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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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

Posted by Valtin at 1:58 AM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake


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


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


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


Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Also posted at Invictus

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

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

Posted by Valtin at 6:28 PM |

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

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

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

Setting the Stage

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

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

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

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

The timeline for this begins as early as December 2001, before, as the SASC report makes clear, Bush's presidential order, based on an opinion by Alberto Gonzales made as early as January 9, 2002, which "closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees." The pre-January 2002 timeline is crucial, as it stands outside, i.e., is prior to, all governmental attempts to cover their intent to torture, and to break international laws and treaties to which the government was signatory.

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

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

The Evidence

I have added in bold emphases where I felt appropriate, to guide the reader to the essential points. But I strongly recommend that those interested read not only the full quote herein, but the entire report.
(U) On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. While the President’s order stated that, as “a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,” the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

(U) In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

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

(U) Typically, those who play the part of interrogators in SERE school neither are trained interrogators nor are they qualified to be. These role players are not trained to obtain reliable intelligence information from detainees. Their job is to train our personnel to resist providing reliable information to our enemies. As the Deputy Commander for the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), JPRA’s higher headquarters, put it: “the expertise of JPRA lies in training personnel how to respond and resist interrogations – not in how to conduct interrogations.” Given JPRA’s role and expertise, the request from the DoD General Counsel’s office was unusual. In fact, the Committee is not aware of any similar request prior to December 2001. But while it may have been the first, that was not the last time that a senior government official contacted JPRA for advice on using SERE methods offensively. In fact, the call from the DoD General Counsel’s office marked just the beginning of JPRA’s support of U.S. government interrogation efforts.
The Exhibits

The one document produced from the December 2001 contact -- a fax cover sheet from the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), sent from "Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner" to "Mr. Richard Shiffrin," who worked for Haynes's in Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office -- introduces a theme of aggressive courting by JPRA/SERE personnel to take on the interrogations/exploitation task. We only have the fax cover sheet at present. I have been informed that the full document is not available as it concerns a different governmental entity, one that did not sign off on declassification, as yet. Perhaps when the full unredacted SASC report is released, supposedly very soon now, we will be able to add another exhibit.
Mr. Shiffrin --
Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.
"Mr. Shiffrin refers to Mr. Richard Shiffrin, who worked for William Haynes's in Donald Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office. Mr. Haynes is reportedly one of the officials the Spanish prosecutors intend to indict. Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner was then head of JPRA.

In June 2008, Dan Baumgartner also gave testimony under oath to the Senate committee regarding the Dec. 2001 approach by DoD. From his testimony:
My recollection of my first communication with OGC relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry. From what I reviewed last year with Committee staff members, the information involved the exploitation process and historical information on captivity and lessons learned.
The theme of JPRA promoting SERE expertise surfaces in Iraq a little less than two years after the first DoD approach. A September 9, 2003 email from Col. Randy Moulton, Commander of JPRA to Col. Mike Okita and a redacted addressee (could this be Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who, coming from his command in Guantanamo, on September 9 was just concluding his evaluation of interrogation procedures in Iraq) again makes the same point about JPRA "expertise".
There is a strong synergy between the fundamentals of both missions (resistance training and interrogation). Both rely heavily on environmental conditions, captivity psychology, and situation dominance and control. While I think this probably lies within DHS responsibility lines, recent history (to include discussions with DHS, USSOCOM, CIA) shows that no DoD entity has a firm grasp on any comprehensive approach to strategic debriefing/interrogation. Our subject matter experts (and certain Service SERE psychologist) have the most knowledge and depth within DoD on the captivity environment and exploitation.
I would remind my readers here that SERE exploitation famously includes the use of physical assault, stress positions, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, sensory overload, and other forms of physical and psychological torture.

Other Evidence: Re John Walker Lindh

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

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

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

Concluding Remarks

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

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

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

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

Also posted at Invictus

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