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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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

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

Posted by Valtin at 5:56 PM |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viral Instructions for a Torture Paradigm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fight Against the "New" Army Field Manual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 29, 2008

A Colonel Takes on the Torturers: More on SERE Torture Details

Posted by Valtin at 12:06 AM |

At the center of the bottom of the lowest circle of hell, one finds the souls abandoned to torture. They are placed so far from heaven and earth because they are totally forgotten. The witnessing of their torture is almost unnoticed, trivial, when matched against the "great" issues of the day.

And so it was that in a week of elections, economic meltdowns, and other shenanigans, a lonely U.S. Senator sat alone in the hearing room of his own committee and listened to an Air Force instructor and sometime historian, Col. Steven Kleinman, tell his fantastic tale of witnessing the migration of SERE-style torture to Iraq. Kleinman's testimony belies years of excuses from the government that claims Abu Ghraib's "excesses" were merely the work of a "few bad apples," or "behavioral drift" at worst.

Joby Warrick at the Washington Post told the story in his article, "Air Force Instructor Details Harsh Interrogations."
In dramatic testimony before a Senate panel yesterday... [Kleinman] gave a rare account of how the Pentagon adapted an Air Force training program to squeeze information from captured Iraqis.

What Kleinman witnessed in Baghdad in September 2003 prompted him to order a stop to three interrogations, and to warn his superiors that the military's interrogation practices were abusive and, in his opinion, illegal.

"I told the task force commander that the methods were unlawful and were in violation of the Geneva Conventions," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator Carl Levin's Committee has already established that techniques from the Defense Department's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program had been reverse-engineered by military psychologists into an "exploitation" or torture program of purported interrogation techniques. These techniques -- stress position, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, beatings, and more -- were gathered secondary to a Cold War propaganda program regarding "brainwashing" by the Soviets and Chinese, which programmatic elements were debunked by the government's own researchers. But never mind, the torture inoculation program continued for decades.

In 2003, Col. Kleinman, a long-time intelligence officer, was working with the Air Force Combat Interrogation Course and was DOD Senior Intelligence Officer for Special Survival Training. As of 2006, he was Reserve Senior Intelligence Officer and Mobilization Augmentee to the Director, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, HQ Air Force Special Operations Command. He is also an independent contractor for the MITRE Corporation, which works on "scientific" ways to "educe information" from prisoners.

The Colonel Says No to Torture

According to an AP report:
The special forces task force asked Kleinman's team to teach them the interrogation methods used in the SERE course. Kleinman refused. He was overruled by the task force's lawyers.

They then demanded that Kleinman's team demonstrate the techniques on an Iraqi prisoner. Kleinman again refused and again was overruled, according to testimony from retired Air Force Col. John Moulton II, Kleinman's commander at the time as the head of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency.

The interrogation went forward. Kleinman stopped it. He and his team subsequently were sent home by the task force, according to Moulton.
According to the Washington Post article, Kleinman "was shocked in 2003 to see the same harsh methods used haphazardly on Iraqis in a U.S. prison camp." The colonel said he witnessed detainees being slapped repeatedly, subjected to sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, and stripped naked.

Col. Kleinman's protests to his superiors went unheeded. They agreed the "techniques" violated Geneva, but by then the government already had in place cover-your-ass legal memos citing the abuse of detainees as "legal" because they were "unlawful enemy combatants."

I commend Col. Kleinman for coming forward to testify, and for his actions protesting the torture of prisoners. However, I wish someone had asked him whether, as military trainer for JPRA, he or Moulton had knowledge of DoD's approach to JPRA/SERE in December 2001 about ways to utilize SERE's "exploitation" techniques in the interrogation of prisoners in Afghanistan. (I also wish someone had asked if contracting interrogators, such as those from CACI or Titan, had any contact with the SERE instructors.)

The timeline is of some importance, because it would prove criminal malfeasance by the administration in abusing prisoners prior to any determination (not made by them until February 2002) that such prisoners were "unlawful enemy combatants," and therefore a clear violation of international and domestic war crimes laws.

Kleinman's Revisionist History

While praising Col. Kleinman's stance in Iraq, I take exception to his description of the origins of SERE techniques. From the WP article:
Kleinman said the Air Force's training program was distorted into an offensive program. He noted that the harsh techniques were adapted from torture methods used by Chinese communists, and were never regarded as useful in eliciting intelligence. Instead, they break a prisoner psychologically and make him eager to say anything to stop the pain.
I have painstakingly documented elsewhere statements by U.S. researchers at the time (1950s) that Soviet and Chinese interrogation techniques were nothing unusual, and SERE techniques didn't necessarily derive from them. U.S. researcher Albert Biderman explained, in a 1957 essay entitled "Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War." Regarding the origin of communist interrogation methods, Biderman and his colleagues, working for the Air Force, concluded (emphases added):
It is that the finding of our studies which should be greeted as most new and spectacular is the finding that essentially there was nothing new or spectacular about the events we studied. We found, as did other studies such as those of Hinkle and Wolff, that human behavior could be manipulated within a certain range by controlled environments. We found that the Chinese Communists used methods of coercing behavior from our men in their hands which Communists of other countries had employed for decades and which police and inquisitors had employed for centuries....

It should be understood that only a few of the Air Force personnel who encountered efforts to elicit false confessions in Korea were subjected to really full dress, all-out attempts to make them behave in the manner I have sketched. The time between capture and repatriation for many was too short, and, presumably, the trained interrogators available to the Communists too few, to permit this.
While the origin of inhumane treatment may be a marginal issue for most, it is important to understand because discussion and utilization of modern torture techniques by the United States has, since its inception, been linked to disinformation by the government. In the case of the 1950s, the "brainwashing" scare, regarding POWs in the Korean War, was linked to a massive cover-up of the use of biological weapons by the United States in that conflict. See my article covering this aspect of the story, posted last July.

Kleinman's historical bias surfaced, as well, in an essay published in an essay on the CIA's KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual he wrote in 2006 for the Intelligence Science Board's report, "Educing Information." In it, he makes, for a historian, a remarkable statement:
The KUBARK manual offers unique and exceptional insights into the complex challenges of educing information from a resistant source through noncoercive means. While it addresses the use of coercive methods, it also describes how those methods may prove ultimately counterproductive. Although criticized for its discussion of coercion, the KUBARK manual does not portray coercive methods as a necessary — or even viable — means of effectively educing information. [p. 133]
Not necessary? The CIA manual expends twenty percent of its exposition upon coercive interrogation techniques. Not viable? Here's what the manual has to say about the "counterproductive" methods of torture:
Psychologists and others who write about physical or psychological duress frequently object that under sufficient pressure subjects usually yield but that their ability to recall and communicate information accurately is as impaired as the will to resist. This pragmatic objection has somewhat the same validity for a counterintelligence interrogation as for any other. But there is one significant difference. Confession is a necessary prelude to the CI interrogation of a hitherto unresponsive or concealing source.
Col. Kleinman stubbornly maintains that torture doesn't work, that torture, as he put it in an interesting interview, is poor at gaining operational information, and "largely counterproductive in that... [it] stiffen[s] the resolve of detainees under questioning and undermine[s] the stature of the U.S. on the world stage." Of course, Kleinman is correct, in so far as it goes.

But he seems to misunderstand the purpose of torture on a larger, political, military-operational scale. He misunderstands the use of torture to cow the populace, an important component of counterinsurgency work. He minimizes the opinion of many of his colleagues over the decades who in fact approved of coercive methodology. He would do well to study the techniques of Edward Lansdale, applied in the Philippines and Vietnam over a 20 year period, as described in John Prados's recent book, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Like Kleinman, Lansdale was an Air Force officer. (He was also a CIA officer.)

I am in agreement with Col. Kleinman (it goes without saying) that torture is morally wrong, illegal, and should never be used. But I wonder how this military intelligence officer could work so long for special forces, intelligence agencies, and the military, and not understand the coercive nature of U.S. foreign and military policy in general. Perhaps Col. Kleinman could take on, as another project, a study of the use of torture by the U.S. in Vietnam, either directly, or in supervision of their Vietnamese allies. (He could title the paper, "Barriers to Success: Critical Challenges in Understanding the Current and Long-Standing Educing Information Paradigm.")

How SERE Took Over

For me, the picture is getting quite clear. When Bush initiated his "war on terror" in 2001, it consisted in sending in special operations forces into Afghanistan. This small scale kind of intervention on the ground was congruent with Rumsfeld's go-small kind of military. But special operations combat teams, while peppered with CIA personnel, like the ill-fated Johnny Spann, did not have the expertise in interrogating large groups of prisoners. There was a CIA program of psychological torture, exemplified by sensory deprivation, isolation, and the physical weakening or debility of the body (possibly through drugs), all meant to induce fear, psychological dependency and a weakened will in a prisoner. The program had been constructed by psychologists and psychiatrists as one outcome of the CIA's notorious MK-ULTRA program. It was codified in the CIA's KUBARK manual.

But the Special Ops teams in Afghanistan either didn't know KUBARK, or didn't have time to construct the proper environment for that kind of treatment. So they turned to the SERE program, who, as recent documents have made clear, aggressively courted the military for the assignment of reverse-engineering SERE and teaching it as coercive interrogation (i.e., torture). The Department of Defense and the White House, in a panic after 9/11, and staffed by incompetents and careerists with little sense of history or legal process, pushed the SERE-related torture, and then had their attorneys write memos to cover themselves legally after the fact.

The SERE-style techniques took off, though there was protest from interrogation professionals, like Kleinman, who well understood the counterproductive nature of that kind of treatment. Only later, as the CIA began to establish control over the "war on terror," and built a network of secret black prisons, did the SERE techniques recede somewhat into the background. A parallel process occurred at Guantanamo. The CIA utilized the worst of the SERE techniques, such as waterboarding, and propagated wide-scale knowledge of their use, mainly to instill fear of such treatment in prisoners, knowing full-well that induction of fear is a far more "effective" technique than physical brutality itself. At Guantanamo, a KUBARK-style prison routine was implemented, based upon isolation, psychological derangement, and the inculcation of dependency.

The Historical Meaning of Torture

Facts don't fall out of the sky. They are gathered based upon hypotheses, and if you are a historian or a social critic, with some narrative in mind. In a stepwise process of induction and deduction, one tries to determine what has actually occurred. The use of torture by the United States can only be understood as part of a decades long official program, involving well-funded covert study by the military and the academic establishment -- primarily physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists -- in addition to the implementation of this program in a number of operational theaters, including Vietnam, Central and South America, Afghanistan, and the Middle East (among others).

The use of torture is closely tied to U.S. foreign policy goals. It is good to see the U.S. Senate try to take on the Pentagon and executive branch generally over this uncivil, criminal activity. Military critics, like Kleinman, or psychologist Michael Gelles, are to be commended for standing up against tremendous internal pressures within the organizations to which they belong. I also salute the courageous military attorneys working for little recompense and against tremendous odds to defend the charges made against the pariah-prisoners at Guantanamo, held without recourse to basic human rights.

I would hope all critics would agree that something as basic as stopping or banning torture involves both operational and political changes of a profound nature. One cannot happen without the other. And neither will happen, as the path of these investigations and hearings makes clear, without significant political, and perhaps, social struggle.

Also posted at Never In Our Names and Invictus

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

National Lawyers Guild: Fire Yoo & Try for War Crimes

Posted by Valtin at 5:07 PM |

The National Lawyers Guild has issued a press release calling for University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school to fire Professor John Yoo. The NLG calls for the rescission of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 provisions that allow immunity and the prosecution of Yoo as a war criminal. Meanwhile, yesterday, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) threatened to subpoena John Yoo to testify about the memo at a May 6 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.

The declassification and release of Yoo's memorandum to William Haynes, General Counsel of the Department of Defense, written in March 2003, has caused a firestorm in the press. Yoo's memo is the smoking gun for those looking for evidence of how the Bush Administration flouted basic human rights law, the UN Convention Against Torture, and the U.S. War Crimes Act to initiate a campaign of torture against detainees swept up in the aggressive U.S. military and covert campaigns that followed 9/11.

The NLG nicely summarizes much of what is outrageous about Yoo's memo. But as an excellent article in the current Vanity Fair, Philippe Sands' "The Green Light," explains, the torture began before Yoo's memo was even written.
Starting in late 2002 a detainee bearing the number 063 was tortured over a period of more than seven weeks....

The Bush administration has always taken refuge behind a “trickle up” explanation: that is, the decision was generated by military commanders and interrogators on the ground. This explanation is false. The origins lie in actions taken at the very highest levels of the administration—by some of the most senior personal advisers to the president, the vice president, and the secretary of defense. At the heart of the matter stand several political appointees—lawyers—who, it can be argued, broke their ethical codes of conduct and took themselves into a zone of international criminality, where formal investigation is now a very real option.
Yoo's memo sought to give the legal justification to the worst kind of physical and psychological torture. The NLG memo and the press have not fully plumbed the significance of what doors were opened by Bush and his co-conspirators. Jeff Stein, at Congressional Quarterly, tied the Yoo memo to an increase of drug use on detainees. The use of drugs -- from marijuana to LSD to PCP to sodium amytal -- in interrogations was a hallmark of the CIA's MKULTRA research program in the 1950s-1960s.

There can be little doubt now that the government has used drugs on terrorist suspects that are designed to weaken their resistance to interrogation. All that’s missing is the syringes and videotapes.

Another window opened on the practice last week with the declassification of John Yoo’s instantly infamous 2003 memo approving harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects.

Yoo advised top Bush administration officials that interrogators could employ mind-altering drugs if they did not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.”

Yoo had first rationalized the use of drugs in a 2002 memo for top Bush administration officials....

“The new Yoo memo, along with other White House legal memoranda, shows clearly that the policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs was being laid,” says Stephen Miles, a University of Minnesota bioethicist and author of “Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror".... “The use of these drugs was anticipated and discussed in the memos of January and February 2002 by DoD, DoJ, and White House counsel using the same language and rationale. The executive branch memos laid a comprehensive and reiterated policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs.”
Stein also cites the CIA/Rand Corp./American Psychological Workshop in 2003 that looked at use of "pharmacological agents" on interrogation subjects as part of an attack on prisoner attempts at deception. The full story on this "workshop", which also included work on sensory overload mechanisms to "overwhelm the senses" of detainees, was first broken by me last year.

The heat is on the administration on torture yet again. But I warn all my readers that NONE of the crimes of the Bush Administration have yet met any legal consequences. The relevant governing bodies seem to have no stomach for actually prosecuting any top war criminals, much less taking Bush, Cheney, and their mob on politically. The news media of record, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc., bluster about the outrages, but have yet to call for any prosecution or impeachment. It seems likely that little of consequence will come from the latest expose over Yoo's 2003 memo. One can't help but feel that in America the government can declare they will pull the fingernails out of your children, and there still will be no action taken.

Is it fear? Is it laziness? What is it?

The following is the text of the NLG release, signed by Marjorie Cohn, NLG President, and Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director. I've added bold emphases for editorial effect.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 9, 2008

Contact: Marjorie Cohn, NLG President, marjorie@tjsl.edu; 619-374-6923
Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director, director@nlg.org; 212-679-5100, x11

NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD CALLS ON BOALT HALL TO DISMISS LAW PROFESSOR JOHN YOO, WHOSE TORTURE MEMOS LED TO COMMISSION OF WAR CRIMES

New York. In a memorandum written the same month George W. Bush invaded Iraq, Boalt Hall law professor John Yoo said the Department of Justice would construe US criminal laws not to apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants. According to Yoo, the federal statutes against torture, assault, maiming and stalking do not apply to the military in the conduct of the war.

The federal maiming statute, for example, makes it a crime for someone "with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure" to "cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb or any member of another person." It further prohibits individuals from "throwing or pouring upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance" with like intent.

Yoo also narrowed the definition of torture so 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; Yoo's definition contravenes the definition in the Convention Against Torture, a treaty the US has ratified which is thus part of the US law under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Yoo said self-defense or necessity could be used as a defense to war crimes prosecutions for torture, notwithstanding the Torture Convention's absolute prohibition against torture in all circumstances, even in wartime. This memo and another Yoo wrote with Jay Bybee in August 2002 provided the basis for the Administration's torture of prisoners.

"John Yoo's complicity in establishing the policy that led to the torture of prisoners constitutes a war crime under the US War Crimes Act," said National Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn.

Congress should repeal the provision of the Military Commissions Act that would give Yoo immunity from prosecution for torture committed from September 11, 2001 to December 30, 2005. John Yoo should be disbarred and he should not be retained as a professor of law at one of the country's premier law schools. John Yoo should be dismissed from Boalt Hall and tried as a war criminal.

The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.


Also posted at Invictus

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