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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Expose (Part Three): Roger Aldrich, the Al Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen

Posted by Valtin at 2:06 AM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake

In parts one and two of this series on the origins of the SERE torture program, we examined how unlikely it was that James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, relying on entrepreneurial guile and chutzpah alone, convinced a passive Pentagon and CIA, eager to find some way to get terror intelligence, to buy into their "learned helplessness" interrogation paradigm. It seems plausible that others were in on the scheme, and in part two, we examined the idea that Mitchell and Jessen's superior, Col. Roger Aldrich, had originated the idea of selling SERE interrogation services to the government.


We also know, as established earlier, that Mitchell's first business partner came from Special Operations. Later, Mitchell, Jessen and Associates (MJA) shared the same telephone number as Randall Spivey's RS Consulting business. Spivey was former chief of operations for JPRA's Policy and Oversight Division, until leaving in 2002 to found his own series of contracting companies. Ultimately, he became a governing member of MJA.


As for Roger Aldrich, the "legendary military survival trainer" (as the New York Timesdescribed him) who had been Mitchell and Jessen's Air Force superior, he continued to work at the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) after 9/11, waiting out his military retirement. Subsequently, he joined JPRA contractor Tate Inc. as Director of Training, a job he must have held concurrent with his Mitchell-Jessen post. (MJA and Tate share the same Alexandria, Virginia address.)


David Ayers, head of Tate, Inc., was the other MJA shareholder, along with Joseph Matarazzo, yet another former president of the American Psychological Association who crossed Mitchell and Jessen's path. Matarazzo, who Jane Mayer recently reported worked for the CIA, had been hired by Mitchell and Jessen years earlier, in 1996, along with other prominent U.S. psychologists -- Charles Speilberger, Richard Lazarus, and Albert Bandura -- for an internal review of SERE training procedures, according to a SERE internal document.


According to my source, Mr. Aldrich had contacts with the CIA through Special Forces work. Special Forces has a unique relationship with SERE and JPRA, as all Special Forces operators must receive SERE training and certification, due to the danger of their work. It is my hypothesis that the CIA passed the Al Qaeda document on to Aldrich, and set up the cover story of a "review" of the terrorist manual as the opportunity to launch the torture plan. (See discussion as well in part one of this series.)


The review itself was only a premise, which is clear to anyone who has ever bothered to look at the manual, and its simplistic, if not homely, rendition of how to resist what the manual assumes is inevitable torture. Since the Al Qaeda manual assumes that a number of torture techniques will be used upon the prisoner, including stripping, hanging by feet and hands, beatings, cold water, forced standing and positions, attack by dogs, solitary confinement, use of drugs, being placed in a septic tank, and more, one wonders, given the accounts of torture by U.S. interrogators, just how surprised Al Qaeda members were by the so-called "enhanced" techniques doled out by the SERE/CIA specialists.


Nor should we consider this a conspiracy between only Aldrich, Mitchell and Jessen. As noted above, it seems most probable that the CIA set the mission in motion, utilizing special operations and JPRA contacts. In this scenario, Mitchell and Jessen can best be understood as agents in the operation, and not brain trusters. Moreover, the CIA had been running research studies on the effects of SERE techniques on subjects for some years, preceding 9/11. (A future article will give the particulars, but see this article for some examples.)


It seems possible, given what we know thus far, that Vice President Dick Cheney's office originated the torture program (possibly at the behest of President Bush), utilizing personnel from the Joint Special Forces Command (JSOC) and the CIA. According to New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh, JSOC is said to not be answerable to any particular command structure (emphasis added):


It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.

The chain of command for the torture program appears to have run from Bush-Cheney, to leaders of JSOC and their CIA supporters, to the "legendary" Roger Aldrich, and on down to his trusted men, Mitchell, Jessen, Baumgarten and others at Aldrich's agency, JPRA. From thence, the program spread throughout the CIA, the Defense Department (including the Defense Intelligence Agency), especially via Joint Forces Command, and to the contracting companies that were read into the program, staffed often by compatriots from Special Operations or SERE, or ex-CIA or other intelligence men.


The main problem with analyses of the Mitchell-Jessen program thus far is the failure to plausibly link the top layers of the administration, which we know were involved in approving torture, to such lowly players as Mitchell and Jessen. The actions and connections of Roger Aldrich, and the ersatz chain of command that is described just above has the virtue of describing the necessary connections, although the identities of some of the actors are still unknown.


Whatever actually happened, whether Scott Shane, who wrote the recent New York Times article on Mitchell and Jessen, is right, or my scenario, or some other, we must have investigations with real teeth to get to the truth, followed by prosecutions of those who were responsible for crimes of war, of crimes against humanity.


Also posted at Invictus

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Expose (Part 2) : Expanding the Investigation into SERE Torture

Posted by Valtin at 1:58 AM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake


The first installment of this three-part series on the origins of the Mitchell-Jessen torture program concentrated on the insufficiency of reducing our understanding of the spread of torture during the Bush administration to the interventions of just two men. This is essentially the way the story was presented in a 12 August New York Times article by Scott Shane, leaving the question unanswered: how did Mitchell and Jessen get involved in constructing an offensive torture program to begin with?


The documentary record demonstrates that Mitchell and Jessen were not alone in proposing that military survival and resistance (SERE) psychologists and trainers be used to lead interrogations of the flood of prisoners in the new "war on terror."


How could Mitchell and Jessen be seen as the prime proponents for the program when in December 2001, according to released materials in the Senate Armed Services Committee's report on prisoner abuse, the Chief of Staff of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner, wrote to Richard Shiffrin, who worked for Jim Haynes in Don Rumsfeld's Office of Legal Counsel for the Defense Deparment:


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.


[JPRA is the umbrella program for the different SERE programs organized by the various military services.]


While the New York Times article makes almost no attempt to link the Mitchell-Jessen episode to the larger spread of torture throughout the U.S. armed forces, or to describe the actual role of the CIA in fostering it, Mitchell and Jessen's influence is assumed. It is no surprise, and in fact is pointed out by Mr. Shane, that a decision by Attorney General Eric Holder whether to pursue criminal charges for the torture program is pending, and that the CIA contract psychologists are in the crosshairs of such a potential investigation. The latter make uneasy game for the Obama administration's insistence that those who believed they were acting in good faith upon legal permissions will not be prosecuted. No doubt, Mitchell and Jessen will pursue just such a defense. (See the recent Joby Warrick/Peter Finn article in the Washington Post, which describes the persistent "permissions" for each torture interrogation secured by Abu Zubaydah's interrogators.)


But worse, perhaps, than the article's elisions are its misrepresentations. And none stand out more clearly than the relegation of "legendary military survival trainer," Roger L. Aldrich, to that of mere employee of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates (MJA). While mentioning that MJA had five shareholders, "four of them from the military’s SERE program," Scott Shane never mentions that Aldrich was one of the five.


Roger Aldrich was, as Col. Steven M. Kleinman told me in a telephone interview, "one of the founding fathers of the survival program in this country." (Kleinman was also a source for the Shane article.) He fashioned SERE into "the best [survival] program in the world." Kleinman denied any knowledge of Aldrich's role in the Mitchell-Jessen torture enterprise, nor that of other MJA shareholders, also SERE players or contractors, Randall Spivey and David Ayers.


Yet another insider, who says he has some knowledge of the individuals involved, has indicated that it was Roger Aldrich, Mitchell and Jessen's superior officer, the man who indeed hired them in the 1990s, who was responsible for the idea of reverse-engineering SERE techniques and contracting out services to the government.


Aldrich was an officer in the Air Force Reserve, who was also civilian chief of the Air Force's Special Survival Training Program (SSTP), which was later folded into the JPRA agency. From this position, the source says, he hired "many people into lucrative civil service jobs at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, paying from $75K to $150K per year plus fantastic benefits." Aldrich used his influence and position to dole out patronage, and gained a loyal, devoted following. He took Mitchell and Jessen and promoted them. After 9/11, he hatched a scheme with the two men to offer interrogation and training services to the military and CIA for a great deal of money.


Next up in the series, Part Three: Roger Aldrich, the Al Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen


Also posted at Invictus

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Expose (Part 1): NYT Misses Full Story on Mitchell-Jessen

Posted by Valtin at 1:38 AM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake


This is the first of a three part series on the origins of the Mitchell-Jessen torture program. By its conclusion, we'll have a pretty good picture just how the torture program originated in the White House, or Vice President Cheney's office, and how it came to be implemented via the use of ex-military psychologists.


In order to make these connections, we must first consider the established narrative thus far, exemplified by Scott Shane's new article on Mitchell and Jessen in the 12 August New York Times. The article's description of the Mitchell-Jessen story may work as a prosecutorial brief, but it presents a narrative about the origins of the SERE-inspired torture program that is misleading in certain particulars. As a result, though the article has some interesting new bits of information, and appears to be the result of a great deal of work, it presents an overly simplistic view of how the torture program originated.


In Shane's view, former Survival, Evasion, Escape, Resistance, or SERE psychologists, working many years for the Air Force's survival training programs, were the bad apples who "helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture..." In almost every case where Shane could have expanded the story, linking Mitchell and Jessen to larger forces and entities, he backed off, blurred over crucial details, or misrepresented important relationships.


By all accounts, James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen have a lot to answer for. Their actions in the Abu Zubaydah interrogation, which included the use of torture techniques of stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and others, later made "legal" by the Office of Legal Counsel memos written or represented by John Yoo, David Addington, and Jay Bybee, marks them as guilty of war crimes.


In Shane's version, an entrepreneurial James Mitchell "impressed" the CIA's Cofer Black and Jose Rodriguez, Jr. "by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon." Mitchell had developed a theory, so Shane explains, that a psychological doctrine called "learned helplessness" could be used to make resistant Al Qaeda prisoners comply with interrogator demands. While more experienced interrogators criticized this view, somehow Mitchell prevailed.


Misty Origins


When it comes to the period where the torture program is believed to have started -- sometime in December 2001 -- the New York Times article adds little of substance. Mitchell's theories are said to have been "attracting high-level attention" in CIA circles. How these theories got there is unknown. It could have via a brainstorming session at the home of former American Psychological Association President Martin Seligman. Shane remarks that Mitchell met and fawned over Seligman, who was the originator of the "learned helplessness" theory. But nothing is reported about Mitchell retailing his own theories on reverse-engineering SERE training at this event, and Seligman reports he knew nothing of what Mitchell was planning.


Mitchell's interrogation ideas could have been disseminated through CIA contacts from Mitchell's last known assignment, which according to Shane was with "an elite special operations unit in North Carolina." But the Times article is mum on this, too. In fact, the entire connection between special operations forces and Mitchell and Jessen, or their parent SERE agency, is neglected in the article. For instance, when Shane writes about Mitchell's first contracting company, Knowledge Works, he fails to mention the company was founded in conjunction with Special Operations Psychologist Lt. Colonel John C. Chin.


What follows is the crucial section of the Times article describing the implementation of the Mitchell plan:


At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchell’s theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemy’s brutal techniques — slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding — into an American interrogation program.


By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center.... One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear....


By the end of March, when agency operatives captured Abu Zubaydah, initially described as Al Qaeda’s No. 3, the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready. At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, as reported in prior news accounts, two F.B.I agents used conventional rapport-building methods to draw vital information from Mr. Zubaydah. Then the C.I.A. team, including Dr. Mitchell, arrived.


This explanation of the origins of the torture program leaves a lot to be desired (and really offers nothing new). How did Mitchell's "theories" come to the attention of the CIA? Why did they give Mitchell the assignment of "reviewing" the so-called Al Qaeda manual, which had been in Western hands for at least six months? And how did an assignment to review Al Qaeda resistance techniques become a prospectus for an offensive torture program?


Next up in the series: Going After the Bigger Fish


Also posted at Invictus

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Monday, June 15, 2009

No Accountability: Two Generals Who Enabled Torture

Posted by Valtin at 1:33 AM |

Originally posted by Jeff Kaye at Firedoglake

There's been plenty of news and journalistic investigation on the torture enablers George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez, David Addington, and a host of other Bush Administration figures. The CIA, too, has come in for its share of investigation and scrutiny. But while the Senate Armed Services Committee conducted a months-long investigation and published last April a 200+ page report on Department of Defense abuse of prisoners, including torture, very little public scrutiny of culpable military officials has occurred.

The spotlight has mainly fallen on the activities of former SERE psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who together spearheaded the implementation of a prisoner "exploitation plan" that became known later as "enhanced interrogation techniques," and included a number of torture techniques, including isolation, sleep deprivation, stress positions, sensory deprivation and overload, forced nudity, waterboarding, and much more.

Recently, there was a spike of interest in the command responsibility Obama nominee for top military commander, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, might hold for the use of torture by Special Operations forces under his command in Iraq. But at the Senate Armed Services hearing for his nomination the other day, according to Spencer Ackerman, only Senator Levin even queried him on the subject, and no senator appeared opposed to his nomination.

But I want to look at the actions of two generals mentioned in the SASC report, "Inquiry on the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody." Both of them are singled out for actions related to the approval of torture under their commands. Both had command responsibility for these actions, and one of them, Air Force Special Operations Brigadier General Lyle Koenig, was specifically singled out for obloquy (although not by name). The other senior officer, Brigadier General Thomas Moore, was the Director of Operations and Plans (J3) for Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).

Both officers dropped out of sight after 2004, or, that is, an extensive web search on their activities turned up practically nothing. It was on September 24, 2004 that JFCOM finally withdrew official approval for use of SERE-like interrogation techniques, at least by SERE personnel (or rather, through SERE's parent agency, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, or JPRA). Earlier, BG Koenig and BG Moore had played crucial roles in the implementation of SERE torture, giving approval to the use of SERE techniques in interrogations.

The Role of Brigadier General Moore in the Origins of the SERE Torture Program

Sometime in late 2001, former SERE psychologist and contractor wannabe, James Mitchell, had received a copy of a purported Al Qaeda manual, which included instructions on how to withstand interrogation. According to an anonymous source who claims some knowledge of the individuals involved, and who has been credible on other matters pertaining to JPRA, Mitchell obtained the document from his superiors inside JPRA's Personnel Recovery Academy (PRA). The manual initially surfaced in Great Britain, and may have made its way to JPRA via the CIA.

According to the SASC report, when SERE psychologist Bruce Jessen sent his draft interrogation plan, packaged as a "Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training," to his superior, Colonel John "Randy" Moulton in February 2002, Moulton passed it on up the chain of command at JFCOM for approval and dissemination. Jessen was then selling PRA instructors as executing an "'exploitation oriented' approach. . . better than anyone." Moulton was enthusiastic. When, later, in August 2002, JPRA tops held a meeting to discuss "future JPRA support to [deleted word] actions to obtain actionable intelligence from Detained Unlawful Combatants," PRA was copied in on the email discussion.

Meanwhile, BG Moore was finessing the transfer of JPRA/SERE "expertise" to SOUTHCOM, the military command responsible for the new prison at Guanatanamo. Moore told the Operations Chief at SOUTHCOM that "JPRA was 'prepared to support [SOUTHCOM] in any potential collaboration.'" Presumably, it was Moore who had gotten Jessen's draft plan from Moulton. In any case, by even as early as mid-February 2002, Jessen's paper and Moulton's favorable recommendations were making the rounds from Moore's JFCOM to Joint Staff and various Combatant Commands, "including those with responsibility for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay." Things were moving fast.

(For those who like timelines, the spread of SERE's torture program to various sectors of the military preceded the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, and was roughly contemporaneous with the Cheney-ordered waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi. For those prone to speculate, the appearance of the Al Qaeda Resistance Manual in the hands of James Mitchell and the capture of al-Libi in mid-December 2001 seems awfully coincidental.)

Sometime in February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency asked JFCOM if they could get a "crash course" on interrogation for the next team headed out to SOUTHCOM (Guantanamo). The request went to BG Moore, who approved it. Jessen and another JPRA instructor were tasked with the seminar.

The presentation on detainee "exploitation" described phases of exploitation and included instruction on initial capture and handling, conducting interrogations, and long term exploitation... The exploitation presentation also included slides on "isolation and degradation," "sensory deprivation," "physiological pressures," and "psychological pressures... At SERE school, each of these terms has special meaning.

Another four months passed, and in July 2002, DoD's General Counsel office approached JPRA for information on SERE techniques, and in particular, waterboarding. Marcy Wheeler has done a superlative job in dissecting that particular episode, showing how this request was intricately tied up in the construction of the second Bybee memo,which would supposedly legitimate the "enhanced interrogation" torture techniques built out of the reverse-engineered SERE courses, and other assorted torture programs, such as the CIA's old KUBARK interrogation protocol. Before JPRA Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Daniel Baumgartner, felt comfortable giving General Counsel Jim Haynes the information he requested, he first asked permission from Col. Moulton and Brigadier General Moore. Permission was granted. JFCOM had blessed the attempt by DoD to assist the Office of Legal Counsel attorneys in their illegitimate attempt to legally baptize the torture program.

A Special Operations General Submarines Pro-Geneva Intervention

BG Moore left his position as Director of Plans for JFCOM in August 2003, but not before he played a small but significant role in an event that also introduces us to our other general. That summer, the commander of a Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force in Iraq called up Col. Moulton at JPRA and asked for assistance on interrogations. The SMU was actually a Special Operations unit, famously known as Task Force 121, though it goes by other names as well (Task Force 6-26). A 2006 New York Times article describes the horrors of this TF's torture interrogations in their "Black Room" at Camp Nama.

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL." The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.

The commander at Camp Nama and of TF 121 was Brigadier General Lyle Koenig. His name is never mentioned in the SASC report, but Senator Levin managed to get Col. Moulton to reveal the name during testimony before the SASC on September 25, 2008. Because of the classified nature of much of Special Operations activity, the anonymity, and therefore, the freedom from accountability or notoriety of these individuals is usually guaranteed. But not today, not here. (Koenig likely reported to his superior, Lt. Gen. McChrystal.)

On August 27, the request for JPRA/SERE support for Task Force 121 went to JFCOM's Operations Directorate (J3), whose director was BG Moore. Once again, the request was granted, and within a matter of days, JPRA sent off a team of two instructors and one JPRA contractor to the Black Room prison at Camp Nama. Interestingly, the contractor, Lenny Miller, was requested by name by the Special Operations team. It seems likely someone in TF 121 knew him personally, and Miller was possibly ex-SO.

When the JPRA team got there, dissention arose when an experienced interrogator and reserve officer, Lt. Col. Steven Kleinman, saw what was going on and tried to shut down the torture interrogations. This is a story I've told before. Suffice it to say that Kleinman was met with hostility by Special Forces personnel on site, and near-mutiny by his JPRA associates, who participated in abusive interrogations (torture sessions) even though Kleinman had forbid them to do so. Kleinman got on the phone with superiors back at JPRA (Col. Moulton), and with the commander at Nama (or whatever Special Forces site it was actually at -- it's just assumed it was Nama), BG Koenig.

According to Kleinman's testimony, Koenig heard Kleinman's assertions that the techniques being used violated the Geneva Conventions, and this, apparently, on more than one occasion. But somehow, nothing was ever done about it. The torture continued, and a manual of SERE-like techniques was written up for TF 121 use, a project in which Kleinman refused to participate (although he did recommend another JPRA associate for the job). Kleinman told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

And when I went back to the task force commander with concerns—but, I’ll tell you, Mr. Chairman, there was—it falls into a void. I would brief the task force commander very clearly, and he very clearly agreed with my assessment of it, but there was no orders ever issued—when I’d go over to the interrogation center, they never got—their senior interrogator, not—never got any guidance about that—

When the SASC got around to issuing its executive summary on its investigation, they wrote (emphasis added):

JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton's authorization of SERE instructors, who had no experience in detainee interrogations, to actively participate in Task Force interrogations using SERE resistance training techniques was a serious failure in judgment. The Special Mission Unit Task Force commander's failure to order that SERE resistance training techniques not be used in detainee interrogations was a serious failure in leadership that led to the abuse of detainees in Task Force custody. Iraq is a Geneva Convention theater and techniques used in SERE school are inconsistent with the obligations of U.S. personnel under the Geneva Conventions.... Combatant Command requests for JPRA "offensive" interrogation support and U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) authorization of that support led to JPRA operating outside the agency's charter and beyond its expertise.

The Aftermath

In the end, the Colonel takes the heat (and rightly so), but those higher up the chain of command are protected by anonymity and wag-of-the-finger censure. On a more suspicious note, as I mentioned before, both Moore and Koenig drop off the map after 2004. After an assiduous search, I discovered that Moore assumed command of the 116th Air Control Wing in March 2007.

Koenig, on the other hand, disappears from our story entirely. Unlike Thomas Moore, Koenig is Special Ops, so he could be on a classified mission somewhere. One website, which I won't link to because of unconfirmed salacious material, claims he retired after a sex scandal, and that the Air Force has scrubbed his story from its historical files.

Whatever fortune pursued these two, I present them here as exemplary examples of how the military tops have gotten off scot-free over the torture scandal. Their names unknown. No cameras chasing them down, or interviews showing up on YouTube. The Pentagon is like a giant club, and if you have a high-status membership, it appears that you are immune from even the worst crimes, and the mainstream press has shown a tremendous aversion to doing much to track this aspect of the story down. Even Congress, mandated with oversight, and hamstrung by Executive Branch obstructionism, when it has managed to reveal part of the truth, manages to sweep the accountability of senior Pentagon officials under the rug of benign fulmination.

The entire secret world of military and intelligence operations, especially special forces operations, should be open to complete societal re-examination. It was precisely out of such a secretive world, in combination with a shadowy bizarro world of complementary contracting companies, that the EIT/SERE/torture program arose. It may have been ordered forth by Cheney and Bush, but the soldiers who stood ready to implement those commands continue on in their posts -- dissembling, unrepentant, unknown-- ready for the next go-round.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Media & Gov't Torture Cover-up: Sen. Levin, Release the 12/01 SERE Docs

Posted by Valtin at 9:37 PM |

Something very odd occurred during the hearings last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on the use of torture against detainees. Something crucial was missed. But before we examine that, let's first examine how the so-called responsible U.S. press covered the revelations oozing out of Washington.

When the New York Times's Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane wrote their June 18 article on the testimony in the SASC hearings on torture of detainees at U.S. prison sites, they made a tremendous blunder in the very first paragraph. (At least I am going to grant it was a mistake, and not something more sinister.)

Oh yes, Mazzetti and Shane made their primary point, i.e., that the CIA was heavily involved in shaping interrogation techniques to be used at Guantanamo Bay's Naval Prison for "enemy combatants." The documents released by the SASC reveal that discussions took place on the use of various torture techniques, on hiding prisoners from the prying eyes of the International Red Cross, and on how to hide evidence of these crimes from any future investigators.

For instance, the CIA representative at a "Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting" at Guantanamo on October 2, 2002, agreed with his compatriot from the Defense Intelligence Agency, that videotaping interrogations was a bad idea. "Subject to too much scrutiny in court," says Dave Becker, the DIA man. "Even totally legal techniques will look 'ugly'," adds John Fredman of the CIA. This discussion, by the way, took place only a visit to Guantanamo by CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, along with other high Bush officials, including then-counsel to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, among others.

Returning then to the New York Times reporting on the Senate hearings, we find this opening statement (emphasis added):
When military officers at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, struggled in the fall of 2002 to find ways to get terrorism suspects to talk, they turned to the one agency that had spent several months experimenting with the limits of physical and psychological pressure: the Central Intelligence Agency.
Several months! Mazzetti, Shane, and the New York Times fact-checking office is only off by a factor of 100. Not only has the CIA been studying and "experimenting with the limits of physical and psychological pressure" for year, not months, they have been doing so for over five decades!

It would appear that the mission of the New York Times is to provide limited but essential cover for the intelligence agencies in their work. This means publishing partial truths of particular events, but lying or covering up on all essential matters that could harm the agencies.

The same kind of lying about history -- something akin to the falsification work of George Orwell's "Ministry of Truth -- pops up in Scott Shane's NYT article today on the CIA interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. The article repeats the lie that the CIA in 2002 -- the year that saw the invasion of Afghanistan, the stepped-up campaign to track down and apprehend "terrorists", and the planning for the invasion of Iraq -- was "an agency nearly devoid of expertise in detention and interrogation."

And yet the opposite was true: the CIA had studied the effects of abusive detention and interrogation more than almost any other agency in the government. The results of a multi-million dollar study into coercive interrogation techniques -- centered on a deconstruction of Soviet and Chinese interrogation, and adding in intense research focus on sensory deprivation, sensory overload, and the use of psychotropic drugs -- were brought together as early as 1962 by the CIA into manual form. Anyone who wishes can today read the CIA's "Kubark" manual online and convince themselves of this fact.

It is likely true that with the invasion of Afghanistan and the meglomaniacal campaign that is Bush's "global war on terror", there was a shortage of experienced interrogators in the CIA and military. As a result, officers in the field and politicians back in Washington turned to the only other governmental entity that had serious expertise in this subject: the SERE program.

SERE & the Propagation of Torture

SERE originated in the early 1950s after Air Force pilots captured in the Korean War confessed (or not, depending on whom you wish to believe) to U.S. use of biological weapons on civilian and military targets in that war. The scandal over the pilots' "confessions" (and other pro-communist statements or collaboration by POWs) led to a re-working of the language of the military's "Code of Conduct" and a crash course in the inoculation of American military personnel against so-called Communist" brainwashing".

SERE training contained abusive techniques even from the beginning. A Newsweek article on SERE from September 12, 1955 -- "Ordeal in the Desert: Making Tougher Soldiers to Resist Brainwashing" -- describes the use of isolation, imprisonment in a coffin, electroshock, lies and insults aimed race, religion and national origin, and physical abuse upon Air Force trainees, for the purpose of "stress inoculation." According to Mike Otterman's book, American Torture, brutality within SERE led to a temporary cessation of the program in the mid-1950s.

In the mid-1970s, a SERE student and Navy pilot, Wendell Young, sued the government for millions of dollars, alleging SERE training resulted in abuse and a broken back. He alleged students had been "tortured into spitting, urinating and defecating on the American flag, masturbating before guards, and, on one occasion, engaging in sex with an instructor." The Navy admitted the physical abuse (including "water torture"), but denied the sexual torture. As more was revealed, the deaths of at least two SERE students was reported during what a Navy commander described as training that amounted to "illusions of reality." (See Newsweek article, "Navy's Torture Camp", March 22, 1976 -- of course, this article is not available online, but a reference to the Young case can be found here.)

The use of SERE techniques as a template for training of interrogators in abusive methods of educing information, i.e., torture, is not anything new, either. Sergeant Donald W. Duncan, a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, recipient of two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Vietnamese Silver Star, the Army Air Medal, and sundry other decorations, testified at a "War Crimes" tribunal chaired by Bertrand Russell in the 1960s that SERE techniques had been taught to Special Forces interrogators for use in Vietnam. (Thanks to Mike Otterman, too, whose book drew my attention to this forgotten episode in U.S. history.)

From the Russell Copenhagen Tribunal testimony (pp.31-32) (bold emphasis added):
Duncan recounts an American instruction class for the Green Berets in "Counter-Measures to Hostile Interrogation" in which the techniques of hostile interrogation are presented in great detail but not any counter-measures, of which the instructor says there are none. A sergeant asks the instructor whether the only reason for teaching the class is for training in the use of the methods of interrogation (involving torture such as lowering of a prisoner's testicles into a jeweler's vise, mutilation, etc.). The instructor replies: "We can't tell you that, Sergeant Harrison. The Mothers of America wouldn't approve. Furthermore, we will deny that any such thing is taught or intended." D. DUNCAN, THE NEW LEGIONS 123-25 (Pocket Books ed. 1968). In his testimony before the Russell Tribunal, Duncan states that this dialogue is a word for word quote. RUSSELL TRIBUNAL, supra, at 463.
This is the history out of which the current controversies arose. One supposes that the average reporter knows none of this, but even worse, doesn't want to know about it, because the presentation of unvarnished truth by a major U.S. reporter would jeopardize his or her career. Once in awhile, a piece of the whole story is reported, but then its forgotten or never repeated, an evanescent flickering of the light behind the thick screen of media fog, quick to disappear, easily overlooked and forgotten, a moment of courageous utterance meant to salve a reporter's or editor's uneasy conscience.

What's more typical is the unconscious statement of disparate facts, which go unresearched and unexamined. Such was the case in Scott Shane's homage to a CIA "good guy" interrogator reference above. One has to go to the end of the article to find this:
But Mr. Martinez has not turned away entirely from his old world. He now works for Mitchell & Jessen Associates, a consulting company run by former military psychologists who advised the C.I.A. on the use of harsh tactics in the secret program.
Martinez, the purported interrogator of KSM, who is praised for using techniques of gaining rapport to get good information, and contrasted with those who would use torture techniques -- never mind that Martinez is introduced to KSM after he has been softened up with waterboarding, etc. -- is exposed as just another SERE-related asset, as Mitchell & Jessen have repeatedly been outed as involved in teaching torture to military interrogators, as even Scott Shane points out. But Shane only leaves this damaging piece of evidence for the end of the article, undoing the positive portrait he paints of his chosen CIA "good guy." And, of course, he never comments on the context this revelation brings to the entire piece.

The Baumgarten Revelations

Today, SERE is administratively part of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense. JPRA is tasked with "personnel recovery mission." While Senator Levin gives a fairly thorough presentation of how SERE techniques migrated to Guantanamo, including discussions and meetings and when they took place, and descriptions (at least in the documents released by the committee) of what kind of techniques were being taught, one date is inexplicably left out which Lt. Col. Baumgarten gave in his testimony. Levin concentrates upon the late July 2002 request by Richard Shiffrin, a Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Defense, for information on SERE techniques and their effects upon prisoners. (Mark Benjamin follows Levin's outline of events at his otherwise impressive "Timeline to Bush Government Torture".)

But Baumgarten's own opening statement gives a more nuanced, different story. From his statement, as published online (bold emphasis added):
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.
Now something is very strange here, as Levin's own staff appear to have documents indicating DoD was asking about SERE techniques in December 2001, eight months before the July 2002 request everyone else is concentrating on. Why this gap? My guess is that it would take us even closer to the Oval Office than Levin or anyone else wants to go at this point. Where are these documents on the December 2001 request? Why did no one on the committee question Baumgarten about this issue during the hearings?

Senator Levin, I thank you for bringing this issue to the fore, and in pursuing many relevant leads. I also thank you for the release of many important documents. But, Senator Levin, what about the request on SERE techniques made of Lt. Col. Baumgarten in December 2001. He says your staff has the documents on this; in fact, they were used to refresh his memory.

Senator Levin, release all the documents!

Also posted at Invictus and The Public Record

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