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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Torture: The Real Reason for the Psychological Evaluation of Abu Zubaydah

Posted by Valtin at 9:53 PM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake


As someone who has conducted evaluations of torture victims, the “evaluation” of Abu Zubaydah is a fascinating, if sickening, look at how the CIA goes about their kind of business. In the course of this two-part article, we'll learn more about why the report was written, when it was written, and the unprofessional ways the report was produced. One includes in such unprofessionalism the fact its drafting represents an unethical and illegal violation for a psychologist of the highest order. We'll end with a look at the turf war that shaped the evolution of the torture program, of which this report represented just one episode.


Spencer Ackerman has looked at the possibility that former SERE psychologist James Mitchell wrote the report, and the conflict of interest that arises from having the interrogator/torturer write the report upon which the approach to the subject will be based. While it's a reasonable guess that Mitchell wrote the evaluation, I'm going to proceed as if I don't know who wrote it.


Marcy Wheeler wrote a piece examining questions regarding the date of the evaluation (the copy we have was sent to John Yoo on July 24, 2002), the failure to mention Abu Zubaydah's head injury, and the report's claims that he allegedly wrote the Al Qaeda interrogation resistance manual. Hopefully, this article will contribute some plausible answers.


Why Was the Evaluation Written?


Every psychological evaluation has a presenting problem or reason for referral, e.g., does this child have a learning disability? is this patient psychotic? etc.


Regarding Abu Zubaydah, one would presume the presenting question most likely was, what psychological strengths or weaknesses does this person have that we can exploit in our interrogation cum torture plan? Unfortunately, numerous parts of the released assessment have been redacted, including its closing paragraphs, which is where one would find the concluding recommendations. In any case, we'll see that the report appears to lack a presenting question, and that the recommendation is a foregone conclusion.


From internal and convergent evidence, it appears the recommendations included higher levels of coercive interrogation, including waterboarding. The date on the cover sheet of the report, addressed to John Yoo, July 24, 2002, is the same date that the Office of Legal Council gave oral approval for use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT), including waterboarding (H/T Marcy Wheeler). The OLC memo of August 1 states that CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo had said that Zubaydah had become "accustomed to a certain level of treatment," and CIA wanted to enter an "increased pressure phase." (We'll see that CIA had been pushing this line since at least mid-May.)


In any case, it was around late July or early August that the waterboarding of Zubaydah began in earnest, partial drowning, or waterboarding Abu Zubaydah 83 times. Towards the end of the psychological evaluation, less its last redacted paragraphs, the author -- and it was an Agency or Agency contract psychologist, since only psychologists write these reports (and it was likely either James Mitchell or Bruce Jessen, who arrived in Thailand in July) -- notes the following, allowing that Zubaydah is "well-versed" in Al Qaeda resistance techniques (emphasis added):

[redacted] subject believes in [sic] the ultimate destiny of Islam is to dominate the world. He believes that global victory is inevitable. Thus, there is the chance he could rationalize that providing information will harm current efforts but will represent only a temporary setback.

The remaining page or so of the report is redacted, but likely represents the work's loaded conclusion, i.e., that Zubaydah may yet give up more information or cooperation if the amount of coercion is increased. The likely recommendation: waterboarding. And in fact, the legal memo authorizing the latter followed within a week after the evaluation landed on Yoo's desk; the oral approval for it came on the same day.


It is clear the evaluation was written specifically to get permission for waterboarding, and not to undertake a serious psychological evaluation of the prisoner. The report lacks details related to relevant past history that any psychologist would find important in a psychological evaluation, e.g., the quality of his family relationships, the existence of prior traumas, his actual work and school history, etc. Hell, the report never even mentions the "subject's" age. [Correction: it does; it reports he's 31 years old. - JK]


The man presented in the report, in a most amateurish fashion, cannot be in fact a real person. They present him as a superman-terrorist (he wrote the Al Qaeda resistance manual, ran the Al Qaeda training camps, was their "coordinator" of foreign communications, was their chief of counterintelligence, “no one came in and out of Peshawar, Afghanistan without his knowledge and approval,” but still had time to be involved in every major Al Qaeda operation, and still had time to direct the start-up of an Al Qaeda cell in Jordan!). Additionally, he was supposed to have developed the Al Qaeda interrogation resistance techniques (a claim later contradicted in the report -- see below), and taught them to many others. A real busy guy.


The discussion of his personality at times sounds like it was cribbed from a printout of a computerized personality assessment. There are also a number of contradictions in the portrayal, e.g., Zubaydah “wrestles” with idea of killing civilians, but “celebrated” 9/11; he has the discipline, drive, creativity and pragmatism of a good leader, but is private and vigilant of others’ intentions, and doesn’t trust people, and oh, yes, wants to be one of the guys. Supposedly he felt anything outside of jihad was "silly." But at the same time he chafed against the constrictions of "radical salafist environments" and was very independent minded.

Only for a moment does what is probably the real Abu Zubaydah emerge from the report: a man who wanted to go to college, become a computer expert or engineer, who felt homesick, who wanted a traditional career and family life.



Also posted at Invictus

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence

Posted by Andy Worthington at 5:06 PM |

As published on the website of Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.

On Tuesday, Binyam Mohamed, a 29-year old British resident in Guantánamo, sued the British government for refusing to produce evidence which, his lawyers contend, would demonstrate that he was tortured for 27 months by or on behalf of US forces in Morocco and Afghanistan, that any “evidence” against him was only obtained through torture, and that the British government and intelligence services knew about his torture and provided personal information about him -- unrelated to terrorism -- that was used by the Americans’ proxy torturers in Morocco.

They insist, moreover, that his case is an urgent priority, because he is about to be charged before a Military Commission in Guantánamo -- the much-criticized system of trials for “terror suspects” that was conceived by the US administration in November 2001 -- and they desperately need the exculpatory evidence in the possession of the British government to assist in his defence, and to prove his innocence.

Binyam’s torture

A refugee from Ethiopia, who arrived in the UK in 1994 and was later granted indefinite leave to remain, Binyam Mohamed was working as a cleaner in an Islamic Centre in west London in 2001, and attempting to recover from a drug problem, when he decided to travel to Afghanistan to see what the Taliban regime was like, and, he hoped, to steer clear of drugs because of the Taliban’s reputation as fierce opponents of drug use.

He came to the attention of both the American and British intelligence services in April 2002, when he was seized by the Pakistani authorities as he tried to board a flight to London. Although he had a valid airline ticket, his passport had been stolen, and, rather foolishly, he had borrowed a British friend’s passport instead.

In the heightened tension in Pakistan at the time -- just days after Abu Zubaydah, an alleged senior al-Qaeda operative, was captured in Faisalabad -- Binyam was immediately regarded with enormous suspicion by the American agents who visited him in the Pakistan prison in which he was held.

Although he later reported to his lawyer -- Clive Stafford Smith of the legal action charity Reprieve, which represents 35 prisoners in Guantánamo -- that the British checked out his story, and confirmed that he was a “nobody,” the Americans were not convinced, and decided to send him to Morocco, where he could be interrogated by professional torturers who were not bothered about international treaties preventing the use of torture, and who were equally unconcerned about whether evidence of their activities would ever surface.

Speaking of his time in Morocco, where he was held for 18 months, Binyam told Stafford Smith that he was subjected to horrendous torture, which, included, but was not limited to having his penis cut with a razor on a regular basis. In spite of this, the regular beatings and other torture that he did not even want to talk about, Binyam said that his lowest moment of all came when his torturers produced evidence of his life in London, which could only have come from the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been abandoned and betrayed by his adopted homeland.

After Morocco, Binyam was transferred to Afghanistan, where he endured further torture in the “Dark Prison,” a secret “black site” near Kabul, run by the CIA, which was a grim recreation of a medieval dungeon, but with the addition of non-stop music and noise, blasted into the pitch-dark cells at an ear-piercing volume.

Moved from here to the main US prison at Bagram airbase, where at least two prisoners were murdered by US forces, Binyam was finally put on a plane to Guantánamo in September 2004, two and a half years after his ordeal began.

In Guantánamo, he was put forward for a Military Commission in November 2005, and made one memorable appearance before the military court, when he held up a hand-written placard declaring that the Commissions were in fact “Con-Missions,” but in June 2006 the judge in his case was spared further embarrassment when the entire system was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Revived later that year by a barely sentient Congress, the trials have since struggled to establish their legitimacy, and have yet to proceed beyond arraignment and pre-trial proceedings, with the exception of the case of the Australian David Hicks, who accepted a plea bargain last March in order to return home to serve a desultory nine-month sentence.

In recent months, however, the administration, which boldly states that it intends to try between 60 and 80 of the remaining 273 prisoners, has stepped up the rate at which new prisoners are being charged. In an attempt to save Binyam from a second dose of the Commissions, his lawyers at Reprieve, together with solicitors from Leigh Day & Co., decided that the most constructive and innovative way to secure Binyam’s release was to put pressure on the British government.

The letter to the UK government

Armed with evidence from flight logs, which confirmed that CIA planes had flown from Pakistan to Morocco in July 2002, and from Morocco to Afghanistan in January 2004, as Binyam said they had, and with numerous accounts of British complicity in his interrogations, and knowledge of his rendition to torture, the lawyers submitted a list of requests to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, at the end of March.

The extensive list of items requested included any evidence relating to UK knowledge of Binyam’s forthcoming rendition while he was held in Pakistan from April to July 2002, including “the identity of the US agents involved, so that they can be traced and interviewed or subpoenaed,” and any evidence relating to Binyam’s claim that representatives of the British intelligence services told him in Pakistan that they knew that he was a “nobody,” which, the lawyers stated, led them to “assume that the UK intelligence services and police have carried out investigations in to Mr. Mohamed’s activities whilst in the UK.” “We believe,” they added, “that such evidence will show that he does not represent a terrorist threat,” and that as such “it forms a necessary part of his defence.”

The lawyers also asked “to interview and take statements from the UK agents who (it is conceded) spoke to Mr. Mohamed whilst he was detained in Pakistan,” and who, Binyam stated, “informed him that he was going to be rendered to an Arab country for torture.” In December 2005, Jack Straw, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time, did indeed admit, in testimony to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, that UK Security Service officers visited Binyam while he was in Pakistani custody, and Binyam’s recollections of that encounter were noted by Clive Stafford Smith during a meeting at Guantánamo:
“They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. I initially only took one. ‘No, you need a lot more. Where you’re going, you need a lot of sugar.’ I didn’t know exactly what he meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor country in Arabia. One of them did tell me I was going to get tortured by the Arabs.”
As Binyam’s lawyers pointed out, “Such evidence will be central to the defence of Mr. Mohamed because any evidence obtained as a result of torture is inadmissible.”

The lawyers also requested “information about Mr. Mohamed’s life in the United Kingdom that could only have come from UK intelligence agencies or other government sources,” which, as Binyam pointed out, caused him particular distress in Morocco, when it was used by his torturers. According to Stafford Smith, this information included “personal details about his life in the UK, such as details of his education, the name of his kick-boxing trainer and his friendships in London, which he had never mentioned during interrogations, and that could only have originated from collusion in the process by the UK security or secret intelligence services.”

In addition, the lawyers requested any evidence about rendition flights that stopped on the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean (which is leased to the United States). After five years of denials, the British government finally admitted in February that two flights had indeed stopped at Diego Garcia, and Binyam’s lawyers requested information about these flights, pointing out that one of the flights had “subsequently stopped in Morocco at the time that Mr. Mohamed was there,” and that it was, therefore, “almost certainly (a) taking another prisoner to Morocco for torture; or (b) taking US personnel there who were involved in Mr. Mohamed’s interrogation process.”

The lawyers also requested any evidence relating to Binyam’s time in the “Dark Prison” in Kabul, where, they noted, “it seems highly probable that the UK government has details of the conditions that prevailed there,” because various British residents -- including Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who returned to the UK from Guantánamo last year -- were also held there, and any evidence relating to Binyam’s time in Bagram, where other British prisoners were also held.

The lawyers’ final request was for access to Binyam’s medical records from Guantánamo. They noted that these were “relevant to the question of torture, and Mr. Mohamed’s current physical and mental condition,” and added that, although the Guantánamo authorities have given the UK government access to Binyam’s records, they have refused to provide them to Stafford Smith. “The UK should provide a copy now,” they wrote, “or provide whatever information or documents they have recording the contents of the medical records.”

The lawsuit

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday by Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co. was triggered when lawyers for the government responded to the letter described above by refusing to hand over any of the evidence requested by Binyam’s lawyers, claiming that “the UK is under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted,” and adding, “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by Binyam’s lawyers.

The government lawyers proceeded to claim that Binyam’s lawyers did not “provide any evidence” to support their assertion that “such alleged information or assistance ‘was subsequently used in the torture of [Mr. Mohamed],’” to which Reprieve and Leigh Day responded by pointing out that Binyam’s allegation that UK sources provided information to his torturers in Morocco was “found credible” by the Intelligence and Security Committee (IRC), a committee established in the UK Intelligence Services Act 1994, and empowered to examine the expenditure, administration and policies of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. Binyam’s lawyers pointed out that the government had ignored the conclusion of the IRC’s Rendition Report in 2007, when the committee had explicitly stated, “There is a reasonable probability that intelligence passed to the Americans was used in [Binyam Mohamed]’s subsequent [Moroccan] interrogation.”

They also cited the particular passage from Binyam’s statement to Clive Stafford Smith, in which he spoke about the interrogation in Morocco that contained information that could only have come from the British intelligence services:
“Today I was questioned about my links with Britain. The interrogator told me, ‘We have been working with the British, and we have photos of people given to us by MI5. Do you know these?’ I realized that the British were sending questions to the Moroccans. I was at first surprised that the Brits were siding with the Americans. I sought asylum in Britain rather than America because it’s known as the one country that has laws that it follows. To say that I was disappointed at this moment would be an understatement.”
It remains to be seen, of course, if this novel approach taken by Binyam’s lawyers will bear fruit, but it seems plausible, as it is hardly in the interests of the British government to run the risk of further embarrassing disclosures. The lawsuit may, therefore, put pressure on the politicians to step up their efforts to secure Binyam’s return to Britain -- to face charges in the UK, if any can be found that will stick to the “nobody” from west London -- rather than to allow him to be tried in a much-criticized system in Guantánamo that threatens to embarrass both the British and the American governments.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah

Posted by Andy Worthington at 3:42 PM |

Abu Zubaydah, an alleged senior al-Qaeda operative, has been held without charge or trial as a “high-value detainee” for over six years, first in secret CIA custody, and then in Guantánamo, while battles have raged within the administration over his supposed significance. Drawing, in particular, on the story of former Guantánamo prisoner Khalid al-Hubayshi, Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, makes the case that Zubaydah’s importance has been wildly exaggerated.

A recent article in the Washington Post, Out of Guantánamo and Bitter Toward Bin Laden, which was based on an interview with former Guantánamo prisoner Khalid al-Hubayshi (released in 2006), was noteworthy as much for what it did not reveal as for what it did.

In the article, Faiza Saleh Ambah began by explaining how “A calling to defend fellow Muslims and a bit of aimlessness took Khalid al-Hubayshi to a separatists' training camp in the southern Philippines and to the mountains of Afghanistan, where he interviewed for a job with Osama bin Laden.”

Part of this story was previously known from al-Hubayshi’s long years in Guantánamo, as Detainee 155, when he admitted to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) in 2004 that he had trained in the Philippines and had also trained at the Khaldan camp in Afghanistan in 1997. He also said that he moved to Afghanistan in 2001, joining a “private small camp” outside Jalalabad, which was subsequently closed down by the Taliban. Throughout, he presented himself -- with some eloquence -- as a freedom fighter who focused on particular struggles that various Muslims around the world had with non-Muslim oppressors (the model that was largely superseded by bin Laden's declaration of global jihad in 1998).

It was for this reason, he said, that he trained at Khaldan, which was not associated with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda at the time, and it was also for this reason that he returned to Afghanistan in 2001, and joined the camp near Jalalabad. He insisted, “I wasn't a member of al-Qaeda or on the front lines with the Taliban because I don't believe in what they are doing. I believe what the Taliban did in Afghanistan was ethnic war [and] al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization.”

He also explained, “I think Osama bin Laden is wrong. He just wants to be famous. He doesn't care how he does it, killing people, killing Muslims, or destroying countries. I think he got what he wanted -- to be famous. I don't need to meet him. I don't understand the politics. People look at the vision of Osama bin Laden and believe America is their enemy. They don't understand what is going on or what happened in Afghanistan in 1980 [when the Soviet invasion began].”

This opinion of bin Laden, it transpired from al-Hubayshi’s interview with Faiza Saleh Ambah, was true, but rather lacking in context. In the interview he admitted that, although he had certainly become disillusioned with the inter-ethnic fighting in Afghanistan -- “I was not there … to help Afghans fighting Afghans for political gain,” he said, adding, “If I was going to die, I wanted to die fighting for something meaningful” -- his return to Afghanistan in May 2001, and what he subsequently did there, was both more complicated and more compromised than he had admitted at his tribunal.

He explained that, while attempting to return home in 1999, he had been arrested and imprisoned by the Pakistanis, who confiscated his passport, and that he had then returned to his job at a utilities company in Saudi Arabia on a false passport. His return to Afghanistan in 2001 came about when he discovered that he was wanted for questioning by the Saudi authorities, and it was at the camp near Jalalabad, where he became “adept at making remote-controlled explosive devices triggered by cellphones and light switches,” that he attracted the attention of al-Qaeda.

Introduced to Osama bin Laden, he said that he refused to join al-Qaeda because bin Laden’s fight “had changed from defending Muslims to attacking the United States. I wasn't convinced of his ideology. And I wanted to be independent, not just another minion in this big group.” After returning to his independent life, he was drawn once more into bin Laden’s orbit after 9/11, when, after fleeing Afghan persecution, he and others were invited to the Tora Bora mountains, for what, it seems, was touted as a glorious showdown with the Americans.

“Bin Laden was convinced the Americans would come down and fight,” al-Hubayshi said. “We spent five weeks like that, manning our positions in case the Americans landed.” He added, however, that as the airstrikes moved closer, and as the Americans’ Afghan allies advanced on their positions, bin Laden abandoned the fight and fled. “There was no dignity in what he made us do,” he told Faiza Saleh Ambah, adding that he was “sorry that Muslims carried out the Sept. 11 attacks because they targeted civilians.” “That was wrong,” he explained. “Jihad is fighting soldier to soldier.”

While this entire report fills in some rather large gaps in al-Hubayshi’s testimony in Guantánamo -- and also provides some apposite insight into his opinion of bin Laden -- what was missing from Faiza Saleh Ambah’s interview was any mention whatsoever of another allegedly pivotal figure in al-Qaeda: Abu Zubaydah, the Palestinian-born facilitator of the Khaldan camp, and one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006.

In the interview, the only mention of Khaldan was that al-Hubayshi “learned to fire anti-aircraft missiles, anti-aircraft machine guns, anti-tank weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and became an expert in explosives,” whereas his comments in Guantánamo about his relationship with Abu Zubaydah struck me as enormously significant while I was researching The Guantánamo Files, and remain so to this day, as they cast important light on a fierce debate within the US administration, which has raged since shortly after Zubaydah was captured in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad in March 2002.

Contrary to claims made by the administration and the CIA -- which, as described in Time magazine shortly after his capture, indicated that he was “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations and top recruiter,” who would be able to “provide the names of terrorists around the world and which targets they planned to hit” -- the story that emerged in Ron Suskind’s 2006 book, The One Percent Doctrine, was that Zubaydah was nothing like the pivotal figure that the CIA had supposed him to be, and had actually turned out to be mentally ill.

Investigating his diary, analysts found entries in the voices of three people -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego -- which recorded in numbing detail, over the course of ten years, “what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said.” Dan Coleman, the FBI's senior expert on al-Qaeda, explained to one of his superiors, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.” According to Suskind, the officials also confirmed that Zubaydah appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations, and was, instead, a minor logistician.

And yet, as Suskind also reports, so misplaced was the CIA’s belief in Zubaydah’s importance that when they subjected him to waterboarding and other forms of torture, and he “confessed” to all manner of supposed plots -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty -- “thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each target ... The United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”

Last December, when there was a brief uproar over the destruction by the CIA of videotapes showing the “enhanced interrogations” of Zubaydah and another “high-value detainee”, Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, Dan Coleman spoke out once more about Zubaydah, telling the Washington Post that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA cast doubt on the credibility of Zubaydah’s confessions. “I don't have confidence in anything he says,” Coleman explained, “because once you go down that road, everything you say is tainted. He was talking before they did that to him, but they didn't believe him. The problem is they didn't realize he didn't know all that much.”

Coleman also revisited the rift that developed between the FBI and the CIA when CIA operatives began holding him naked in his cell, “subjecting him to extreme cold and bombarding him with loud rock music,” explaining that FBI operatives who witnessed this said, “You've got to be kidding me. This guy's a Muslim. That's not going to win his confidence. Are you trying to get information out of him or just belittle him?”

Reiterating his skepticism about Zubaydah’s supposed importance, Coleman said that he “was a ‘safehouse keeper’ with mental problems who claimed to know more about al-Qaeda and its inner workings than he really did,” that his diaries were “full of flowery and philosophical meanderings, and made little mention of terrorism or al-Qaeda,” and that he and others at the FBI had concluded, by looking at other evidence, including a serious head injury that Zubaydah had suffered years earlier, that he had severe mental problems. “They all knew he was crazy, and they knew he was always on the damn phone,” Coleman explained, referring to other al-Qaeda operatives, adding, “You think they're going to tell him anything?”

Largely unnoticed, although featured in my book, are two more analyses of Zubaydah’s role that reinforce the opinions expressed by Dan Coleman and Ron Suskind: those of Khalid al-Hubayshi, and of Zubaydah himself, during his CSRT in Guantánamo last spring.

Al-Hubayshi explained that, far from being a mastermind, Abu Zubaydah was responsible for “receiving people and financing the camp,” that he once bought him travel tickets, and that he was the man he went to when he needed a replacement passport. He also suggested that Zubaydah did not have a long-standing relationship with bin Laden. When asked, “When you were with Abu Zubaydah, did you ever see Osama bin Laden?” he replied, “In 1998, Abu Zubaydah and Osama bin Laden didn't like each other,” adding, “In 2001, I think the relationship was okay,” and explaining that bin Laden put pressure on Zubaydah to close Khaldan, essentially because he wanted to run more camps himself.

The echoes with Zubaydah’s own account are uncanny. In his CSRT, Zubaydah said that he was tortured by the CIA to admit that he worked with Osama bin Laden, but insisted, “I'm not his partner and I'm not a member of al-Qaeda.” He also said that his interrogators promised to return his diary to him -- the one that contained the evidence of his split personality -- and explained that their refusal to do so affected him emotionally and triggered seizures.

Speaking of his status as a “high-value detainee,” he said that his only role was to operate a guest house used by those who were training at Khaldan, and confirmed al-Hubayshi's analysis of his relationship with bin Laden, saying, “Bin Laden wanted al-Qaeda to have control of Khaldan, but we refused since we had different ideas.” He explained that he opposed attacks on civilian targets, which brought him into conflict with bin Laden, and although he admitted that he had been an enemy of the US since childhood, because of its support for Israel, pointed out that his enmity was towards the government and the military, and not the American people.

I await the development of Abu Zubaydah’s story with interest. Just a month ago, his lawyers, Brent Mickum and Joe Margulies, followed Coleman and Suskind’s lead by filing an unlawful detention suit arguing that their client is insane, and I’m fascinated to know what they -- and others who are wondering why, if Zubaydah was so important, he was not charged in February in connection with the 9/11 attacks along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five others -- will make of the testimony of Khalid al-Hubayshi, who, as Faiza Saleh Ambah reported, is now a world away from his previous life as a would-be soldier and US prisoner, happily married and working at the utilities company from which he twice escaped to pursue his dreams of jihad.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Torture Planners: "Why are we talking about this in the White House?"

Posted by Valtin at 3:13 PM |

In a very interesting follow-up to the unfolding story on the 2003 John Yoo memorandum that justified the use of torture, ABC news is reporting how the CIA came to the White House after the spring 2002 capture of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan and asked for permission to use more "aggressive" interrogation techniques. Citing anonymous sources, ABC says that beginning with the Zubaydah case, "the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency." These discussions evidently included the use of waterboarding, as the CIA has admitted using this torture technique on Zubaydah.

The "Principals" -- high-level Bush administration officials -- present included National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice, who chaired the meetings, "Vice President Cheney... Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft."

While Ashcroft is said to have signed off on the legality of the interrogations, he got squeamish about how it was being approved. Perhaps he was afraid of future legal and political consequences. Perhaps he remembered how the secrets of the Wannsee Conference were ultimately leaked. Per the ABC story (also reported over at Reuters):

Lawyers in the Justice Department had written a classified memo, which was extensively reviewed, that gave formal legal authority to government interrogators to use the "enhanced" questioning tactics on suspected terrorist prisoners. The August 2002 memo, signed by then head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, was referred to as the so-called "Golden Shield" for CIA agents, who worried they would be held liable if the harsh interrogations became public.....

But even after the "Golden Shield" was in place, briefings and meetings in the White House to discuss individual interrogations continued, sources said. Tenet, seeking to protect his agents, regularly sought confirmation from the NSC principals that specific interrogation plans were legal....

Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas....

Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
Despite Ashcroft's qualms -- mainly concerned with his political neck, not the safety of prisoners -- the Principals "approved interrogations... pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department's own legal approval." Condi Rice was said to be particularly forceful in giving the CIA power to torture (with Powell echoing Ashcroft's wimpy protests).

As the blogger buhdydharma in an article today, the new revelations "clearly point to a high level, willful conspiracy to commit torture." Beyond the question of conspiracy, serious violations of a number of laws that prohibit torture and inhumane treatment have also been broken. Courtesy of Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First own examination of criminal laws governing laws on torture, let's review what Ashcroft, Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Tenet, and possibly others, may find themselves vulnerable with aggressive prosecution (for footnotes, please refer to original via link):

The recent amendments to the War Crimes Act establish as war crimes “grave breaches” of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions,10 including “torture” and “cruel or inhuman treatment.”11 “Torture” is characterized, in pertinent part, as “an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”12 The separate war crime of “cruel or inhuman treatment,” is defined as “an act intended to inflict severe or serious physical or mental pain or suffering.”13

For the crime of torture under the WCA14 and the Torture Act,15 severe mental pain or suffering is defined as “the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from” several specified actions, including “the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering” and “the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mindaltering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.”16

For the WCA crime of “cruel or inhuman treatment,” serious mental pain or suffering is defined as “the serious and non-transitory mental harm (which need not be prolonged) caused by or resulting from” the same specified actions.17

The Detainee Treatment Act requires that “no person in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (CIDT).”18 The DTA defines CIDT as conduct prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Since the "CIA’s reported “enhanced” interrogation techniques cause the types of physical and mental anguish that are criminalized under the WCA and other laws," it's clear that top administration officials have committed war crimes.

But what are the governmental officials, including elected members of the legislature, going to do about it? Certainly we can expect nothing from Mukasey's Justice Department, which has all but signed off even on waterboarding, and refuses to rule out evidence obtained by same. Rep. Conyers has asked John Woo to appear at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee next month. Meanwhile, the story barely reaches the significance of the front pages in the U.S. press.

This is not surprising, as the Executive Branch of the U.S. government has gotten away with the criminal execution of an illegal, pre-emptive war in Iraq, even when the evidence for this was placed in the public domain for all to see (going back at least to the publication of the Downing Street memos). Reportedly, the congressional offices of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats receive emails and faxes demanding action, up to and including the initiation of impeachment hearings in the House. All to no avail.

The poet William Blake wrote over two hundred years ago:
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
We know that this is more than enough to put the criminal leadership of the Bush administration away in prison for many years. Therefore, enough!!

Give us our bill of indictment. Give us our impartial jury to examine the evidence. Give us justice. Failing this, I shudder to think what monstrous conclusion is being prepared for us in the bowels of history.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why Bush Defends Secret Torture Techniques

Posted by Valtin at 11:17 PM |

"Alternative procedures." "Valuable tools in the war on terror." "Specialized interrogation procedures." "Safe and lawful techniques." "Good policies."

George W. Bush has more euphemisms for torture than his creepy Veep, Cheney, has expletives on supply.

On Saturday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush announced his veto of the Congressional Intelligence bill, which included a ban on CIA use of certain "enhanced" interrogation methods, like waterboarding. Bush defended the use of the so-called "alternative procedures" practiced by the CIA, as necessary for field intelligence officers interrogating "hardened terrorists." The play upon the fear of Americans of terrorist attack in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 events turns upon well-understood traumatic mechanisms in the human psyche.

But I want to concentrate on one telling aspect of Bush's torture apologia. Regarding the attempt by Congress to limit the intelligence agencies to interrogation practices based upon the Army Field Manual (which forbids use of hooding, waterboarding, sexual humiliation, etc.), Bush said (emphasis added):
Limiting the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods to those in the Army field manual would be dangerous because the manual is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that key Al Qaida operatives had been trained to resist the methods outlined in the manual. And this is why we created alternative procedures to question the most dangerous Al Qaida operatives, particularly those who might have knowledge of attacks planned on our homeland. The best source of information about terrorist attacks is the terrorists themselves. If we were to shut down this program and restrict the C.I.A. to methods in the field manual, we could lose vital information from senior Al Qaida terrorists, and that could cost American lives.
While Bush touts various terrorist operations foiled by use of torture, a major Congressional player had a different view:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he had heard nothing to suggest that the CIA, through enhanced interrogation methods, had obtained information to thwart a terrorist attack.

Secrets, Secrets, Secrets... Shhh!

The secret "enhanced" CIA interrogation techniques were authorized by Bush in July 2006, in a secret Executive Order vetted by Steven Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel. This authorization was needed after a 2006 Supreme Court decision had determined that Al Qaida prisoners were subject to the Geneva Conventions. Even earlier secret recommendations -- most famously, then-new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's February 2005 memorandum recommending government torture, which only came to light last year -- demonstrated the tenacity of the Bush Administration's quest to give the CIA and possibly other intelligence agencies the green light for torture.

In his radio address, Bush claims that if the terrorists had access to government interrogation methods, they would be able to prepare themselves to withstand the torture. Indeed, this is the rationale for the 50-year-old military SERE program. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and each branch of the military conducts its own version of it. It was SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who were accused by a Pentagon Office of Inspector General Report last year of reverse-engineering SERE training into torture instruction to U.S. military/CIA forces abroad. (Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair also wrote a great article on this matter last summer.)

So I suppose this is what Bush is referring to when he says that the government had to create "alternative procedures" to counter the presumed wiliness of the "hardened terrorists." Except this is a lie. As regular readers of my blog know, government torture has been well-researched for over 50 years. It also went operational around the same time. The not-unsavvy terrorists certainly know where to go on the Internet to read the CIA's KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation Manual, declassified by the United States in the 1990s, or any of a number of books openly for sale that describe the same.

The KUBARK manual describes the use of fear, isolation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, sleep deprivation, fear, and other techniques to induce regression and dependency in prisoners, in order to make them malleable to an experienced interrogator. SERE techniques were derived from presumed extreme sorts of torture that could be encountered by U.S. servicemen who found themselves prisoners of a government or group who didn't follow the Geneva Conventions. How ironic that the most famous state to announce it wouldn't follow Geneva protocols would be... the United States!

Bush does have a point. Knowledge of torture techniques and counter-measures can help a prisoner subjected to torture or cruel treatment, up to a point. Personality factors play a much larger role, as the KUBARK manual points out (including a CIA bibliography on the subject). Besides, there's a multitude of sources available for the enemy government or sophisticated organization to gather such information. The Congressional bill does not discuss torture counter-measures, to my knowledge.

The government -- and Bush is following advice from the CIA -- wants to keep its torture techniques secret because when a detainee does not know what's coming, it increases anxiety and fear, which creates greater confusion and psychological regression. In the spook biz, they call this extending the "shock of capture."

And then there is the political raison d'etre: Bush doesn't want the general public to know what barbarities are practiced in their name. Unfortunately, there are still too many Americans willing to play ostrich and pretend they don't know what's going on, ducking behind Bush and his surrogates's platitudes and lying homilies. Meanwhile, Bush's congressional critics (mostly Democrats) portray the Army Field Manual as providing a "bright line" between torture and acceptable interrogation technique.

Except this isn't true, either. The Army Field Manual's Appendix M allows selective use of CIA KUBARK-style torture, including use of isolation (also used at Guantanamo today), sleep deprivation, "harsh" induction of fear and play upon a detainees phobias, and the use of sensory deprivation goggles and gloves -- and this despite the fact the AFM in its main text says it forbids use of sensory deprivation. (The NY Times article and others on AFM often mention the use of isolation, wrongly reporting it as limited to 30 days, and not mentioning at all the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation goggles, and "fear up harsh" techniques.)

The Torture Issue Won't End When Bush Is Gone

Spywork is famously presented as a house of mirrors, a wasteland of lies and deceptions. Bush's radio address/veto continues this grand tradition of obfuscation and doublespeak. And it's clear where the lame duck president gets his marching orders. From today's New York Times:
In a memo to CIA employees Saturday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the Army Field Manual does not "exhaust the universe" of lawful interrogation techniques. ""There are methods in the CIA's program that have been briefed to our oversight committees, are fully consistent with the Geneva Convention and current U.S. law and are most certainly not torture," Hayden wrote.

We are very, very far from cleaning up this mess. In the choice between secret CIA torture and its somewhat cleaned up Army Field Manual version, there's very little to make a human rights advocate very happy. The Democratic candidates have made some stir that they would change things, stop the torture, and from Obama, the secret renditions, too; restore habeas corpus, etc. But they aren't exactly out front on the issue, and seem susceptible to military influence, and threats they are "too soft" on "terrorism."

Torture is a hydra-headed beast. It exists around the world, and the U.S. is hardly alone, even among Western so-called democracies, in practicing the barbaric "question." It will take a mass movement, something akin to the abolition of slavery or women's rights movements of the 19th century to change this fundamental evil in human society. For now, we must fight as we can, and try to undo the deadly combination of militarism, self-satisfied careerism, greed and bloodlust that has characterized the Bush torture regime.

One could do worse than to follow right now this hyperlink to Physicians for Human Rights website page on fighting torture. A long journey must begin with some first step.

Also posted at Invictus

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