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.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

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

Posted by Valtin at 9:53 PM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake


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


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


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


Why Was the Evaluation Written?


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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



Also posted at Invictus

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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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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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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Even In Cheney's Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low

Posted by Andy Worthington at 6:52 PM |

As published on the website of Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files.

Since the publication last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo (PDF), much has been made of a footnote containing a comment made by Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment’s Combat Stress Control Team, who, with two colleagues, was “hijacked” into providing an advisory role to the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo.

In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Maj. Burney wrote that “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

In an article to follow, I’ll look at how Maj. Burney -- almost accidentally -- assumed a pivotal role in the implementation of torture techniques in the “War on Terror,” but for now I’m going to focus on the significance of his comments, which are, of course, profoundly important because they demonstrate that, in contrast to the administration’s oft-repeated claims that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” foiled further terrorist attacks on the United States, much of the program was actually focused on trying to establish links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that would justify the planned invasion of Iraq.

Maj. Burney’s testimony provides the first evidence that coercive and illegal techniques were used widely at Guantánamo in an attempt to secure information linking al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, but it is not the first time that the Bush administration’s attempts to link a real enemy with one that required considerable ingenuity to conjure up have been revealed.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: the tortured lie that underpinned the Iraq war

In case anyone has forgotten, when Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the head of the Khaldan military training camp in Afghanistan, was captured at the end of 2001 and sent to Egypt to be tortured, he made a false confession that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi later recanted his confession, but not until Secretary of State Colin Powell -- to his eternal shame -- had used the story in February 2003 in an attempt to persuade the UN to support the invasion of Iraq.

It’s wise, I believe, to resuscitate al-Libi’s story right now for two particular reasons. The first is because, when he was handed over to US forces by the Pakistanis, he became the first high-profile captive to be fought over in a tug-of-war between the FBI, who wanted to play by the rules, and the CIA -- backed up by the most hawkish figures in the White House and the Pentagon -- who didn’t. In an article published in the New Yorker in February 2005, Jane Mayer spoke to Jack Cloonan, a veteran FBI officer, who worked for the agency from 1972 to 2002, who told her that his intention had been to secure evidence from al-Libi that could be used in the cases of two mentally troubled al-Qaeda operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, a proposed 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and Richard Reid, the British “Shoe Bomber.”

Crucially, Mayer reported, Cloonan advised his colleagues in Afghanistan to interrogate al-Libi with respect, “and handle this like it was being done right here, in my office in New York.” He added, “I remember talking on a secure line to them. I told them, ‘Do yourself a favor, read the guy his rights. It may be old-fashioned, but this will come out if we don’t. It may take ten years, but it will hurt you, and the bureau’s reputation, if you don’t. Have it stand as a shining example of what we feel is right.’”

However, after reading him his rights, and taking turns in interrogating him with agents from the CIA, Cloonan and his colleagues were dismayed when, in spite of developing what they believed was “a good rapport” with him, the CIA decided that tougher tactics were needed, and rendered him to Egypt. According to an FBI officer who spoke to Newsweek in 2004, "At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f*** her.' So we lost that fight.” Speaking to Mayer, Jack Cloonan added, “At least we got information in ways that wouldn’t shock the conscience of the court. And no one will have to seek revenge for what I did.” He added, “We need to show the world that we can lead, and not just by military might.”

In November 2005, the New York Times reported that a Defense Intelligence Agency report had noted in February 2002, long before al-Libi recanted his confession, that his information was not trustworthy. As the Times described it, his claims “lacked specific details about the Iraqis involved, the illicit weapons used and the location where the training was to have taken place.” The report itself stated, “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”

Had anyone asked Dan Coleman, a colleague of Cloonan’s who also had a long history of successfully interrogating terrorist suspects without resorting to the use of torture, it would have been clear that torturing a confession out of al-Libi was a counter-productive exercise.

As Mayer explained, Coleman was “disgusted” when he heard about the false confession, telling her, “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq. I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”

This, I believe, provides an absolutely critical explanation of why the Bush administration’s torture regime was not only morally repugnant, but also counter-productive, and it’s particularly worth noting Coleman’s comment that “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any.” However, I realize that the failure of torture to produce genuine evidence -- as opposed to intelligence that, though false, was at least “actionable” -- was exactly what was required by those, like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, “Scooter” Libby and other Iraq obsessives, who wished to betray America doubly, firstly by endorsing the use of torture in defiance of almost universal disapproval from government agencies and military lawyers, and secondly by using it not to prevent terrorist attacks, but to justify an illegal war.

Where are Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and the other 79 “ghost prisoners”?

In addition, a second reason for revisiting al-Libi’s story emerged two weeks ago, when memos approving the use of torture by the CIA, written by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, were released, because, in one of the memos from 2005, the author, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury, revealed that a total of 94 prisoners had been held in secret CIA custody. As I noted at the time, what was disturbing about this revelation was not the number of prisoners held, because CIA director Michael Hayden admitted in July 2007 that the CIA had detained fewer than 100 people at secret facilities abroad since 2002, but the insight that this exact figure provides into the supremely secretive world of “extraordinary rendition” and secret prisons that exists beyond the cases of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA custody in September 2006.

Al-Libi, of course, is one of the 80 prisoners whose whereabouts are unknown. There are rumors that, after he was fully exploited by the administration’s own torturers (in Poland and, almost certainly, other locations) and by proxy torturers in Egypt, he was sent back to Libya, to be dealt with by Colonel Gaddafi. I have no sympathy for al-Libi, as the emir of a camp that, at least in part, trained operatives for terrorist attacks in their home countries (in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East), but if there is ever to be a proper accounting for what took place in the CIA’s global network of “extraordinary rendition,” secret prisons, and proxy prisons, then al-Libi’s whereabouts, along with those of the other 79 men who constitute “America’s Disappeared” (as well as all the others rendered directly to third countries instead of to the CIA’s secret dungeons), need to be established.

Torturing Abu Zubaydah “to achieve a political objective”

Al-Libi’s story is, of course, disturbing enough as evidence of the utter contempt with which the Bush administration’s warmongers treated both the truth and the American public, but as David Rose explained in an article in Vanity Fair last December, al-Libi was not the only prisoner tortured until he came up with false confessions about links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

According to two senior intelligence analysts who spoke to Rose, Abu Zubaydah, the gatekeeper for the Khaldan camp, made a number of false confessions about connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, above and beyond one particular claim that was subsequently leaked by the administration: a patently ludicrous scenario in which Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq) were working with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. One of the analysts, who worked at the Pentagon, explained, “The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaydah was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.”

However, none of the analysts knew that these confessions had been obtained through torture. The Pentagon analyst told Rose, “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” He added, “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective.”

This is the crucial line, of course, and its significance is made all the more pronounced by the realization that, as one of Bradbury’s torture memos also revealed, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding (an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning) 83 times in August 2002. The administration persists in claiming that this hideous ordeal produced information that led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla, but we have known for years that KSM was seized after a walk-in informer ratted on him, and those of us who have been paying attention also know that, in the case of Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber,” who spent three and a half years in solitary confinement in a US military brig until he lost his mind, there never was an actual “dirty bomb” plot. This was admitted, before his torture even began, by deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who stated, in June 2002, a month after Padilla was captured, “I don't think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk.”

All this leaves me with the uncomfortable suspicion that what the excessive waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah actually achieved -- beyond the “30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent,” that was “spent chasing leads that were bullshit,” as an FBI operative explained to David Rose -- were a few more blatant lies to fuel the monstrous deception that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

A single Iraqi anecdote, and a bitter conclusion

It remains to be seen if further details emerge to back up Maj. Burney’s story. From my extensive research into the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners, I recall only that one particular prisoner, an Iraqi named Arkan al-Karim, mentioned being questioned about Iraq. Released in January this year, al-Karim had been imprisoned by the Taliban before being handed over to US forces by Northern Alliance troops, and had been forced to endure the most outrageous barrage of false allegations in Guantánamo, but when he spoke to the review board that finally cleared him for release, he made a point of explaining, “The reason they [the US] brought me to Cuba is not because I did something. They brought me from Taliban prison to get information from me about the Iraqi army before the United States went to Iraq.”

However, even without further proof of specific confessions extracted by the administration in an attempt to justify its actions, the examples provided in the cases of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaydah should be raised every time that Dick Cheney opens his mouth to mention the valuable intelligence that was extracted through torture, and to remind him that, instead of saving Americans from another terror attack, he and his supporters succeeding only in using lies extracted through torture to send more Americans to their deaths than died on September 11, 2001.

For other recent articles by Andy dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah? and CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Sick Torture Memos Also Lie: A Closer Look at the Bybee Memo

Posted by Valtin at 10:43 AM |

Also posted at AlterNet

Reading the just released August 1, 2002 memo by John Yoo (reportedly ghosting for Jay Bybee, then Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and now an Appeals Court Judge for the Ninth Circuit), to John Rizzo, then Acting General Counsel for the CIA, on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, is a surreal experience. There is so much that is strange and awful in it, it's hard to know where to begin.

But one thing that struck me right off the bat was the similarity of the statistics presented in the early part of the memo with the statement of Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, a psychologist with Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, United States Joint Forces Command, before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on June 17, 2008.

Let's review some of the relevant text.

Yoo/Bybee write, "This letter memorializes our previous oral advice, given on July 24, 2002, and July 26, 2002, that the proposed conduct would not violate this prohibition." The prohibition referred to is the U.S. torture statute, Section 2340A, Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

In his statement, Ogrisseg states that July 24, 2002 was the date of his memorandum “Psychological Effects of Resistance Training.” Dr. Ogrisseg was then still a psychologist working for the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) at the United States Air Force Survival School at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. Only a few days after filing his report with the commander of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, the parent Pentagon organization for all the military SERE programs, on July 29 he became a civilian SERE psychologist, with a number of various duties.

More from Dr. Ogrisseg:
Mr. Chairman, with regards to my July 2002 communications with then Lt Col Dan Baumgartner, the then Chief of Staff of JPRA, my recollection is that Lt Col Baumgartner called me directly, probably on the same day that I generated my 24 July 2002 memorandum that I referenced earlier. He indicated that he was getting asked “from above” about the psychological effects of resistance training. I had no idea who was asking Lt Col Baumgartner “from above” and did not ask him to clarify who was asking. I recall reminding Lt Col Baumgartner in general terms about program evaluation data I’d presented in May of 2002 at the SERE Psychology Conference. These data, which were collected on Air Force survival students at different points of time during training, indicated that training significantly improves students confidence in their ability to adhere to the Code of Conduct.
Why might Bybee, Rizzo, Yoo or others have been interested in Ogrisseg's study of SERE psychological effects? The initial portions of the Aug. 1, 2002 memo are concerned primarily with demonstrating that the techniques migrating into the interrogation arena from SERE training programs were not harmful, physiologically or psychologically, at least not in a way that would violate the law as construed by the OLC attorneys.

Despite the presence of a "SERE training psychologist" from the very beginning of Zubaydah's interrogation. Captured in March 2002, Zubaydah told the ICRC he was tortured from the time of capture. He was allegedly waterboarded by June 2002. Now, unhappy with their intel, CIA was planning to move into an "increased pressure phase" on Zubaydah. OLC notes in the memo that it is relying on information about Zubaydah and Yoo/Bybee warns Rizzo if the "facts in your possession [are] contrary to the facts outlined here", then their "advice would not necessarily apply."

Were they suspicious about the situation as reported by Rizzo? Emptywheel noticed the reticence. The memo states (emphasis added):

According to your reports, Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from your proposed interrogation methods.....
Nowhere else, significantly, does Yoo feel the need to quote so selectively and in such detail about what CIA Acting Counsel John Rizzo had represented to him.

Meanwhile, this is what Dan Coleman--an FBI guy with deep knowledge of al Qaeda--had to say about AZ in Ron Suskind's One Percent Doctrine:
Meanwhile, Dan Coleman and other knowledgeable members of the tribe of al Qaeda hunters at CIA were reading Zubaydah's top secret diary and shaking their heads.

"This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality," Coleman told a top official at FBI after a few days reviewing the Zubaydah haul.
In any case, the OLC felt it had to make the SERE techniques look as innocuous as possible. The techniques to be approved included the "attention grasp", "walling," facial slaps, "facial hold," cramped confinement, sleep deprivation, "wall standing" (really slamming a prisoner against the wall violently), insects placed in a confinement box, waterboarding, and stress positions.

Bybee/Yoo reeled off a series of statistics to Rizzo:
Through your consultation with various individuals responsible for such [SERE] training, you have learned that these techniques have been used as elements of a course of conduct without any reported incident of prolonged mental harm.
The memo mentions that hardly any complaints re SERE training were made to Congress, that one SERE "official" (name redacted) had trained 10,000 students in over three and a half years with only two dropouts, and "rare" requests for psychological counseling. The memo continues:
You have consulted with [redacted] who has ten years of experience with SERE training [about two lines redacted] He stated that, during those ten years, insofar as he is aware none of the individuals who completed the program suffered any adverse mental health effects.....

Additionally, you received a memorandum from the [redacted, about one line] which you supplied to us. [Redacted] has experience with the use of all these procedures in a course of conduct, with the exception of the insect in the confinement box and the waterboard. This memorandum confirms that the use of these procedures has not resulted in any reported instances of prolonged mental harm, and very few instances of immediate and temporary adverse psychological responses during the training. Of the 26,829 students trained from 1992 through 2001 in the Air Force SERE training, 4.3 percent of those students had contact with psychology services. Of those 4.3 percent, only 3.2 percent were pulled from the program for psychological reasons. Thus, out of the students trained overall, only 0.14 percent were pulled from the program for psychological reasons.
Surely one can do amazing things with statistics, and these last statistics seem very similar to those Dr. Ogrisseg had found in his research, presented the same day as the first oral approval by OLC to CIA in the Zubaydah request.

From Dr. Ogrisseg's statement:
Then, I recall Lt Col Baumgartner asking me if I thought training was harmful to students. This question and my responses to it formed the basis of my 24 July 2002 memorandum to Lt Col Baumgartner, which is the best record of the conversation that we had. In general terms, I indicated that a very small percentage of students (4.3%) had adverse psychological reactions to our training, but we (the survival psychology staff) were able to re-motivate almost all of those having adverse reactions (96.8%) to complete training. Thus, less than .2% of the roughly 14,000 students were unable to complete training due to psychological problems which arose during training.
The numbers aren't an exact match -- except that 4.3 percent figure -- but close enough. Perhaps the original figures from his July 24 paper would fit even better, but then it's likely OLC was playing fast and loose with the figures. They are certainly close enough to assume with strong presumption that it was Ogrisseg's July 24 memorandum that was being quoted in this part of the memo.

Too bad they didn't look farther into what Ogrisseg then said he told Lt. Col. Baumgartner (emphasis added):
Finally, as indicated in my 24 July 2002 memorandum, Lt Col Baumgartner asked me if I’d never seen the waterboard used, and what I thought of it. I told him that I had seen it used while observing Navy training the previous year, and that I would never recommend using it in training. He asked me why and if I thought it was physically dangerous. I responded that I didn’t see anyone getting physically injured when I observed it, and as stated in my memorandum, the Navy was applying it to medically screened trainees with medical personnel immediately available to monitor and intervene if necessary. However, that wasn’t the point, as psychologically the waterboard produced capitulation and compliance with instructor demands 100% of the time. During debriefings following training, students who had experienced the waterboard expressed extreme avoidance attitudes such as a likelihood to further comply with any demands made of them if brought near the waterboard again. I told Lt Col Baumgartner that waterboarding was completely inconsistent with the stress inoculation paradigm of training that we used, and was more indicative of a practice that produces learned helplessness – a training result we tried strenuously to avoid. The final area I recall Lt Col Baumgartner asking me about were my thoughts on using the waterboard against the enemy. I asked [sic] responded by asking, “wouldn’t that be illegal?” He replied that some people were asking from above about the utility of using this technique against the enemy for the same reasons I wouldn’t use it in training. I replied that I wouldn’t go down that path because, aside from being illegal, it was a completely different arena that we in the Survival School didn’t know anything about. When we concluded the talk, Lt Col Baumgartner asked if I would write him a memo reflecting what we’d just discussed regarding the psychological effects of training so he could include it with other materials he was sending up. He also asked if I would comment on both the physical and psychological effects of the waterboard. I replied that I would, and drafted the memo.
Investigators or prosecutors might want to look at Dr. Ogrisseg's July 24 memorandum, because it appears to be prime evidence for OLC cherry-picking of results regarding the effects of the interrogation techniques in question. Yoo or Bybee or Rizzo, or all three, took the statistics that made their case, and ignored anything else.

We also know Bybee saw the July SERE memorandum from his own testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
Before drafting the opinions, Mr. Yoo, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the OLC, had met with Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the opinions. In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Yoo refused to say whether or not he ever discussed or received information about SERE techniques as the memos were being drafted. When asked whether he had discussed SERE techniques with Judge Gonzales, Mr. Addington, Mr. Yoo, Mr. Rizzo or other senior administration lawyers, DoD General Counsel Jim Haynes testified that he “did discuss SERE techniques with other people in the administration.” NSC Legal Advisor John Bellinger said that “some of the legal analyses of proposed interrogation techniques that were prepared by the Department of Justice... did refer to the psychological effects of resistance training.”

(U) In fact, Jay Bybee the Assistant Attorney General who signed the two OLC legal opinions said that he saw an assessment of the psychological effects of military resistance training in July 2002 in meetings in his office with John Yoo and two other OLC attorneys. Judge Bybee said that he used that assessment to inform the August 1, 2002 OLC legal opinion that has yet to be publicly released.
The OLC and CIA also ignored a wealth of other published information about the effects of SERE "stress inoculation," such as the June 2000 article, "Assessment of Humans Experiencing Uncontrollable Stress: The SERE Course," in Special Warfare:
Results

As shown in the charts on page 7, SERE stress caused significant changes in students' hormone levels. Recorded changes in cortisol levels were some of the greatest ever documented in humans. In some cases, the changes noted among the trainees were greater than the changes noted in patients undergoing heart surgery....

Changes in testosterone levels were similarly remarkable: In some cases, testosterone dropped from normal levels to castration levels within eight hours.
Or how about this May 2000 article in Biological Psychiatry, Hormone profiles in humans experiencing military survival training?
Conclusions: The stress of military survival training produced dramatic alterations in cortisol, percent free cortisol, testosterone, and thyroid indices. Different types of stressors had varying effects on the neuroendocrine indices. The degree of neuroendocrine changes observed may have significant implications for subsequent responses to stress.
Looking at more psychological than physiological symptoms, one well-known 2001 study in the August 2001 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry looked at dissociative symptoms, e.g., depersonalization, derealization, psychic or emotional numbing, general cognitive confusion (emphasis added):
The current study was designed to assess the nature and prevalence of dissociative symptoms in healthy humans experiencing acute, uncontrollable stress during U.S. Army survival training. METHOD: In study 1, 94 subjects completed the Clinician-Administered Dissociative States Scale after exposure to the stress of survival training. In study 2, 59 subjects completed the Brief Trauma Questionnaire before acute stress and the dissociative states scale before and after acute stress. A randomly selected group of subjects in study 2 completed a health problems questionnaire after acute stress. RESULTS: In study 1, 96% of subjects reported dissociative symptoms in response to acute stress. Total scores, as well as individual item scores, on the dissociation scale were significantly lower in Special Forces soldiers compared to general infantry troops. In study 2, 42% of subjects reported dissociative symptoms before stress and 96% reported them after acute stress.
96 percent! Well, these statistics are very different from those that appeared to say that less than 2% of SERE subjects had any significant psychological symptoms. It's all in how you frame it in the research world, and apparently in the legal world as well.

In summary, even an initial cursory look at the August 1, 2002 Bybee memo on the "Interrogation of Al Qaeda Operative" shows that the memos were written in bad faith, were meant to deceive, and utilized a memorandum by Jerald Ogrisseg that explicitly warned against using at least some of the techniques (waterboarding) that were approved by OLC.

I'm confident that other researchers will find much more wrong with the recently released OLC memos. Their extremely poor quality and their misrepresentations of medical and psychological information make them very hard to imagine using as the basis of "good faith" representations for those CIA interrogators for whom Attorney General Holder granted immunity, i.e., those "who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice..."

I suppose a lot rides now on how you define "authoritative legal advice."

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Friday, April 10, 2009

CIA chief issues formal orders to close 'black sites'

Posted by Fatima Kola at 12:06 PM |

Just quickly - here is a little pieces of news tucked away in many newspapers today - the CIA has moved to formally close its 'black sites'. Here's another article from the Guardian.

(A more substantial post, with responses to the comments on my last post, coming soon).

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Torture Weekly "Round-up"

Posted by Valtin at 11:10 PM |

Also posted at Daily Kos and Invictus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CACI International Loses Bid to Spike Torture Lawsuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al-Marri is Held Without Bail Pending Trial

UN Launches Probe of Secret Detention Sites

New pressure in Uighurs’ cases

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

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

Torture Documents released under Freedom of Information Act

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

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

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

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Leaked! International Red Cross Report on CIA Torture

Posted by Valtin at 11:20 PM |

Mark Danner has scooped the NY Times, the Washington Post and other papers by publishing in the current New York Review of Books an essay quoting long excerpts of a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report on "high-value" prisoners held in CIA black site prisons. The interviews took prior to their release in late 2006, and the report itself is dated February 2007, and likely was sent originally to then CIA Acting General Counsel, John Rizzo.

The prisoners interviewed by ICRC personnel included Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Walid Bin Attash, and twelve others, all of whom, the ICRC concluded, were submitted to torture. From the report"s conclusion:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Mark Danner, who obviously has seen the entire 43 page report, calls the report "a document for its time, literally "impossible to put down," from its opening page." He reproduces a portion of its chilling Table of Contents. This is no bedtime reading:
Contents
Introduction
1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
1.1 Arrest and Transfer
1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
1.3.1 Suffocation by water
1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking
1.3.5 Confinement in a box
1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
1.3.10 Threats
1.3.11 Forced shaving
1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
1.4 Further elements of the detention regime....
As one follows the narratives of the various prisoners, Danner notes that one can see the construction of the CIA-Bush torture program unfold in all its brutalizing variety before one's eyes. Even, as caught Emptywheel's eye in her reading of Danner's article, prisoner Abu Zubaydah can notice that the torturers are experimenting on the type and effects of various torture methods upon him. From Zubaydah's narrative (emphasis added):
After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds.... I don't know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted....

A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress.

I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me.... I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before....

This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times....

I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor....

I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.
Indeed, as Danner points out, there were changes to the interrogation-torture procedures. Since all the prisoners were kept isolated and out of contact with each other, the overall similarity of the treatment appears valid, and the differences and changes accurate. Danner reports:
Some techniques are discarded. The coffin-like black boxes, for example, barely large enough to contain a man, one six feet tall and the other scarcely more than three feet, which seem to recall the sensory-deprivation tanks used in early CIA-sponsored experiments, do not reappear. Neither does the "long-time sitting" -— the weeks shackled to a chair—that Abu Zubaydah endured in his first few months.

Nudity, on the other hand, is a constant in the ICRC report, as are permanent shackling, the "cold cell," and the unceasing loud music or noise. Sometimes there is twenty-four-hour light, sometimes constant darkness. Beatings, also, and smashing against the walls seem to be favored procedures; often, the interrogators wear gloves.

In later interrogations new techniques emerge, of which "long-time standing" and the use of cold water are notable....

A clear method emerges from these accounts, based on forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, and repeated beatings and "smashings"—though from this basic model one can see the method evolve, from forced sitting to forced standing, for example, and acquire new elements, like immersion in cold water.
Danner makes the connections which I and others have made between these techniques and the study of torture and "brainwashing" undertaken by the CIA and the military over 50 years ago, which culminated in the codification of such procedures in the CIA counterintelligence interrogation KUBARK manual of the early 1960s.

The NY Review article also confirms the ABC news report of approximately a year ago that reported how each variation and application of the torture techniques was vetted by the White House:
Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, according to ABC News, CIA officers "briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council's Principals Committee," including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who "then signed off on the [interrogation] plan." At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, the administration was devising what some referred to as a "golden shield" from the Justice Department -— the legal rationale that was embodied in the infamous "torture memorandum," written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee in August 2002... Still, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet regularly brought directly to the attention of the highest officials of the government specific procedures to be used on specific detainees —- "whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subject to simulated drowning" -- in order to seek reassurance that they were legal. According to the ABC report, the briefings of principals were so detailed and frequent that "some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed." At one such meeting, John Ashcroft, then attorney general, reportedly demanded of his colleagues, "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
The Danner article, if one hasn't noticed yet, is must reading. He leaves nary a stone unturned: the complicity of some Congressional Democrats, the disaster which was the cover-up inspired Military Commissions Act of 2006, and the lies told by Bush and other administration officials to hide the truth of what was being done.

But, Danner also notes that, strangely, and for anyone who cared to read, there has been plenty of notice of what was happening in the "dark" crevices of U.S. foreign policy, even back to those dismal early months in 2002, when the torture gulag was fired up. "'Stress and Duress' Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities" reads one headline from a Washington Post article from December 26, 2002.

Danner fails to make mention of the codification of many of these CIA procedures in the current version of the Army Field Manual (isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation), nor is there any discussion of the use of drugs on prisoners, which has surfaced in other prisoners' narratives of their incarceration. But what Danner does capture is the sense of psychic numbing that occurs as one reads over and over of how the CIA's "alternative set of procedures" was used on this prisoner and that prisoner, as one become inured to the brutality.

After a long discussion about the relative intelligence "value" of torture, Danner settles into a discussion about what we must do now. He certainly understands that there is a very important need to educate the public about what must be done. He is a little less certain that prosecutions should or can take place, but can see how hobbled the Obama administration is by this legacy, and how, despite Obama's wish to not look back and move forward, "he and his Department of Justice will be haunted by what his predecessor did."
Many officials of human rights organizations, who have fought long and valiantly to bring attention and law to bear on these issues, strongly reject any proposal that includes widespread grants of immunity. They urge investigations and prosecutions of Bush administration officials. The choices are complicated and painful. From what we know, officials acted with the legal sanction of the US government and under orders from the highest political authority, the elected president of the United States. Political decisions, made by elected officials, led to these crimes. But political opinion, within the government and increasingly, as time passed, without, to some extent allowed those crimes to persist. If there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public's attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.
I am one of those voices who speak loudly for prosecutions. But the more I read and understand, I see that the issue goes much farther than simply torture qua torture, or whether there should be a Truth Commission or prosecutions.

The corruption of government and the inability of the governmental ruling classes to interrupt or terminate the program of state-sanctioned torture, or stop the black propaganda fed, and well-plotted campaign to go to war in Iraq, or take command of an economic bubble and unregulated set of bogus financial schemes until they ballooned out of control and sought to bankrupt the entire country, this corruption and moral-political bankruptcy implicates immensely wide swaths of the government and ruling classes.

We are in a very tight spot, historically speaking. It is true that a significant section of civil society, located primarily among some human rights and civil liberties organizations, but with some links as well even into layers of the military (particularly military attorneys), are seeking some kind of change, some way in which a system of accountability can be secured. But they are laboring under the collective weight of a political system that cannot even look at itself in the mirror. Danner notes Obama and Holder's play to keep some of this information secure under "state secrets privilege" by the Executive Branch. The very leaking of the ICRC document shows what he thinks of that.

I don't have any simple answers. I know that we must only try and move towards the light. Our compass must be the dictates of justice and mercy, and also truth. We wish to build a better world. We know there are those who have... well, different ideas. We must be able to combat ignorance, and be smart ourselves. Learn from the past, prepare for the future. We must not flinch from what we need to do. We cannot go backwards. The world is already slipping backwards at an alarming rate. The ICRC report itself is documentary proof of that.

Let us move forward.

Update, roughly 11 pm, PDT:

The Washington Post has just put up their article covering the story. It has a nice tidbit for those who like to track down thing or speculate about who leaked the ICRC report, and why? (H/T http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2009/3/15/212138/793/254#c254ericlwis0)
At least five copies of the report were shared with the CIA and top White House officials in 2007 but barred from public release by ICRC guidelines intended to preserve the humanitarian group's strict policy of neutrality in conflicts. A copy of the report was obtained by Mark Danner, a journalism professor and author who published extensive excerpts in the April 9 edition of the New York Review of Books, released yesterday. He did not say how he obtained the report.
The New York Times has posted a shortened version of the Mark Danner article on their Op-Ed page. (Double H/T to out of left field and to Stephen Soldz)

Speaking of Stephen Soldz, his remarks about the actions of military and CIA psychologists in the torture, made at a listserv for anti-torture psychologists, are worth repeating here (I've added the link within):
We must remember that the techniques detailed in these documents were designed by psychologists. These psychologists were present at the APA-CIA-Rand conference on the Science of Deception. APA [American Psychological Association] has never explained why these torturers were invited or what they said or what was said to them. Nor have the APA leaders who invited and participated with these torturers expressed any remorse that they may have aided their torture. Rather, they tried to hide the attendance at this conference, even claimed to have "misplaced" it. And they have tried to change the subject to whether or not these torturers were "APA members", as if its fine to aid torturers if they aren't members.

Accountability for US torture MUST include accountability for those who aided the torturers, including those in the APA leadership who contributed. Continued silence is not acceptable. The truth must come out. We must pressure any Truth Commission or other accountability process to explore the role of the APA, other psychologists, and other health professionals, in the US torture program.
Well put, Stephen. And many thanks to all those for helping push the Daily Kos version of this blog posting, with its important anti-torture news and commentary to the top of the recommended list there. I won't be happy, though, until the issue is pushed to the top of the nation's agenda, and a history-making review and prosecution of these crimes begins.

Also posted at Invictus

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