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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Minutes from a Torturers' Meeting at Guantanamo

Posted by Valtin at 1:22 PM |

What follows below was transcribed from a PDF of the original document (or a copy of same), posted on the website of Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It, along with a wealth of other documentation, was used in preparing the SASC's highly critical report late last year on interrogations and detainee treatment, which concluded that high officials bore responsibility for the mistreatment and torture of prisoners under U.S. control.

The document below constitutes the minutes from a meeting held at Guantanamo in early autumn, 2002. It is presented with minimal editorial comment, as I believe it speaks for itself. So far as I know, no other transcription of this document, minus certain excerpts, has ever been published or posted before. It is done so here as a public service, to promote the position that prosecution of the government's torture crimes is of paramount importance.

Cast of characters:
Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo; Lt. Col. Jerald Phifer, who sent a memo to Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more "severe interrogation techniques" (Dunleavy told a superior that Phifer was his "point of contact" on interrogation matters); Major John Leso, a military psychologist, who was present at the torture interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani(Leso, like Major Burney in the minutes, were members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team [BSCT] -- Burney is reportedly a psychiatrist -- last month, the Convening Authority of Military Commissions at Guantanamo dropped the charges against al-Qahtani, concluding his treatment amounted to torture); Dave Becker, representing the Defense Intelligence Agency; and John Fredman, then chief counsel to the CIA's counter-terrorism center.

I'd like to make only two observations that I think are relevant at this point. One, it is clear that coercive interrogations amounting to torture had already begun at Guantanamo prior to this October 2002 meeting. In the document itself, the participants have a general discussion recalling how prisoner "063", Mohammed al-Qahtani, "has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors," indicating, perhaps, that al-Qahtani was some kind of experimental test case. (H/T to Trudy Bond, who noted this fact in an article published at Counterpunch earlier this year.)

Secondly, it struck me when transcribing these minutes the degree to which John Fredman, the CIA legal counsel and rep to this meeting, dominated the discussion. All the participants seem to bow to his authority, especially on legal issues, with Lt. Col. Beaver chiming in as well. While the BSCT members -- who are the medical professionals present -- appear to criticize "fear-based" interrogations techniques at the beginning of the meeting, in favor of rapport-building, as well as abusive environmental "approaches," as the discussion veers more and more to propositions regarding blatant torture, like the "wet towel" (waterboarding) technique, nary a protest is heard from these individuals, who have by their actions disavowed the ethics of their medical and/or psychological professions.

One final note: the acronym LEA refers to Law Enforcement Agency, and basically refers to the FBI. The acronym SERE, which appears throughout, refers to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program found in the various military branches. Meant to inoculate U.S. servicemen against the rigors of enemy capture and torture, Sen. Levin's investigation documented the various ways in which SERE methods were reverse-engineered to provide torture techniques for use by the military and CIA on prisoners held under U.S. control. So far as we know, the first approach by the Defense Department (specifically, by DoD Chief Counsel William J. Haynes, II) to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, parent department for SERE, regarding information on SERE techniques, was in December 2001, well before any legal memo by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel allowing (illegally) for abusive treatment of detainees. There can be no alibi that DoD was following legal advice or protected by presidential order at that point in time.

Re transcription: I have tried to follow as much as possible the layout, spelling, punctuation, and font emphasis of the original. Bullets have been changed to asterisks, arrows to long dashes. All brackets and parentheses are as in original, unless otherwise indicated.
Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes

Persons in Attendance:

COL Cummings, LTC Phifer, CDR Bridges, LTC Beaver, MAJ Burney, MAJ Leso, Dave Becker, John Fredman, 1LT Seek, SPC Pimentel

The following notes were taken during the aforementioned meeting at 1340 on October 2, 2002. All questions and comments have been paraphrased:

BSCT Description of SERE Psych Training (MAJ Burney and MAJ Leso)

* Identify trained resisters
      * Al Qaeda Training

* Methods to overcome resistance
      * Rapport building (approach proven to yield positive results)
      * Friendly approach (approach proven to yield positive results)
      * Fear Based Approaches are unreliable, ineffective in almost all cases

* What's more effective than fear based strategies are camp-wide environmental stratetgies designed to disrupt cohesion and communication among detainees
      * Environment should foster dependence and compliance

LTC Phifer: Harsh techniques used on our service members have worked and will work on some, what about those?

MAJ Leso: Force is risky, and may be ineffective due to the detainees' frame of reference. They are used to seeing much more barbaric treatment.

Becker: Agreed.

-- At this point a discussion about ISN 63 [Mohammed al-Qahtani] ensued, recalling how he has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors. After short discussion the BSCT continued to address the overall manipulation of the detainees' environment.

BSCT continued:

* Psychological stressors are extremely effective (ie, sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time)

COL Cummings: We can't do sleep deprivation

LTC Beaver: Yes, we can -- with approval.

* Disrupting the normal camp operations is vital. We need to create an environment of "controlled chaos"

LTC Beaver: We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross -- added by transcriber] is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques. We must have the support of the DOD.

Becker: We have had many reports from Bagram about sleep deprivation being used.

LTC Beaver: True, but officially it is not happening. It is not being reported officially. The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention.

COL Cummings: The new PSYOP plan has been passed up the chain

LTC Beaver: It's at J3 at SOUTHCOM.

Fredman: The DOJ has provided much guidance on this issue. The CIA is not held to the same rules as the military. In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD has "moved" them away from the attention of the ICRC. Upon questioning from the ICRC about their whereabouts, the DOD's response has repeatedly been that the detainee merited no status under the Geneva Convention. The CIA has employed aggressive techniques on less than a handful of suspects since 9/11.

Under the Torture Convention, torture has been prohibited by international law, but the language of the statutes is written vaguely. Severe mental and physical pain is prohibited. The mental part is explained as poorly as the physical. Severe physical pain described as anything causing permanent damage to major organs or body parts. Mental torture described as anything leading to permanent, profound damage to the senses or personality. It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you're doing it wrong. So far, the techniques we have addressed have not proven to produce these types of results, which in a way challenges what the BSCT paper says about not being able to prove whether these techniques will lead to permanent damage. Everything on the BSCT white paper is legal from a civilian standpoint. [Any questions of severe weather or temperature conditions should be deferred to medical staff.] Any of the techniques that lie on the harshest end of the spectrum must be performed by a highly trained individual. Medical personnel should be present to treat any possible accidents. The CIA operates without military intervention. When the CIA has wanted to use more aggressive techniques in the past, the FBI has pulled their personnel from theatre. In those rare instances, aggressive techniques have proven very helpful.

LTC Beaver: We will need documentation to protect us

Fredman: Yes, if someone dies while aggressive techniques are being used, regardless of cause of death, the backlash of attention would be extremely detrimental. Everything must be approved and documented.

Becker: LEA personnel will not participate in harsh techniques

LTC Beaver: There is no legal reason why LEA personnel cannot participate in these operations

-- At this point a discussion about whether or not to video tape the aggressive sessions, or interrogations at all ensued.

Becker: Videotapes are subject to too much scrutiny in court. We don't want the LEA people in aggressive sessions anyway.

LTC Beaver: LEA choice not to participate in these types of interrogations is more ethical and moral as opposed to legal.

Fredman: The videotaping of even totally legal techniques will look "ugly".

Becker: (Agreed)

Fredman: The Torture Convention prohibits torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The US did not sign up on the second part, because of the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment), but we did sign the part about torture. This gives us more license to use more controversial techniques.

LTC Beaver: Does SERE employ the "wet towel" technique?

Fredman: If a well-trained individual is used to perform [sic] this technique it can feel like you're drowning. The lymphatic system will react as if you're suffocating, but your body will not cease to function. It is very effective to identify phobias and use them (ie, insects, snakes, claustrophobia). The level of resistance is directly related to person's experience.

MAJ Burney: Whether or not significant stress occurs lies in the eye of the beholder. The burden of proof is the big issue. It is very difficult to disprove someone else's PTSD.

Fredman: These techniques need involvement from interrogators, psych, medical, legal, etc.

Becker: Would we blanket approval or would it be case by case?

Fredman: The CIA makes the call internally on most of the types of techniques found in the BSCT paper, and this discussion. Significantly harsh techniques are approved through the DOJ.

LTC Phifer: Who approves ours? The CG? SOUTHCOM CG?

Fredman: Does the Geneva Convention apply? The CIA rallied for it not to.

LTC Phifer: Can we get DOJ opinion about these topics on paper?

LTC Beaver: Will it go from DOJ to DOD?

LTC Phifer: Can we get to see a CIA request to use advanced aggressive techniques?

Fredman: Yes, but we can't provide you with a copy. You will probably be able to look at it.
An example of a different perspective on torture is Turkey. In Turkey they say that interrogation at all, or anything you do to that results in the subject betraying his comrades is torture.

LTC Beaver: In the BSCT paper it says something about "imminent threat of death",...

Fredman The threat of death is also subject to scrutiny, and should be handled on a case by case basis. Mock executions don't work as well as friendly approaches, like letting someone write a letter home, or providing them with an extra book.

Becker: I like the part about ambient noise.

-- At this point a discussion about the ways to manipulate the environment ensued, and the following ideas were offered:

* Medical visits should be scheduled randomly, rather than on a set system
* Let detainee rest just long enough to fall asleep and wake him up about every thirty minutes and tell him it's time to pray again
* More meals per day induce loss of time
* Truth serum; even though it may not actually work, it does have a placebo effect.

Meeting ended at 1450.

***********
The Immediate Aftermath

It is worth noting some of the administrative responses to this meeting. On October 11, a week after the Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting, LTC Jerald Phifer wrote a request to Major General Michael B. Dunleavy, Commander at Guantanamo, requesting use of Counter-Resistance Strategy techniques. He divided them into three categories of intensity.

Category I included direct approach and rapport building techniques, but also false identification of national identity of the interrogator, yelling at the detainee, and "techniques of deception." Category II techniques included use of stress position, isolation up to 30 days, light/auditory deprivation, 20 hour interrogations, nudity, hooding, and use of phobias "to induce stress." Category III techniques included the "wet towel" (waterboarding) treatment, threats of death to the prisoner or his family, and exposure to cold.

On the same day, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo, LTC Diane E. Beaver, wrote a legal brief that concluded "the proposed strategies do not violate federal law." She did suggest, though, that Category II and III techniques undergo further legal review "prior to their commencement." Still on the same day, Maj. Gen. Dunleavy wrote a memo to the Commander of U.S. Southern Command asking for approval of the techniques. He concluded, without exception, that "these techniques do not violate U.S. or international laws.

On October 25, 2002, General James T. Hill, Commander at SOUTHCOM, forwarded the request to use the techniques to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While he worried about the legality of some of th Category III techniques, particularly the death threats, he urged them to consider that he wanted "to have as many options as possible at my disposal."

A few days after that, on October 28, 2002, Mark Fallon, Deputy Commander at Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) sent a memo to a colleague. He was uneasy about what he had read in the Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes. He told his colleague the comments of Beaver and others "looks like the kinds of stuff Congressional hearings are made of." The techniques "seem to stretch beyond the bounds of legal propriety."
Quotes from LTC Beaver regarding things that are not being reported give the appearance of impropriety.... Talk of "wet towel treatments" which results in the lymphatic gland reacting as if you are suffocating, would in my opinion; shock the conscience of any legal body looking at using the results of the interrogations or possibly even the interrogators. Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.
If you wish to repost this essay you can download a .txt file of the html here (right click and save). Permission granted.

Also posted at Invictus and Progressive Historians

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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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