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, May 03, 2009

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

Posted by Andy Worthington at 6:52 PM |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torturing Abu Zubaydah “to achieve a political objective”

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

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

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

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

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

A single Iraqi anecdote, and a bitter conclusion

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

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

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

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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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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lying for the Torturers: The APA School of Falsification

Posted by Valtin at 8:05 PM |

When earlier this month the ACLU released a new slew of FOIA documents -- unredacted portions of Admiral Church's 2005 report on detainee abuses at "war on terror" prisons abroad -- the spin machine of the American Psychological Association sprang into action. APA propagandist, and Ethics Director, Stephen Behnke was called upon to take up the cudgels, whereupon he wrote an unctious, dissembling letter to the ACLU.

In a letter dated May 15, Behnke praised ACLU for "uncovering details surrounding the treatment of detainees at detention facilities run by the U.S. government around the world." Then he reiterated APA's paper commitment to "the humane treatment of detainees." In between the lofty presentation of ideals and grand commitments, Behnke also made the following points (quoting from his letter, which has circulated via email, but not to my knowledge is online -- bold text below is my editorial emphasis):

We find what is revealed about abuse in the newly released documents abhorrent. The position of the American Psychological Association is clear and unequivocal: There is never a justification for torture or abuse. In carefully reviewing the documents, we note that according to the information obtained by the ACLU, psychologists supporting interrogations “emphasized their separation from detainee medical care,” and that a psychologist who suspected abuse “recommended the interrogation not proceed and brought in medical personnel to evaluate the detainee.” According to these documents, APA’s policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety....

APA is committed to promoting the humane treatment of detainees. We applaud the efforts of the ACLU to learn the truth about U.S. treatment of detainees. APA will adjudicate any allegation that an APA member has engaged in unethical conduct. If you have information that a psychologist has engaged in torture, I ask that you immediately bring this information to my attention.
As for Behnke's last contention, i.e., that APA wwould adjudicate any torture allegation against a psychologist, he forgets to mention that most of the information on such behavior is classified. But even more egregious is how APA has treated the formal complaints against one APA member psychologist John Leso. Leso was present for the interrogation of Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, and his contribution was documented via the leaked release of al-Qahtani's interrogation log. Psychologist Trudy Bond, among others, were quick to respond to this and file a formal complaint with APA. She reports on what happened to this complaint in a recent story at Counterpunch. Dr. Bond has given me permission to reproduce the correspondence in the quote below:
The APA leadership was long ago given hard evidence of misconduct by an APA member. A complaint was first filed by another source with your office against APA member Dr. John Leso in August of 2006....

...the Pentagon recently dropped charges against al-Qahtani, with much speculation that this decision was based on the knowledge of the torture he has endured -- torture which Dr. Leso enable as a psychologist and member of APA....

Dr. Leso maintains a valid license in the State of New York until 2009, and has been a member in good standing of the American Psychological Association since 1996.

I realize that "justice walks with leaden feet," (though few realize this statement belongs to Harry Weinberger, attorney for Emma Goldman), but my experience with the APA Office of Ethics in fulfilling the above promises feels more than leaden.

What follows is a synopsis of my attempts to achieve the VERY response YOU PLEDGED in your letter to the ACLU.

April 11, 2007 by Facsimile
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dr. Behnke:
I am filing an ethics complaint against Dr. John F. Leso, a member of APA since 1996. The behavior at issue is participation in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as documented in the INTERROGATION LOG of DETAINNEE 063 at Guantanamo.
Sincerely,
Dr. Trudy Bond

April 11, 2007
From: APA Office of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond:
This is to acknowledge your inquiry received April 11, 2007 indicating your intent to file a complaint against Dr. John F. Leso . . . Once your completed complaint form is received, we will determine whether it is within the time limits for filing . . . We await your response.

April 15, 2007
To: APA Office of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
Member Against Whom You Are Complaining: Dr. John Franklin Leso. Major John Franklin Leso was licensed by a psychologist by the state of New York and retains license number 013492 until July, 2009. He is currently an active APA member and has been since 1996.

September 4, 2007
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
Attached is a copy of the form I submitted to the APA Ethics Committee on April 15, 2007 regarding APA member John Leso. I have received no acknowledgment of or response to said complaint, and therefore am resubmitting this complaint.

December 24, 2007
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics, by email
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
I filed a second formal complaint against John Leso on September 4, 2007 after i had received no contact form APA regarding the first complaint filed in April of this year. The APA Office of Ethics has not even acknowledged receipt of the complaints I filed.

December 24, 2007
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
The Ethics Office does not respond in email to questions regarding specific ethics matters . . please write or fax the Ethics Office and I will ensure that you receive an expeditious response.

January 3, 2008
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
As per your request of 12/24/07, I am resending my letter of that date to you by U.S. Postal Mail asking that you inform me of the status of my ethical complaints against Dr. John Leso.

January 23, 2008
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
Thank you for your letter of January 3 . . . I am out of the country and will respond to your question as soon as I return.

February 6, 2008
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
Our records indicate that on April 11, 2007 you contacted the Ethics Office and indicated a wish to file a complaint against Dr. John Leso . . . Our records indicate that as of October, 2007, the Office had received neither the complaint form nor any additional information from you. As a result, on October 11, the inquiry was closed. . . It appears that you took the complainant packet sent in April . . . and used it to file a complaint against (redacted) . . . the complaint form you submitted in the (redacted) matter has Dr. Leso's name covered by "white out" . . .To date, we have not received any complaint from you against Dr. Leso.

February 12, 2008
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
The complaint against Dr. Leso dated 4/15/07 was never acknowledged by APA. On 9/4/07, I resubmitted the same APA form that I had sent to your office on April 15, 2007. This complaint also was never acknowledged.

February 27, 2008
Fr: Office of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond:
This is to acknowledge receipt of the completed Ethics Complaint Form and materials for the complaint filed against James F. Leso, PhD....

As you well know, Dr. Behnke, Dr. Leso is not the only psychologist who has had complaints filed against him for involvement in torture, complaints that have not been "adjudicated" by your office. America's role as a torture nation is part of our national emergency. It's past time for APA to match words with deeds.
A Failed Policy, or a Policy of Obfuscation

I commend Dr. Bond for her attempt to keep APA on its ethical toes, and for doing the right thing. For my purposes, I wish to concentrate on Dr. Behnke's contention that "APA’s policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety." As with the issue of ajudicating complaints, Behkne's contention is a bald-faced lie.

The relevant section of the Church Report for our purposes is the newly unredacted section on page 281. It concerns interrogation policy and practice in Iraq. The document reads:
Illustrating our previous finding regarding the breakdown of disseminatio, the chart [which is redacted] demonstrates that the use of some of the techniques approved in the September 2003 memorandum continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum.... the relatively widespread use of these techniques supports our finding that the policy documents were not always received or thoroughly understood.
The September 2003 memorandum is the Sanchez memorandum of 9/14/2003, CJTF-7 Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy, which includes use of isolation, sleep deprivation, dietary and environmental manipulation, among others. The latter carries this "note": "Caution: Based on court cases in other countries, some nations may view application of this technique in certain circumstances to be inhumane. Consideration of these views should be given prior to use of this technique." This memo also included "Yelling, Loud Music, and Light Control: Used to create fear, disorient detainee and prolong capture shock. Volume controlled to prevent injury," and the use of "stress positions."

To paraphrase a comment by Steven Miles, re this revelation of "widespread use of these techniques" (and despite statements elsewhere in the report that none of the actors involved noted such abuse -- an aspect of this somewhat whitewash of a report that is contradictory)... where were the psychologists when this was going on? The report also notes (pg. 355) that the psychologists did "not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations."

Furthermore, the unredacted portions of the report indicate that "documentation of medical care is not standardized or rigorous.... Separate detainee medical records are not maintained." A few paragraphs later (pp. 354-255), it's noted that "According to the Director, Psychological Applications Directorate (U.S. Army Special Operations Command), the only reason for sharing any medical information would be to ensure that detainees are treated in accordance with their medical requirements." -- In other words, psychologists were gatekeepers for indicating who and who couldn't medically stand the interrogation, such interrogations included, as noted above, "widespread use" of abusive and formally prohibited techniques.

I don't see how much clearer it can be, given the government is not going to hand us a smoking gun outright. The closest they came to doing that was when the Pentagon released it's own Inspector General report last year accusing SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell of helping reverse-engineer SERE training into torture instruction to U.S. military/CIA forces abroad. (Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair also wrote a great article on this matter last summer.) Was there any hand-wringing at APA over psychologists being so heavily-implicated in the torture reports? None that was expressed publicly in any case.

If this is not enough, consider the 11/4/03 interrogation at Abu Ghraib, reported in the Church Report, where a detainee "was initially reported to have slumped over during interrogation and then to have died despite attempted medical resuscitation." Since psychologists were assisting interrogations... where was the psychologist during this interrogation? (Later CID investigation suggested respiration problems due to hooding may have been involved. Hooding is a form of sensory deprivation, as well as inducing fear and disorientation.) -- There are a number of other such cases noted.

I believe there is more than enough evidence in the documents provided to cast a very ominous light on the actions of psychologists (and other medical personnel) regarding detainee abuse aka torture. In any case, Behnke's statement that these documents demonstrate that "APA's policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety" is a patent falsehood given the bulk of evidence presented.

The APA is on a long, dark road to compromised oblivion. But it does not march alone. There is the recent release of another major evaluation of detainee abuse -- this time looking at the role of the FBI at sites where torture took place. This investigatory report by the Department of Justice Inspector General describes how FBI agents were present at CIA torture, protested it, were ignored by their superiors, and even had their attempts at documenting the torture shut down. At the same time, top levels of DoJ, DoD, the FBI, the CIA, Congress, and the Bush Administration did all they could to facilitate the operations of torture and abuse at "war on terror" prisons that practically span the globe (from Guantanamo, to secret prisons in East Europe, to Iraq and Afghanistan, to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean). Meanwhile, the FBI agents -- the "good" ones -- filed their protests and went back to their jobs, and the American people were left in the dark.

It seems a majority of the top layer of U.S. intellectual, governmental, and managerial society has lost its mooring entirely. Beholden to a lifestyle and career track that rests upon conquest and imperialistic occupation and control abroad, they either support Bush's criminal policies, or drown themselves in impotent gestures of protest.

I, thankfully, am done with APA. But their self-serving lies and policy on torture carries on. Where APA sees dollar signs, the rest of us see a growing moral darkness.

Also posted at Invictus

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah

Posted by Andy Worthington at 3:42 PM |

Abu Zubaydah, an alleged senior al-Qaeda operative, has been held without charge or trial as a “high-value detainee” for over six years, first in secret CIA custody, and then in Guantánamo, while battles have raged within the administration over his supposed significance. Drawing, in particular, on the story of former Guantánamo prisoner Khalid al-Hubayshi, Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, makes the case that Zubaydah’s importance has been wildly exaggerated.

A recent article in the Washington Post, Out of Guantánamo and Bitter Toward Bin Laden, which was based on an interview with former Guantánamo prisoner Khalid al-Hubayshi (released in 2006), was noteworthy as much for what it did not reveal as for what it did.

In the article, Faiza Saleh Ambah began by explaining how “A calling to defend fellow Muslims and a bit of aimlessness took Khalid al-Hubayshi to a separatists' training camp in the southern Philippines and to the mountains of Afghanistan, where he interviewed for a job with Osama bin Laden.”

Part of this story was previously known from al-Hubayshi’s long years in Guantánamo, as Detainee 155, when he admitted to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) in 2004 that he had trained in the Philippines and had also trained at the Khaldan camp in Afghanistan in 1997. He also said that he moved to Afghanistan in 2001, joining a “private small camp” outside Jalalabad, which was subsequently closed down by the Taliban. Throughout, he presented himself -- with some eloquence -- as a freedom fighter who focused on particular struggles that various Muslims around the world had with non-Muslim oppressors (the model that was largely superseded by bin Laden's declaration of global jihad in 1998).

It was for this reason, he said, that he trained at Khaldan, which was not associated with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda at the time, and it was also for this reason that he returned to Afghanistan in 2001, and joined the camp near Jalalabad. He insisted, “I wasn't a member of al-Qaeda or on the front lines with the Taliban because I don't believe in what they are doing. I believe what the Taliban did in Afghanistan was ethnic war [and] al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization.”

He also explained, “I think Osama bin Laden is wrong. He just wants to be famous. He doesn't care how he does it, killing people, killing Muslims, or destroying countries. I think he got what he wanted -- to be famous. I don't need to meet him. I don't understand the politics. People look at the vision of Osama bin Laden and believe America is their enemy. They don't understand what is going on or what happened in Afghanistan in 1980 [when the Soviet invasion began].”

This opinion of bin Laden, it transpired from al-Hubayshi’s interview with Faiza Saleh Ambah, was true, but rather lacking in context. In the interview he admitted that, although he had certainly become disillusioned with the inter-ethnic fighting in Afghanistan -- “I was not there … to help Afghans fighting Afghans for political gain,” he said, adding, “If I was going to die, I wanted to die fighting for something meaningful” -- his return to Afghanistan in May 2001, and what he subsequently did there, was both more complicated and more compromised than he had admitted at his tribunal.

He explained that, while attempting to return home in 1999, he had been arrested and imprisoned by the Pakistanis, who confiscated his passport, and that he had then returned to his job at a utilities company in Saudi Arabia on a false passport. His return to Afghanistan in 2001 came about when he discovered that he was wanted for questioning by the Saudi authorities, and it was at the camp near Jalalabad, where he became “adept at making remote-controlled explosive devices triggered by cellphones and light switches,” that he attracted the attention of al-Qaeda.

Introduced to Osama bin Laden, he said that he refused to join al-Qaeda because bin Laden’s fight “had changed from defending Muslims to attacking the United States. I wasn't convinced of his ideology. And I wanted to be independent, not just another minion in this big group.” After returning to his independent life, he was drawn once more into bin Laden’s orbit after 9/11, when, after fleeing Afghan persecution, he and others were invited to the Tora Bora mountains, for what, it seems, was touted as a glorious showdown with the Americans.

“Bin Laden was convinced the Americans would come down and fight,” al-Hubayshi said. “We spent five weeks like that, manning our positions in case the Americans landed.” He added, however, that as the airstrikes moved closer, and as the Americans’ Afghan allies advanced on their positions, bin Laden abandoned the fight and fled. “There was no dignity in what he made us do,” he told Faiza Saleh Ambah, adding that he was “sorry that Muslims carried out the Sept. 11 attacks because they targeted civilians.” “That was wrong,” he explained. “Jihad is fighting soldier to soldier.”

While this entire report fills in some rather large gaps in al-Hubayshi’s testimony in Guantánamo -- and also provides some apposite insight into his opinion of bin Laden -- what was missing from Faiza Saleh Ambah’s interview was any mention whatsoever of another allegedly pivotal figure in al-Qaeda: Abu Zubaydah, the Palestinian-born facilitator of the Khaldan camp, and one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006.

In the interview, the only mention of Khaldan was that al-Hubayshi “learned to fire anti-aircraft missiles, anti-aircraft machine guns, anti-tank weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and became an expert in explosives,” whereas his comments in Guantánamo about his relationship with Abu Zubaydah struck me as enormously significant while I was researching The Guantánamo Files, and remain so to this day, as they cast important light on a fierce debate within the US administration, which has raged since shortly after Zubaydah was captured in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad in March 2002.

Contrary to claims made by the administration and the CIA -- which, as described in Time magazine shortly after his capture, indicated that he was “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations and top recruiter,” who would be able to “provide the names of terrorists around the world and which targets they planned to hit” -- the story that emerged in Ron Suskind’s 2006 book, The One Percent Doctrine, was that Zubaydah was nothing like the pivotal figure that the CIA had supposed him to be, and had actually turned out to be mentally ill.

Investigating his diary, analysts found entries in the voices of three people -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego -- which recorded in numbing detail, over the course of ten years, “what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said.” Dan Coleman, the FBI's senior expert on al-Qaeda, explained to one of his superiors, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.” According to Suskind, the officials also confirmed that Zubaydah appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations, and was, instead, a minor logistician.

And yet, as Suskind also reports, so misplaced was the CIA’s belief in Zubaydah’s importance that when they subjected him to waterboarding and other forms of torture, and he “confessed” to all manner of supposed plots -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty -- “thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each target ... The United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”

Last December, when there was a brief uproar over the destruction by the CIA of videotapes showing the “enhanced interrogations” of Zubaydah and another “high-value detainee”, Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, Dan Coleman spoke out once more about Zubaydah, telling the Washington Post that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA cast doubt on the credibility of Zubaydah’s confessions. “I don't have confidence in anything he says,” Coleman explained, “because once you go down that road, everything you say is tainted. He was talking before they did that to him, but they didn't believe him. The problem is they didn't realize he didn't know all that much.”

Coleman also revisited the rift that developed between the FBI and the CIA when CIA operatives began holding him naked in his cell, “subjecting him to extreme cold and bombarding him with loud rock music,” explaining that FBI operatives who witnessed this said, “You've got to be kidding me. This guy's a Muslim. That's not going to win his confidence. Are you trying to get information out of him or just belittle him?”

Reiterating his skepticism about Zubaydah’s supposed importance, Coleman said that he “was a ‘safehouse keeper’ with mental problems who claimed to know more about al-Qaeda and its inner workings than he really did,” that his diaries were “full of flowery and philosophical meanderings, and made little mention of terrorism or al-Qaeda,” and that he and others at the FBI had concluded, by looking at other evidence, including a serious head injury that Zubaydah had suffered years earlier, that he had severe mental problems. “They all knew he was crazy, and they knew he was always on the damn phone,” Coleman explained, referring to other al-Qaeda operatives, adding, “You think they're going to tell him anything?”

Largely unnoticed, although featured in my book, are two more analyses of Zubaydah’s role that reinforce the opinions expressed by Dan Coleman and Ron Suskind: those of Khalid al-Hubayshi, and of Zubaydah himself, during his CSRT in Guantánamo last spring.

Al-Hubayshi explained that, far from being a mastermind, Abu Zubaydah was responsible for “receiving people and financing the camp,” that he once bought him travel tickets, and that he was the man he went to when he needed a replacement passport. He also suggested that Zubaydah did not have a long-standing relationship with bin Laden. When asked, “When you were with Abu Zubaydah, did you ever see Osama bin Laden?” he replied, “In 1998, Abu Zubaydah and Osama bin Laden didn't like each other,” adding, “In 2001, I think the relationship was okay,” and explaining that bin Laden put pressure on Zubaydah to close Khaldan, essentially because he wanted to run more camps himself.

The echoes with Zubaydah’s own account are uncanny. In his CSRT, Zubaydah said that he was tortured by the CIA to admit that he worked with Osama bin Laden, but insisted, “I'm not his partner and I'm not a member of al-Qaeda.” He also said that his interrogators promised to return his diary to him -- the one that contained the evidence of his split personality -- and explained that their refusal to do so affected him emotionally and triggered seizures.

Speaking of his status as a “high-value detainee,” he said that his only role was to operate a guest house used by those who were training at Khaldan, and confirmed al-Hubayshi's analysis of his relationship with bin Laden, saying, “Bin Laden wanted al-Qaeda to have control of Khaldan, but we refused since we had different ideas.” He explained that he opposed attacks on civilian targets, which brought him into conflict with bin Laden, and although he admitted that he had been an enemy of the US since childhood, because of its support for Israel, pointed out that his enmity was towards the government and the military, and not the American people.

I await the development of Abu Zubaydah’s story with interest. Just a month ago, his lawyers, Brent Mickum and Joe Margulies, followed Coleman and Suskind’s lead by filing an unlawful detention suit arguing that their client is insane, and I’m fascinated to know what they -- and others who are wondering why, if Zubaydah was so important, he was not charged in February in connection with the 9/11 attacks along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five others -- will make of the testimony of Khalid al-Hubayshi, who, as Faiza Saleh Ambah reported, is now a world away from his previous life as a would-be soldier and US prisoner, happily married and working at the utilities company from which he twice escaped to pursue his dreams of jihad.

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