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, August 30, 2009

Torture: The Real Reason for the Psychological Evaluation of Abu Zubaydah

Posted by Valtin at 9:53 PM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake


As someone who has conducted evaluations of torture victims, the “evaluation” of Abu Zubaydah is a fascinating, if sickening, look at how the CIA goes about their kind of business. In the course of this two-part article, we'll learn more about why the report was written, when it was written, and the unprofessional ways the report was produced. One includes in such unprofessionalism the fact its drafting represents an unethical and illegal violation for a psychologist of the highest order. We'll end with a look at the turf war that shaped the evolution of the torture program, of which this report represented just one episode.


Spencer Ackerman has looked at the possibility that former SERE psychologist James Mitchell wrote the report, and the conflict of interest that arises from having the interrogator/torturer write the report upon which the approach to the subject will be based. While it's a reasonable guess that Mitchell wrote the evaluation, I'm going to proceed as if I don't know who wrote it.


Marcy Wheeler wrote a piece examining questions regarding the date of the evaluation (the copy we have was sent to John Yoo on July 24, 2002), the failure to mention Abu Zubaydah's head injury, and the report's claims that he allegedly wrote the Al Qaeda interrogation resistance manual. Hopefully, this article will contribute some plausible answers.


Why Was the Evaluation Written?


Every psychological evaluation has a presenting problem or reason for referral, e.g., does this child have a learning disability? is this patient psychotic? etc.


Regarding Abu Zubaydah, one would presume the presenting question most likely was, what psychological strengths or weaknesses does this person have that we can exploit in our interrogation cum torture plan? Unfortunately, numerous parts of the released assessment have been redacted, including its closing paragraphs, which is where one would find the concluding recommendations. In any case, we'll see that the report appears to lack a presenting question, and that the recommendation is a foregone conclusion.


From internal and convergent evidence, it appears the recommendations included higher levels of coercive interrogation, including waterboarding. The date on the cover sheet of the report, addressed to John Yoo, July 24, 2002, is the same date that the Office of Legal Council gave oral approval for use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT), including waterboarding (H/T Marcy Wheeler). The OLC memo of August 1 states that CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo had said that Zubaydah had become "accustomed to a certain level of treatment," and CIA wanted to enter an "increased pressure phase." (We'll see that CIA had been pushing this line since at least mid-May.)


In any case, it was around late July or early August that the waterboarding of Zubaydah began in earnest, partial drowning, or waterboarding Abu Zubaydah 83 times. Towards the end of the psychological evaluation, less its last redacted paragraphs, the author -- and it was an Agency or Agency contract psychologist, since only psychologists write these reports (and it was likely either James Mitchell or Bruce Jessen, who arrived in Thailand in July) -- notes the following, allowing that Zubaydah is "well-versed" in Al Qaeda resistance techniques (emphasis added):

[redacted] subject believes in [sic] the ultimate destiny of Islam is to dominate the world. He believes that global victory is inevitable. Thus, there is the chance he could rationalize that providing information will harm current efforts but will represent only a temporary setback.

The remaining page or so of the report is redacted, but likely represents the work's loaded conclusion, i.e., that Zubaydah may yet give up more information or cooperation if the amount of coercion is increased. The likely recommendation: waterboarding. And in fact, the legal memo authorizing the latter followed within a week after the evaluation landed on Yoo's desk; the oral approval for it came on the same day.


It is clear the evaluation was written specifically to get permission for waterboarding, and not to undertake a serious psychological evaluation of the prisoner. The report lacks details related to relevant past history that any psychologist would find important in a psychological evaluation, e.g., the quality of his family relationships, the existence of prior traumas, his actual work and school history, etc. Hell, the report never even mentions the "subject's" age. [Correction: it does; it reports he's 31 years old. - JK]


The man presented in the report, in a most amateurish fashion, cannot be in fact a real person. They present him as a superman-terrorist (he wrote the Al Qaeda resistance manual, ran the Al Qaeda training camps, was their "coordinator" of foreign communications, was their chief of counterintelligence, “no one came in and out of Peshawar, Afghanistan without his knowledge and approval,” but still had time to be involved in every major Al Qaeda operation, and still had time to direct the start-up of an Al Qaeda cell in Jordan!). Additionally, he was supposed to have developed the Al Qaeda interrogation resistance techniques (a claim later contradicted in the report -- see below), and taught them to many others. A real busy guy.


The discussion of his personality at times sounds like it was cribbed from a printout of a computerized personality assessment. There are also a number of contradictions in the portrayal, e.g., Zubaydah “wrestles” with idea of killing civilians, but “celebrated” 9/11; he has the discipline, drive, creativity and pragmatism of a good leader, but is private and vigilant of others’ intentions, and doesn’t trust people, and oh, yes, wants to be one of the guys. Supposedly he felt anything outside of jihad was "silly." But at the same time he chafed against the constrictions of "radical salafist environments" and was very independent minded.

Only for a moment does what is probably the real Abu Zubaydah emerge from the report: a man who wanted to go to college, become a computer expert or engineer, who felt homesick, who wanted a traditional career and family life.



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, June 16, 2008

At Last! Senate Hearings Tackle SERE-Inspired Torture Program

Posted by Valtin at 7:35 PM |

The Senate Armed Services Committee will be holding hearings into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Tomorrow is part one, as Senator Levin's committee looks into the origins of U.S. aggressive interrogation techniques. A new article by AP makes clear that these techniques were approved at the highest levels, and that the resulting torture revelations were not due to the actions of a few "bad apples."

Also, on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing entitled "From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay", which is the second part of its inquiry into administration lawyers, like John Yoo, and their role in writing and approving torture and guidelines for abusive interrogation.

Meanwhile, Human Rights First has a petition up, demanding that Congress ask William Haynes, former General Counsel to the Department of Defense - who "once advised the Bush Administration that waterboarding and death threats were 'legally available' options" - tough questions, bearing upon his culpability for implementing a U.S. torture program.

Before going into the nitty-gritty details of what's going to be revealed at the hearings, I want to ask the indulgence of my readers. The news as presented even by the supposed best of our newspapers and other news sources often lack the context with which we can understand the often mind-boggling revelations that rain down upon us in 21st century America. It is with that thought that I turn momentarily aside to review an important U.S. military interrogation program from the Vietnam War. Considering this history will give perspective for the revelations to come.

The Phoenix Program: Blueprint for Bush's "War on Terror"



In Jane Meyer's August 2007 article, The Black Sites: A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program, she wrote of the scramble by the military and intelligence agencies after 9/11 to cohere an intelligence program in Afghanistan. Ultimately, the U.S. would arrest tens of thousands of supposed "terrorists", many of them turned in by greedy bounty hunters; establish a network of CIA-run secret prisons; expand a rendition program, which outsourced the interrogation of torture and prisoners to third-party nations; and establish the practice of torture against so-called enemy combatants, holding them incommunicado, without hope of appeal or release (until recently, that is).

In seeking to establish their military preeminence thousands of miles from the "homeland," the U.S. government turned to history - U.S. history - for inspiration. What they re-discovered was one of the darkest episodes in that history, one which is barely known or understood in this country, and whose consequences -- not least that the perpetrators of mass torture and assassination remain at large and in positions of power -- hang like the sword of Damocles over the head of uninformed citizenry. What they "discovered" was the Phoenix Program, a counterinsurgency operation by the U.S. government and its South Vietnamese allies that specialized in torture, terror, and assassination of individuals and families suspected of giving support to the Viet Cong. In the end, tens of thousands were murdered, often in their beds or homes, their ears cut off to prove that "kill teams" had made their quota for the night.

As Mayer wrote:
On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a secret Presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to create paramilitary teams to hunt, capture, detain, or kill designated terrorists almost anywhere in the world. Yet the C.I.A. had virtually no trained interrogators. A former C.I.A. officer involved in fighting terrorism said that, at first, the agency was crippled by its lack of expertise. “It began right away, in Afghanistan, on the fly,” he recalled. “They invented the program of interrogation with people who had no understanding of Al Qaeda or the Arab world.” The former officer said that the pressure from the White House, in particular from Vice-President Dick Cheney, was intense: “They were pushing us: ‘Get information! Do not let us get hit again!’” In the scramble, he said, he searched the C.I.A.’s archives, to see what interrogation techniques had worked in the past. He was particularly impressed with the Phoenix Program, from the Vietnam War. Critics, including military historians, have described it as a program of state-sanctioned torture and murder. A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance. But, after September 11th, some C.I.A. officials viewed the program as a useful model.
The brief documentary, embedded above as a YouTube video, represents an excellent introduction to the history of the Phoenix Program. Warning: some of the images are quite graphic.

Those interested in pursuing the subject in more depth should turn to Douglas Valentine's epic work, The Phoenix Program, or to Michael Otterman's excellent summary, linking Phoenix to the later torture policies of the current administration as part of its misnamed "war on terror", American Torture.

Military Psychologists Braintrust Pentagon Torture Program

The historical context offered by the documentary frames the current situation, where the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding hearings on detainee interrogation abuse and torture. Tomorrow, former Pentagon general counsel, William “Jim” Haynes, is due to testify. According to a new article by AP:
The investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee also has confirmed that senior administration officials, including the Pentagon's then-general counsel William “Jim” Haynes, sought the help of military psychologists early on to devise the more aggressive methods – which included the use of dogs, making a detainee stand for long periods of time and forced nudity, according to officials familiar with the findings....

Rumsfeld's December 2002 approval of the aggressive interrogation techniques and later objections by military lawyers have been widely reported. But the November protests by service lawyers had not, and the interest by Pentagon civilians in military psychologists has surfaced only piecemeal....

According to the Senate committee's findings, Haynes became interested in using harsher interrogation methods as early as July 2002 when he sent a memo inquiring about a military program that trained Army soldiers how to survive enemy interrogations and deny foes valuable intelligence.

Officials who taught the methods – known as “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape,” or SERE techniques – were well schooled in the art of abusive interrogations....
According to the AP article, Haynes went to Guantanamo with Alberto Gonzales (then with the Office of Legal Counsel) and David Addington, Vice President Cheney's own chief counsel. Ultimately, Donald Rumsfeld approved a number of abusive interrogation techniques, over protests by the services's own military attorneys. (The abuse continued even after Rumsfeld's torture program was officially discontinued, as unredacted portions of Admiral Church's investigation into detainee abuse revealed a few months ago.)

The use of SERE techniques may have leaked out "piecemeal", but there have been plenty of stories about the misuse of this military program, from Katherine Eban's expose article in Vanity Fair last summer, to the Pentagon Office of the Inspector report released late last year, to a recent ACLU release of documents describing the "first on-the-ground reports of torture in Gardez, Afghanistan" by Special Operations forces utilizing SERE techniques.

If anything, the Congressional hearings are the proverbial hour late and a mile short. The revelations about abuse of U.S. torture in Afghanistan and Iraq go back to the initial arrest of John Walker Lindh in 2001. As the Phoenix Program documentary makes clear, even earlier and if anything more egregious examples of U.S. war crimes were known and vetted and then ignored, the perpetrators allowed to filter successfully through the sinews of government until the current day, and the phenomena of a Phoenix reborn, metamorphosed into a "war on terror", a campaign to save the "homeland" masking a policy of aggressive invasion, war, occupation, and torture by the leaders of this country.

While late, I welcome whatever exposure will come from these Congressional hearings. I support Human Rights First's petition drive. Only when we bring these crimes into the light of day and educate all Americans about what has been done in their name will we have half a chance of ending the barbarous policy of war, torture, and oppression, and winning over that part of the world that has, in desperation, turned to their own demagogues who preach despair and (occasional) terror in the name of a desperate hope. Such a campaign will mean we have to confront the anti-democratic elements in our own society. This fight will be hard and long, maybe as long as Bush sees his own "war on terror". This will be a war on exploitation, violence, and the manipulation of human beings. Its banner will be freedom from fear, from want, from exploitation.

Also posted at Invictus

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