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.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Unreleased Abu Ghraib pictures show rape and sexual abuse

Posted by Fatima Kola at 8:44 AM |

From the Telegraph today, a particularly sickening revelation that confirms earlier suspicions - the pictures from Abu Ghraib that Obama decided not to release show rape and sexual assault, including that of a young teenage boy.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Torture Weekly "Round-up"

Posted by Valtin at 11:10 PM |

Also posted at Daily Kos and Invictus

The Sunday Weekly Torture "Round-up" is intended to be a new regular feature at Daily Kos, capturing stories on the ongoing torture scandal, especially those that might otherwise escape notice. At the same time, we will strive to present an overview of important new developments in the drive to hold the U.S. government responsible for its war crimes, in addition to covering stories concerning torture from other countries, as time and space permit. (Alas, the U.S. has no monopoly on this hideous practice.)

The editors for the WTR are myself, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, and Meteor Blades and we will rotate each week. Interesting or important news or tips concerning torture or civil liberties issues bearing upon it can be emailed to any of these individuals.

There were many new developments this week: the CIA announced it would withhold a list describing 1000s of documents related to the destruction of videotapes depicting torture; an ex-Bush administration official told of administration indifference to evidence of innocence for the great bulk of "enemy combatants"; a major lawsuit against Pentagon contractors accused of torture was allowed to proceed; a "released" Guantanamo hunger striker was refused more humane prison conditions, and more.

Cheney, Wilkerson, Obama and the Fake Scandal over Gitmo Prisoner Releases

Dick Cheney has been running around the country trying to spread his particular style of panic and fear in the wake of reports that released Guantanamo prisoners will swell the ranks of terrorists who will then strike at America. Andy Worthington refutes these lies in "The Stories of Six Prisoners Who Were Released from Guantanamo" and this story at Huffington Post.

As has been covered extensively elsewhere (and at Daily Kos), Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, has revealed that most of the Guantanamo prisoners are innocents, and moreover, shockingly, that the Bush Administration knew this from the get-go, belying Cheney's fabrications about the "worst of the worst." Here's Wilkerson from The Washington Note article earlier this week:
The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.
And yet days after this revelation, we get this kind of crap from the current administration, as reported by Associated Press, via the Miami Herald:
Obama says in a broadcast interview [on 60 Minutes tonight] that some of the people released from the prison camps in southeast in Cuba have rejoined terrorist groups. He also says U.S. officials have not always been effective in determining which prisoners will be a danger once they are let go.
If you think I'm too harsh on Obama, read the Sunday editorial in today's New York Times (H/T Stephen Soldz):
we did not expect that Mr. Obama, who addressed these issues with such clarity during his campaign, would be sending such confused and mixed signals from the White House. Some of what the public has heard from the Obama administration on issues like state secrets and detainees sounds a bit too close for comfort to the Bush team’s benighted ideas.
Meanwhile, today's UK Guardian is reporting that despite Obama's comments above, his administration will change previous U.S. policy and allow some former Guantanamo prisoners to be resettled in the United States:
The White House is set to reverse a key Bush administration policy by allowing some of the 240 remaining Guantánamo Bay inmates to be resettled on American soil.

The US is pushing for Europe to take a share of released inmates, but the Obama administration is reconciled to taking some of them, even though there will be noisy resistance from individual states....

The cases of the 240 inmates are being reviewed by a team of experienced US prosecutors to determine whether there is a basis for criminal charges. It remains unresolved what to do if there is a substantial "third category" of detainees who are deemed to pose a security threat, but against whom there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges either because evidence was obtained under torture or because it is in the form of classified intelligence.

In a 90-minute interview on CBS tonight, Obama struck back at the former vice-president Dick Cheney over his charge that the new Guantánamo policy was putting US security at risk. The president said his predecessor's policy of indefinite detention was unsustainable and had generated anti-US sentiment without making the country safer.
Despite the change in policy, there was this ominous portent for the future:
The Obama administration is still contemplating the option of military courts martial, reconstituting the Bush-era military commissions or even instituting some new form of preventive detention.
The dance being done by current and former administration officials over the abominable crimes conducted at Guantanamo and elsewhere are dizzying in their vertiginous lurchings from mea culpas to lies to attempts at "reform."

Saudi Gitmo Prisoner, Cleared for Release, But Refused Transfer from Maximum Security Detention, Remains on Hunger Strike

Andy Worthington brings the case of Guantanamo hunger striker Ahmed Zuhair to our attention in a posting last Friday. (If this link isn't working, try this one.) Zuhair, a father of ten children, was arrested in Pakistan, and ultimately was sent to Guantanamo, accused of associations with Al Qaeda. He has been accused of being involved with the bombing of the USS Cole, and of the murder of an American in Bosnia in 1994 or 1995, among other supposed crimes or dubious connections (see Wikipedia link).

Yet the U.S. government decided in an Administrative Review Board hearing last December 23 that he was cleared for release from Guantanamo. Worthington notes that "he was not informed until February 10, and his lawyers were not told until February 16," noting:
This rather makes a mockery of the Guantánamo authorities’ complaints about the “threat” he poses, and the allegations, still cited in news reports, that “US authorities allege that he trained with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and was a member of an Islamic fighting group in Bosnia in the mid-1990s,” but above all it confirms — as if any confirmation were required — that, in the isolated world of Guantánamo, what counts against the majority of the prisoners is not the supposed rationale for their detention in the first place, which is often nothing more than a distant memory, but their behavior in detention.
Zuhair has been identified as having "history of disciplinary infractions", no doubt associated with his hunger strike, which began in June 2005. On March 18 of this year, the government refused a deal with Zuhair whereby he would end his years-long hunger strike if he were moved from the high-security Camp 6, where prisoners endure "the isolation of a prison block modeled on a maximum security prison for convicted criminals on the US mainland," to the lesser regimen of Camp 4. The government says it's afraid of the precedent such a move might make. This is in spite of the fact that Zuhair has been cleared for release!

So his hunger strike continues, and the record of the Obama administration releasing any of the many innocent men held at Guantanamo in the two months Obama has been in charge remains at a pitiful... one! (That one release was Binyam Mohamed.) According to his attorney, on his last visit to Mr. Zuhair:
... he weighed no more than 100 pounds, and “also appeared to be ill, vomiting repeatedly during meetings” at the prison. “Mr. Zuhair lifted his orange shirt and showed me his chest,” Kassem explained. “It was skeletal.“ He added, “Mr. Zuhair’s legs looked like bones with skin wrapped tight around them.”
Andy Worthington concludes, "While this reflects badly on the prison authorities, I believe it also reflects badly on the Obama administration."

CACI International Loses Bid to Spike Torture Lawsuit

According to a CNN report:
U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee rejected claims by defense contractor CACI that the company was immune from accountability over claims of physical abuse, war crimes and civil conspiracy.

Reports of torture and humiliation by soldiers and civilian contractors against Iraqi detainees created a political, diplomatic and public relations nightmare for the Bush administration in the months and years after the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Four Iraqi detainees have sued in U.S. federal courts, alleging contract interrogators assigned to the Baghdad Central Prison — known as Abu Ghraib — subjected them to beatings and mental abuse, then destroyed documents and video evidence and later misled officials about what was happening inside the facility.
Center for Constitutional Rights has been following the case and providing part of the legal representation to plaintiffs. From their information page on the case:
The suit, brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and federal question jurisdiction, brings claims arising from violations of U.S. and international law including torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; war crimes; assault and battery; sexual assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring and supervision; and negligent infliction of emotional distress. There are also civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting counts attached to most of these charges. Through this action, Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.
In the case of one prisoner:
Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid was detained from 2003 until 2005, during which he was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib “hard site” for about three months. While detained there, CACI and its co-conspirators tortured Mr. Rashid by placing him in stress positions for extended periods of time, humiliating him, depriving him of oxygen, food, and water, shooting him in the head with a taser gun, and by beating him so severely that he suffered from broken limbs and vision loss. Mr. Rashid was forcibly subjected to sexual acts by a female as he was cuffed and shackled to cell bars. He was also forced to witness the rape of a female prisoner.
Among the heinous acts to which the four Plaintiffs were subjected at the hands of the defendant and certain government co-conspirators were: electric shocks; repeated brutal beatings; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; forced nudity; stress positions; sexual assault; mock executions; humiliation; hooding; isolated detention; and prolonged hanging from the limbs.

All of the plaintiffs are innocent Iraqis who were ultimately released without ever being charged with a crime. They all continue to suffer from physical and mental injuries caused by the torture and other abuse.

In a related story, TheDay.com is reporting:
Thousands of Iraqis held without charge by the United States on suspicion of links to insurgents or militants are being freed by this summer because of little or no evidence against them.
CIA Withholds List of over 3,000 Torture Tapes Documents from Public Release

Last Friday, the ACLU revealed that it "has a list of roughly 3,000 summaries, transcripts, reconstructions and memoranda relating to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the agency." Only two days earlier, the ACLU had formally asked Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor "to investigate the authorization to use torture at CIA secret prisons," following Mark Danner's article at the New York Review of Books detailing a leaked ICRC report on torture of CIA prisoners.

(The accompanying picture above is an actual sketch by a U.S. MP Reserve Sargeant of how Dilawar was tortured at Bagram prison.)

According to a report on the CIA documents list by Jason Leopold:
The number of documents – but not their contents – was mentioned Friday in a Justice Department letter from Lev Dassin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Dassin told Judge Hellerstein that unredacted versions of the materials would be available for only him to review "in-camera" on March 26. The CIA also refused to provide the ACLU with a list of individuals who watched the videotapes prior to their destruction because that information "is either classified or otherwise protected by statute."

The number of relevant documents – "roughly 3,000," according to the letter – adds weight to the belief that CIA interrogators were in frequent communication with headquarters at Langley, Virginia, and with senior Bush administration officials who were monitoring the harsh techniques used and approving them one by one or even in combination.
And there was this interesting speculation by Emptywheel at Firedoglake:
Take a look at this list of FOIA exemptions, and you'll see why that may be rather interesting. For example, trade secrets might protect the identities of contractors who had viewed or retained the torture tapes. There's the physical safety exemption that they earlier cited in regards to their destruction of the tapes--but if they invoked this exemption, it might reveal that they're worried about the identities of non-CIA employees being released. There are law enforcement exemptions they might invoke if DOJ had reviewed these torture tapes in 2004 in response to a criminal referral by CIA's Inspector General.

Or the truly interesting possibility--that CIA might claim some identities are exempt from FOIA because they are presidential records more generally exempt from FOIA, which would come into play if someone at the White House had watched the torture tapes.
Rise in Torture Allegations Against Mexican Army

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times carried a report on a sharp increase in allegations of human rights abuses by the Mexican Army, as the Mexican government steps up its campaign against drug traffickers throughout the country.
The allegations include illegal searches, arrests without cause, rape, sexual abuse and torture, eight Mexican and international rights groups said in a report prepared for presentation to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington.

In 28 cases, the report said, the alleged violations resulted in death.

The groups said the number of complaints to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission jumped to 1,230 last year, from 182 in 2006. Calderon launched his anti-crime offensive in December 2006, and assigned the army a leading role....

More than 7,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the last 15 months, according to government and media estimates.
Darius Rejali on Long History of CIA Torture Abuse

The winner of the 2007 Human Rights Best Book Award of the American Political Science Association for his massive study, Torture and Democracy, Darius Rejali, has a new article at AlterNet detailing some of the history behind recent revelations of U.S. torture.

All the techniques in the accounts of torture by the International Committee of the Red Cross, as reported Monday, collected from 14 detainees held in CIA custody, fit a long historical pattern of Anglo-Saxon modern. The ICRC report apparently includes details of CIA practices unknown until now, details that point to practices with names, histories, and political influences. In torture, hell is always in the details.
Dejali covers grisly, sadistic techniques now documented in use by the CIA within recent years, including the "ice-water cure," "the cold cell," "water-boarding," "standing cells," "High-cuffing," and more. Here's Dejali on "Sweatboxes and coubarils":
Abu Zubaydah says, "Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow.... The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 feet 6 inches] in height." The large box, which Abu Zubaydah says he was held in for up to two hours, is a classic sweatbox. Sweatboxes are old, and they came into modern torture from traditional Asian penal practices. If you've seen Bridge on the River Kwai, you know the Japanese used them in POW camps in World War II. They are still common in East Asia. The Chinese used them during the Korean War, and Chinese prisoners today relate accounts of squeeze cells (xiaohao, literally "small number"), dark cells (heiwu), and extremely hot or cold cells. In Vietnam, they are dubbed variously "dark cells," "tiger cages," or "connex boxes," which are metal and heat up rapidly in the tropical sun.

Abu Zubaydah was also placed into the smaller box, in which he was forced to crouch for hours, until "the stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful." This smaller type of box was once called a coubaril. Coubarils often bent the body in an uncomfortable position. They were standard in French penal colonies in New Guinea in the 19th century, where some prisoners were held in them for 16 days at a stretch.

Both kinds of boxes entered American prison and military practice in the 19th century. They were a standard part of naval discipline, and the word sweatbox comes from the Civil War era. In the 1970s, prisoners described sweatboxes in South Vietnam, Iran (tabout, or "coffin"), Israel, and Turkey ("tortoise cell"). In the last three decades, prisoners have reported the use of sweatboxes in Brazil (cofrinho), Honduras (cajones), and Paraguay (guardia). And after 2002, Iraqi prisoners held in U.S. detention centers describe "cells so small that they could neither stand nor lie down," as well as a box known as "the coffin" at the U.S. detention center at Qaim near Syria.
Other News

Al-Marri is Held Without Bail Pending Trial

UN Launches Probe of Secret Detention Sites

New pressure in Uighurs’ cases

Islamabad High Court Calls for Repatriation of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and Investigation into Her Missing Children

BREAKING -- Newsweek reports that release is imminent of three of the secret Bush administration OLC memos:
Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against “high value” Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said the memos were “ugly” and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a “truth commission” on torture.
Note this, from the same article:
"I now know we were not fully and completely briefed on the CIA program," Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told NEWSWEEK. A U.S. official disputed the charge, claiming that members of Congress received more than 30 briefings over the life of the CIA program and that Congressional intel panels had seen the Red Cross report.
Other Resources

Torture Documents released under Freedom of Information Act

Law professor David Luban's classic essay, "Liberalism, Torture and the Ticking Bomb"

I close this first installment with a quote from the preeminent American poet, Walt Whitman:
Nothing is sinful to us outside of ourselves,
Whatever appears, whatever does not appear,
     we are beautiful or
sinful in ourselves only.

(O Mother--O Sisters dear!
If we are lost, no victor else has destroy'd us,
It is by ourselves we go down to eternal night.)
This week's WTR was put together with the assistance of Patriot Daily News Clearninghouse. Thanks, PDNC!

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Senate Report Nails Rumsfeld, Sets Up War Crimes Trial

Posted by Valtin at 2:06 PM |

They may not have meant to do it, but the Senate Armed Services' Committee released a report by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain that gives us the best timeline to date on administration decisions to begin torturing detainees. The report, an Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, also describes the means by which both the Pentagon and the CIA approached agencies within government, leading to the very top of the Bush Administration, and how the latter rushed in a series of presidential orders, and memos by the Office of Legal Counsel, to redefine torture law in order to provide legal cover for their blatant violation of the laws of war and those against torture.

The Washington Post article covering these developments, Report on Detainee Abuse Blames Top Bush Officials, is listed as the most viewed item of the day. And for good reason, for anyone who knows how to read such material can see the bombshell that resides within.

Those in the anti-torture community are fond of repeating the fact that torture is a jus cogens norm, that is:
"a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character." Link
But when it comes to the question of prosecuting Rumsfeld and others for the crime of torture, it's generally accepted (by the mainstream media and cable punditry) that the Bush Administration has created sufficient legal cover for themselves, and that we will have to look to international intervention, under the concept of universal jurisdiction, to prosecute these individuals.

But even by their own pathetic lights, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld troika and their assistants failed to protect themselves, as their rush to cover their tracks came TWO MONTHS TOO LATE. They are still trying to keep certain documents secret, it seems, and we must demand they see the light of day, so we can proceed with the prosecutions. (By "we" I mean an Obama Justice Department.)

Here's the key paragraphs in the narrative of the report, at least when it comes to the most vulnerable part of their defense against prosecution. Keep in mind that Levin/McCain begin their narrative with the "Presidential Order [that] Opens the Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques."

On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.
So, now they think they are covered against violations of the Geneva Convention. But they didn't think, or they forgot that they were seeking to break, or already breaking the Geneva Convention, and a host of other treaties and laws, at least as early as December 2001.

Again, from the report (emphasis added):
In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
JPRA runs the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE program, under which military personnel considered at risk of capture are "tortured" under controlled circumstances, with the aim of inoculating them against confessing or revealing secrets under pressure. The SERE program specialized in exposing its recruits to waterboarding, nudity, stress positions, degrading behavior, and sensory overload and sensory deprivation. It was slam everything but the kitchen sink against a person to make them break. During training there are doctors and psychologists around to keep these things from getting out of control. But some of these doctors or psychologists evidently thought they could use their knowledge of the program to "reverse-engineer" it and provide interrogation expertise to the military when asked.

And they were asked first in December 2001:
Given JPRA’s role and expertise, the request from the DoD General Counsel’s office was unusual. In fact, the Committee is not aware of any similar request prior to December 2001. But while it may have been the first, that was not the last time that a senior government official contacted JPRA for advice on using SERE methods offensively. In fact, the call from the DoD General Counsel’s office marked just the beginning of JPRA’s support of U.S. government interrogation efforts.
The subsequent contact between JPRA, SERE, SERE psychologists, the CIA, and Guantanamo personnel make up the bulk of the rest of the report, and is definitely worth pursuing, and very important in its own right. (In fact, I've written much on this previously during the Senate Committee hearings.) But right now I'm concentrating on the critical first approach.

After discussing the December 2001 contact between the Department of Defense and JPRA, the narrative jumps ahead to Spring 2002. The reason for the jump will soon be clear (emphasis added):
Beginning in the spring of 2002 and extending for the next two years, JPRA supported U.S. government efforts to interrogate detainees. During that same period, senior government officials solicited JPRA’s knowledge and its direct support for interrogations. While much of the information relating to JPRA’s offensive activities and the influence of SERE techniques on interrogation policies remains classified, unclassified information provides a window into the extent of those activities.

(U) JPRA’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baumgartner testified that in late 2001 or early 2002, JPRA conducted briefings of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) personnel on detainee resistance, techniques, and information on detainee exploitation.

(U) On April 16, 2002, Dr. Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, circulated a draft exploitation plan to JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton and other senior officials at the agency. The contents of that plan remain classified but Dr. Jessen’s initiative is indicative of the interest of JPRA’s senior leadership in expanding the agency’s role.
We can quite clearly see the use of classification as a cover-up of culpability and probable war crimes. This is doubly true for the classification of any materials between December 2001 and February 7, 2002, the date of Bush's presidential order suspending Geneva rights, because ALL abuse and torture before that date has no cover that even the worst right-wing and pro-military wingnut could find a fig-leaf of bogus legal cover. And that's important because we don't want to win a formal argument about how international law covers Bush, Rumsfeld, et al.'s crimes, we want prosecutions, here, now, in this country. Frankly, I think there are more barriers to bringing charges abroad, for fear of confronting the United States, and we need to set an example for the world ourselves anyway, and try and undo the tremendous damage these individuals have done.

The report goes into succinct detail about the further descent into lawlessness by the administration, the military, and the CIA; how some fought back and tried to protest (military lawyers, CID investigators, etc.), but in the end the administration kept pushing their torture agenda, until the final paper reached Rumsfeld's desk:
With respect to GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request to use aggressive interrogation techniques, Mr. Haynes said that “there was a sense by the DoD Leadership that this decision was taking too long” and that Secretary Rumsfeld told his senior advisors “I need a recommendation.” On November 27, 2002, the Secretary got one. Notwithstanding the serious legal concerns raised by the military services, Mr. Haynes sent a one page memo to the Secretary, recommending that he approve all but three of the eighteen techniques in the GTMO request. Techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval....

(U) On December 2, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld signed Mr. Haynes’s recommendation, adding a handwritten note that referred to limits proposed in the memo on the use of stress positions: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
In the next days and weeks I suppose (and hope) a lot more will be written on this. I have aimed this essay at what I feel is a key revelation in the Senate committee's investigation and report, one that can and should lead to the filing of charges against Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and a number of others. Whether Bush can be prosecuted for his actions as president I leave to the legal minds to ponder.

Oddly, in the conclusions section of the report, the authors leave out the December 2001 solicitation to JPRA and return to a timeline wherein JPRA was approached in July 2002 for information on SERE techniques:
That solicitation, prompted by requests from Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes II, reflected the view that abusive tactics similar to those used by our enemies should be considered for use against detainees in U.S. custody.
I don't know why the Committee would bury in their conclusions an aspect of the timeline that was especially culpable for the administration. Perhaps they felt that with the classification of certain documents they didn't have enough facts to back up their contentions. In that case it is even more essential to call for a declassification of all documents on the torture timeline, and the incoming Obama administration should make this a first priority, if their claims to government transparency are going to carry any weight.

In any case, there's plenty more in the report to keep any war crimes tribunal busy, and also assist those in writing a true history of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I will close with this statement by the committee shooting down the myth that the torture at Abu Ghraib was the result of bad training or a few "rotten apples":
The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.
No kidding!

Onwards to a prosecution of the war criminals and return to civilized norms in the United States.

Also posted at Daily Kos and Invictus

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Monday, September 29, 2008

A Colonel Takes on the Torturers: More on SERE Torture Details

Posted by Valtin at 12:06 AM |

At the center of the bottom of the lowest circle of hell, one finds the souls abandoned to torture. They are placed so far from heaven and earth because they are totally forgotten. The witnessing of their torture is almost unnoticed, trivial, when matched against the "great" issues of the day.

And so it was that in a week of elections, economic meltdowns, and other shenanigans, a lonely U.S. Senator sat alone in the hearing room of his own committee and listened to an Air Force instructor and sometime historian, Col. Steven Kleinman, tell his fantastic tale of witnessing the migration of SERE-style torture to Iraq. Kleinman's testimony belies years of excuses from the government that claims Abu Ghraib's "excesses" were merely the work of a "few bad apples," or "behavioral drift" at worst.

Joby Warrick at the Washington Post told the story in his article, "Air Force Instructor Details Harsh Interrogations."
In dramatic testimony before a Senate panel yesterday... [Kleinman] gave a rare account of how the Pentagon adapted an Air Force training program to squeeze information from captured Iraqis.

What Kleinman witnessed in Baghdad in September 2003 prompted him to order a stop to three interrogations, and to warn his superiors that the military's interrogation practices were abusive and, in his opinion, illegal.

"I told the task force commander that the methods were unlawful and were in violation of the Geneva Conventions," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator Carl Levin's Committee has already established that techniques from the Defense Department's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program had been reverse-engineered by military psychologists into an "exploitation" or torture program of purported interrogation techniques. These techniques -- stress position, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, beatings, and more -- were gathered secondary to a Cold War propaganda program regarding "brainwashing" by the Soviets and Chinese, which programmatic elements were debunked by the government's own researchers. But never mind, the torture inoculation program continued for decades.

In 2003, Col. Kleinman, a long-time intelligence officer, was working with the Air Force Combat Interrogation Course and was DOD Senior Intelligence Officer for Special Survival Training. As of 2006, he was Reserve Senior Intelligence Officer and Mobilization Augmentee to the Director, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, HQ Air Force Special Operations Command. He is also an independent contractor for the MITRE Corporation, which works on "scientific" ways to "educe information" from prisoners.

The Colonel Says No to Torture

According to an AP report:
The special forces task force asked Kleinman's team to teach them the interrogation methods used in the SERE course. Kleinman refused. He was overruled by the task force's lawyers.

They then demanded that Kleinman's team demonstrate the techniques on an Iraqi prisoner. Kleinman again refused and again was overruled, according to testimony from retired Air Force Col. John Moulton II, Kleinman's commander at the time as the head of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency.

The interrogation went forward. Kleinman stopped it. He and his team subsequently were sent home by the task force, according to Moulton.
According to the Washington Post article, Kleinman "was shocked in 2003 to see the same harsh methods used haphazardly on Iraqis in a U.S. prison camp." The colonel said he witnessed detainees being slapped repeatedly, subjected to sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, and stripped naked.

Col. Kleinman's protests to his superiors went unheeded. They agreed the "techniques" violated Geneva, but by then the government already had in place cover-your-ass legal memos citing the abuse of detainees as "legal" because they were "unlawful enemy combatants."

I commend Col. Kleinman for coming forward to testify, and for his actions protesting the torture of prisoners. However, I wish someone had asked him whether, as military trainer for JPRA, he or Moulton had knowledge of DoD's approach to JPRA/SERE in December 2001 about ways to utilize SERE's "exploitation" techniques in the interrogation of prisoners in Afghanistan. (I also wish someone had asked if contracting interrogators, such as those from CACI or Titan, had any contact with the SERE instructors.)

The timeline is of some importance, because it would prove criminal malfeasance by the administration in abusing prisoners prior to any determination (not made by them until February 2002) that such prisoners were "unlawful enemy combatants," and therefore a clear violation of international and domestic war crimes laws.

Kleinman's Revisionist History

While praising Col. Kleinman's stance in Iraq, I take exception to his description of the origins of SERE techniques. From the WP article:
Kleinman said the Air Force's training program was distorted into an offensive program. He noted that the harsh techniques were adapted from torture methods used by Chinese communists, and were never regarded as useful in eliciting intelligence. Instead, they break a prisoner psychologically and make him eager to say anything to stop the pain.
I have painstakingly documented elsewhere statements by U.S. researchers at the time (1950s) that Soviet and Chinese interrogation techniques were nothing unusual, and SERE techniques didn't necessarily derive from them. U.S. researcher Albert Biderman explained, in a 1957 essay entitled "Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War." Regarding the origin of communist interrogation methods, Biderman and his colleagues, working for the Air Force, concluded (emphases added):
It is that the finding of our studies which should be greeted as most new and spectacular is the finding that essentially there was nothing new or spectacular about the events we studied. We found, as did other studies such as those of Hinkle and Wolff, that human behavior could be manipulated within a certain range by controlled environments. We found that the Chinese Communists used methods of coercing behavior from our men in their hands which Communists of other countries had employed for decades and which police and inquisitors had employed for centuries....

It should be understood that only a few of the Air Force personnel who encountered efforts to elicit false confessions in Korea were subjected to really full dress, all-out attempts to make them behave in the manner I have sketched. The time between capture and repatriation for many was too short, and, presumably, the trained interrogators available to the Communists too few, to permit this.
While the origin of inhumane treatment may be a marginal issue for most, it is important to understand because discussion and utilization of modern torture techniques by the United States has, since its inception, been linked to disinformation by the government. In the case of the 1950s, the "brainwashing" scare, regarding POWs in the Korean War, was linked to a massive cover-up of the use of biological weapons by the United States in that conflict. See my article covering this aspect of the story, posted last July.

Kleinman's historical bias surfaced, as well, in an essay published in an essay on the CIA's KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual he wrote in 2006 for the Intelligence Science Board's report, "Educing Information." In it, he makes, for a historian, a remarkable statement:
The KUBARK manual offers unique and exceptional insights into the complex challenges of educing information from a resistant source through noncoercive means. While it addresses the use of coercive methods, it also describes how those methods may prove ultimately counterproductive. Although criticized for its discussion of coercion, the KUBARK manual does not portray coercive methods as a necessary — or even viable — means of effectively educing information. [p. 133]
Not necessary? The CIA manual expends twenty percent of its exposition upon coercive interrogation techniques. Not viable? Here's what the manual has to say about the "counterproductive" methods of torture:
Psychologists and others who write about physical or psychological duress frequently object that under sufficient pressure subjects usually yield but that their ability to recall and communicate information accurately is as impaired as the will to resist. This pragmatic objection has somewhat the same validity for a counterintelligence interrogation as for any other. But there is one significant difference. Confession is a necessary prelude to the CI interrogation of a hitherto unresponsive or concealing source.
Col. Kleinman stubbornly maintains that torture doesn't work, that torture, as he put it in an interesting interview, is poor at gaining operational information, and "largely counterproductive in that... [it] stiffen[s] the resolve of detainees under questioning and undermine[s] the stature of the U.S. on the world stage." Of course, Kleinman is correct, in so far as it goes.

But he seems to misunderstand the purpose of torture on a larger, political, military-operational scale. He misunderstands the use of torture to cow the populace, an important component of counterinsurgency work. He minimizes the opinion of many of his colleagues over the decades who in fact approved of coercive methodology. He would do well to study the techniques of Edward Lansdale, applied in the Philippines and Vietnam over a 20 year period, as described in John Prados's recent book, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Like Kleinman, Lansdale was an Air Force officer. (He was also a CIA officer.)

I am in agreement with Col. Kleinman (it goes without saying) that torture is morally wrong, illegal, and should never be used. But I wonder how this military intelligence officer could work so long for special forces, intelligence agencies, and the military, and not understand the coercive nature of U.S. foreign and military policy in general. Perhaps Col. Kleinman could take on, as another project, a study of the use of torture by the U.S. in Vietnam, either directly, or in supervision of their Vietnamese allies. (He could title the paper, "Barriers to Success: Critical Challenges in Understanding the Current and Long-Standing Educing Information Paradigm.")

How SERE Took Over

For me, the picture is getting quite clear. When Bush initiated his "war on terror" in 2001, it consisted in sending in special operations forces into Afghanistan. This small scale kind of intervention on the ground was congruent with Rumsfeld's go-small kind of military. But special operations combat teams, while peppered with CIA personnel, like the ill-fated Johnny Spann, did not have the expertise in interrogating large groups of prisoners. There was a CIA program of psychological torture, exemplified by sensory deprivation, isolation, and the physical weakening or debility of the body (possibly through drugs), all meant to induce fear, psychological dependency and a weakened will in a prisoner. The program had been constructed by psychologists and psychiatrists as one outcome of the CIA's notorious MK-ULTRA program. It was codified in the CIA's KUBARK manual.

But the Special Ops teams in Afghanistan either didn't know KUBARK, or didn't have time to construct the proper environment for that kind of treatment. So they turned to the SERE program, who, as recent documents have made clear, aggressively courted the military for the assignment of reverse-engineering SERE and teaching it as coercive interrogation (i.e., torture). The Department of Defense and the White House, in a panic after 9/11, and staffed by incompetents and careerists with little sense of history or legal process, pushed the SERE-related torture, and then had their attorneys write memos to cover themselves legally after the fact.

The SERE-style techniques took off, though there was protest from interrogation professionals, like Kleinman, who well understood the counterproductive nature of that kind of treatment. Only later, as the CIA began to establish control over the "war on terror," and built a network of secret black prisons, did the SERE techniques recede somewhat into the background. A parallel process occurred at Guantanamo. The CIA utilized the worst of the SERE techniques, such as waterboarding, and propagated wide-scale knowledge of their use, mainly to instill fear of such treatment in prisoners, knowing full-well that induction of fear is a far more "effective" technique than physical brutality itself. At Guantanamo, a KUBARK-style prison routine was implemented, based upon isolation, psychological derangement, and the inculcation of dependency.

The Historical Meaning of Torture

Facts don't fall out of the sky. They are gathered based upon hypotheses, and if you are a historian or a social critic, with some narrative in mind. In a stepwise process of induction and deduction, one tries to determine what has actually occurred. The use of torture by the United States can only be understood as part of a decades long official program, involving well-funded covert study by the military and the academic establishment -- primarily physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists -- in addition to the implementation of this program in a number of operational theaters, including Vietnam, Central and South America, Afghanistan, and the Middle East (among others).

The use of torture is closely tied to U.S. foreign policy goals. It is good to see the U.S. Senate try to take on the Pentagon and executive branch generally over this uncivil, criminal activity. Military critics, like Kleinman, or psychologist Michael Gelles, are to be commended for standing up against tremendous internal pressures within the organizations to which they belong. I also salute the courageous military attorneys working for little recompense and against tremendous odds to defend the charges made against the pariah-prisoners at Guantanamo, held without recourse to basic human rights.

I would hope all critics would agree that something as basic as stopping or banning torture involves both operational and political changes of a profound nature. One cannot happen without the other. And neither will happen, as the path of these investigations and hearings makes clear, without significant political, and perhaps, social struggle.

Also posted at Never In Our Names and Invictus

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

SASC Hits Paydirt: Full Story on SERE Torture Timeline Emerges

Posted by Valtin at 3:53 PM |

I have not had enough time to digest the wealth of new documents recently declassified by the Senate Armed Services Committee, in conjunction with their hearings today constituting Part II of an investigation into the organization of torture and abuse of detainees in Bush's "war on terror." Today's hearing concentrated on the migration of these techniques to Iraq.

The number of revelations is already startling, and it's hard to know where to begin. Since I took Senator Carl Levin to task for his rendition of the torture timeline as presented after Part I of the hearings, I think it's fair to give Sen. Levin the chance to describe the fuller story as it is now emerging. This is from his opening statement today. Noting, first, that the first set of hearings established that techniques from the Defense Department's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program had been reverse-engineered by military psychologists into an "exploitation" or torture program of purported interrogation techniques, Levin continued:
While some have claimed that detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were simply the result of a few bad apples acting on their own, at our June hearing we heard that as far back as December 2001, senior Department of Defense officials, including from General Counsel William J. “Jim” Haynes’s office, sought out information from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD agency responsible for overseeing SERE training. We heard how, when he later reviewed a request from Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) to use techniques similar to those used in SERE training, Mr. Haynes ignored strong concerns from the military services that some of the techniques were illegal, cut short an effort by the Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct a legal and policy review of the techniques, and recommended that the Secretary of Defense approve most of them for use against detainees. In December 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld approved Mr. Haynes’s recommendation, sending the message that stripping detainees, placing them in stress positions, and using dogs to intimidate them was acceptable. Policies authorizing some of those same abusive techniques in Afghanistan and Iraq followed the Secretary’s decision. We’ll hear this morning how one military commander in Iraq sought and obtained interrogation support from JPRA, an agency whose expertise, again, is in teaching soldiers to resist abusive interrogations conducted by our enemies.
"Strong concerns" from some in the military about the illegality of the techniques; the spiking of an internal legal and policy review; the migration of SERE techniques to Iraq, demolishing the official narrative that the torture at Abu Ghraib was the work of a few bad apples; these are only some of the juicy items awaiting reporters and other intrepid investigators who pursue the documents coming out of today's hearing.

"We stand ready to assist..."

Of course, I was pleased to see that my insistence on taking the Bush Administration's torture timeline back to December 2001, following upon Lt. Col. (Ret.) Baumgartner's revelations at the last SASC hearing, is gratifying. I will not, however, dwell upon this too long. Whatever reason the committee was not able to emphasize this earlier is far secondary to the truth as it is now emerging.

But the one document produced from the December 2001 contact -- a fax cover sheet from the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), sent from "Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner" to "Mr. Richard Shiffrin," who worked for Haynes's in Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office -- introduces a theme of aggressive courting by JPRA/SERE personnel to take on the interrogations/exploitation task:
Mr. Shiffrin --
Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.
This theme of JPRA pushing SERE expertise surfaces in Iraq a little less than two years later. A September 9, 2003 email from Col. Randy Moulton, Commander of JPRA to Col. Mike Okita and a redacted addressee (could this be Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who, coming from his command in Guantanamo, on September 9 was just concluding his evaluation of interrogation procedures in Iraq) again makes the same point about JPRA "expertise". (For a sample of this expertise, check out my earlier essay, "Nuts & Bolts: How U.S. Organized Torture Program.")
There is a strong synergy between the fundamentals of both missions (resistance training and interrogation). Both rely heavily on environmental conditions, captivity psychology, and situation dominance and control. While I think this probably lies within DHS responsibility lines, recent history (to include discussions with DHS, USSOCOM, CIA) shows that no DoD entity has a firm grasp on any comprehensive approach to strategic debriefing/interrogation. Our subject matter experts (and certain Service SERE psychologist) have the most knowledge and depth within DoD on the captivity environment and exploitation.
I would remind my readers here that SERE exploitation famously includes the use of physical assault, stress positions, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, sensory overload, and other forms of physical and psychological torture.

The treasure chest of interviews and documents that came out of the today's hearings will keep me and other investigators plenty busy in days to come. I'm certain I, for instance, will have more to say about this "certain Service SERE psychologist" in the near future. (Is he Bruce Jessen, implicated in earlier investigations as propagating SERE techniques to interrogators, and as a then-member of JPRA, a recipient of an April 2002 email from Moulton?)

Stay tuned.

How the Mainstream Press Covered Today's Hearings

Meanwhile, the New York Times and the Washington Post both already have their own stories out on today's hearings.

From the NY Times piece, written by Mark Mazzetti:
WASHINGTON — Senior White House officials played a central role in deliberations in the spring of 2002 about whether the Central Intelligence Agency could legally use harsh interrogation techniques while questioning an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, according to newly released documents....
The meetings were led by Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top administration officials....
Mr. Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the new documents showed that top Bush administration officials were more actively engaged in the debate about the limits of lawful interrogation than the White House had previously acknowledged.

“So far, there has been little accountability at higher levels,” Mr. Levin said.
The Washington Post story, written by Joby Warrick, amplifies this aspect of the story:
The details of the controversial program were discussed in multiple meetings inside the White House over a two-year period, triggering concerns among several officials who worried that the agency's methods might be illegal or violate anti-torture treaties, according to separate statements signed by Rice and her top legal adviser.

"I expressed concern that the proposed CIA interrogation techniques comply with applicable U.S. law, including our international obligations," John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to Rice at the State Department and formerly her top legal aide at the National Security Council, said in written answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee....

The written accounts specifically name former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as participants in the discussions...
The noose is tightening around the criminals who brazenly thought they could get away with torturing individuals with impunity. I am heartened by today's hearings that moral elements within both civil and military departments of government, and in society generally, will not let this terrible blot on our country go unanswered. To do so would be to fall into the abyss. We've looked into that deep, dizzying vortex lately, and I don't think any of us likes what we see.

Also posted at Invictus

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