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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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Also posted at Invictus and Progressive Historians

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

US/UK Cover-up on Torture, While Conditions Worsen at Guantanamo

Posted by Valtin at 3:10 PM |

Controversy continues to mount over the suppression of key evidence of U.S. torture in the case of Ethiopian national, Binyam Mohamed, at the suspected behest of the Obama administration. UK High Court judges in the case wanted to release the evidence, but Foreign Secretary David Miliband prevented this, saying it would harm UK intelligence cooperation with the United States. The U.S. reputedly threatened a break in cooperation with British intelligence services if the torture evidence, which is part of a CIA file, was released. (Update: The Age has now published documentary evidence of the U.S. threat -- see below. H/T to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse.)

Whatever threats were made, after the suppression of the evidence, and in the face of the protest by the UK judges, the Obama administration told BBC News it was grateful for the cooperation, i.e., the cover-up.
In a statement, the White House said it "thanked the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information".

It added that this would "preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens".
The UK ruling on the torture evidence was made in response to a legal challenge to the secrecy made by Associated Press, the Guardian, BBC and The New York Times, among other news organizations.

The controversy has made headlines in the UK, but U.S. media has remained compliantly mute, and that includes much of the blogging community. I could find almost no references to the Obama administrations response to BBC, except at Raw Story, and inside a blistering protest statement made ACLU's Anthony Romero. And among top name bloggers, only Chris Floyd and Glenn Greenwald noted the heavy-handed U.S. attempt. Floyd rightly assailed the supposedly liberal Democratic administration for acting "to preserve the presidential 'prerogatives' that Bush asserted to justify torture, eavesdropping and aggression."

But the story won't die, and today's Sunday Telegraph reports that, as suspected by some, the British were only too happy to suppress torture evidence because it clearly reveals the cooperation of British intelligence officers in the torture interrogation.
Material in a CIA dossier on Mr Mohamed that was blacked out by High Court judges contained details of how British intelligence officers supplied information to his captors and contributed questions while he was brutally tortured, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

Intelligence sources have revealed that spy chiefs put pressure on Mr Miliband to do nothing that would leave serving MI6 officers open to prosecution, or to jeopardise relations with the CIA, which is passing them "top notch" information on British terrorist suspects from its own informers in Britain....

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, "is very far down the list of things they did," the official said.
Update

The British newspaper The Age has published excerpts from copies of letters from the U.S. State Department to the British Foreign Service. The letters were apparently obtained by Britain's Channel 4.

"I write with respect to proceedings … regarding Mr Binyam Mohamed," the letter said. "We note the classified documents identified in your letters of June 16 and August 1, 2008, to the acting general counsel of the Department of Defence … the public disclosure of these documents or of the information contained therein is likely to result in serious damage to US national security and could harm … intelligence information sharing arrangements between our two governments."

Channel 4 revealed that a week later the State Department wrote again to the Foreign Office to make clear the consequences if British courts released the paperwork detailing allegations of torture by US and British intelligence services.

"To the extent the UK proceedings are currently aimed at ensuring that the documents at issue will be before the convening authority before she makes her referral decision, this development further demonstrates the relief sought through these proceedings has been otherwise accomplished and no further action by the court is required," the letter said.
The Democratic Party backers of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had better ponder the meaning of these words, and ponder carefully. Do you really want to sell out torture victims and justice for good feelings and a handful of favorite programs?

Worsening Brutality at Guantánamo

Meanwhile, the UK Guardian is reporting that conditions are worsening for inmates at Guantanamo in the first weeks of Obama's administration.
[U.S. military attorney Lieutenant-Colonel Yvonne] Bradley, a US military attorney for 20 years, will reveal [in court on Monday] that Mohamed, 31, is dying in his Guantánamo cell and that conditions inside the Cuban prison camp have deteriorated badly since Barack Obama took office. Fifty of its 260 detainees are on hunger strike and, say witnesses, are being strapped to chairs and force-fed, with those who resist being beaten. At least 20 are described as being so unhealthy they are on a "critical list", according to Bradley....

"The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantánamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on," [Bradley said].

"Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. Swat teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantánamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening.
Even more, the Guardian reports suspicions that some in the U.S. intelligence community would prefer to see Binyam die, so he can not testify to what he has seen and endured, and to prevent a lawsuit against U.S. and British authorities. One wonders if, like the Nazis who turned even more savagely against concentration camp prisoners as Allied armies bore down upon the fascist forces, JTF at Guantanamo isn't becoming more brutal in anticipation of its own less fiery, more juridical form of Götterdämmerung.

U.S. anti-torture and human rights activists, and progressives of all kinds, must demand the immediate closure of Guantanamo. Prisoners who have been imprisoned for years must be released, lacking any evidence of their danger, which can be reviewed promptly by a U.S. judge. Those for whom there may be evidence of crimes can be turned over to the U.S. justice system for timely and swift trial under the laws of the country's standing courts.

The Difficulty of Eradicating Torture

Torture is more than just the destruction of a human being's body or psyche. It destroys whole nations and cultures. The Bush administration accelerated trends in U.S. use of torture and coercion that go back over fifty years, from the CIA MK-ULTRA program to the joint U.S./South Vietnamese torture-assassination Phoenix Program in Vietnam that killed tens of thousands and tortured tens of thousands more, to the training of foreign torturers by the U.S. military.

Whatever the intentions of Barack Obama, there is an entrenched culture now within the military and in the intelligence agencies of the United States, and also of some its allies, that relies on coercion and terror to enforce their rule and their power. The fight over this must be taken into the open, with demands to declassify all but the most current and sensitive documents that relate to interrogations and torture. If there is no imminent danger to the United States then there is no reason to hold any such documention secret. Names, if necessary, can always be blacked out.

All too often the news about torture takes on an unreal air, as the dark irrationalities behind it are obscured by legalistic arguments and political infighting. Hence, I want to close with an up-close look at the man whose name is most in the news about torture right now, Binyam Mohamed. The biography that follows is from the the British human rights group Reprieve, who has provided legal representation for Mr. Mohamed in the United Kingdom. While a horrifying story, it can also be read as tale of remarkable survival against barbaric treatment and torture by the United States and their rendition proxies. Currently Mr. Mohamed, still a prisoner at Guantanamo, is on a hunger strike. It is expected by many that he will be released from Guantanamo next week... if he doesn't die first.
Binyam Mohamed was born in Ethiopia and came to Britain in 1994, where he lived for seven years, sought political asylum and was given leave to remain while his case was resolved.

While travelling in Pakistan, Binyam was arrested on a visa violation and turned over to the US authorities. When they refused to let him go, he asked what crime he had committed, and insisted on having a lawyer if he was going to be interrogated. The FBI told him, ‘The rules have changed. You don’t get a lawyer.’

Binyam refused to speak to them. British agents then confirmed his identity to the US authorities and he was warned that he would be taken to a Middle Eastern country for harsh treatment.

On 21 July 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco on a CIA plane. He was held there for 18 months in appalling conditions. To ensure his confession, his Moroccan captors tortured him, stripping him naked and cutting him with a scalpel on his chest and penis. Despite this, Binyam said that his lowest point came when his interrogators asked him questions about his life in London, which he realized could only have been provided by the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been betrayed by the country in which he had sought asylum.

Binyam’s ordeal in Morocco continued for about 18 months until January 2004, when he was transferred to the ‘Dark Prison’ near Kabul, Afghanistan, a secret prison run by the CIA, which resembled a medieval dungeon with the addition of extremely loud 24-hour music and noise.

Speaking of his time in the ‘Dark Prison’, Binyam said:

“It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time. They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. There was loud music, Slim Shady [by Eminem] and Dr. Dre for 20 days. Then they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. At one point, I was chained to the rails for a fortnight. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”

From there he was taken to the US military prison at Bagram airbase, and finally, in September 2004, to Guantánamo Bay, where he remains.

In June 2008, the US Department of Defense put Binyam forward for trial by military commission, a novel legal system, conceived in November 2001, which was described by Lord Steyn, a British law lord, as a “kangaroo court.”

In the same month, lawyers at Reprieve, working with colleagues at Leigh Day & Co., sued the British government, demanding that they turn over evidence that could help prove both his innocence and the extent of his torture.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, said:

“I visited Binyam in Guantanamo just a week ago and he is in a very bad state. Surely the least the British government can do is insist that no British resident be charged in a kangaroo court based on evidence tortured out of him with a razor blade. If Binyam’s trial by military commission proceeds, all it will produce is evidence not of terrorism, but of torture, which will embarrass both the British and the American governments.”

A judicial review of Binyam’s case took place in the high court at the end of July 2008. The result, which will determine whether or not the British government is obliged to hand over evidence relating to Binyam’s rendition and torture, is expected in mid-August.

Letters to Binyam should be sent to:
Binyam Mohamed
ISN 1458
Camp Delta
US Naval Base Guantánamo Bay
Washington, DC 20355
USA

Late additions to this posting: A video interview with Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty (formerly the British National Council for Civil Liberties), talking on the Binyam Mohamed case (see embed), and an editorial from the L.A. Times blasting the government on rendition and the "state secrets" privilege. Thanks to buhdydharma for these links!

Also posted at Invictus

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