal hearing has concluded at Guantanamo-- that of Australia's David Hicks. In a 2004 affidavit filed from Guantanamo, Hicks alleged he was "deprived of sleep as a matter of policy", "beaten while blindfolded and handcuffed", and offered "the services of a prostitute for fifteen minutes if I would spy on other detainees."

One can only imagine what classified Hicks records the Pentagon has legally destroyed so far.

More Worrying Data on Military Attitudes to Torture

Posted by Raj at 7:14 AM |

A recent survey of U.S. troops in Iraq paints a bleak picture of an Army that is seeing the erosion of its moral moorings. One statistic in particular that caught my attention was the one that shows that roughly two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed would not report a team mate for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. As the Army report notes:

"Less than half of soldiers and Marines believed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect..."

As of 8.30am EST this survey has been picked up by about 500 outlets across the globe once again raising in the minds of the public from Africa to the Middle East and Europe to Asia that the U.S. Armed Forces seems to have developed a culture that rejects international law and the Geneva Conventions. This type of report should set off flags from the Pentagon to the State Department and although we cannot hope for such a reaction from the Bush Administration, we need to encourage those running for President to build foreign policy platforms capable of tackling such sentiments.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tenet's stance on "Aggressive" interrogation

Posted by Tom Moran at 4:24 PM |

Cross-posted at Endtorture.net:

Former CIA Director George Tenet's memoir is already amassing criticism over the accuracy and legitimacy of its content, including the run-up to the Iraq war and controversial interrogation techniques among others.

Sen. John McCain strongly denies Tenet's claim that "aggressive" interrogation techniques have enabled the US government to "save lives", saying that such measures have led to as much misinformation as reliable intelligence, thus bolstering the argument that torture is simply not a reliable form of intelligence gathering.

Film director Alex Gibney turns his lens to torture

Posted by Tom Moran at 3:49 PM |

Cross-posted at Endtorture.net:

After examining corruption at energy giant Enron, director Alex Gibney has turned his lens on what he calls the "corruption of American values" in a new film about U.S. torture in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. This looks poised to be an extremely informative and balanced film, and reflects two of the crucial facets of the End Torture Campaign and Americantorture; in Gibney's own words: "I ended up doing a film about corruption - corruption of the rule of law and corruption of American values ... What I was most surprised by was just how dark the dark side was."

Senator Feinstein Seeks to Close Gitmo

Posted by Raj at 10:27 AM |

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a very important piece of legislation on Monday to close the Department of Defense detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within one year of the bill's enactment. The Senator noted that "Guantanamo Bay has become a lightning rod for international condemnation...This has greatly damaged the nation's credibility around the world. Rather than make the United States safer, the image projected by this facility puts us at greater risk. The time has come to close it down."

While I applaud Sen. Feinstein for this move, one piece of the bill gave me pause. She lists a range of different ways to process the detainees and includes this one:
"The detainees' home nations or a third-party government for further processing; there must be assurances that detainees will not be tortured or otherwise handled in a manner against international law."

While this sounds good in theory we have seen that diplomatic assurances do not work.
My question to the Senator is "How will you ensure that individuals sent home will not be tortured?"

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tenet, Truth and Torture

Posted by Michael Otterman at 12:07 PM |

Lately, former CIA Director George Tenet has been hitting the airwaves to promote his memoir At the Center of the Storm. Public justification for his post-9/11 approval of torture-- "enhanced interrogation methods" like waterboarding, hypothermia, and forced standing-- follow a simple two prong approach: 1> CIA methods are not technically "torture" per se; and 2> Even if they were "torture", such methods are a necessary evil in the war on terror. The snippet below from his recent 60 Minutes appearance spells this out:
"We don't torture people," Tenet maintains.

"Khalid Sheikh Mohammad?" [60 Minutes Correspondent Scott] Pelley asks.

"We don't torture people," Tenet says.

"Water boarding?" Pelley asks.

"We do not – I don't talk about techniques," Tenet replies.


"Let me ask the question this way: why were enhanced interrogation techniques necessary?" Pelley asks.

"'Cause these are people that will never, ever, ever tell you a thing. These are people who know who’s responsible for the next terrorist attack. These are hardened people that would kill you and me 30 seconds after they got out of wherever they were being held and wouldn’t blink an eyelash," Tenet says. "You can sit there after, you can sit there five years later, and have this debate with me, all I'm asking you to do, walk a mile in my shoes when I'm dealing with these realities."

Tenet says the interrogations uncovered networks and broke up plots in the U.S.
Tenet refuses to provide any evidence in support of this last claim-- we are to simply take his word. Last year, Newsweek surveyed intelligence officials familiar with CIA interrogation operations and found that the torture of "high-value" al Qaeda suspects like KSM lead to a scatter-shot of unreliable intel. According to Newsweek:
In recent interviews with NEWSWEEK reporters, U.S. intelligence officers say they have little—if any—evidence that useful intelligence has been obtained using techniques generally understood to be torture.


KSM did reveal some names and plots. But they haven’t panned out as all that threatening: one such plot was a plan by an Al Qaeda operative to cut down the Brooklyn Bridge—with a blow torch. Intelligence officials could never be sure if KSM was holding back on more serious threats, or just didn’t know of any.
Many of KSM's confessions are implausible. As I discussed in March, KSM admitted to 31 separate plots-- including a plot to blow up a building in Washington state that was built nearly three years after he was already in custody.

Careful non-violent rapport building interrogation techniques are methods proven to work time-and-time again against terrorism suspects like KSM. Rapport building has not only worked before 9/11 terrorism cases, such as the 2000 USS Cole bombing and 1998 East African Embassy attacks, but in operations in Iraq. For instance, this month's Atlantic describes the methods used to locate and kill al Qaeda leader al-Zarqawi. In the interrogations leading to the discovery of his location, no torture was used.

So why do people like Tenet continue to tow the line? In addition to saving face, he is also trying to save his own skin. He, along with Donald Rumsfeld, are named on a pending war-crimes suit to be filed in Spain. To avoid self-incrimination, torture advocates like Tenet will continue to insist that CIA methods were justified and are not even "torture" in the first place. This is an untenable argument he will surely take to the grave.