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, April 05, 2009

Torture News Roundup: DoD to Jail Gitmo Attorney?

Posted by Valtin at 6:59 PM |

In a week chock-full of important developments in the fight against torture, none stands out as more outrageous than the actions of Robert Gates' Department of Defense, threatening two attorneys for former Guantanamo prisoner and U.S./UK torture victim, Binyam Mohamed, with jail. Their crime? Writing a letter to Barack Obama and following security procedures!

Before we get there, let's summarize the week:
    A federal judge ruled against President Obama and Attorney General Holder's contention that no "war on terror" prisoners held at Bagram prison in Afghanistan had any Constitutional rights.
    Colin Powell told Rachael Maddow at MSNBC that he wasn't sure that waterboarding "would be considered criminal."
    Andy Worthington ran a series explaining how Britain's draconian "control orders" have created a virtual, "second Guantanamo".
    The fight over release of Bush Administration memos countenancing "harsh interrogation techniques" continues inside the Obama White House.
All this and more, in this Sunday's Torture Roundup.

Lawyers from Reprieve face a jail sentence after officials from the US department of defence had the nerve to complain about their 'unprofessional conduct'

On February 11, I posted a well-read diary at Daily Kos that described news reports on how Clive Stafford Smith, acting in his role as an attorney for then-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, sent a letter to Barack Obama [PDF] detailing torture techniques inflicted upon his client. A Pentagon review team then censored all the details of this torture from Smith's letter. (See Breaking: Pentagon Hiding Torture Evidence from Obama.)

Now Mohamed's attorneys face up to six months in jail, accused by Robert Gates' Department of Defense of breaking the rules for Guanatanamo attorneys and of "unprofessional conduct" in the writing of the letter to Obama.

From the Guardian article:
Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal charity Reprieve, and his colleague Ahmed Ghappour have been summoned to appear before a Washington court on May 11 after a complaint was made by the privilege review team.

Stafford Smith had written to the president after judges in the UK ruled against the release of US evidence detailing Mohamed's alleged torture at Guantánamo....

He and Gappour submitted the memo to the privilege team for clearance but the memo was redacted to just the title, leaving the president unable to read it. Stafford Smith included the redacted copy of the memo in his letter to illustrate the extent to which it had been censored. He described it as a "bizarre reality"....

The privilege team argue that by releasing the redacted memo Reprieve has breached the rules that govern Guantánamo lawyers and have made a complaint to the court of "unprofessional conduct".

Stafford Smith described their actions as intimidation, saying the complaint "doesn't even specify the rule supposedly breached".
This is totally unacceptable governmental conduct against a whistleblower and attorney working for human rights and against torture. He and his colleagues have broken no law. In fact, they followed the law and are now being punished for it. And this from a government that tried to coerce a pledge of silence from their client as a condition of his release from Guantanamo.

If you're feeling sufficiently outraged, you could write directly to the White House on this.

Meanwhile, Michael Isikoff at Newsweek is reporting that a "fierce internal battle within the White House over the disclosure of internal Justice Department interrogation memos is shaping up as a major test of the Obama administration's commitment to opening up government files about Bush-era counterterrorism policy."
As reported by NEWSWEEK, the White House last month had accepted a recommendation from Attorney General Eric Holder to declassify and publicly release three 2005 memos that graphically describe harsh interrogation techniques approved for the CIA to use against Al Qaeda suspects. But after the story, U.S. intelligence officials, led by senior national-security aide John Brennan, mounted an intense campaign to get the decision reversed, according to a senior administration official familiar with the debate. "Holy hell has broken loose over this," said the official, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities.

Brennan is a former senior CIA official who was once considered by Obama for agency director but withdrew his name late last year after public criticism that he was too close to past officials involved in Bush administration decisions. Brennan, who now oversees intelligence issues at the National Security Council, argued that release of the memos could embarrass foreign intelligence services who cooperated with the CIA, either by participating in overseas "extraordinary renditions" of high-level detainees or housing them in overseas "black site" prisons.
According to Isikoff, Brennan has gotten the backing of CIA Director Leon Panetta, and the "final decision" re release of the controversial memos will be made by President Barack Obama.

The ACLU has agreed to the two-week extension for the government to file their final response in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking release of the memos.

Federal Judge Rules Against Obama's Ban on Habeas at Bagram

Charlie Savage at The New York Times is reporting that a federal judge at the D.C. Federal District Court has ruled that some prisoners at Bagram prison in Afghanistan "have a right to challenge their imprisonment, dealing a blow to government efforts to detain terrorism suspects for extended periods without court oversight."

The ruling only applies to prisoners captured outside Afghanistan, but it deals a blow to the Obama administration's intent to keep Bagram as a site for detention for "terrorism suspects" caught outside Iraq or Afghanistan.

As the NYT puts it (link added):
The administration had sought to preserve Bagram as a haven where it could detain terrorism suspects beyond the reach of American courts, telling Judge Bates in February that it agreed with the Bush administration’s view that courts had no jurisdiction over detainees there.

Judge Bates, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, was not persuaded. He said transferring captured terrorism suspects to the prison inside Afghanistan and claiming they were beyond the jurisdiction of American courts “resurrects the same specter of limitless executive power the Supreme Court sought to guard against” in its 2008 ruling that Guantánamo prisoners have a right to habeas corpus.
Torture Scandal in Great Britain

The UK Guardian is reporting
MPs are to undertake the most far-reaching inquiry into Britain's role in human rights abuses in decades as allegations mount to suggest that officials repeatedly breached international law.

The Commons foreign affairs select committee will examine Britain's involvement in the detention, transfer and interrogation of prisoners held during the so-called war on terror. Among the matters to be examined later in the year are allegations, reported in the Guardian over the past two years, that British intelligence officers colluded in the torture of Britons held in Pakistan and Egypt.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, will give evidence to the inquiry although he and Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, refused, earlier this year, to appear before parliament's joint committee on human rights, which is looking into reports that British officials were complicit in torture.
Journalist Andy Worthington also reports on Parliamentary investigations into British complicity in extraordinary rendition and torture.
On Monday March 30, in a committee room in the House of Commons, Diane Abbott MP chaired a meeting entitled, “Britain’s Guantánamo? The use of secret evidence and evidence based on torture in the UK courts,” to discuss the stories of some of the men held as “terror suspects” on the basis of secret evidence, and to work out how to persuade the government to change its policies. A detailed report of the meeting is available here, and the profiles of five prisoners are available by following this link...
One of the cases Worthington highlights is that of a 39-year-old Algerian national known only as "Detainee Y":
They call me Y. But I am more than a letter. I am a man....

I came to the UK because of its impressive human rights record. Well, that’s what everyone said. I had spoken out against human rights abuses at home and got into trouble for it, so I had to leave. Maybe I should have been like everyone else and not said anything. What would you have done?

Now I have a death sentence waiting for me in Algeria.

I was living in London, as a refugee, rebuilding my life, recovering from torture and finally overcoming the demons it leaves behind.

Things were going well, and then suddenly my life turned upside down. First I was arrested as part of the “ricin plot.” I spent 27 months in Belmarsh. There never was any ricin.

I was acquitted in 2005....

After 7/7 they came for me again. I had nothing to do with it. I was arrested, served with a deportation order to Algeria and taken to Long Lartin prison. No charge. No trial. I was there for 29 months.

And since last July I have been again on bail....

I feel watched all the time. “They” go everywhere I go. I don’t know what they want or what they are looking for....

I survived torture. It was some years ago, back in Algeria. It’s not an easy thing to go through. I wish none of you ever suffer it. But torture, it has to end. What is going on now has no end. This is slow torture.

My father died a few months ago, back home. It was a very hard time. I was all alone with my grief. I felt useless and worthless and hopeless....

Well, what else can I say? I feel so tired. I just want to stop thinking. I want to wake from this nightmare. All I have are dreams and hopes and wishes, but it’s hard to keep hold of these.

I just want to sleep.

I have to stay in the house for 20 hours a day. I wear a tag. It makes me feel like a slave.

I am not allowed outside my boundaries. I can’t go to the town centre, but I can go to two cemeteries if I want....

Why am I living like this? Why did I spend 56 months in prison? Why do they want to deport me to Algeria? Why do they say I’m a threat to national security? I am here like this today because of secret evidence.
Detainee Y is a victim of Britain's notorious "control orders." As explained in this article from the Guardian, control orders, or were introduced as part of Britain's Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. They have created a virtual "Second Guantanamo" inside of Great Britain's borders:
What are control orders?

They enable the home secretary to impose a wide range of restrictions on any person, based on intelligence information, she suspects of involvement in terrorism-related activity, whether a UK national or not, and whether the terrorist activity is domestic or international.

What do these restrictions include?

Virtual house arrest, including specifying where and with whom subjects can live and placing them under curfew for up to 13 hours a day; limiting them to travelling within a specific geographical zone – for example, one mile of their home; controlling their access to telephones and banning access to the internet; dictating who they can meet or communicate with, and what occupation or studies they can undertake; proscribing where they can travel and what places of worship they can attend; electronic tagging; foreign travel bans; and daily reporting to and monitoring by the police.

The home secretary also has the power to add new restrictions or obligations, or vary them, as she sees fit.
Andy Worthington comments on Britain's "control orders" and other antidemocratic "antiterrorism" laws:
In the UK, since December 2001, the British government has, at various times, held around 70 men without charge or trial, refusing to try them as criminal suspects in recognized courts. The policy began with the imprisonment of 17 men in Belmarsh high-security prison, but when, after three years, the Law Lords ruled that their imprisonment was in contravention of the Human Rights Act, the government responded by introducing control orders and deportation bail, both of which involve draconian restrictions that amount to house arrest. Throughout this whole period, the government has justified the men’s detention through the use of secret evidence that the prisoners — known as “detainees” — are not allowed to see.

Another similarity concerns attempts by both the British and American governments to bypass their obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture — which prevents the return of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture — by reaching diplomatic agreements with various dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East. These purport to guarantee that repatriated prisoners will be treated humanely, but in reality they have proved worthless.
British Rendition and Torture Pre-9/11?
“All you need to know is that there was a ‘before 9/11’ and there was an ‘after9/11.’ After 9/11, the gloves came off.” -- Cofer Black, as Director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center
Britain's partnership with the United States in use of both rendition and torture precedes even the 9/11 crisis, which both governments hypocritically cite as the impetus for their draconian and illegal policies of detention and torture. According to an article at Cageprisoners, looking at increasing evidence that British intelligence agencies were involved in torture:
The Daily Telegraph reported last week that MI5 and MI6 had identified 15 cases where their officers had alerted senior personnel to possible mistreatment but no further action was taken...

Asim Qureshi of Cage Prisoners... told the Daily Telegraph: "At first we thought these were cases of individual abuses but the more we saw and the more testimony we heard, the more we realised there was pattern.

"We were seeing interviews by MI5 and MI6 alongside the use of torture by other countries. This has been very, very systematic and that is what concerns us most. There has been a policy to keep prisoners beyond the reach of law and turn a blind eye to torture.

"We believe that the government is going to pass off the case of Binyam Mohamed as an isolated incident and use witness B [the officer allegedly involved] as a scapegoat but we believe it is important to put this in the context of what has been happening in the last seven or eight years."
The Cageprisoners report, "Fabricating Terrorism II", just released, describes one case of rendition and torture that predates 9/11 (emphasis added).
CASE 1 – FARID HILALI
Nationality: Moroccan/ British Resident
History/Background: Farid was initially detained in 1999 while in UAE. There he was subjected to torture and interrogation on behalf of the British security services and was later sent to Morocco where this treatment continued. On his release he came to the UK and was arrested on immigration offences, but he was re-arrested in June when Spain issued a European arrest warrant to extradite him for alleged terror offences, and in particular involvement in 9/11. The case against Hilali seems to be vague and circumstantial, and entirely reliant on mobile phone communications data and intercept evidence.
And, Back at Guantanamo...

U.S. Navy Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, a military attorney who has represented Omar Khadr, a Guantanmo prisoner who was first arrested as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan and ultimately brought to Gitmo, has been fired from Khadr's defense team and reassigned.
In his two years on the case, Commander Kuebler campaigned for Mr. Khadr’s return to Canada to short-circuit a military tribunal system that he described as unfair. Like all Guantánamo prosecutions, the case is suspended pending a review of policies by the Obama administration.

The chief defense counsel at Guantánamo, Col. Peter Masciola of the Air Force, concluded that Commander Kuebler’s removal was necessary to pursue “a client-centered representation,” according to a statement from his office. Colonel Masciola did not immediately respond to a request for further details....

In February, Commander Kuebler was blocked from traveling to meet Mr. Khadr at Guantánamo amid the internal investigation, which he said was related to his criticism of Colonel Masciola’s management.

He complained about Colonel Masciola’s cooperation with the review of Guantánamo cases that was intended to decide whether the cases should be tried in civilian or military courts or some combination of the two.

“I don’t want to make it easier for the government to prosecute my client,” he said at the time. “I want my client to be released.”
Colin Powell reiterated, in an interview with Rachael Maddow this week, his long-time belief that Guantanamo be closed. But when Maddow pressed Powell on his participation in White House "Prinicpals" meetings that met in 2002-2003 to approve torture of prisoners held by the CIA, Powell got quite defensive. He seemed to forget that new CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress only a few months ago that the government considered waterboarding to be torture. From the Powell-Maddow interview:
RACHEL: On the issue of intelligence—tainted evidence and those things—were you ever present at meetings at which the interrogation of prisoners, like Abu Zubaida, other prisoners in those early days, where the interrogation was directed? Where specific interrogation techniques were approved. It has been reported on a couple of different sources that there were Principals Meetings, which you would have typically been there, where interrogations were almost play-by-play discussed.

POWELL: They were not play-by-play discussed but there were conversations at a senior level as to what could be done with respect to interrogation. I cannot go further because I don't have knowledge of all the meetings that took place or what was discussed at each of those meetings and I think it's going to have to be the written record of those meetings that will determine whether anything improper took place....

MADDOW: If there was a meeting, though, at which senior officials were saying, were discussing and giving the approval for sleep deprivation, stress positions, water boarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were giving that authorization?

POWELL: You’re asking me a legal question. I mean I don't know that any of these items would be considered criminal. And I will wait for whatever investigations that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this.
Both the Powell interview and the firing of Kuebler took place in the context of a flap over whether or not Senator Patrick Leahy has abandoned hope for Truth Commission on torture.

Other Torture News

China to Address Torture of Prisoners
Since January, five cases of young men dying in policy custody have become public. When police in the Southwestern province of Yunnan explained the jail death of Li Qiaomin by saying he had injured himself fatally during a game of hide-and-seek, this explanation triggered a burst of outrage on blogs and online discussion forums, forcing local authorities to launch a propaganda offensive and a new investigation.

Since then, state media have flooded readers with a wave of propaganda that suggested the government was seeking solutions to the problem prisoner abuse.

State media reported that prisoners in detention centres in Beijing would be given cards with contact information of the local prosecutor to allow them to blow the whistle on detention officers if they were mistreated. Representatives of other departments such as the justice ministry proposed to take supervision of the detention facilities away from the police in order to separate investigation powers and direct responsibility for the prisoners.
Seton Hall Law Students Reveal That Generals Knew Guantanamo Detainees Were Tortured
General Schmidt's Investigation Uncovered Numerous Abuses Which Were Omitted from Both His Report and His Congressional Testimony

Today Seton Hall Law delivered a report establishing that military officials at the highest levels were aware of the abusive interrogation techniques employed at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO), and misled Congress during testimony. In addition, FBI personnel reported that the information obtained from inhumane interrogations was unreliable.

Professor Mark Denbeaux, Director of the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research, commented on the findings: "Who knew about the torture at GTMO? Turns out they all did. It's not news that the interrogators were torturing and abusing detainees. We've got FBI reports attesting to this. But now we've discovered that the highest levels knew about the torture and abuse, and covered it up.
Conyers Wants Holder to Appoint a Special Counsel to Probe Bush Crimes
“The Attorney General should appoint a Special Counsel to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush Administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance,” Conyers’s report says. "In this regard, the report firmly rejects the notion that we should move on from these matters"....

However, Conyers has not formally asked the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel as he had last year when he and 55 other House Democrats signed a letter sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey seeking a special prosecutor ....
National Geographic airs a documentary tonight (9 PM both Eastern and Pacific time) , Explorer: Inside Guantanamo. This film is unreviewed by me, but the blurb says:
A symbol of freedom protected or freedom tragically betrayed, the controversies of Guantanamo embody the thorny issues of America’s fight against an enemy that wears no uniform, has no address and will declare no armistice, and an administrations battle to keep prisoners beyond the reach of due process in American courts. The goings-on inside the wire encircling this highly classified camp have been a closely held government secret until now. For the first time, National Geographic exclusively captures day-to-day life in the most famous prison in the world exploring the ongoing daily struggle between the guard force of dedicated young military personnel and the equally dedicated detainees, many of whom are still in legal limbo after being held years.
Second Guantanamo Prisoner to be released by Obama Administration
Ayman Saeed Batarfi, a 38-year old Yemeni doctor will be the second prisoner from Guantanamo to be released. He was first detained in Afghanistan in 2001, where his lawyers had indicated he had been on a humanitarian mission.

Bartafi was initially held at Bagram Airforce Base and then transferred to the infamous Guantanamo Bay Prison....

What is most interesting about Batarfi's release is that we are not being told where he's going. According to an AP report, Department of Justice spokesman Dan Boyd indicated that Batarfi would be transferred to 'an appropriate destination country in a manner that is consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice'.

What exactly does this mean? If this were happening during the Bush administration, one could interpret the above statement as another one of their famous extraordinary renditions....

It also makes one wonder if Batarfi was subjected to the same type of 'exit interview' as his British counterpart, whereby he was asked not to reveal that he was tortured if he were released.
Bizarre Story of the Week:

Miss Universe and Miss USA tour Guantanamo
Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza says the trip was ‘an incredible experience’
Historical Article of the Week:

THE CIA AND THE MEDIA by Carl Bernstein

This 25,000 word landmark article, first published in Rolling Stone magazine in 1977, has been "reprinted" and posted on the Internet in bastardized and censored versions over the years. Bernstein's posting of the full article online is an important event, one that, for reasons evident from reading the article itself, has been ignored by the mainstream media.

What follows are some selections from the piece:
The CIA’s use of the American news media has been much more extensive than Agency officials have acknowledged publicly or in closed sessions with members of Congress. The general outlines of what happened are indisputable; the specifics are harder to come by. CIA sources hint that a particular journalist was trafficking all over Eastern Europe for the Agency; the journalist says no, he just had lunch with the station chief. CIA sources say flatly that a well‑known ABC correspondent worked for the Agency through 1973; they refuse to identify him. A high‑level CIA official with a prodigious memory says that the New York Times provided cover for about ten CIA operatives between 1950 and 1966; he does not know who they were, or who in the newspaper’s management made the arrangements....

During the 1976 investigation of the CIA by the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church, the dimensions of the Agency’s involvement with the press became apparent to several members of the panel, as well as to two or three investigators on the staff. But top officials of the CIA, including former directors William Colby and George Bush, persuaded the committee to restrict its inquiry into the matter and to deliberately misrepresent the actual scope of the activities in its final report. The multivolume report contains nine pages in which the use of journalists is discussed in deliberately vague and sometimes misleading terms. It makes no mention of the actual number of journalists who undertook covert tasks for the CIA. Nor does it adequately describe the role played by newspaper and broadcast executives in cooperating with the Agency....

There are perhaps a dozen well known columnists and broadcast commentators whose relationships with the CIA go far beyond those normally maintained between reporters and their sources. They are referred to at the Agency as “known assets” and can be counted on to perform a variety of undercover tasks; they are considered receptive to the Agency’s point of view on various subjects....

DESPITE THE EVIDENCE OF WIDESPREAD CIA USE OF journalists, the Senate Intelligence Committee and its staff decided against questioning any of the reporters, editors, publishers or broadcast executives whose relationships with the Agency are detailed in CIA files.

According to sources in the Senate and the Agency, the use of journalists was one of two areas of inquiry which the CIA went to extraordinary lengths to curtail. The other was the Agency’s continuing and extensive use of academics for recruitment and information gathering purposes.
All photos in the Public Domain. Thanks for this edition of WTR to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse and Andy Worthington.

Also posted at Invictus

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Monday, July 07, 2008

NYT Limited Hangout on SERE Torture & U.S. Biological Warfare

Posted by Valtin at 12:32 AM |

Ex-CIA high official Victor Marchetti wrote:
"A 'limited hangout' is spy jargon for a favorite and frequently used gimmick of the clandestine professionals. When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting - sometimes even volunteering - some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case. The public, however, is usually so intrigued by the new information that it never thinks to pursue the matter further."
Scott Shane's New York Times article, China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo (7/2/08), details the use of Albert Biderman's "Chart of Coercion" by members of the the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program, or SERE, program to teach torture techniques to interrogators. The article is a fine example of how to conduct a limited hangout, or selected revelation, of intelligence-related material. Its headline and story is disingenuous or betrays ignorance. The aim of the article is to demonstrate the nefariousness or deviance of those who taught SERE techniques to U.S. interrogators, and to hide the truth about the derivation of those techniques, and to the history of the their use by U.S. government agencies.

One only has to read my June 25 article on the same subject, Nuts & Bolts: How U.S. Organized Torture Program, and then compare it with Shane's article to understand the difference between an artfully constructed faux-expose and an in-depth study of an important story. (One commenter at Mathew Yglesias's blog over at The Atlantic suggested I had scooped The New York Times. I'll note for the record that some of the points in Shane's article first appeared in my essay; for instance, the linking of the Biderman chart to deprogrammers websites. I'll let the fact that the diary was the first to fully expose the Biderman charts techniques speak for itself.)

The only new information the Times article reported was the identification of the source material for Biderman's "Principles", adumbrated in a "Chart of Coercion" used as a didactic device by SERE instructors, described as first appearing in an article by Albert Biderman in a September 1957 issue of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. The article was entitled Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War. (In my own article, I had noted -- erroneously, as it turns out -- that the chart had first appeared in a 1970s... but then I don't have the Times anonymous sources. As we shall see, Mr. Shane only discovered a part of the story.)

Mr. Shane's article writes:
The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.
What the author fails to mention:

1) The study of Communist interrogation methods was part of a decades-long research program in the effects of coercive interrogation techniques, including use of sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, drugs, semi-starvation, isolation, and other techniques, conducted by the CIA and various military intelligence agencies to the tune of millions of dollars, and included the use of fake academic groups, university researchers, hospitals, and secret experimentation upon U.S. and other countries' civilian population (Mr. Shane could have referenced the New York Times in-house library, where he would have found the NYT August 2, 1977 article, "Private Institutions Used in CIA Effort to Control Behavior," by Nicholas M. Horrock). The findings of this ongoing research project into mind control and torture were implemented by the CIA, and possibly other military intelligence and/or police agencies, as even a cursory glance at the declassified version of the CIA's own 1963 counterintelligence interrogation manual demonstrates.

2) The Times article also is incorrect in its conclusion that particularly "Chinese methods [of interrogation and torture] had been recycled and taught at Guantánamo." Mr. Shane mistakes the fact that the Biderman-SERE chart originated in an article on POW reactions from the Chinese/Korean War with the U.S. for the full history of how U.S. torture was derived. In the Biderman article itself, Mr. Biderman made clear that there was nothing especially novel about Chinese methods of coercive interrogation (although it is true that the Chinese relied more heavily on group pressures and thought reform than other countries did). Biderman concluded (bold emphasis added):
It is that the finding of our studies which should be greeted as most new and spectacular is the finding that essentially there was nothing new or spectacular about the events we studied. We found, as did other studies such as those of Hinkle and Wolff, that human behavior could be manipulated within a certain range by controlled environments. We found that the Chinese Communists used methods of coercing behavior from our men in their hands which Communists of other countries had employed for decades and which police and inquisitors had employed for centuries.
Furthermore, the chart in question, labelled "Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance," was itself not the original version of this chart. Biderman himself, in the article cited by the Times notes that the chart of techniques is but a "condensed version" of an "outline" produced by the author before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating "Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination and Exploitation of American Military and Civilian Prisoners" in June 1956. As for Chinese use of these techniques, towards the end of his article, Biderman states:
It should be understood that only a few of the Air Force personnel who encountered efforts to elicit false confessions in Korea were subjected to really full dress, all-out attempts to make them behave in the manner I have sketched. The time between capture and repatriation for many was too short, and, presumably, the trained interrogators available to the Communists too few, to permit this.
Over and over, Mr. Shane's article tries to portray the torture of detainees at Guantanamo by U.S. interrogators and jailers as something derived from Chinese forms of torture, and he uses the Biderman chart to punctuate his argument. But the evidence from Biderman's own article, and the preponderance of evidence from both primary and secondary historically sources points to a more complex and nuanced view of the origins of U.S. torture. The emphasis upon so-called Chinese origins serves two purposes: it uses the scandal of U.S. torture to make propaganda points against the Chinese, and furthermore, it perpetuates a cover story regarding U.S. use of bacteriological warfare during the Korean War that ascribes its blown cover to the fiction that North Korean and Chinese interrogation were meant to produce "false confessions," as I explain below.

False confessions and the elicitation of information via torture

Published along with Biderman's essay in the September 1957 Bulletin is another article by government researchers, Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff, who are referenced in the Biderman article mentioned above. This article -- The Methods of Interrogation and Indoctrination Used by the Communist State Police -- has as much, or more interest, to those who wish to study the development of governmental torture by the United States, has, for instance, its own very interesting charts, and examines the history of Russian state security procedures, going back to Czarist times. Wolff and Hinkle also describe key differences between Russian-Soviet and Chinese forms of interrogation. The latter's emphasis on re-education of political belief and the role of group pressures to produce the same is cited by both Biderman and Hinkle and Wolff as a chief difference between the two forms of communist-derived interrogation.

Wolff and Hinkle's article, based on studies they had conducted for the military and CIA -- their initial report had remained classified for a number of years -- also produced a number of charts. Two of them are as remarkable as the now more publicized version describing Biderman's so-called "principles." Entitled "A Typical Time Table - Easter European Secret Police Systems (Communist)", the table outlines a period of detention lasting up to 250 weeks. The outline describes an initial period of isolation, followed by the beginning of interrogation, all to be undertaken under a regimen of "progressive disorganization" of the prisoner's psyche. A second table, "The Detention Regimen" describes the procedures to be used, including "Total Isolation... No View Outside, Light in Ceiling Burns Constantly", sitting and sleeping in "fixed position", noting, "Pain May Result from Fixed Positions During Sleep and When Awake." Additionally, food is to be "Distasteful -- just Sufficient to Sustain Nutrition."

The point of all this is to produce a state within the prisoner that includes fear, uncertainty, fatigue, pain, humiliation, and therefore "Great Need to Talk" and "Great Need for Approval of Interrogator." Again, all of this is duplicated in the CIA's own 1963 manual, and subsequently in manuals produced by the CIA for training of foreign interrogators, armed forces and police in the mid-1980s.

Did all this torture, whether by Soviet, Chinese, Korean, or U.S. interrogators produce actionable intelligence? Did it produce "false confessions?

In order to answer these questions, we must be clear about what these techniques were meant to produce, and that was, as the Hinkle/Wolff essay makes clear, "progressive disorganization" of the prisoner. Under this weakened state of existence, and in a state of near-total dependency, the interrogator works the art of establishing rapport. The results themselves are related to what is meant to be produced.

When the Soviet Stalinist government of the 1930s meant to discredit old elements of the regime, labelling former cadre of the Communist Party "enemies of the state", the intended result was the "false confession." At that time, the Dewey Commission in the United States (named after the respected U.S. academic who chaired the investigation, John Dewey) investigated and cleared Leon Trotsky and other "old Bolsheviks" from the wild prosecutorial claims of the Russian prosecutors. It was the "confessions" of some of these former leaders of the Soviet Union that seemed so inexplicable at the time. The drama of the situation was captured by novelist Arthur Koestler in his famous novel, Darkness at Noon.

Much later, the supposed confessions of Hungarian Cardinal Josef Mindszenty after his 1948 arrest by the Stalinist police greatly puzzled Western observers. It was supposed that he was tortured, but even then, how had he been made to "confess" in such a relatively brief period of time?

The issue of false confessions elicited under torture had its largest airing when, in 1952-53, captured U.S. airmen told their captors that they had engaged in dropping biological weapons on North Korea and China as part of the U.S. air campaign against those countries. The accusation was vigorously denied by the United States, and a propaganda campaign was begun in the guise of investigating the "brainwashing" of U.S. prisoners. Wild stories of mind control drugs and secret interrogation techniques that could gain unique influence over the personalities of its victims were circulated. It was in this environment that Albert Biderman, Lawrence Hinkle, Harold Wolff, Robert Jay Lifton and others were enlisted to study how the Chinese had produced the "false confessions" of U.S. POWs.

Except, were the confessions false?

Publicly, that was the story. But when researchers met behind closed doors, or at professional meetings, a different story emerges. At a 1957 symposium organized by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP) on "Methods of Forceful Indoctrination: Observations and Interviews", Dr. Louis West noted that "the enemy had a considerable degree of success in obtaining intelligence information and in forcing prisoners to engage in propaganda activities" (emphasis added; the quote is from GAP Symposium No. 4, July 1957, published by GAP Publications Office).

(Robert Jay Lifton, quoted in Mr. Shane's New York Times argument as saddened that Chinese interrogation methods were used by the U.S., a "180-degree turn" by U.S. interrogators, was a prominent presenter at this same conference, along with Dr. Edgar Schein of MIT, and the aforementioned Dr. Lawrence Hinkle. When I asked Dr. Lifton some time ago, and in another context, if he had any "personal memories or thoughts" about the work of Drs. Biderman, Hinkle and others, he replied by e-mail that he had no personal memories of these individuals.)

After the airmen were repatriated back to the United States, they all recanted their "confessions", although they had to do so under threat of court martial, a remarkable threat to issue, if the confessions were on the surface of them false.

U.S. Biological Warfare in Korea?

The U.S. chemical and biological warfare program after World War II was one of the most expensive and secretive campaigns ever undertaken by the U.S. government, comparable to the Manhattan Project. The NYT article makes much over the production of "false confessions" to the use of biological weapons by the U.S. during the Korean War. But there is an alternate, studied case demonstrating that the execrable and illegal use of such weapons occurred. (Both chemical and biological warfare were banned by the 1925 Geneva Convention.)

While there is no smoking gun document, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence, much of it detailed by Canadian academics Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman in their 1998 book, The United States and Biological Warfare (Indiana University Press). More recently, respected bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, Senior Policy and Research Analyst for the President Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, has called Endicott and Hagerman's claims "compelling, if not conclusive", and the U.S. research program in biological warfare worthy of further investigation.

I cannot do justice to the full extent of information unearthed by Endicott and Hagerman, but the following is a brief summary of the data.

*** At the close of World War II, the United States, under the authority of General Douglas MacArthur granted immunity to members of Japanese Unit 731 "in exchange for data of research on biological warfare". Led by the infamous General Shiro Ishii, this covert branch of the Japanese Imperial Army, based in Manchuria, a conquered portion of China, engaged in the worst sort of experimentation, including live vivisection of POWs, deliberate infection of disease, and study of disease "vectors" of infection, as by fleas, to study the suitability of large-scale bacteriological warfare. According to Jonathan Moreno, in his book Undue Risk, according to recent research Unit 731 may have been responsible for the deaths of over 270,000 civilians.

*** In 1950, U.S. spending on biological warfare research was $5.3 million. In 1951-1953, the high-water mark of the Korean War, money spent on such development was $345 million -- a lot of cash in 2008 dollars. Truman's Secretary of Defense George Marshall approved the recommendation of the Stevenson Committee two weeks after the Chinese entry into the Korean conflict. Chaired by Earl Stevenson, and including representatives from U.S. Rubber, AT&T Co., Harvard Medical School, and a secretariat "drawn from the Defense Department, the Research and Development Board, the Chemical Warfare Service, and the Air Force" (Endicott & Hagerman, p. 45), the Committee recommended "an increase in funding and for research and development to bring biological weapons to operational readiness as soon as possible" (p. 47).

*** U.S. government documents, such as the memo, "Mechanism of Entry and Action of Insecticidal Compounds and Insect Repellents" (Oct. 26, 1952), attached to the 1953 Fiscal Year Budget, which included the following (p. 77):
Application to BW [Biological Warfare]: $25,000 (35% of $72,000).

Information on the mechanism of action of insecticides is applicable directly to problems involved in both the offensive application of and protection against insect dissemination of biological agents. Under project 465-20-001, insect strains resistant to insecticides are being developed. These represent a potentially more effective vehicle for the offensive use of BW of insect borne pathogens....
Another memo -- reproduced as an appendix to Endicott and Hagerman's book (p. 202) -- dated March 17, 1953, from the Air Force Chief of Plans to the Chiefs of War Plans and of Psychological Warfare, notes:
The Psychological Warfare Division will direct and supervise covert operations in the scope of unconventional BW and CW [Chemical Warfare] operations and programs and the psychological aspects of BW and CW....

The War Plans Division will... Integrate capabilities and requirements for BW and CW into war plans... Participate in the determination of munitions requirements for BW and CW to implement improved plans.
Why this document doesn't serve as a "smoking gun" in the eyes of most is beyond me. But extraordinary claims, as such are allegations of serious war crimes, demands a great deal of evidence. There is much more such evidence in Endicott and Hagerman's book, but I cannot reproduce it all here. One important discussion of the evidence occurred in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in May/June 1999. Another discussion, concerning the relevance of newly "discovered" Soviet documents and their effect upon the controversy, occurred in the Cold War International History Project Bulletin in Winter 1998.

*** Chinese documents, and the U.S. airmen confessions are another, if controversial, source of information. Altogether, 36 U.S. officers gave statements to the Chinese of involvement in U.S. operational use of biological weapons, including two colonels and two captains. Endicott and Hagerman's book lists a number of manuscript and Chinese government document sources. Also of significance is the Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacteriological Warfare in Korea and China, published by the Chinese, which offered over 600 pages of documentary evidence. Needless to say, this report, which found plausible the charges of bacteriological warfare, examining spent bomb casings and medical documents, among other evidence, was not widely distributed in the U.S., though Time Magazine pilloried it when it appeared. The Commission was headed by Dr. Joseph Needham, a very respected British author and researcher.

Summary

The New York Times article, China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo, is a sophisticated use of journalism in the service of propaganda. While it attaches the recent use of torture and coercive methods of interrogation by the United States to some of its origins in the study of communist methods of interrogation, it does so in a one-sided way. It attributes methods of detention and treatment of prisoners that was not unique to China. If anything, the U.S. model of psychological torture is probably closer to that used by the Soviet secret police. In any case, this type of torture was not developed by the communists, but had its origins in the police procedures of autocratic governments, not least that of Czarist Russia.

The article also fails to mention the long interest of military and U.S. intelligence agencies in the use of these methods, nor their implementation by the U.S. government, long before the "war on terror" and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were twinkles in the eye of the current administration. One wonders how SERE officers and personnel like being the scapegoats for a U.S. policy that goes back decades.

Finally, the article perpetuates a mythology as to the use of "false confessions" during the Korean War to mask the origins of U.S. research into mind control and coercive interrogation that go back at least to the U.S. Navy's Project Chatter in the late 1940s, and the CIA's Operation Bluebird in 1950, both well before the Korean War. The purpose of this form of propaganda is to cover-up very serious questions about the use of biological warfare approved by the highest levels of the U.S. government, a serious war crime if it in fact, as appears very probable, occurred. In any case, the destruction of documents by the United States over the years makes a reconstruction of our own history extraordinarily difficult. CIA director Richard Helms ordered all MKULTRA documents destroyed in 1973; luckily, one cache of these documents had been copied, and became available later, but much remains unknown, because destroyed.

Many of the Korean War documents were also destroyed, or remain classified or hidden. Endicott and Hagerman note that they were told that archivists at the U.S. National Archives say that some files of the Chemical Warfare Service were recalled by the Army and destroyed in the period 1956 to 1969 (p. 256).

We cannot know the entire story of U.S. covert operations, including the research into torture interrogations, and the use of chemical and biological weapons. The fact that decades after the fact it is difficult to access information on these subjects speaks for itself, as does the destruction of much of the documentation.

The New York Times prides itself as the paper of record in the United States, that publishes "all the news that's fit to print." But as in the run-up to the Iraq War, the NYT, like much of U.S. mainstream media, has acted as a conduit for the official "line" of the U.S. government, much as Pravda and Izvestia once did for the sclerotic Kremlin bureaucracy. The widespread disbelief in the Warren Commission explanation of the Kennedy assassination, and the popularity of conspiracy television shows like The X-Files reflects a nascent consciousness among the mass of the American population that the truth is too often hidden from them.

It is a shame to see with what alacrity the Chinese torture model has been taken as gospel by both bloggers and conventional media sources. Most seem to have never even purused the actual documents that are quoted. Others speak and write passionately about subjects they have barely even studied. In George W. Bush's America, there is nothing needed more than the ability to think clearly and analytically, with an independent and curious mind, and a willingness to take the truth, whatever it may be, wherever it will take us. If that means entering a dark territory where what one believed to be true and honorable turns out to be otherwise, then the sooner we travel such a journey the better.

Originally posted at Invictus

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