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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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