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

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

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

Posted by Valtin at 5:56 PM |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viral Instructions for a Torture Paradigm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fight Against the "New" Army Field Manual

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, December 12, 2008

Senate Report Nails Rumsfeld, Sets Up War Crimes Trial

Posted by Valtin at 2:06 PM |

They may not have meant to do it, but the Senate Armed Services' Committee released a report by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain that gives us the best timeline to date on administration decisions to begin torturing detainees. The report, an Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, also describes the means by which both the Pentagon and the CIA approached agencies within government, leading to the very top of the Bush Administration, and how the latter rushed in a series of presidential orders, and memos by the Office of Legal Counsel, to redefine torture law in order to provide legal cover for their blatant violation of the laws of war and those against torture.

The Washington Post article covering these developments, Report on Detainee Abuse Blames Top Bush Officials, is listed as the most viewed item of the day. And for good reason, for anyone who knows how to read such material can see the bombshell that resides within.

Those in the anti-torture community are fond of repeating the fact that torture is a jus cogens norm, that is:
"a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character." Link
But when it comes to the question of prosecuting Rumsfeld and others for the crime of torture, it's generally accepted (by the mainstream media and cable punditry) that the Bush Administration has created sufficient legal cover for themselves, and that we will have to look to international intervention, under the concept of universal jurisdiction, to prosecute these individuals.

But even by their own pathetic lights, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld troika and their assistants failed to protect themselves, as their rush to cover their tracks came TWO MONTHS TOO LATE. They are still trying to keep certain documents secret, it seems, and we must demand they see the light of day, so we can proceed with the prosecutions. (By "we" I mean an Obama Justice Department.)

Here's the key paragraphs in the narrative of the report, at least when it comes to the most vulnerable part of their defense against prosecution. Keep in mind that Levin/McCain begin their narrative with the "Presidential Order [that] Opens the Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques."

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.
So, now they think they are covered against violations of the Geneva Convention. But they didn't think, or they forgot that they were seeking to break, or already breaking the Geneva Convention, and a host of other treaties and laws, at least as early as December 2001.

Again, from the report (emphasis added):
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.
JPRA runs the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE program, under which military personnel considered at risk of capture are "tortured" under controlled circumstances, with the aim of inoculating them against confessing or revealing secrets under pressure. The SERE program specialized in exposing its recruits to waterboarding, nudity, stress positions, degrading behavior, and sensory overload and sensory deprivation. It was slam everything but the kitchen sink against a person to make them break. During training there are doctors and psychologists around to keep these things from getting out of control. But some of these doctors or psychologists evidently thought they could use their knowledge of the program to "reverse-engineer" it and provide interrogation expertise to the military when asked.

And they were asked first in December 2001:
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 subsequent contact between JPRA, SERE, SERE psychologists, the CIA, and Guantanamo personnel make up the bulk of the rest of the report, and is definitely worth pursuing, and very important in its own right. (In fact, I've written much on this previously during the Senate Committee hearings.) But right now I'm concentrating on the critical first approach.

After discussing the December 2001 contact between the Department of Defense and JPRA, the narrative jumps ahead to Spring 2002. The reason for the jump will soon be clear (emphasis added):
Beginning in the spring of 2002 and extending for the next two years, JPRA supported U.S. government efforts to interrogate detainees. During that same period, senior government officials solicited JPRA’s knowledge and its direct support for interrogations. While much of the information relating to JPRA’s offensive activities and the influence of SERE techniques on interrogation policies remains classified, unclassified information provides a window into the extent of those activities.

(U) JPRA’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baumgartner testified that in late 2001 or early 2002, JPRA conducted briefings of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) personnel on detainee resistance, techniques, and information on detainee exploitation.

(U) On April 16, 2002, Dr. Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, circulated a draft exploitation plan to JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton and other senior officials at the agency. The contents of that plan remain classified but Dr. Jessen’s initiative is indicative of the interest of JPRA’s senior leadership in expanding the agency’s role.
We can quite clearly see the use of classification as a cover-up of culpability and probable war crimes. This is doubly true for the classification of any materials between December 2001 and February 7, 2002, the date of Bush's presidential order suspending Geneva rights, because ALL abuse and torture before that date has no cover that even the worst right-wing and pro-military wingnut could find a fig-leaf of bogus legal cover. And that's important because we don't want to win a formal argument about how international law covers Bush, Rumsfeld, et al.'s crimes, we want prosecutions, here, now, in this country. Frankly, I think there are more barriers to bringing charges abroad, for fear of confronting the United States, and we need to set an example for the world ourselves anyway, and try and undo the tremendous damage these individuals have done.

The report goes into succinct detail about the further descent into lawlessness by the administration, the military, and the CIA; how some fought back and tried to protest (military lawyers, CID investigators, etc.), but in the end the administration kept pushing their torture agenda, until the final paper reached Rumsfeld's desk:
With respect to GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request to use aggressive interrogation techniques, Mr. Haynes said that “there was a sense by the DoD Leadership that this decision was taking too long” and that Secretary Rumsfeld told his senior advisors “I need a recommendation.” On November 27, 2002, the Secretary got one. Notwithstanding the serious legal concerns raised by the military services, Mr. Haynes sent a one page memo to the Secretary, recommending that he approve all but three of the eighteen techniques in the GTMO request. Techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval....

(U) On December 2, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld signed Mr. Haynes’s recommendation, adding a handwritten note that referred to limits proposed in the memo on the use of stress positions: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
In the next days and weeks I suppose (and hope) a lot more will be written on this. I have aimed this essay at what I feel is a key revelation in the Senate committee's investigation and report, one that can and should lead to the filing of charges against Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and a number of others. Whether Bush can be prosecuted for his actions as president I leave to the legal minds to ponder.

Oddly, in the conclusions section of the report, the authors leave out the December 2001 solicitation to JPRA and return to a timeline wherein JPRA was approached in July 2002 for information on SERE techniques:
That solicitation, prompted by requests from Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes II, reflected the view that abusive tactics similar to those used by our enemies should be considered for use against detainees in U.S. custody.
I don't know why the Committee would bury in their conclusions an aspect of the timeline that was especially culpable for the administration. Perhaps they felt that with the classification of certain documents they didn't have enough facts to back up their contentions. In that case it is even more essential to call for a declassification of all documents on the torture timeline, and the incoming Obama administration should make this a first priority, if their claims to government transparency are going to carry any weight.

In any case, there's plenty more in the report to keep any war crimes tribunal busy, and also assist those in writing a true history of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I will close with this statement by the committee shooting down the myth that the torture at Abu Ghraib was the result of bad training or a few "rotten apples":
The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.
No kidding!

Onwards to a prosecution of the war criminals and return to civilized norms in the United States.

Also posted at Daily Kos and Invictus

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, June 16, 2008

At Last! Senate Hearings Tackle SERE-Inspired Torture Program

Posted by Valtin at 7:35 PM |

The Senate Armed Services Committee will be holding hearings into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Tomorrow is part one, as Senator Levin's committee looks into the origins of U.S. aggressive interrogation techniques. A new article by AP makes clear that these techniques were approved at the highest levels, and that the resulting torture revelations were not due to the actions of a few "bad apples."

Also, on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing entitled "From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay", which is the second part of its inquiry into administration lawyers, like John Yoo, and their role in writing and approving torture and guidelines for abusive interrogation.

Meanwhile, Human Rights First has a petition up, demanding that Congress ask William Haynes, former General Counsel to the Department of Defense - who "once advised the Bush Administration that waterboarding and death threats were 'legally available' options" - tough questions, bearing upon his culpability for implementing a U.S. torture program.

Before going into the nitty-gritty details of what's going to be revealed at the hearings, I want to ask the indulgence of my readers. The news as presented even by the supposed best of our newspapers and other news sources often lack the context with which we can understand the often mind-boggling revelations that rain down upon us in 21st century America. It is with that thought that I turn momentarily aside to review an important U.S. military interrogation program from the Vietnam War. Considering this history will give perspective for the revelations to come.

The Phoenix Program: Blueprint for Bush's "War on Terror"



In Jane Meyer's August 2007 article, The Black Sites: A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program, she wrote of the scramble by the military and intelligence agencies after 9/11 to cohere an intelligence program in Afghanistan. Ultimately, the U.S. would arrest tens of thousands of supposed "terrorists", many of them turned in by greedy bounty hunters; establish a network of CIA-run secret prisons; expand a rendition program, which outsourced the interrogation of torture and prisoners to third-party nations; and establish the practice of torture against so-called enemy combatants, holding them incommunicado, without hope of appeal or release (until recently, that is).

In seeking to establish their military preeminence thousands of miles from the "homeland," the U.S. government turned to history - U.S. history - for inspiration. What they re-discovered was one of the darkest episodes in that history, one which is barely known or understood in this country, and whose consequences -- not least that the perpetrators of mass torture and assassination remain at large and in positions of power -- hang like the sword of Damocles over the head of uninformed citizenry. What they "discovered" was the Phoenix Program, a counterinsurgency operation by the U.S. government and its South Vietnamese allies that specialized in torture, terror, and assassination of individuals and families suspected of giving support to the Viet Cong. In the end, tens of thousands were murdered, often in their beds or homes, their ears cut off to prove that "kill teams" had made their quota for the night.

As Mayer wrote:
On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a secret Presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to create paramilitary teams to hunt, capture, detain, or kill designated terrorists almost anywhere in the world. Yet the C.I.A. had virtually no trained interrogators. A former C.I.A. officer involved in fighting terrorism said that, at first, the agency was crippled by its lack of expertise. “It began right away, in Afghanistan, on the fly,” he recalled. “They invented the program of interrogation with people who had no understanding of Al Qaeda or the Arab world.” The former officer said that the pressure from the White House, in particular from Vice-President Dick Cheney, was intense: “They were pushing us: ‘Get information! Do not let us get hit again!’” In the scramble, he said, he searched the C.I.A.’s archives, to see what interrogation techniques had worked in the past. He was particularly impressed with the Phoenix Program, from the Vietnam War. Critics, including military historians, have described it as a program of state-sanctioned torture and murder. A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance. But, after September 11th, some C.I.A. officials viewed the program as a useful model.
The brief documentary, embedded above as a YouTube video, represents an excellent introduction to the history of the Phoenix Program. Warning: some of the images are quite graphic.

Those interested in pursuing the subject in more depth should turn to Douglas Valentine's epic work, The Phoenix Program, or to Michael Otterman's excellent summary, linking Phoenix to the later torture policies of the current administration as part of its misnamed "war on terror", American Torture.

Military Psychologists Braintrust Pentagon Torture Program

The historical context offered by the documentary frames the current situation, where the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding hearings on detainee interrogation abuse and torture. Tomorrow, former Pentagon general counsel, William “Jim” Haynes, is due to testify. According to a new article by AP:
The investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee also has confirmed that senior administration officials, including the Pentagon's then-general counsel William “Jim” Haynes, sought the help of military psychologists early on to devise the more aggressive methods – which included the use of dogs, making a detainee stand for long periods of time and forced nudity, according to officials familiar with the findings....

Rumsfeld's December 2002 approval of the aggressive interrogation techniques and later objections by military lawyers have been widely reported. But the November protests by service lawyers had not, and the interest by Pentagon civilians in military psychologists has surfaced only piecemeal....

According to the Senate committee's findings, Haynes became interested in using harsher interrogation methods as early as July 2002 when he sent a memo inquiring about a military program that trained Army soldiers how to survive enemy interrogations and deny foes valuable intelligence.

Officials who taught the methods – known as “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape,” or SERE techniques – were well schooled in the art of abusive interrogations....
According to the AP article, Haynes went to Guantanamo with Alberto Gonzales (then with the Office of Legal Counsel) and David Addington, Vice President Cheney's own chief counsel. Ultimately, Donald Rumsfeld approved a number of abusive interrogation techniques, over protests by the services's own military attorneys. (The abuse continued even after Rumsfeld's torture program was officially discontinued, as unredacted portions of Admiral Church's investigation into detainee abuse revealed a few months ago.)

The use of SERE techniques may have leaked out "piecemeal", but there have been plenty of stories about the misuse of this military program, from Katherine Eban's expose article in Vanity Fair last summer, to the Pentagon Office of the Inspector report released late last year, to a recent ACLU release of documents describing the "first on-the-ground reports of torture in Gardez, Afghanistan" by Special Operations forces utilizing SERE techniques.

If anything, the Congressional hearings are the proverbial hour late and a mile short. The revelations about abuse of U.S. torture in Afghanistan and Iraq go back to the initial arrest of John Walker Lindh in 2001. As the Phoenix Program documentary makes clear, even earlier and if anything more egregious examples of U.S. war crimes were known and vetted and then ignored, the perpetrators allowed to filter successfully through the sinews of government until the current day, and the phenomena of a Phoenix reborn, metamorphosed into a "war on terror", a campaign to save the "homeland" masking a policy of aggressive invasion, war, occupation, and torture by the leaders of this country.

While late, I welcome whatever exposure will come from these Congressional hearings. I support Human Rights First's petition drive. Only when we bring these crimes into the light of day and educate all Americans about what has been done in their name will we have half a chance of ending the barbarous policy of war, torture, and oppression, and winning over that part of the world that has, in desperation, turned to their own demagogues who preach despair and (occasional) terror in the name of a desperate hope. Such a campaign will mean we have to confront the anti-democratic elements in our own society. This fight will be hard and long, maybe as long as Bush sees his own "war on terror". This will be a war on exploitation, violence, and the manipulation of human beings. Its banner will be freedom from fear, from want, from exploitation.

Also posted at Invictus

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

April 30, 2004... and now where are we?

Posted by Valtin at 10:55 PM |

If behavioral scientists are concerned solely with advancing their science, it seems most probably that they will serve the purposes of whatever individual or group has the power.
The quote above is from U.S. psychology pioneer Carl Rogers. It is worth pondering his statement as we consider both recent developments in the fight against U.S. torture, and more general considerations about the role of psychologists, physicians, and other scientific and medical personnel in interrogations for Bush's "War on Terror."

I was reading the New York Times's article on the decision by the "Convening Authority" at Guantanamo to drop all charges "without prejudice" against purported sixth 9/11 Al Qaeda hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani, when my attention was drawn to an ad from the CIA trumpeting the announcement that they were seeking applicants for "National Clandestine Service Careers." A few clicks later, curious to see what they were offering for my own profession (not that I wish to apply), I found a number of positions open. Here's one that caught my eye:
Operational Psychologist
Work Schedule: Full Time
Salary: $82,961 – $127,442
Location: Washington, DC metropolitan area

Responsible for providing behavioral science consultancy to the Intelligence Community, the major activities involved in this role include psychological testing and behavioral assessment; customized training/consultation on topics related to cross-cultural personality assessment; and applied research.
"Applied research." "Cross-cultural personality assessment." Perhaps it was the sort of job that Major John Leso, psychologist at Guantanamo in late 2002-early 2003, had applied for, only to find himself present at the 54-day interrogation of Mr. al-Qahtani, otherwise known as Detainee 063. As Philippe Sands explains in his recent must-read article at Vanity Fair, "The Green Light", Mr. al-Qahtani had the unusual luck to have his interrogation log publicly leaked, detailing the torture -- which included 15 of 18 torture techniques, then under special approval of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- he underwent, in part under the participation of psychologist Leso.

No one knows for sure, as the "Convening Authority" is under no statutory obligation to explain herself, but it seems likely that al-Qahtani was dropped from Bush's projected show trials of other selected detainees, projected to begin sometime next year, because the evidence on him included large amounts of material produced through torture. There is no way the government can suppress this evidence by citing state secrecy, as the interrogation log is now public record, thanks to an anonymous leaker. Portions have already been published at Time Magazine. The full log is available at Center for Constitutional Rights.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon and the Bush Administration is preparing to try five other "high-profile" Guantanamo inmates at its dubious military commission hearings, as it seeks the death penalty for all five. One of the five is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused "mastermind" of the 9/11 attacks, who was admittedly waterboarded by CIA torturers during his interrogation. The videotape evidence of this was destroyed, leading to a brouhaha in the press and increased Congressional scrutiny.

Legal Experts Take on Bush/Cheney's Legal Team

Some of that Congressional interest was displayed at hearings on May 6 before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the House Judiciary Committee, looking at Bush Administration lawyers and the development of Administration interrogation rules over the past six years. Much of this history is already available in Philippe Sands' article cited above. Mr. Sands, a professor at University College London, was one of three prominent legal authorities to testify at the hearings (transcript courtesy of AfterDowningStreet.org):
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of the Committee, the story I uncovered is an unhappy one. It points to the early and direct involvement of those at the highest levels of government, often through their lawyers, the individuals on whom I largely focused. In June 2004, after the scandal of Abu Ghraib broke, and the August 1, 2002 Bybee Torture Memo became public, Mr Gonzalez and Mr Haynes appeared before the media to claim that the Bush Administration had not authorized such abuse. Contrary to the impression given by the Administration, repeated by Mr Haynes when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2006, his involvement (and that of Secretary Rumsfeld) began well before that stated in the official version. Mr. Haynes had visited Guantanamo, together with Mr Gonzales and Mr Addington, discussed interrogations, and then recommended that the U.S. military abandon its tradition of restraint. My conclusion, on the basis of interviews and documents, is that this is a story not only of crime but also of cover-up, to protect the most senior members of the Administration from the consequences of the illegality that has stained America’s reputation.
Also speaking at the hearing was Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers Guild, who has recently called for the firing of University of California law professor John Yoo, who is heavily implicated in giving legal cover for Bush's torture plans. Ms. Cohn spoke very precisely about the legal gyrations of Bush administration lawyers as they sought refuge from legal accountability for the deliberate breaking of torture laws both national and international. What follows is an edited version of her testimony:
What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. Jus cogens is Latin for "higher law" or "compelling law." This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition. [emphasis added]

The United States has always prohibited the use of torture in our Constitution, laws executive statements and judicial decisions....

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions. He must be protected against torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment under, Common Article 3....

The US War Crimes Act, and 18 USC sections 818 and 3231, punish torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute provides for life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies, for anyone who commits, attempts, or conspires to commit torture outside the United States....

In Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, the Second Circuit declared the prohibition against torture is universal, obligatory, specific and definable. Since then, every U.S. circuit court has reaffirmed that torture violates universal and customary international law. In the Paquete Habana, the Supreme Court held that customary international law is part of U.S. law....

Yet on February 7, 2002, President Bush, relying on memos by lawyers including John Yoo, announced that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members....

Lawyers in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote memos at the request of high-ranking government officials in order to insulate them from future prosecution for subjecting detainees to torture....

The [United Nations] Torture Convention defines torture as the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. The U.S. attached an "understanding" to its ratification of the Torture Convention, which added the requirement that the torturer "specifically" intend to inflict the severe physical or mental pain or suffering. This is a distinction without a difference for three reasons. First, under well-established principles of criminal law, a person specifically intends to cause a result when he either consciously desires that result or when he knows the result is practically certain to follow. Second, unlike a "reservation" to a treaty provision, an "understanding" cannot change an international legal obligation. Third, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an "understanding" that violates the object and purpose of a treaty is void. The claim that treatment of prisoners which would amount to torture under the Torture Convention does not constitute torture under the U.S. "understanding" violates the object and purpose of the Convention, which is to ensure that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"....

Nevertheless, Yoo twisted the law and redefined torture much more narrowly than the definitions in the Convention Against Torture and the Torture Statute. Under Yoo's definition, the victim must experience intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body functions will likely result.
Attorney David Luban, a Georgetown law professor, and the third expert to speak at the committee hearing, zeroed in on White House legal counsels' terrible twisting of the meaning of pain and suffering under torture:
...as I mentioned earlier, [John Yoo] wrenches language from a Medicare statute to explain the legal definition of torture. The Medicare statute lists severe pain as a possible symptom of a medical emergency, and Mr. Yoo flips the statute and uses the language of medical emergency to define severe pain. This was so bizarre that the OLC itself disowned his definition a few months after it became public. It is highly unusual for one OLC opinion to disown an earlier one, and it shows just how far out of the mainstream Mr. Yoo had wandered. This goes beyond the ethical limits for a legal advisor. In fact, even in the courtroom there are limits to spinning the law: ethics rules forbid advocates from making frivolous legal arguments, or failing to disclose adverse legal authority. But it would be a mistake to focus only on Mr. Yoo. Mr. Levin’s replacement memo also takes liberties with the law. In particular, when the Levin Memo discusses the term “severe physical suffering” (which is part of the statutory definition of torture), it states that the suffering must “prolonged” to be severe – and that requirement simply isn’t in the statute at all. Under that definition, of course, waterboarding would not be torture because people break within seconds or minutes. This is a perfect example of a legalistic definition that looks inconspicuous but in reality narrows the definition of torture dramatically. Notice that the quicker a technique breaks the interrogation subject, the less prolonged his suffering will be – so the harsher the tactic, the less likely it is to qualify as “torture.”
I wonder if any CIA psychologist wannabes were watching the House committee testimony on C-Span. Perhaps they will have to sign a waiver releasing the Agency from liability if they are later found prosecutable for war crimes. One never knows.

Torture and Civil Society

Among those who are fighting to remove psychologists from government interrogations at Guantanamo and other "war on terror" prison sites (including CIA secret torture prisons), there is some recent hope that the tide is turning in the struggle against the ossified bureaucratic apparatus of the American Psychological Association. Steven Reisner got a plurality of votes in the first round of voting for APA president. Even more, a petition to essentially remove psychologists from operational roles at national security interrogations has gained over 800 signatures thus far.

About 950 signatures, or about 1% of the total APA membership, is needed to move the petition along to the next stage in the overly onerous process of delivering a vote on participation in interrogations to the overall APA membership. Along the way, supporters must survive vetting of the measure by both the APA president and the APA Council of Representatives. I believe the petition supporters are hoping that political pressures within and without the organization will help push it through. Meanwhile, APA leadership is planning to once again "discuss" the interrogations "issue" at its annual conference this August, hoping, no doubt, to talk their opponents into oblivion, or at least to a standstill, as they await marching orders from their bosses in Washington, DC and/or Langley.

We are too close and embroiled in the struggle against state-sponsored torture to get a complete perspective on just how compromised major portions of U.S. civil society has become. But things are not exactly looking promising at the moment. The quote from Dr. Rogers that opened this essay was written over forty years ago. A generation has come and gone, and the same problems remain. Note Rogers' emphasis: "If behavioral scientists are concerned solely with advancing their science..." Scientists and attorneys, doctors and soldiers, if one is only concerned with advancing their profession, then professional parochialism is surely the prelude to societal dissolution.

Dr. Steven Miles, whose book Oath Betrayed documents the complicity of medical doctors and personnel in torture and abuse at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, among other prison sites, is fond of noting that over four years after the revelations of the sickening, criminal abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib was made public on April 30, 2004, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) "maintains continuous editorial silence on medical complicity with human rights abuses in US war on terror prisons." Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association maintains the fiction that psychologists are at Guantanamo, for example, in order to make interrogations "safe" for the detainees.

Slowly, achingly, you can feel the decent core of society straining to lift the crimes of torture and aggressive war off its bowed shoulders, like a modern Atlas struggling to raise the world up, while bureaucrats, military and intelligence hawks, crooked politicians, careerist attorneys, war profiteers, and oblivious medical and psychological personnel careen over themselves to pull it down. Will they succeed? And which "they" do you identify with?

Also posted at Invictus

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,