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

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Torture Confirmed at Guantanamo; Army Field Manual Codified Abuse

Posted by Valtin at 10:21 PM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake

Recently, it occurred to me that, with all the debate or controversy over the Obama administration's policies on torture, no one had asked the military, and in particular those running America's "terror" prisons, if they had been using the Army Field Manual's Appendix M. So, I called Guantanamo's Public Affairs Officer, Lt. Commander Brook DeWalt, and asked him if Appendix M interrogations had taken place at Guantanamo.

This question may have more than intrinsic interest, as the administration has now announced that it is pursuing moving over a hundred Guantanamo "detainees" to a prison in Illinois. (The actions of Umar Abdulmutallab on an American Airliners jet on Christmas Day may have thrown a monkey-wrench into the "closing" of Guantanamo, but, most likely, Obama's plans will move forward.)

Lt. Commander DeWalt took a few days to get confirmation, but when he spoke to me on December 11, he confirmed that while "not routine," Appendix M interrogations are conducted at Guantanamo "as authorized," "in accordance with DOD directives and U.S. law." He would not go into operational specifics. Officer-In-Charge of the 4th Public Affairs Detachment (Guantanamo Forward), Lt. Col. James Crabtree, whom was also contacted, declined to be more forthcoming about dates when asked for more specific dates of operational usage.

Appendix M is the portion of the 2006 revised Army Field Manual that covers "unlawful enemy combatants" who don't meet the U.S. government's criteria for Geneva treatment as prisoners of war. Obama doesn't want to call them illegal combatants anymore, so the government doesn't call them anything, except people with lesser rights.

Famously, President Obama has proclaimed, as did his predecessor, that he was against torture, and was banning it in his administration. As a result, the Obama administration closed down the CIA secret black site prisons, though not, as it turns out, all secret black site prisons.

Obama also rescinded the torture memos of Bybee/Yoo/Bradbury/Addington/Levin, and replaced them with an interrogation policy oriented around the Bush-era Army Field Manual (AFM), whose latest incarnation was the brainchild of Donald Rumsfeld's assistant, Stephen Cambone. At first, the new AFM was supposed to have a secret annex, so the "worst of the worst" could be grilled in U.S. military prisons, and not have any bleeding hearts or Al Qaeda types getting wind of what was going on.

But, brilliantly, one has to admit, they hit on the idea of simply laying the document openly among the people, and when there was no protest, and the politicians dutifully saluted, the new torture policy was ready to go. First, they had to line up some right-wingers to protest the new AFM was "too soft," especially for use by the CIA. Then, they had to conduct a PR campaign that sold the AFM to the public, as humane, Geneva-compliant, and the negation of former Bush torture policies. Hence hoary old Senator Feinstein was rolled out to give the stamp of approval from "pragmatic liberal" types. No one else around the Beltway would peep boo from the left.

Appendix M was certainly not the old "enhanced interrogation techniques," but they weren't exactly not them either. The new AFM was supposed to be better than the old one, like any new product, but in fact, old prohibitions against abusive interrogation techniques were removed, and in some cases, the techniques formally reintroduced. An example of the latter is sleep deprivation, which used to be explicitly proscribed, but is now part of Appendix M procedure. "Fear Up" procedures are strengthened. Modes of sensory deprivation are introduced. The ban against drugs that cause serious derangement of the senses or temporary psychosis is replaced by a ban against drugs that cause "permanent damage." Stress positions are, notably, not explicitly banned.

Also posted at Invictus

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top U.S. Behavioral Scientists Studied Survival Schools to Create Torture Program Over 50 Years Ago

Posted by Valtin at 5:45 PM |

Cross-posted from The Public Record

A couple of recent articles have highlighted the unseemly fact that some past presidents of the American Psychological Association (APA), the foremost professional organization for psychologists in the United States, if not the world, had links to the use of torture, or at least to military research into coercive interrogations.

An article by Jane Mayer in the recent New Yorker on CIA Director Leon Panetta noted in passing the participation of a former APA president Joseph Matarazzo on the governing staff of the Mitchell, Jessen & Associates (MJA) torture firm. First identified as one of the "governing people" of MJA by Bill Morlin in a Spokesman Review article in August 2007, Matarazzo is now known to have also been CIA, as noted in an article by Physicians for Human Rights Campaign Against Torture director, Nathaniel Raymond (emphasis added):

Mayer notes, parenthetically, that she has learned from the CIA's Kirk Hubbard that former American Psychological Association president Joseph Matarazzo sat on the CIA's professional-standards board at the time when psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were developing an interrogation program for the CIA, based on the US military's SERE training program.

This new information came at the same time as former APA insider Bryant Welch was publishing his own tell-all about APA and the Defense Department, Torture, Psychology, and Daniel Inouye. Welch singled out former APA presidents Gerald Koocher and Ron Levant, along with Senator Daniel Inouye's office, as key lobbyists for the participation of psychologists in interrogations (emphasis added):

One of Inouye's administrative assistants, psychologist Patrick Deleon, has long been active in the APA and served a term in 2000 as APA president. For significant periods of time DeLeon has literally directed APA staff on federal policy matters and has dominated the APA governance on political matters. For over twenty-five years, relationships between the APA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely coordinated by DeLeon.

Another famous former APA president, Martin Seligman, was also linked with the government's recent torture program. According to Jane Mayer, Seligman taught his "learned helplessness" theories to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape or SERE psychologists, who reverse-engineered it into the "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" used by the CIA and DoD to torture prisoners in "war on terror" prisons around the world. Seligman admitted lecturing at SERE, but has denied any role in torture.

The role of former APA presidents DeLeon, Koocher, Levant, Seligman, and Matarazzo in supporting the role of military psychologists in interrogations, even after evidence of torture by the U.S. government was manifest, is perhaps unequalled in the annals of professional societies, as providing political, and possibly organizational and theoretical or practical support to unethical procedures, especially torture. (Stephen Soldz has outlined some of this recent history in an article just posted at ACLU Blog of Rights.) One might think this a terrible offshoot of the former Bush administration's insane post-9/11 turn to the "dark side."

But that is not the end of the story; it is not even the beginning.

Before this set of military/CIA-collaborationist APA presidents, there was Harry Harlow, and before him, Donald Hebb. Both were famous, distinguished U.S. psychologists, and both had been presidents of the APA in the 1950s. Both engaged in research, some of it secret, for the military and CIA. Hebb was a pioneer in the study of sensory deprivation. Harlow's contribution was more synthetic: he helped construct an entire paradigm around the problem of how to break down an individual by torture.

In 1956, in the pages of an obscure academic journal, Sociometry, I.E. Farber, Harry F. Harlow, and psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West published a classic work on interrogation, Brainwashing, Conditioning, and DDD (Debility, Dependency, and Dread) (BCD). It was based on a report for the Study Group on Survival Training, paid for by the U.S. Air Force. (See West LJ., Medical and psychiatric considerations in survival training. In: Report of the Special Study Group on Survival Training (AFR 190 16). Lackland Air Force Base, Tex: Air Force Personnel and Training Research Centers; 1956.) This research linked Air Force "Survival" training, later called SERE, with torture techniques, and as we will see, use of such techniques by the CIA, something we would see again decades later in the Mitchell-Jessen "exploitation" plan.

BCD examined the various types of stress undergone by prisoners, and narrowed them down to "three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread".

Debility was a condition caused by "semi-starvation, fatigue, and disease". It induced "a sense of terrible weariness".

Dependency on the captors for some relief from their agony was something "produced by the prolonged deprivation of many of the factors, such as sleep and food... [and] was made more poignant by occasional unpredictable brief respites." The use of prolonged isolation of the prisoner, depriving an individual of expected social intercourse and stimulation, "markedly strengthened the dependency".

Dread probably needs no explanation, but BCD described it as "chronic fear.... Fear of death, fear of pain, fear of nonrepatriation, fear of deformity of permanent disability.... even fear of one's own inability to satisfy the demands of insatiable interrogators."

The bulk of BCD explains the effects of DDD in terms of Pavlovian conditioning and the learning theories of American psychologist Edward Thorndike. The consequence of the resulting "collapse of ego functions" is described as similar to "postlobotomy syndrome".

By disorganizing the perception of those experiential continuities constituting the self-concept and impoverishing the basis for judging self-consistency, DDD affects one's habitual ways of looking at and dealing with oneself. [p. 275]

BCD explains aspects of the U.S. torture program that otherwise to our eyes appear insane. (Not that it isn't on a moral level "insane.") Take the painful stress positioning of prisoners documented at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run detainee prisons -- most recently, at Bagram prison in Afghanistan. BCE explains: it's all part of inducing dependency through expectation of relief, but in a diabolical way. Forced stress positions are a "self-inflicted punishment", one which increases the expectancy of relief via "voluntary" means. But the latter is "delusory... since the captor may select any behavior he chooses as the condition for relieving a prisoner's distress" [pp. 276-277].

This form of carrot and stick torture may not seem that sophisticated, but it is the use of basic nervous system functioning and human instinctual need that makes it "scientific". The need for sensory stimulation and social interaction, the need to eat, to sleep, to reduce fear, all of these are used to build dependencies upon the captor, using the fact that "the strengthening effects of rewards -- in this instance the alleviation of an intensely unpleasant emotional state -- are fundamentally automatic" [p. 278]. This impairment of higher cognitive states and disruption and disorganization of the prisoner's self-concept, producing something like "a pathological organic state", was subsequently modified and used by the CIA in its interrogations of countless individuals. If more brutal forms of torture sometimes were used, especially by over-eager foreign agents or governments, DDD remained the gold standard, the programmatic core of counterintelligence interrogation at the heart of the CIA's own intelligence manuals.

Chapter Nine of the 1963 CIA KUBARK manual, "Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources," describes coercive interrogation procedures as "designed to induce regression."

The anonymous authors of KUBARK quote the BCD article specifically:

Farber says that the response to coercion typically contains "... at least three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread." Prisoners "... have reduced viability, are helplessly dependent on their captors for the satisfaction of their many basic needs, and experience the emotional and motivational reactions of intense fear and anxiety"....

The subheads to the chapter are evocative of the DDD paradigm: "Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli", "Threats and Fear", "Debility", "Pain", "Heightened Suggestibility and Hypnosis", and "Narcosis". That this was all constructed, in part, by the demented genius of a famous U.S. psychologist and former president of the APA only contributes to a deep, dark irony that runs like a blood-red gash through the body politic of this country.

The 2006 rewrite of the Army Field Manual was lauded for banning the beating of prisoners, threatening them with dogs, sexual humiliation, performing mock executions, electrocution of prisoners, and waterboarding, among other "techniques." But in an appendix to the manual, the following procedures are authorized for certain prisoners: complete separation, sometimes with forced wearing of goggles and earmuffs, for up to 30 days (after which approval for more must be sought); limiting sleep to four hours a day, for 30 straight days (and more, with approval); and other concurrent techniques, including "futility", "incentive", and "fear up harsh". In the latter, fear within a detainee is significantly increased, through knowledge of the person's phobias, if possible.

In the press, and in the speeches of politicians on both sides of the aisle, the new AFM was praised as a model of reform. The CIA was urged to embrace the AFM's policies, but has demurred. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is studying the interrogation issue, but so far has advocated the AFM be the government-wide interogation standard. Why, one wonders, as it's evident the AFM has maintained a core DDD operational capacity (isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, fear)? The Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International and other human rights organization have called publicly for the Obama administration to rescind Appendix M and other offensive sections of the Army Field Manual.

It is important that all elements of the U.S. torture program be exposed and made illegal. If the country can not rise morally to this, then a terrifying future lies before us.

Also posted at Invictus

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Submitting Evidence to the Spanish Court on U.S. Torture Plans

Posted by Valtin at 6:28 PM |

Scott Horton has reported that "Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo." The others targeted are John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Doug Feith and William Haynes.

I wrote a series on the issue of grounds for prosecution not too long ago. Now I'd like to help the Spanish prosecutors by supplying some basic evidence, courtesy of the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on "the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody", released late last year.

The rationale for the prosecution is established international law, the same sort of law that led to Spain charging August Pinochet for war crimes, led by the same Spanish judge that referred the Bush crew for possible prosecution, Baltasar Garzon.

Setting the Stage

As one reads the following, please keep in mind that there are many current controversies concerning memos written by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel that were meant to legitimize "aggressive" interrogation techniques and treatment of "war on terror" prisoners. Tomorrow, in fact, is the deadline set by a U.S. court for the release of some of these memos still kept secret, including one dated August 1, 2002 by Jay Bybee (or ghost-written by John Yoo and/or David Addington) giving legal approval to a host of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, including reportedly waterboarding.

The evidence I supply here predates that portion of the timeline. Whether or not Obama releases these memos, there is plenty of evidence to proceed with prosecutions. Jason Leopold reported at The Public Record last Saturday that the Department of Justice told the judge in the ACLU suit to "release documents related to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the CIA in 2005" that they would only give information on videotapes going back to August 2002. But, as Leopold explains, the FBI Inspector General already documented FBI agent reports of "near torture" interrogations of prisoner Abu Zubaydah as far back as May 2002.

And now, of course, we also have the release of a previously secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting torture by the CIA.

But all that in good time, for now I want to discuss Department of Defense and Defense Intelligence Agency collaboration with the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency in plotting "exploitation" practices to be used by U.S. interrogators that would draw upon the torture training model of JPRA's SERE program. SERE is administratively part of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense.

The timeline for this begins as early as December 2001, before, as the SASC report makes clear, Bush's presidential order, based on an opinion by Alberto Gonzales made as early as January 9, 2002, which "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." The pre-January 2002 timeline is crucial, as it stands outside, i.e., is prior to, all governmental attempts to cover their intent to torture, and to break international laws and treaties to which the government was signatory.

I humbly suggest that those with means forward what follows to the Spanish prosecutors, once the final announcement of warrants issued is made. The fact that we are still waiting, and the day has passed in Spain, and no warrants have been issued, speaks to the probable amount of strong political pressure from the U.S. exerted on Spain at this time. (For more details on how the struggle for prosecutions is playing out in the United States, including the role of Democratic Senators Feinstein and Rockefeller insisted that CIA torture suspects like Stephen Kappes, #2 at CIA now, were kept on in the Obama-Panetta reign, the better to stifle possible prosecutions of CIA officials -- such shutdown of prosecutions got a push from CIA Director, former Clinton staffer Leon Panetta last week -- see Glenn Greenwald's recent article.)

In what follows, I concentrate on a period at the very beginning of the Bush torture program's existence, as it came into being.

The Evidence

I have added in bold emphases where I felt appropriate, to guide the reader to the essential points. But I strongly recommend that those interested read not only the full quote herein, but the entire report.
(U) 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. While the President’s order stated that, as “a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,” the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

(U) 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.

(U) JPRA is the DoD agency that oversees military Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. During the resistance phase of SERE training, U.S. military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures (SERE techniques) designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.” The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy’s SERE school, it included waterboarding.

(U) Typically, those who play the part of interrogators in SERE school neither are trained interrogators nor are they qualified to be. These role players are not trained to obtain reliable intelligence information from detainees. Their job is to train our personnel to resist providing reliable information to our enemies. As the Deputy Commander for the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), JPRA’s higher headquarters, put it: “the expertise of JPRA lies in training personnel how to respond and resist interrogations – not in how to conduct interrogations.” 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 Exhibits

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. We only have the fax cover sheet at present. I have been informed that the full document is not available as it concerns a different governmental entity, one that did not sign off on declassification, as yet. Perhaps when the full unredacted SASC report is released, supposedly very soon now, we will be able to add another exhibit.
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.
"Mr. Shiffrin refers to Mr. Richard Shiffrin, who worked for William Haynes's in Donald Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office. Mr. Haynes is reportedly one of the officials the Spanish prosecutors intend to indict. Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner was then head of JPRA.

In June 2008, Dan Baumgartner also gave testimony under oath to the Senate committee regarding the Dec. 2001 approach by DoD. From his testimony:
My recollection of my first communication with OGC relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry. From what I reviewed last year with Committee staff members, the information involved the exploitation process and historical information on captivity and lessons learned.
The theme of JPRA promoting SERE expertise surfaces in Iraq a little less than two years after the first DoD approach. 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".
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.

Other Evidence: Re John Walker Lindh

Finally, I would like to suggest that there is at least one other piece of evidence related to this early use of torture and/or planning for torture. This concerns the report by Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Department attorney in 2001, tasked as a legal ethics advisor in DoJ's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office, with advising on the procedures surrounding the interrogation of the captured American John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan.

Radack wrote in 2007:
According to a secret document I obtained in June 2004, an Army intelligence officer "advised that before interviewing Lindh, instructions came from higher headquarters for him to coordinate with JSOTF [the Joint Special Operations Task Force] JAG officer. He was told . . . he could collect on anything criminal that was volunteered."

But Higher Headquarters told the intelligence office more than that. Rumsfeld's office told him not to handle Lindh with kid gloves. In a stunning revelation, the documents states: "The Admiral told him that the Secretary of Defense's counsel had authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted." These instructions to get tough wth Lindh, contained in the document I have, are the earliest known evidence that the Bush Administration was willing to push the envelope on how far it could go to extract information from suspected terrorists.
Unfortunately, Ms. Radack does not supply the date for this document, or to whom it was addressed by the Army Intelligence officer in question. I'm sure that the Spanish court could obtain this document in full, if it so desired.

Concluding Remarks

Truly the evidence is massive for government malfeasance and crimes against humanity in the planning and use of torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading procedures against detainees held by both the Department of Defense and the CIA in the past eight years. Moreover, as documented by both myself and the Center for Constitutional Rights, a program that maintains illegal interrogation methods persists within current U.S. procedures, primarily, though not limited to, the use of techniques like isolation, partial sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation, in Appendix M of the current Army Field Manual.

I congratulate the Spanish prosecutors in advance for taking on this crucial litigation, if in fact the warrants are finally issued. The U.S. is also bound by both domestic and international law to take up prosecutions, and it is a serious dereliction of law and duty of the highest order that this has not already occurred.

I hope either Spanish, or other, including U.S. prosecutors, take up the evidence I have presented here as telling documentation of U.S. official plans to subvert the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, if not the U.S. War Crimes Act, and to have done so prior to the issuance of any executive office legal opinions that would have made it supposedly legitimate (an assertion to any legitimacy I also believe to be without merit).

U.S. readers of this should flood the DoJ offices with demands to initiate prosecutions forthwith. The rule of law is at stake. If the highest officials in the land can break the most serious laws with impunity, then there is no rule of law. There is only tyranny.

Also posted at Invictus

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

How the Press, the Pentagon, and Even Human Rights Groups Sold Us an Army Field Manual that (Still) Sanctions Torture

Posted by Valtin at 1:01 AM |

Originally published at AlterNet -- If you wish to repost this essay you can download a .txt file of the html here (right click and save). Permission granted.

A January 17 New York Times editorial noted that Attorney General designate Eric Holder testified at his nomination hearings that when it came to overhauling the nation's interrogation rules for both the military and the CIA, the Army Field Manual represented "a good start." The editorial noted the vagueness of Holder's statement. Left unsaid was the question, if the AFM is only a "good start," what comes next?

The Times editorial writer never bothered to mention the fact that three years earlier, a different New York Times article (12/14/2005) introduced a new controversy regarding the rewrite of the Army Field Manual. The rewrite was inspired by a proposal by Senator John McCain to limit U.S. military and CIA interrogation methods to those in the Army Field Manual. (McCain would later allow an exception for the CIA.)

According to the Times article, a new set of classified procedures proposed for the manual was "was pushing the limits on legal interrogation." Anonymous military sources called the procedures "a back-door effort" to undermine McCain's efforts at the time to change U.S. abusive interrogation techniques, and stop the torture.

A Forgotten Controversy

Over the next six months or so, a number of articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times described the course of the controversy. By mid-June 2006, the NYT was reporting that, under pressure from unnamed senior generals and members of Congress (including McCain, and Senators Warner and Graham), the Pentagon was rethinking its plan to have a classified annex to the AFM, which would include a different set of interrogation rules for "unlawful combatants," like the detainees at Guantanamo. Included in the discussion about these classified procedures were, reportedly, members of the State Department and various human rights organizations.

According to an article in the L.A. Times, this latest fight over the classified procedures went back at least to mid-May 2006. The manual itself had been written at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, roughly a year earlier, and then sent to the Pentagon for further evalution. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's right-hand man, Stephen Cambone, was put in charge of its final draft. According the L.A. Times article, members of Congress were "keen to avoid a public fight with the Pentagon." The announcement that the controversial and still unknown procedures might not be included in the manual was seen as a success by human rights groups.

Yet the proverbial chickens never hatched, and by early September 2006 the new Army Field Manual was finally released. The section on special interrogation procedures for "unlawful combatants" was included as a special appendix (Appendix M), and published in unclassified format. According to a L.A. Times story on September 8, Cambone was crowing that the new Army Field Manual instructions would give interrogators "what they need to do the job." The article noted:
The new manual includes one restricted technique that will only be used on so-called unlawful combatants – such as Al Qaeda suspects – not traditional prisoners of war.

That technique, called “separation,” involves segregating a detainee from other prisoners. Military officials said separation was not the equivalent of solitary confinement and was consistent with Geneva Convention protections.
As for the proposed secrecy surrounding the new techniques, the Pentagon had decided it couldn't keep them secret forever. Senator Warner was also on record as against any classified annex to the manual.

Not long ago, I wrote about what was included in Appendix M, which purports to introduce the single technique of "separation." In fact, the Appendix M includes instructions regarding solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and, in combination with other procedures included in the Army Field Manual, amounted to a re-introduction of the psychological torture techniques practiced at Guantanamo, and taught by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE psychologists and other personnel at the Cuban base and elsewhere.

The rewrite of the Army Field Manual included other seemingly minor changes. It introduced dubious procedures, such as the "False Flag" technique, wherein interrogators could pretend they were from another country. It also redefined the meaning of "Fear Up," a procedure meant to exploit a prisoner's existing fears under imprisonment. Now, interrogators could create "new" fears. The AFM rewrite was a masterpiece of subterfuge and double talk, which could only have been issued from the offices of Rumsfeld and Cambone.

One would think this turnaround of the Pentagon's position regarding a removal of these controversial procedures would have been a matter of some note. But there was no protest from Congress, no mention of the past controversy in the press, and only vague comments at first and then acceptance by human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Only Physicians for Human Rights protested the inclusion of the techniques listed in Appendix M. For the rest... silence.

DoD Rolls Out the New Model

On September 6, 2006, a news briefing was held by the Department of Defense, as part of the unveiling of the new Army Field Manual, in conjunction with the then-new Defense Department Directive for Detainee Programs (DoD Directive 2310.01E). Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson and Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) Lt. Gen. John Kimmons were the DoD presenters.

Much of the belief that the AFM provides an improvement over previous policies of the Department of Defense is likely due to a confusion between the two documents introduced that summer of 2006, the new Detainee Program Directive and the new Army Field Manual.

DoD Directive 2310.10E made a number of changes in regards to detainee operations and management. It made clear that "All persons subject to this Directive shall observe the requirements of the law of war, and shall apply, without regard to a detainee’s legal status, at a minimum the standards articulated in Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949..." The same type of language appears in the text of the Army Field Manual itself.

During the press briefing on September 6, and a different one the next day for the foreign press, reporters were not so easily fooled.

One unnamed reporter at the DoD briefing challenged Lt. Gen. Kimmons on the "single standard" issue:
Q General, why was the decision made to keep these categories -- the separate categories of detainees? You have traditional prisoners of war and then the unlawful enemy combatants. Why not treat all detainees under U.S. military custody the exact same way?
Kimmons's answer gives us insight into the kind of convoluted legal thinking that went into the Pentagon's rationale for the acceptability of coercive interrogation -- for some (emphasis added):
GEN. KIMMONS: Well, actually, the distinction is in Geneva through the Geneva Convention, which describes the criteria that prisoner -- that lawful combatants, such as enemy prisoners of war -- which attributes they possess -- wearing a uniform, fighting for a government, bearing your arms openly and so on and so forth. And it's all spelled out fairly precisely inside Geneva.

Geneva also makes clear that traditional, unlawful combatants such as in the -- 50 years ago, we would have talked about spies and saboteurs, but also now applies to this new category of unlawful -- or new type of unlawful combatant, terrorists, al Qaeda, Taliban.

They clearly don't meet the criteria for prisoner of war status, lawful combatant status, and so they're not entitled to the -- therefore to the extra protections and privileges which Geneva affords.
But Kimmons' clarification was not very helpful. In fact, if a prisoner is judged not a "lawful combatant", then he or she immediately becomes covered by Geneva IV, the "Civilian Convention," which protects anyone "who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever find themselves" held prisoner. According to the International Red Cross Commentary on the Geneva Conventions:
Every person in enemy hands must have some status under international law: he is either a prisoner of war and, as such, covered by the Third [POW] Convention, [or] a civilian covered by the Fourth Convention.... There is no intermediate status; nobody in enemy hands can fall outside the law.
Separation and Sensory Deprivation

One questioner took on the topic of the "Separation" technique. Wasn't it the same as solitary confinement, and wasn't solitary confinement "banned by Common Article 3 in the affront to human dignity, other provisions? "Are you confident," a reporter asked, "that separation is permitted under Common Article 3?"

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs responded by denying that separation amounted to solitary confinement, even though the AFM describes the technique as, among other things "physical separation" "limited to 30 days of initial duration." Extensions for such physical separation must be reviewed and approved the General Officer or Flag Officer who initially approved the original "separation."

Kimmons' reply was even more disingenuous:
We have always segregated enemy combatants on the battlefield at the point of capture and beyond, to keep them silent, segregate the officers from the enlisted, the men from the women, and so forth. That's traditional; it goes back to World War II and beyond.
So, is "separation" a matter of segregating prisoners, or what? In the Army Field Manual itself, one gets that same kind of double talk. At first it is presented thus:
The purpose of separation is to deny the detainee the opportunity to communicate with other detainees in order to keep him from learning counter-resistance techniques or gathering new information to support a cover story; decreasing the detainee's resistance to interrogation.
This description sounds a lot like segregation for security purposes, although there is that phrase "decreasing the detainee's resistance." A page or so later, however, we find the following (emphasis added):
The use of separation should not be confused with the detainee-handling techniques approved in Appendix D [Guide for Handling Detainees]. Specifically, the use of segregation during prisoner handling (Search, Silence, Segregate, Speed, Safeguard, and Tag [5 S's and a T]) should not be confused with the use of separation as a restricted interrogation technique.
Furthermore, we learn that "separation" requires an interrogation plan, and medical and legal review, as well, of course, as "physical separation." If this is not solitary confinement for the purposes of breaking a prisoner down for interrogation, then the English language has lost all purpose in explaining things.

Another line of questioning took on the AFM's contention that it banned sensory deprivation. The entire exchange at the September 6 hearing is worth reproducing here. It represents, among other things, the most thorough line of inquiry I have seen by any reporter in quite some time. The following quote contains added emphases.
Q General, as an expert in interrogations, do you believe that sensory deprivation was abusive, or did it ever prove to be helpful in interrogation?

GEN. KIMMONS: Sensory deprivation is abusive and it's prohibited in this Field Manual, and it's absolutely counterproductive, in my understanding of what we have used productively. Sensory deprivation, just to be clear -- and we define it in the Field Manual, but basically, it comes down to the almost complete deprivation of all sensory stimuli, light, noise, and so forth, and to the point where it can have an adverse mental, psychological effect on a -- disorienting effect on a detainee.

Q So could there be deprivation of light alone for extended periods of time, as opposed to complete sensory deprivation?

GEN. KIMMONS: I think the total loss of an external stimulus, such as deprivation of light, would not fit what we have described here as -- for example, if you're hinting about separation, separation does not involve the darkness or lack of that type of sensory stimulation.

Q That wasn't the question, though. Would sensory -- would the deprivation of light alone be permitted under the current manual, as opposed -- because you described sensory deprivation as total deprivation --

GEN. KIMMONS: That's correction.

Q -- of all senses. So deprivation of light alone for extended periods would be permitted?

GEN. KIMMONS: I don't think the Field Manual explicitly addresses it.

It does not make it prohibited.
And it would have to be weighed in the context of the overall environment. If it was at nighttime during sleep hours, then it would make personal sense to turn the lights off.

Q You know what I'm talking about. I'm trying to get at -- because you said specifically total sensory deprivation -- so deprivation of any one sense might be permitted. Like light, for example. They could be kept in the dark for extended periods of time beyond the usual nighttime hours.
This is really too specific and challenging for the DoD briefers, and they turn on their double-talk machine:
MR. STIMSON: Jim, questions like this are good questions to ask. And what's important to remember is that interrogation plans are put together for a reason so that not just one person can decide what he or she wants to do and then run off and do it. They're vetted. It's laid out how they're vetted. General Kimmons could go into that in exhaustive detail. Typically, there would be a JAG, as I understand it, General Kimmons --

GEN. KIMMONS: That's correct.

MR. STIMSON: -- that would have to review that. It goes up through various chains of command. And so, you know, types of questions like this would have to be asked and then vetted through that process.
Burying the Story

With all the hard questioning by the press, you'd think the issues would have been aired in the media in the days and weeks following the introduction of the Army Field Manual. As should be evident by now, that's not what happened.

Here's how the L.A. Times covered it (9/6/06), getting the story exactly backwards (emphasis added):
Bowing to critics of its tough interrogation policies, the Pentagon is issuing a new Army field manual that provides Geneva Convention protections for all detainees and eliminates a secret list of interrogation tactics.

The manual, set for release today, also reverses an earlier decision to maintain two interrogation standards – one for traditional prisoners of war and another for “unlawful combatants” captured during a conflict but not affiliated with a nation’s military force.
There is no mention of Appendix M or any controversy over techniques. Jumana Musa, an "advocacy director for Amnesty International, is quoted as noting, "“If the new field manual embraces the Geneva Convention, it is an important return to the rule of law.'"

The 9/7/06 article in the Washington Post was, if anything, even more laudatory of the new AFM:
Pentagon officials yesterday repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, specifically forbidding U.S. troops from using forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and waterboarding to elicit information from detainees captured in ongoing wars.

The Defense Department simultaneously embraced international humane treatment standards for all detainees in U.S. military custody, the first time there has been a uniform standard for both enemy prisoners of war and the so-called unlawful combatants linked to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.
The article falsely claims the AFM bans manipulation of sleep patterns. Regarding any controversy, the article explains:
Three expanded techniques -- good cop, bad cop; pretending to be an official from another country; and detention in a separate cell from others -- are allowed but require approval from senior officers. Officials originally considered keeping those three techniques classified but decided to make them public for the sake of full transparency.
The Post article also briefly mentions the generally positive response of human rights groups:
"This is the Pentagon coming full circle," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "This is very strong guidance."
As for the human rights organizations, Amnesty International later essentially signed off on the AFM. In an article from the Winter 2007 issue of Amnesty International Magazine, Jumana Musa, quoted in the L.A. Times article above, had this to say about the new AFM:
AIUSA also worked with U.S. representatives and senators to introduce legislation to create a single, transparent standard for interrogations and to limit the CIA to approved interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.
In a telephone interview for this article, Mr. Malinowski said he supported using the Army Field Manual as a replacement for the CIA "enhanced interrogation techniques," and described the question of abuse in Appendix M as not entirely clear. The language in Appendix M was "ambiguous," and open to criticism due to a "lack of clarity." He maintained, however, that using the current Army Field Manual as a model was merely a beginning, and that a new overhaul of interrogation techniques was on the agenda.

A call made to Amnesty International's press contact regarding this issue, and an e-mail sent to Jumana Musa, were both unreturned.

Conclusion

Two conclusions can be drawn from the above examination of the "selling" of the Army Field Manual to the American public in the late summer of 2006 and beyond. One is that reporters on the beat were very aware of the origins and implications of the issues surrounding Geneva and the AFM, and the controversies surrounding the use of isolation and other techniques under the rubric of "Separation." The extremely muted or non-existent discussion in the mainstream press of these issues after the AFM was introduced means that a decision to suppress these issues was made at an editorial level, and were not the result of laziness or dilatory reporting on behalf of reporters.

Secondly, the role of some human rights organizations in promoting the new Army Field Manual -- in particular, the actions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch -- are curious, to say the least. Press reports and the interview with Malinowski show that inclusion of certain human rights organizations in the vetting of the AFM started at the very beginning. We may not be able to find out what went on in the editorial offices of the nation's top newspapers, but we should know more about the discussions within the human rights organizations on how they advised, or were fooled, by talks with Bush administration and Pentagon personnel.

Meanwhile, other human rights organizations, such as the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights, have criticized the language and techniques described in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, and called for rescission of the offending text. In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in May 2007, Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR, and retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, MD, former Commanding General of the Southeast Regional U.S. Army Medical Command, wrote:
The new Army Field Manual on human intelligence gathering... explicitly prohibits several SERE-based techniques, yet Appendix M of the manual explicitly permits what amounts to isolation, along with sleep and sensory deprivation. The manual is silent on a number of other SERE-based methods, creating ambiguity and doubt over their place in interrogation doctrine....

PHR, therefore, respectfully urges you to take the following actions:

1. Fully implement the OIG’s recommendation to “preclude the use of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape physical and psychological coercion techniques” in all interrogations. (Id, pp. 29-30.) This includes rescission of Appendix M of the new Army Field Manual and specific prohibition, by name, of each of the known SERE-based methods and their equivalents.
It seems likely that the Army Field Manual, whether by executive order (most likely) or by legislation, will become the new "single standard" for U.S. interrogation. Press reports hint that the Obama administration may yet allow a loophole for CIA interrogators. I don't know how that will sit with the many military lawyers and officers who have been instrumental in opposing Bush/Rumsfeld's torture policies from the beginning. I'm thinking of people like Alberto Mora and Antonio Taguba, or the new nominee for DoD General Counsel, Jeh Charles Johnson, who apparently intends to seriously change the policies set by his predecessor, Jim Haynes.

In any case, the full history and controversy behind torture and U.S. interrogation policy deserves a full airing. What happened, for instance, between June and September 2006, allowing for Pentagon acceptance of the Appendix M abusive procedures? When it comes to the implementation of a host of torture and cruel, inhumane interrogation techniques by the U.S. government, both an investigation and prosecutions are needed.

It will be a challenge for our society to bring out the full story, while also bringing to justice those individuals who broke both domestic law and international treaty. We will need both investigations and prosecutions in order settle scores with the past, to understand where we stand now, and what we need to change to move forward.

Also posted at Invictus

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Obscurity Blankets Certain Anti-Torture Moves

Posted by Valtin at 10:24 PM |

Josh Gerstein at Politico has ably described the important shortcomings one finds in President Obama's Executive Orders issued yesterday to close Guantanamo and end torture. While the CIA is disallowed from using waterboarding and other "enhanced" torture techniques, and forced to adhere to the standards (flawed as they are) of the Army Field Manual; and while the CIA is forced now to close their secret black site prisons; and while Guantanamo itself is to be close "promptly... within a year", there are some troublesome problems remaining.

Not least is the problem with the Army Field Manual itself. Some former Bush administration figures and CIA types see the AFM as insufficient to guide their interrogation actions in the field. They want the ability to improvise their techniques to the given interrogation or situation. Many of these same people are implying that Obama's moves to close Guantanamo raises the spectre of the release of horrible terrorists in the homeland itself, who will attack American communities. In a column today, Glenn Greenwald dissects this fear-mongering campaign by the right.

Others, like myself, see the AFM as abusive in and of itself. The inclusion of Appendix M, and other procedures allowed by that document, means that use of techniques such as isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners is still allowed. These techniques, especially when used in combination, which is what the AFM suggests, certainly amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading behavior (in contradistinction to Geneva rules), if not torture itself.

Josh Gerstein emphasizes a now much-examined aspect of the language of the executive order on interrogations:
[The] order also created an interagency commission which will have six months to examine whether to create “additional or different guidance” for non-military agencies such as the CIA. One group that represents detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, deemed that an “escape hatch” to potentially allow enhanced interrogations in the future.

White House counsel Greg Craig told reporters such fears are misplaced. “This is not an invitation to bring back different techniques than those that are approved inside the Army Field Manual, but an invitation to this task force to make recommendations as to whether or not there should be a separate protocol that's more appropriate to the intelligence community,” he said....

“For now, they’re punting, saying they’ll comply with what’s in the Army manual…but at some point in the future this commission may revert to the executive” to recommend harsher techniques, said [Yale law school lecturer, and attorney for Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Zuhair, Ramzi] Kassem, adding that he was concerned about how transparent the commission’s recommendations would be.
Gerstein has other caveats, as well. For one thing, the man ultimately in charge of Guantanamo in the last few years for Bush, Secretary of State Robert Gates, is also the man now in charge of re-examining whether conditions there meet "humane standards of confinement." His findings will be interesting for yet another reason. As Gerstein points out, Guantanamo prisoners still suffer from isolation and force feeding.
According to detainee lawyers, about two dozen inmates who refuse to eat as a form of protest are currently being force fed, and about 140 are in some form of solitary confinement....

As far as we know, the force feeding and solitary practices continued onto Obama’s watch. Craig dodged a question about the new president’s views on those issues. “I'm not going to get into the details,” Craig said.
As I and others have noted, Obama's executive orders say nothing about other U.S. prisoners held in Baghram (about 600), and the tens of thousands held in Iraq. Nor does the halt in the military commissions mean there won't be a return to some form of ersatz trial body in the near future.
That suggestion exasperates detainee lawyers like Kassem. “That would be a huge mistake, “ he said. “That system [is] set up to launder statements obtained through torture… What’s the point of getting rid of our offshore, improvised, sham, military tribunals in Cuba, only to recreate it here in the United States?”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has called for trying prisoners (who can be charged) in ordinary criminal courts.
The new administration must repatriate those who can be released safely, secure safe haven in the United States and other countries for those who cannot be repatriated safely, and prosecute in federal criminal courts those who should be prosecuted. Only 250 of 779 men remain in the prison camp. Most can be returned to their home countries through vigorous diplomacy. A smaller number need to be offered protection in the United States or third countries, many of whom have already begun to come forward to offer help to the new administration. There is no justification for continued detention without trial or the creation of special courts; such proposals would continue the human rights disaster rather than end it.
A number of political forces are circling around the torture interrogations issue. Senator Dianne Feinstein has apparently decided that Obama's executive order is not secure as policy, and declared she will go forward with legislation to "codify" the change to the Army Field Manual, making it less likely it can be overturned by further executive actions.

While Feinstein may see this as a progressive step, I see it as a danger, in that the abusive techniques left in the Army Field Manual will be perpetuated.

Much struggle still remains in the fight against torture. This next period will see a heightening of that struggle. One thing remains clear: we must not let the discussions and battles over it creep back into backroom corridors and out of public awareness. Hopefully, Obama's wish for greater openness, and his recent efforts to strengthen access to presidential records and government documents in general, through the Freedom of Information Act, will assist us in this effort. But the main tool of change will remain public awareness and public vigilance.

Also posted at Invictus

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama's Executive Orders on Guantanamo and the Question of Prosecutions

Posted by Valtin at 12:42 AM |

+++ Update: Here's a link to the draft executive order's text +++

Like attacking a hydra with many heads, the new administration is planning to take its first whacks at the torture regime set up by the Bush Administration. It's most infamous manifestation lies 90 miles off the U.S. coast at Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba.

Today, the government ordered a 120-day suspension of the military tribunal hearings of the Guantanamo detainees, as well as lesser delays in habeas hearings filed by attorneys on behalf of some of the prisoners.

Now, breaking news reported at ABC News, reports that tomorrow we will see three executive orders issued by President Obama aimed at the closure of Guantanamo "within a year", and promising immediate changes in the procedures and policies surrounding interrogation of detainees, and the conditions of their detention.

The ABC article is vague on whether the CIA will be included as regards changes in interrogation policies.
It is unlikely, but possible, that the new administration would in the first week expressly prohibit some interrogation techniques or refer to new legal parameters for the CIA program.
Of late, legislation has been introduced into Congress that would hold all U.S. interrogations, including those held by the CIA, to guidelines established in the Army Field Manual. The recent version of the manual is, despite assurances by former Bush administration, Pentagon, and some human rights officials, seriously flawed, allowing for solitary confinement/isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, and manipulation and creation of fears, among other coercive interrogation techniques. Physicians for Human Rights and The Constitution Project have both called for serious revision to the manual.

The Executive Director for Center for Constitutional Rights, Vincent Warren, was quick to respond to news of the proposed executive order to close Guantanamo. (CCR has been the central organization in organizing the defense of the Guantanamo detainees, gathering over 400 pro bono attorneys from all over the U.S. to help represent them.
"It only took days to put these men in Guantanamo, it shouldn't take a year to get them out.

We are proud that President Obama made addressing Guantanamo one of his first acts in office. Yet we are disappointed that he outlined no concrete steps for closing the base and gave his administration an entire year to sort out its plans - meaning that some men could have been detained indefinitely in terrible conditions for eight full years. Surely he could do better.

President Obama should commit to dismantling the military commissions, not just suspending them, and to prosecuting any cases before federal criminal courts - real courts with real laws."
A lot of the discussion about closing Guantanamo has to do with the disposition of its prisoners, how or where they would be tried, where they would go if released, etc. Outside of these important questions, the existence of these men, many or most of them who have been tortured, held without rights, is an embarrassment and an accusation against the system that kidnapped many of them and then held them incommunicado for years, with no right of redress, without charges, without hope. They were held in abusive conditions that amount to psychological torture. Many of them were tortured under interrogation.

Despite some recent releases, there are over 240 prisoners still languishing at Guantanamo, and over 600 at Baghram Air Base in Afghanistan. A true accounting of the number of prisoners held by the military and CIA is not available.

What do the proposed executive orders from Obama portend? Until we see the final drafts, it may be presumptuous to say. But while they mark a real change from the policies of the Bush administration, it is not clear how far they will really go. Will the CIA be forced to give up their "enhanced interrogation techniques", i.e., their right really to do what they damn well please when they interrogate prisoners, up to and including torture (even if they swear they never torture, that waterboarding, for instance, is not torture, etc.)? What procedures are proposed for the closure of Guantanamo? Will habeas be fully restored? Will isolation as a matter of policy, and other abusive procedures at Guantanamo be ended? What will be the standard for interrogation? Will the military commissions be ended?

The Prosecutions Issue

The story of the unraveling of the torture network built by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, the CIA and others, will take place in the light of an ongoing push by many for prosecutions of Bush administration officials for torture. Obama has indicated he is not disposed to pursue such prosecution. It's possible, as the ACLU has proposed, that ongoing investigations left over from the spate of Bush WH scandals will metamorphosize into something bigger, a large scale investigation into wrong-doing by the administration or the Pentagon/CIA.

Hence, according to the New York Times:
Obama is facing even more intense pressure from liberal, human-rights and civil-liberties groups to allow some kind of investigation into the Bush administration's terrorism policies.

Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said it would be a simple matter to start such an inquiry because the Justice Department's special prosecutor, John Durham, is already investigating whether the CIA acted illegally when it destroyed videotapes of its harsh interrogations. Anders said Durham's mandate could be expanded to look into whether the interrogations depicted on the tapes were illegal.
Most recently, according to a Reuters report earlier this month, Durham stated in a court filing that his probe of the CIA destruction of videotapes of the "harsh" interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was nearing an end. "A considerable portion" of the work is now done, but some witnesses still need to be interviewed. (Link to Durham's filing)

Durham made the court filing as part of a FOIA lawsuit by the James Madison Project requesting a release of the documents associated with the tapes destruction. The CIA had asked the court for a delay until February 28, the latest date Durham states his investigation will be finished. According to Secrecy News, a section of the website for Federation of American Scientists:
Key details of the pending criminal investigation have been redacted from Mr. Durham’s affidavit, including the number of witnesses interviewed and the volume of documents examined to date....

Mr. Durham noted that “in many instances,” delays have resulted from witness requests for legal representation and the need to get witness attorneys cleared. In some cases, the government officials involved have retired and have been “read out” of the highly compartmented intelligence programs in question, and it has taken additional time to have their credentials reinstated, he said.
Expanding the Durham investigation seems like a long-shot, but who knows what will be in that FOIA release when it finally comes? The bulk of the Democratic leadership is surely afraid of what an investigation might bring, due to reports of the complicity of some of the Democratic leadership, particularly Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman and Jay Rockerfeller, in the approval of some of the torture program.

The next couple of months -- I never get tired of repeating -- will be key in the struggle to hold the torturers accountable, and to bring real, lasting change to the system that has brought the United States to the status of pariah nation by the use of torture, and by the cover-up of such use.

Also posted at Invictus

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

How the U.S. Army's Field Manual Codified Torture -- and Still Does

Posted by Valtin at 5:56 PM |

Originally posted at AlterNet, and reposted here with additional links and some minor format changes

In early September 2006, the U.S. Department of Defense, reeling from at least a dozen investigations into detainee abuse by interrogators, released Directive 2310.01E. This directive was advertised as an overhaul and improvement on earlier detainee operations and included a newly rewritten Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations (FM-2-22-3). This guidebook for interrogators was meant to set a humane standard for U.S. interrogators worldwide, a standard that was respectful of the Geneva Conventions and other U.S. and international laws concerning treatment of prisoners.

While George W. Bush was signing a presidential directive allowing the CIA to conduct other, secret "enhanced interrogation techniques," which may or may not have included waterboarding, the new AFM was sold to the public as a return to civilized norms, in regards to interrogation.

Before long, opponents of U.S. torture policy were championing the new AFM as an appropriate "single-standard" model of detainee treatment. Support for implementing the revised AFM, as a replacement for the hated "enhanced" techniques earlier championed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the CIA, began to appear in legislation out of Congress, in the literature of human-rights organizations and in newspaper editorials. Some rights groups have felt the new AFM offered some improvements by banning repellent interrogation tactics, such as waterboarding, use of nudity, military dogs and stress positions. It was believed the AFM cemented the concept of command responsibility for infractions of the law.

There was only one problem: the AFM did not eliminate torture. Despite what it said, it did not adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Even worse, it took the standard operating procedure of Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay and threatened to expand it all over the world.

The President of the National Lawyers Guild Marjorie Cohn has stated that portions of the AFM protocol, especially the use of isolation and prolonged sleep deprivation, constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is illegal under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project, has stated that portions of the AFM are "deeply problematic" and "would likely violate the War Crimes Act and Geneva," and at the very least "leave the door open for legal liability." Physicians for Human Rights and the Constitution Project have publicly called for the removal of problematic and abusive techniques from the AFM.

Yet, the interrogation manual is still praised by politicians, including then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, who in December 2007 said he would "have the Army Field Manual govern interrogation techniques for all United States Government personnel and contractors."

Viral Instructions for a Torture Paradigm

I call the covert actualization of torture in current Department of Defense interrogation policy the "viralization" of the Army Field Manual. Just as a computer virus inserts a seemingly harmless set of instructions or code into a computer's operating system, unnamed four-star combatant commanders insisted that a special "interrogation-control technique" be inserted into the new manual. In a computer, viral instructions morph into a destructive set of routines, which replicate and continue to pass the tainted instructions on to uninfected users.

The viral instructions in the AFM transform into an abusive and illegal torture program. Most of these "instructions" can be found hidden in the proverbial fine print of the document, in its very last appendix, labeled with no apparent irony as regards the mythology of James Bond, Appendix M.

Appendix M, titled "Restricted Interrogation Technique -- Separation," misrepresents itself from the very beginning. (One wonders if it was rewritten from an earlier draft, at a time when the Pentagon wanted to keep these procedures classified.) It is not actually a technique (singular), but a set of techniques, though one has to read deeply into its 10 pages of text and be somewhat sophisticated in the history of psychological torture procedures, to assemble a full view of the viral program.

This program is nothing less than the one established in researcher Albert Biderman's Chart of Coercion, which, as revealed by the recent Senate Armed Services Committee investigation into detainee abuse, was the blueprint used by SERE instructors at Guantanamo in late 2002 to teach abusive interrogation techniques. (SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape and is the military program to "inoculate" certain military personnel against torture or abusive treatment by an enemy that doesn't recognize Geneva protocol.)

The committee's investigations, along with an DOD Office of Inspector General report released last year, definitively proved that SERE instructors, some of whom were military psychologists who also worked as contract personnel for the CIA, reverse-engineered SERE's didactic and experiential program meant to protect U.S. POWs for use as torture on detainees at Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army G-2 senior intelligence officer Lt. Gen. Jeff Kimmons described the "technique" of separation at a DOD briefing on Sept. 6, 2006, unveiling the "new" AFM:
... we include one restricted technique called separation, for use on a by-exception basis only with unlawful enemy combatants. That is, it's not authorized for use on prisoners of war and other protected persons.

Separation allows interrogators to keep unlawful enemy combatants apart from each other as a normal part of the interrogation process, so they can't coordinate their stories and so that we can compare answers to questions that interrogators have posed to each other without there having been collusion. It's for the same reason that police keep murder suspects separated while they're questioning them, although this is within an interrogation context.

Separation meets the standard for humane treatment, the single standard that exists across DOD, and it is enshrined in this manual.
This description is inconsistent with the explanation for separation given in the current Army Field Manual. Separation is not about the "normal interrogation process":
The use of separation should not be confused with the detainee-handling techniques approved in Appendix D. Specifically, the use of segregation during prisoner handling (Search, Silence, Segregate, Speed, Safeguard and Tag) should not be confused with the use of separation as a restricted interrogation technique….

Separation should be used as part of a well-orchestrated strategy involving the innovative application of unrestricted approach techniques. Separation requires special approval, judicious execution, special control measures and rigorous oversight.
Analyzing "Separation"

What kind of procedures, which the manual avers cannot be used on regular prisoners of war (who are covered by the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War), make up this special interrogation "technique," separation? In fact, it includes the following: solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, and the likely use of sensory overload, temperature or environmental manipulation, and any number of other techniques permitted elsewhere in the AFM, such as "Emotional Pride Down." As at Guantanamo and at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, a "multidisciplinary" team implements the program, including a behavioral science consultant (likely a psychologist).

The primary technique of the separation procedure is the physical isolation of the prisoner for up to 30 days, with further isolation possible upon approval of higher-ups. According to scientific expert Stuart Grassian, the use of isolation, or solitary confinement, causes "severe psychiatric harm." Some detainees will "suffer permanent harm as a result of such confinement." As long ago as 1961, psychiatrist Lawrence Hinkle Jr. wrote in a textbook on interrogations (emphasis added):
It is well known that prisoners, especially if they have not been isolated before, may develop a syndrome similar in most of its features to the "brain syndrome"... they cease to care about their utterances, dress and cleanliness. They become dulled, apathetic and depressed. In due time they become disoriented and confused; their memories become defective, and they experience hallucinations and delusions....

Classically, isolation has been used as a means of "making a man talk," simply because it is so often associated with a deterioration of thinking and behavior and is accompanied by an intense need for companionship and for talk. From the interrogator's viewpoint it has seemed to be the ideal way of "breaking down" a prisoner, because, to the unsophisticated, it seems to create precisely the state that the interrogator desires … However, the effect of isolation upon the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved or deprived of sleep.
Those prisoners who cannot be secured in sufficient isolation, presumably at a forward interrogation site, will be secured via "Field Expedient Separation," during which a both blindfold and earmuffs are put on a detainee for up to 12 hours. Again this is expandable upon official approval. The AFM warns that care must be taken to protect the blindfolded, earmuffed prisoner from self-injury, and the prisoner must be medically monitored. The AFM doesn't explain why this is necessary, but the reason is that such sensory deprivation is intolerable for some people and can lead to hallucinations and self-injurious behavior. The inclusion of a procedure that so obviously needs medical monitoring should be a red flag that it violates basic humane treatment.

The other main use of torture is Appendix M's provision for prolonged sleep deprivation, holding a prisoner to no more than four hours of sleep per night for 30 days. As with isolation and perceptual deprivation, this procedure can be prolonged with official approval. Sleep deprivation is used to break an individual down both physically and mentally. The literature on the corrosive effects of sleep deprivation is not difficult to find. Four hours of sleep per day for a month will decrease thyrotropin secretion and increase levels of cortisol, causing stress and high blood pressure. It impairs verbal processing and complex problem solving. Chronic sleep deprivation is "associated with irritability, depression and a reduced sense of well-being."

The AFM's Appendix M makes a lot of noise about forbidding sensory deprivation, then provides a definition of same that would describe none but the most extreme examples of sensory deprivation, all the while allowing its practice upon prisoners. Similarly, the document claims it is consistent with the Geneva Conventions and other human rights documents. It denies that prisoners held under separation will be treated to "excessive noise," "excessive dampness" or "excessive or inadequate heat, light or ventilation." But rather than appear convincing, these caveats seem to direct the interrogation team to just those kinds of procedures that should be used, as long as it is not judged "excessive." At the September 2006 briefing, Kimmons assured reporters that Appendix M had been legally vetted by "senior DOD figures at the secretarial level, by the Joint Staff, by each of the combatant commanders and their legal advisers, by each of the service secretaries and service chiefs and their legal advisers, in addition to the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the director of National Intelligence, who coordinated laterally with the CIA." It was also "favorably reviewed" by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department. This is not a legal vetting that inspires much confidence.

The total effect of combining all the procedures enumerated above, particularly in an atmosphere of fear and futility or hopelessness, is to produce a state not dissimilar to that described by Albert Biderman in his famous Chart of Coercion, as described elsewhere by this author and by Scott Shane of the New York Times. Social psychologist Biderman had studied the techniques of Soviet, Chinese and Korean interrogators and constructed a model of coercive interrogation that was later used by SERE interrogators at Guantanamo (as described above). Biderman's Chart of Coercion enumerates the key abusive techniques as isolation, monopolization of perception, induced debilitation and exhaustion, threats, occasional indulgences, demonstrating "omnipotence" and "omniscience" (i.e., complete control over a prisoner's fate), degradation and enforcement of trivial demands. What we have here, in sum, is what has come to be known in the 21st century as the Guantanamo model.

It is the intent of the Army Field Manual's Appendix M to institute the Guantanamo model across all military sites. The use of separation is supposed to be limited to "unlawful enemy combatants." Hina Shamsi, with the ACLU, notes that the Geneva Conventions allow for no status-based discrimination as the basis of differentiating interrogation techniques. The use of such different techniques "could lead to a conflicting and confusing situation," and the violation of domestic or international laws, according to Shamsi. Beyond that is the distinction of marking certain combatants as "unlawful," which is highly controversial and for which there seems to be no adequate precedent in the law of war.

One last example should suffice to demonstrate the perfidy upon which the Army Field Manual was rewritten. (The revamping of the AFM was supervised by Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld's undersecretary of defense for intelligence, also notoriously in charge of the Pentagon's secretive sabotage and assassination teams, code-named Grey Fox.) In the last version of the AFM (FM 34-52), published in 1992, the use of fear-based techniques was divided into Fear Up Harsh and Fear Up Mild, with a strong warning issued that the use of Fear Up "has the greatest potential to violate the law of war." In the contemporary version of the AFM, the division of the technique into harsh and mild categories is abandoned, while the cautionary language is weakened. Meanwhile, the definition of Fear Up has changed as well.

From the 1992 manual:
The fear-up approach is the exploitation of a source's pre-existing fear during the period of capture and interrogation. (pp. 3-15)
In the 2006 manual, the definition adds a sinister new twist (emphasis added):
In the fear-up approach, the HUMINT [human intelligence] collector identifies a pre-existing fear or creates a fear within the source. He then links the elimination or reduction of the fear to cooperation on the part of the source. … The HUMINT collector should also be extremely careful that he does not create so much fear that the source becomes unresponsive. (pp. 8-10)
In a manner similar to the introduction of the harmful technique of sleep deprivation, the new policy of creating a new fear within a detainee is introduced with a simple grammatical clause. A few words inserted here and there, and the viral program is complete. (Interestingly, the old 1992 AFM says that "increased fear-up" is a "proven effective" technique, but elsewhere describes fear-up harsh as "usually a dead-end," interrogation-wise.)

The Fight Against the "New" Army Field Manual

With the start of a new administration and the swearing in of a new Congress, changes to President Bush's program of torture and abusive detention and interrogation are in the offing. The controversy over the possible nomination of CIA official John Brennan to the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency, which led to a wide protest, including a letter critical of the choice addressed to President-elect Barack Obama and signed by 200 psychologists and mental health professionals, led to the withdrawal of Brennan from consideration.

As a new administration and Congress consider how to clean up the mess left them by the Bush administration, when it comes to the torture issue, many liberals in the political class are looking to a global adoption of the Army Field Manual as a kind of anodyne for this problem. An example of how far the virus has spread is the petition by the well-regarded Campaign to Ban Torture, signed by a plethora of "respected leaders," including Obama's nominee for White House National Security Adviser, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones. Espousing a "golden rule" over interrogation practice, the CBT declaration states:
We will have one national standard for all U.S. personnel and agencies for the interrogation and treatment of prisoners. Currently, the best expression of that standard is the U.S. Army Field Manual, which will be used until any other interrogation technique has been approved based on the Golden Rule principle.
The Guantanamo virus is spreading. Its agent is Appendix M of the Army Field Manual. It will be very difficult to eradicate. It will require the effort of every person who believes in human rights and is opposed to torture to spread the word. A few crucial human rights and legal organizations have already spoken out against Appendix M, but we have yet to hear from groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights First or the Center for the Victims of Torture. Congressmembers must be called. Letters to the editor must be written. Bloggers must give their unique independent commentary.

The AFM as constituted must not be made the "one national standard" until the virus is eradicated. Appendix M must be rescinded in its totality, and portions of the document, such as the section on Fear Up, rewritten. Otherwise, Bush's and Rumsfeld's attempt to sneak coercive methods of interrogation into the main document of human intelligence gathering used by the military will succeed.

This effort must be combined, as well, with efforts to strip the CIA of its use of "enhanced interrogation methods," which amount to barbaric torture. An independent commission must be established to investigate and publicize the long history of the use of torture and abusive interrogation research and practice by the United States, to ensure that this kind of crime is firmly eradicated and will not happen again. An independent prosecutor should be given full authority to pursue appropriate investigation and indictments.

The time that approaches is one of great opportunity and great danger. Hopefully, U.S. society will rise to the challenges that face it.

[My thanks to Liliana Segura, Marjorie Cohn, and Hina Shamsi for help with this piece. They are not responsible for the opinions or any errors herein, which are entirely my own. -- This story is also posted at Invictus.]

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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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