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, March 15, 2009

Leaked! International Red Cross Report on CIA Torture

Posted by Valtin at 11:20 PM |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us move forward.

Update, roughly 11 pm, PDT:

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

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

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

Also posted at Invictus

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Forgotten Men: New UC Report on "Guantanamo and its Aftermath"

Posted by Valtin at 12:06 AM |

Last summer, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First released Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the U.S. The study looked at medical and psychological evidence of the costs of torture by eleven men who endured such abuse by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay.

Now, University of California, Berkeley's Human Rights Center, in conjunction with the International Human Rights Law Clinic and Center for Constitutional Rights, has released a report on the medical and psychological condition of 62 detainees released over the years from Guantanamo. According to a press release by the university:
The report, "Guantanamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Detainees," based on a two-year study, reveals in graphic detail the cumulative effect of Bush Administration policies on the lives of 62 released detainees. Many of the prisoners were sold into captivity and subjected to brutal treatment in U.S. prison camps in Afghanistan. Once in Guantanamo, prisoners were denied access to civilian courts to challenge the legality of their detention. Almost two-thirds of the former detainees interviewed reported having psychological problems since leaving Guantanamo....

Researchers conducted interviews with released detainees in nine countries. The comprehensive study also includes in-depth interviews with key government officials, military experts, former guards, interrogators and other camp personnel.
As the Bush Administration winds down into it ignominious end, President-elect Obama has made clear -- most recently in a 60 Minutes interview last night -- he will very early on use his executive power to close Guantanamo and put an end to torture. It's not clear yet what will happen to the over 200 detainees still held prisoner at Guantanamo, or whether other prisons will be closed, or even whether any executive order will pertain to CIA activities. When Laurence Tribe, an Obama legal advisor and his former law professor argued the other day that perhaps a new federal judiciary system was needed to deal with the Guantanamo prisoners, the idea was quickly scotched (at least for now) by Obama's spokepeople.

"I've Lost My Will"

Almost 800 prisoners have been dragged through the torture chambers of Guantanamo. Reams of words have been written, and scores of legal cases filed in an effort to either end or excuse the mistreatment wrought there. Reporting in today's San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Egelko, describes some of the stories from the HRC report:
"I've lost my property. I've lost my job. I've lost my will," said an Afghan man, one of 62 former inmates in nine countries interviewed anonymously by UC Berkeley researchers for a newly released report.

Another man, jobless and destitute, said his family kicked him out after he returned, and his wife went to live with her relatives. "I have a plastic bag holding my belongings that I carry with me all the time," he said. "And I sleep every night in a different mosque."
UC Berkeley's press release quotes the HRC study as documenting the use at Guantanamo of "being subjected to short shackling, stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, and strobe lights for extended periods -- often simultaneously." Some detainees reported even worse abuse at the U.S. detention center at Baghram, Afghanistan, where prisoners were threatened with dogs, regularly beaten, and suspended by their arms for hours on end.

And yet:
Most detainees interviewed for the study were not vengeful toward America, but simply expressed a desire for justice and an opportunity to clear their names.
The suffering of these detainees is heart-breaking. Their wish to recover a normal life should be at the top of the list for a country with so many broken promises and difficult crises dropped into its lap in the wake of one of the most sinister and criminal administrations to ever rule this or any other ostensibly democratic country.

A Terrible Moral Failure

The role of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists at these torture centers is not left unmentioned. As the report describes it:
... since late 2002, military psychologists and psychiatrists serving on Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) have played an active role in developing and implementing interrogation strategies at Guantánamo....

Interrogation policies and standards at Guantánamo changed over time, but the data demonstrate that some practices remained consistent throughout the period when the study respondents were held there (January 2002 to January 2007). While more needs to be revealed about the specific interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo, it appears that many of the methods which detainees complained about most bitterly -- cold rooms and short shackling, in conjunction with prolonged isolation -- were permitted under the U.S. military’s interrogation guidelines in force from April 2003 to September 2006... These practices contravene the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which the United States ratified in 1955....

To date, no independent, comprehensive investigation has been conducted to determine the role that camp personnel as well as officials farther up the civilian and military chains of command played in the design and implementation of interrogation
techniques at Guantánamo. No broad investigation has yet addressed whether or not these officials should be held accountable for any crimes they or their subordinates may have committed.
Elsewhere in the report, the authors describe the function of the BSCT teams:
A principal BSCT function was to engineer the camp experiences of “priority” detainees to make interrogation more productive. BSCT personnel coached interrogators on how to stress, coerce, and offer incentives to secure information from detainees. BSCT personnel “prepared psychological profiles [of detainees] for use by interrogators; they also sat in on some interrogations, observed others from behind one-way mirrors, and offered feedback to interrogators"... Army medical personnel also provided medical information to interrogators... In a confidential report, the International Committee for the Red Cross called the participation of doctors in designing interrogation plans a “flagrant violation of medical ethics"... In 2006, in response to publicity about the clinical participation in coercive interrogations at Guantánamo, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association endorsed more stringent guidelines for military doctors and psychiatrists who are asked to participate in interrogations... In 2008, after several years of often acrimonious debate, members of the American Psychological Association voted to prohibit consultation by its members in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo or so-called “black sites” operated by the CIA overseas.
A Call for Justice

The Human Rights Center and their partners are insistent that the crimes committed by the United States around torture cannot and should not go without further investigation. Hundreds of detainees remains incarcerated without ever being accused of any crime. Evidence of torture and abuse is overwhelming, the deleterious personal, medical and psychological consequences for those caught in this torture web and then released is also strongly convincing. Per Egelko's article:
"We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the rug by simply closing the Guantanamo prison camp," said Eric Stover, director of UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. "The new administration must investigate what went wrong and who should be held accountable."
The news is so dark every day, with thousands thrown out of their jobs seemingly every day, and millions more fearing they will lose theirs. The wreck that is American society has so many vital issues facing it, that it seems easy to let the sufferings of "only" a few hundred or thousand go unanswered. The latest leaks around Obama's plans to investigate or prosecute Bush officials for war crimes indicate an Obama administration will lean towards some investigation, and steer away from prosecutions. (See recent stories by Mark Benjamin at Salon, and Lara Jakes Jordan at Associate Press.) Meanwhile, Bush is said to be considering a massive blanket pardon for those involved in his interrogation policies. Some argue that such a pardon could facilitate a "truth and reconciliation" investigation.

In the end, no one knows yet what Obama will do, or what Bush will do (although I'm betting he will issue the pardons). What is clear is that among all the other crucial issues facing the U.S. at this point in time, we must solve a huge moral dilemma: what do we do when the government blatantly and recklessly disregards human rights or lives, when it kills or tortures? Do we stand back and let it pass, in the name of political expediency? What shame and moral rot will we have to endure? How can we rise from the muck of this terrible period in our history if we do not both witness and pay out with justice the ineffable suffering of the innocent made in our name, and now forever etched with acid on the soul of the country?

Update: Interested readers will want to read Scott Horton's latest piece at Harper's (subscription required) on the rationale and possibilities around prosecuting Bush Administration figures for torture and war crimes. A nice summary of Horton's article was also made by Compound F at Docudharma (no subscription required).

Also posted at Invictus

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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

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why Bush Defends Secret Torture Techniques

Posted by Valtin at 11:17 PM |

"Alternative procedures." "Valuable tools in the war on terror." "Specialized interrogation procedures." "Safe and lawful techniques." "Good policies."

George W. Bush has more euphemisms for torture than his creepy Veep, Cheney, has expletives on supply.

On Saturday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush announced his veto of the Congressional Intelligence bill, which included a ban on CIA use of certain "enhanced" interrogation methods, like waterboarding. Bush defended the use of the so-called "alternative procedures" practiced by the CIA, as necessary for field intelligence officers interrogating "hardened terrorists." The play upon the fear of Americans of terrorist attack in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 events turns upon well-understood traumatic mechanisms in the human psyche.

But I want to concentrate on one telling aspect of Bush's torture apologia. Regarding the attempt by Congress to limit the intelligence agencies to interrogation practices based upon the Army Field Manual (which forbids use of hooding, waterboarding, sexual humiliation, etc.), Bush said (emphasis added):
Limiting the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods to those in the Army field manual would be dangerous because the manual is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that key Al Qaida operatives had been trained to resist the methods outlined in the manual. And this is why we created alternative procedures to question the most dangerous Al Qaida operatives, particularly those who might have knowledge of attacks planned on our homeland. The best source of information about terrorist attacks is the terrorists themselves. If we were to shut down this program and restrict the C.I.A. to methods in the field manual, we could lose vital information from senior Al Qaida terrorists, and that could cost American lives.
While Bush touts various terrorist operations foiled by use of torture, a major Congressional player had a different view:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he had heard nothing to suggest that the CIA, through enhanced interrogation methods, had obtained information to thwart a terrorist attack.

Secrets, Secrets, Secrets... Shhh!

The secret "enhanced" CIA interrogation techniques were authorized by Bush in July 2006, in a secret Executive Order vetted by Steven Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel. This authorization was needed after a 2006 Supreme Court decision had determined that Al Qaida prisoners were subject to the Geneva Conventions. Even earlier secret recommendations -- most famously, then-new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's February 2005 memorandum recommending government torture, which only came to light last year -- demonstrated the tenacity of the Bush Administration's quest to give the CIA and possibly other intelligence agencies the green light for torture.

In his radio address, Bush claims that if the terrorists had access to government interrogation methods, they would be able to prepare themselves to withstand the torture. Indeed, this is the rationale for the 50-year-old military SERE program. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and each branch of the military conducts its own version of it. It was SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who were accused by a Pentagon Office of Inspector General Report last year of reverse-engineering 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.)

So I suppose this is what Bush is referring to when he says that the government had to create "alternative procedures" to counter the presumed wiliness of the "hardened terrorists." Except this is a lie. As regular readers of my blog know, government torture has been well-researched for over 50 years. It also went operational around the same time. The not-unsavvy terrorists certainly know where to go on the Internet to read the CIA's KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation Manual, declassified by the United States in the 1990s, or any of a number of books openly for sale that describe the same.

The KUBARK manual describes the use of fear, isolation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, sleep deprivation, fear, and other techniques to induce regression and dependency in prisoners, in order to make them malleable to an experienced interrogator. SERE techniques were derived from presumed extreme sorts of torture that could be encountered by U.S. servicemen who found themselves prisoners of a government or group who didn't follow the Geneva Conventions. How ironic that the most famous state to announce it wouldn't follow Geneva protocols would be... the United States!

Bush does have a point. Knowledge of torture techniques and counter-measures can help a prisoner subjected to torture or cruel treatment, up to a point. Personality factors play a much larger role, as the KUBARK manual points out (including a CIA bibliography on the subject). Besides, there's a multitude of sources available for the enemy government or sophisticated organization to gather such information. The Congressional bill does not discuss torture counter-measures, to my knowledge.

The government -- and Bush is following advice from the CIA -- wants to keep its torture techniques secret because when a detainee does not know what's coming, it increases anxiety and fear, which creates greater confusion and psychological regression. In the spook biz, they call this extending the "shock of capture."

And then there is the political raison d'etre: Bush doesn't want the general public to know what barbarities are practiced in their name. Unfortunately, there are still too many Americans willing to play ostrich and pretend they don't know what's going on, ducking behind Bush and his surrogates's platitudes and lying homilies. Meanwhile, Bush's congressional critics (mostly Democrats) portray the Army Field Manual as providing a "bright line" between torture and acceptable interrogation technique.

Except this isn't true, either. The Army Field Manual's Appendix M allows selective use of CIA KUBARK-style torture, including use of isolation (also used at Guantanamo today), sleep deprivation, "harsh" induction of fear and play upon a detainees phobias, and the use of sensory deprivation goggles and gloves -- and this despite the fact the AFM in its main text says it forbids use of sensory deprivation. (The NY Times article and others on AFM often mention the use of isolation, wrongly reporting it as limited to 30 days, and not mentioning at all the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation goggles, and "fear up harsh" techniques.)

The Torture Issue Won't End When Bush Is Gone

Spywork is famously presented as a house of mirrors, a wasteland of lies and deceptions. Bush's radio address/veto continues this grand tradition of obfuscation and doublespeak. And it's clear where the lame duck president gets his marching orders. From today's New York Times:
In a memo to CIA employees Saturday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the Army Field Manual does not "exhaust the universe" of lawful interrogation techniques. ""There are methods in the CIA's program that have been briefed to our oversight committees, are fully consistent with the Geneva Convention and current U.S. law and are most certainly not torture," Hayden wrote.

We are very, very far from cleaning up this mess. In the choice between secret CIA torture and its somewhat cleaned up Army Field Manual version, there's very little to make a human rights advocate very happy. The Democratic candidates have made some stir that they would change things, stop the torture, and from Obama, the secret renditions, too; restore habeas corpus, etc. But they aren't exactly out front on the issue, and seem susceptible to military influence, and threats they are "too soft" on "terrorism."

Torture is a hydra-headed beast. It exists around the world, and the U.S. is hardly alone, even among Western so-called democracies, in practicing the barbaric "question." It will take a mass movement, something akin to the abolition of slavery or women's rights movements of the 19th century to change this fundamental evil in human society. For now, we must fight as we can, and try to undo the deadly combination of militarism, self-satisfied careerism, greed and bloodlust that has characterized the Bush torture regime.

One could do worse than to follow right now this hyperlink to Physicians for Human Rights website page on fighting torture. A long journey must begin with some first step.

Also posted at Invictus

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