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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Expose (Part 2) : Expanding the Investigation into SERE Torture

Posted by Valtin at 1:58 AM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake


The first installment of this three-part series on the origins of the Mitchell-Jessen torture program concentrated on the insufficiency of reducing our understanding of the spread of torture during the Bush administration to the interventions of just two men. This is essentially the way the story was presented in a 12 August New York Times article by Scott Shane, leaving the question unanswered: how did Mitchell and Jessen get involved in constructing an offensive torture program to begin with?


The documentary record demonstrates that Mitchell and Jessen were not alone in proposing that military survival and resistance (SERE) psychologists and trainers be used to lead interrogations of the flood of prisoners in the new "war on terror."


How could Mitchell and Jessen be seen as the prime proponents for the program when in December 2001, according to released materials in the Senate Armed Services Committee's report on prisoner abuse, the Chief of Staff of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner, wrote to Richard Shiffrin, who worked for Jim Haynes in Don Rumsfeld's Office of Legal Counsel for the Defense Deparment:


Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.


[JPRA is the umbrella program for the different SERE programs organized by the various military services.]


While the New York Times article makes almost no attempt to link the Mitchell-Jessen episode to the larger spread of torture throughout the U.S. armed forces, or to describe the actual role of the CIA in fostering it, Mitchell and Jessen's influence is assumed. It is no surprise, and in fact is pointed out by Mr. Shane, that a decision by Attorney General Eric Holder whether to pursue criminal charges for the torture program is pending, and that the CIA contract psychologists are in the crosshairs of such a potential investigation. The latter make uneasy game for the Obama administration's insistence that those who believed they were acting in good faith upon legal permissions will not be prosecuted. No doubt, Mitchell and Jessen will pursue just such a defense. (See the recent Joby Warrick/Peter Finn article in the Washington Post, which describes the persistent "permissions" for each torture interrogation secured by Abu Zubaydah's interrogators.)


But worse, perhaps, than the article's elisions are its misrepresentations. And none stand out more clearly than the relegation of "legendary military survival trainer," Roger L. Aldrich, to that of mere employee of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates (MJA). While mentioning that MJA had five shareholders, "four of them from the military’s SERE program," Scott Shane never mentions that Aldrich was one of the five.


Roger Aldrich was, as Col. Steven M. Kleinman told me in a telephone interview, "one of the founding fathers of the survival program in this country." (Kleinman was also a source for the Shane article.) He fashioned SERE into "the best [survival] program in the world." Kleinman denied any knowledge of Aldrich's role in the Mitchell-Jessen torture enterprise, nor that of other MJA shareholders, also SERE players or contractors, Randall Spivey and David Ayers.


Yet another insider, who says he has some knowledge of the individuals involved, has indicated that it was Roger Aldrich, Mitchell and Jessen's superior officer, the man who indeed hired them in the 1990s, who was responsible for the idea of reverse-engineering SERE techniques and contracting out services to the government.


Aldrich was an officer in the Air Force Reserve, who was also civilian chief of the Air Force's Special Survival Training Program (SSTP), which was later folded into the JPRA agency. From this position, the source says, he hired "many people into lucrative civil service jobs at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, paying from $75K to $150K per year plus fantastic benefits." Aldrich used his influence and position to dole out patronage, and gained a loyal, devoted following. He took Mitchell and Jessen and promoted them. After 9/11, he hatched a scheme with the two men to offer interrogation and training services to the military and CIA for a great deal of money.


Next up in the series, Part Three: Roger Aldrich, the Al Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen


Also posted at Invictus

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Monday, June 15, 2009

No Accountability: Two Generals Who Enabled Torture

Posted by Valtin at 1:33 AM |

Originally posted by Jeff Kaye at Firedoglake

There's been plenty of news and journalistic investigation on the torture enablers George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez, David Addington, and a host of other Bush Administration figures. The CIA, too, has come in for its share of investigation and scrutiny. But while the Senate Armed Services Committee conducted a months-long investigation and published last April a 200+ page report on Department of Defense abuse of prisoners, including torture, very little public scrutiny of culpable military officials has occurred.

The spotlight has mainly fallen on the activities of former SERE psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who together spearheaded the implementation of a prisoner "exploitation plan" that became known later as "enhanced interrogation techniques," and included a number of torture techniques, including isolation, sleep deprivation, stress positions, sensory deprivation and overload, forced nudity, waterboarding, and much more.

Recently, there was a spike of interest in the command responsibility Obama nominee for top military commander, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, might hold for the use of torture by Special Operations forces under his command in Iraq. But at the Senate Armed Services hearing for his nomination the other day, according to Spencer Ackerman, only Senator Levin even queried him on the subject, and no senator appeared opposed to his nomination.

But I want to look at the actions of two generals mentioned in the SASC report, "Inquiry on the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody." Both of them are singled out for actions related to the approval of torture under their commands. Both had command responsibility for these actions, and one of them, Air Force Special Operations Brigadier General Lyle Koenig, was specifically singled out for obloquy (although not by name). The other senior officer, Brigadier General Thomas Moore, was the Director of Operations and Plans (J3) for Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).

Both officers dropped out of sight after 2004, or, that is, an extensive web search on their activities turned up practically nothing. It was on September 24, 2004 that JFCOM finally withdrew official approval for use of SERE-like interrogation techniques, at least by SERE personnel (or rather, through SERE's parent agency, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, or JPRA). Earlier, BG Koenig and BG Moore had played crucial roles in the implementation of SERE torture, giving approval to the use of SERE techniques in interrogations.

The Role of Brigadier General Moore in the Origins of the SERE Torture Program

Sometime in late 2001, former SERE psychologist and contractor wannabe, James Mitchell, had received a copy of a purported Al Qaeda manual, which included instructions on how to withstand interrogation. According to an anonymous source who claims some knowledge of the individuals involved, and who has been credible on other matters pertaining to JPRA, Mitchell obtained the document from his superiors inside JPRA's Personnel Recovery Academy (PRA). The manual initially surfaced in Great Britain, and may have made its way to JPRA via the CIA.

According to the SASC report, when SERE psychologist Bruce Jessen sent his draft interrogation plan, packaged as a "Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training," to his superior, Colonel John "Randy" Moulton in February 2002, Moulton passed it on up the chain of command at JFCOM for approval and dissemination. Jessen was then selling PRA instructors as executing an "'exploitation oriented' approach. . . better than anyone." Moulton was enthusiastic. When, later, in August 2002, JPRA tops held a meeting to discuss "future JPRA support to [deleted word] actions to obtain actionable intelligence from Detained Unlawful Combatants," PRA was copied in on the email discussion.

Meanwhile, BG Moore was finessing the transfer of JPRA/SERE "expertise" to SOUTHCOM, the military command responsible for the new prison at Guanatanamo. Moore told the Operations Chief at SOUTHCOM that "JPRA was 'prepared to support [SOUTHCOM] in any potential collaboration.'" Presumably, it was Moore who had gotten Jessen's draft plan from Moulton. In any case, by even as early as mid-February 2002, Jessen's paper and Moulton's favorable recommendations were making the rounds from Moore's JFCOM to Joint Staff and various Combatant Commands, "including those with responsibility for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay." Things were moving fast.

(For those who like timelines, the spread of SERE's torture program to various sectors of the military preceded the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, and was roughly contemporaneous with the Cheney-ordered waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi. For those prone to speculate, the appearance of the Al Qaeda Resistance Manual in the hands of James Mitchell and the capture of al-Libi in mid-December 2001 seems awfully coincidental.)

Sometime in February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency asked JFCOM if they could get a "crash course" on interrogation for the next team headed out to SOUTHCOM (Guantanamo). The request went to BG Moore, who approved it. Jessen and another JPRA instructor were tasked with the seminar.

The presentation on detainee "exploitation" described phases of exploitation and included instruction on initial capture and handling, conducting interrogations, and long term exploitation... The exploitation presentation also included slides on "isolation and degradation," "sensory deprivation," "physiological pressures," and "psychological pressures... At SERE school, each of these terms has special meaning.

Another four months passed, and in July 2002, DoD's General Counsel office approached JPRA for information on SERE techniques, and in particular, waterboarding. Marcy Wheeler has done a superlative job in dissecting that particular episode, showing how this request was intricately tied up in the construction of the second Bybee memo,which would supposedly legitimate the "enhanced interrogation" torture techniques built out of the reverse-engineered SERE courses, and other assorted torture programs, such as the CIA's old KUBARK interrogation protocol. Before JPRA Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Daniel Baumgartner, felt comfortable giving General Counsel Jim Haynes the information he requested, he first asked permission from Col. Moulton and Brigadier General Moore. Permission was granted. JFCOM had blessed the attempt by DoD to assist the Office of Legal Counsel attorneys in their illegitimate attempt to legally baptize the torture program.

A Special Operations General Submarines Pro-Geneva Intervention

BG Moore left his position as Director of Plans for JFCOM in August 2003, but not before he played a small but significant role in an event that also introduces us to our other general. That summer, the commander of a Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force in Iraq called up Col. Moulton at JPRA and asked for assistance on interrogations. The SMU was actually a Special Operations unit, famously known as Task Force 121, though it goes by other names as well (Task Force 6-26). A 2006 New York Times article describes the horrors of this TF's torture interrogations in their "Black Room" at Camp Nama.

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL." The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.

The commander at Camp Nama and of TF 121 was Brigadier General Lyle Koenig. His name is never mentioned in the SASC report, but Senator Levin managed to get Col. Moulton to reveal the name during testimony before the SASC on September 25, 2008. Because of the classified nature of much of Special Operations activity, the anonymity, and therefore, the freedom from accountability or notoriety of these individuals is usually guaranteed. But not today, not here. (Koenig likely reported to his superior, Lt. Gen. McChrystal.)

On August 27, the request for JPRA/SERE support for Task Force 121 went to JFCOM's Operations Directorate (J3), whose director was BG Moore. Once again, the request was granted, and within a matter of days, JPRA sent off a team of two instructors and one JPRA contractor to the Black Room prison at Camp Nama. Interestingly, the contractor, Lenny Miller, was requested by name by the Special Operations team. It seems likely someone in TF 121 knew him personally, and Miller was possibly ex-SO.

When the JPRA team got there, dissention arose when an experienced interrogator and reserve officer, Lt. Col. Steven Kleinman, saw what was going on and tried to shut down the torture interrogations. This is a story I've told before. Suffice it to say that Kleinman was met with hostility by Special Forces personnel on site, and near-mutiny by his JPRA associates, who participated in abusive interrogations (torture sessions) even though Kleinman had forbid them to do so. Kleinman got on the phone with superiors back at JPRA (Col. Moulton), and with the commander at Nama (or whatever Special Forces site it was actually at -- it's just assumed it was Nama), BG Koenig.

According to Kleinman's testimony, Koenig heard Kleinman's assertions that the techniques being used violated the Geneva Conventions, and this, apparently, on more than one occasion. But somehow, nothing was ever done about it. The torture continued, and a manual of SERE-like techniques was written up for TF 121 use, a project in which Kleinman refused to participate (although he did recommend another JPRA associate for the job). Kleinman told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

And when I went back to the task force commander with concerns—but, I’ll tell you, Mr. Chairman, there was—it falls into a void. I would brief the task force commander very clearly, and he very clearly agreed with my assessment of it, but there was no orders ever issued—when I’d go over to the interrogation center, they never got—their senior interrogator, not—never got any guidance about that—

When the SASC got around to issuing its executive summary on its investigation, they wrote (emphasis added):

JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton's authorization of SERE instructors, who had no experience in detainee interrogations, to actively participate in Task Force interrogations using SERE resistance training techniques was a serious failure in judgment. The Special Mission Unit Task Force commander's failure to order that SERE resistance training techniques not be used in detainee interrogations was a serious failure in leadership that led to the abuse of detainees in Task Force custody. Iraq is a Geneva Convention theater and techniques used in SERE school are inconsistent with the obligations of U.S. personnel under the Geneva Conventions.... Combatant Command requests for JPRA "offensive" interrogation support and U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) authorization of that support led to JPRA operating outside the agency's charter and beyond its expertise.

The Aftermath

In the end, the Colonel takes the heat (and rightly so), but those higher up the chain of command are protected by anonymity and wag-of-the-finger censure. On a more suspicious note, as I mentioned before, both Moore and Koenig drop off the map after 2004. After an assiduous search, I discovered that Moore assumed command of the 116th Air Control Wing in March 2007.

Koenig, on the other hand, disappears from our story entirely. Unlike Thomas Moore, Koenig is Special Ops, so he could be on a classified mission somewhere. One website, which I won't link to because of unconfirmed salacious material, claims he retired after a sex scandal, and that the Air Force has scrubbed his story from its historical files.

Whatever fortune pursued these two, I present them here as exemplary examples of how the military tops have gotten off scot-free over the torture scandal. Their names unknown. No cameras chasing them down, or interviews showing up on YouTube. The Pentagon is like a giant club, and if you have a high-status membership, it appears that you are immune from even the worst crimes, and the mainstream press has shown a tremendous aversion to doing much to track this aspect of the story down. Even Congress, mandated with oversight, and hamstrung by Executive Branch obstructionism, when it has managed to reveal part of the truth, manages to sweep the accountability of senior Pentagon officials under the rug of benign fulmination.

The entire secret world of military and intelligence operations, especially special forces operations, should be open to complete societal re-examination. It was precisely out of such a secretive world, in combination with a shadowy bizarro world of complementary contracting companies, that the EIT/SERE/torture program arose. It may have been ordered forth by Cheney and Bush, but the soldiers who stood ready to implement those commands continue on in their posts -- dissembling, unrepentant, unknown-- ready for the next go-round.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Sick Torture Memos Also Lie: A Closer Look at the Bybee Memo

Posted by Valtin at 10:43 AM |

Also posted at AlterNet

Reading the just released August 1, 2002 memo by John Yoo (reportedly ghosting for Jay Bybee, then Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and now an Appeals Court Judge for the Ninth Circuit), to John Rizzo, then Acting General Counsel for the CIA, on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, is a surreal experience. There is so much that is strange and awful in it, it's hard to know where to begin.

But one thing that struck me right off the bat was the similarity of the statistics presented in the early part of the memo with the statement of Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, a psychologist with Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, United States Joint Forces Command, before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on June 17, 2008.

Let's review some of the relevant text.

Yoo/Bybee write, "This letter memorializes our previous oral advice, given on July 24, 2002, and July 26, 2002, that the proposed conduct would not violate this prohibition." The prohibition referred to is the U.S. torture statute, Section 2340A, Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

In his statement, Ogrisseg states that July 24, 2002 was the date of his memorandum “Psychological Effects of Resistance Training.” Dr. Ogrisseg was then still a psychologist working for the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) at the United States Air Force Survival School at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. Only a few days after filing his report with the commander of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, the parent Pentagon organization for all the military SERE programs, on July 29 he became a civilian SERE psychologist, with a number of various duties.

More from Dr. Ogrisseg:
Mr. Chairman, with regards to my July 2002 communications with then Lt Col Dan Baumgartner, the then Chief of Staff of JPRA, my recollection is that Lt Col Baumgartner called me directly, probably on the same day that I generated my 24 July 2002 memorandum that I referenced earlier. He indicated that he was getting asked “from above” about the psychological effects of resistance training. I had no idea who was asking Lt Col Baumgartner “from above” and did not ask him to clarify who was asking. I recall reminding Lt Col Baumgartner in general terms about program evaluation data I’d presented in May of 2002 at the SERE Psychology Conference. These data, which were collected on Air Force survival students at different points of time during training, indicated that training significantly improves students confidence in their ability to adhere to the Code of Conduct.
Why might Bybee, Rizzo, Yoo or others have been interested in Ogrisseg's study of SERE psychological effects? The initial portions of the Aug. 1, 2002 memo are concerned primarily with demonstrating that the techniques migrating into the interrogation arena from SERE training programs were not harmful, physiologically or psychologically, at least not in a way that would violate the law as construed by the OLC attorneys.

Despite the presence of a "SERE training psychologist" from the very beginning of Zubaydah's interrogation. Captured in March 2002, Zubaydah told the ICRC he was tortured from the time of capture. He was allegedly waterboarded by June 2002. Now, unhappy with their intel, CIA was planning to move into an "increased pressure phase" on Zubaydah. OLC notes in the memo that it is relying on information about Zubaydah and Yoo/Bybee warns Rizzo if the "facts in your possession [are] contrary to the facts outlined here", then their "advice would not necessarily apply."

Were they suspicious about the situation as reported by Rizzo? Emptywheel noticed the reticence. The memo states (emphasis added):

According to your reports, Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from your proposed interrogation methods.....
Nowhere else, significantly, does Yoo feel the need to quote so selectively and in such detail about what CIA Acting Counsel John Rizzo had represented to him.

Meanwhile, this is what Dan Coleman--an FBI guy with deep knowledge of al Qaeda--had to say about AZ in Ron Suskind's One Percent Doctrine:
Meanwhile, Dan Coleman and other knowledgeable members of the tribe of al Qaeda hunters at CIA were reading Zubaydah's top secret diary and shaking their heads.

"This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality," Coleman told a top official at FBI after a few days reviewing the Zubaydah haul.
In any case, the OLC felt it had to make the SERE techniques look as innocuous as possible. The techniques to be approved included the "attention grasp", "walling," facial slaps, "facial hold," cramped confinement, sleep deprivation, "wall standing" (really slamming a prisoner against the wall violently), insects placed in a confinement box, waterboarding, and stress positions.

Bybee/Yoo reeled off a series of statistics to Rizzo:
Through your consultation with various individuals responsible for such [SERE] training, you have learned that these techniques have been used as elements of a course of conduct without any reported incident of prolonged mental harm.
The memo mentions that hardly any complaints re SERE training were made to Congress, that one SERE "official" (name redacted) had trained 10,000 students in over three and a half years with only two dropouts, and "rare" requests for psychological counseling. The memo continues:
You have consulted with [redacted] who has ten years of experience with SERE training [about two lines redacted] He stated that, during those ten years, insofar as he is aware none of the individuals who completed the program suffered any adverse mental health effects.....

Additionally, you received a memorandum from the [redacted, about one line] which you supplied to us. [Redacted] has experience with the use of all these procedures in a course of conduct, with the exception of the insect in the confinement box and the waterboard. This memorandum confirms that the use of these procedures has not resulted in any reported instances of prolonged mental harm, and very few instances of immediate and temporary adverse psychological responses during the training. Of the 26,829 students trained from 1992 through 2001 in the Air Force SERE training, 4.3 percent of those students had contact with psychology services. Of those 4.3 percent, only 3.2 percent were pulled from the program for psychological reasons. Thus, out of the students trained overall, only 0.14 percent were pulled from the program for psychological reasons.
Surely one can do amazing things with statistics, and these last statistics seem very similar to those Dr. Ogrisseg had found in his research, presented the same day as the first oral approval by OLC to CIA in the Zubaydah request.

From Dr. Ogrisseg's statement:
Then, I recall Lt Col Baumgartner asking me if I thought training was harmful to students. This question and my responses to it formed the basis of my 24 July 2002 memorandum to Lt Col Baumgartner, which is the best record of the conversation that we had. In general terms, I indicated that a very small percentage of students (4.3%) had adverse psychological reactions to our training, but we (the survival psychology staff) were able to re-motivate almost all of those having adverse reactions (96.8%) to complete training. Thus, less than .2% of the roughly 14,000 students were unable to complete training due to psychological problems which arose during training.
The numbers aren't an exact match -- except that 4.3 percent figure -- but close enough. Perhaps the original figures from his July 24 paper would fit even better, but then it's likely OLC was playing fast and loose with the figures. They are certainly close enough to assume with strong presumption that it was Ogrisseg's July 24 memorandum that was being quoted in this part of the memo.

Too bad they didn't look farther into what Ogrisseg then said he told Lt. Col. Baumgartner (emphasis added):
Finally, as indicated in my 24 July 2002 memorandum, Lt Col Baumgartner asked me if I’d never seen the waterboard used, and what I thought of it. I told him that I had seen it used while observing Navy training the previous year, and that I would never recommend using it in training. He asked me why and if I thought it was physically dangerous. I responded that I didn’t see anyone getting physically injured when I observed it, and as stated in my memorandum, the Navy was applying it to medically screened trainees with medical personnel immediately available to monitor and intervene if necessary. However, that wasn’t the point, as psychologically the waterboard produced capitulation and compliance with instructor demands 100% of the time. During debriefings following training, students who had experienced the waterboard expressed extreme avoidance attitudes such as a likelihood to further comply with any demands made of them if brought near the waterboard again. I told Lt Col Baumgartner that waterboarding was completely inconsistent with the stress inoculation paradigm of training that we used, and was more indicative of a practice that produces learned helplessness – a training result we tried strenuously to avoid. The final area I recall Lt Col Baumgartner asking me about were my thoughts on using the waterboard against the enemy. I asked [sic] responded by asking, “wouldn’t that be illegal?” He replied that some people were asking from above about the utility of using this technique against the enemy for the same reasons I wouldn’t use it in training. I replied that I wouldn’t go down that path because, aside from being illegal, it was a completely different arena that we in the Survival School didn’t know anything about. When we concluded the talk, Lt Col Baumgartner asked if I would write him a memo reflecting what we’d just discussed regarding the psychological effects of training so he could include it with other materials he was sending up. He also asked if I would comment on both the physical and psychological effects of the waterboard. I replied that I would, and drafted the memo.
Investigators or prosecutors might want to look at Dr. Ogrisseg's July 24 memorandum, because it appears to be prime evidence for OLC cherry-picking of results regarding the effects of the interrogation techniques in question. Yoo or Bybee or Rizzo, or all three, took the statistics that made their case, and ignored anything else.

We also know Bybee saw the July SERE memorandum from his own testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
Before drafting the opinions, Mr. Yoo, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the OLC, had met with Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the opinions. In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Yoo refused to say whether or not he ever discussed or received information about SERE techniques as the memos were being drafted. When asked whether he had discussed SERE techniques with Judge Gonzales, Mr. Addington, Mr. Yoo, Mr. Rizzo or other senior administration lawyers, DoD General Counsel Jim Haynes testified that he “did discuss SERE techniques with other people in the administration.” NSC Legal Advisor John Bellinger said that “some of the legal analyses of proposed interrogation techniques that were prepared by the Department of Justice... did refer to the psychological effects of resistance training.”

(U) In fact, Jay Bybee the Assistant Attorney General who signed the two OLC legal opinions said that he saw an assessment of the psychological effects of military resistance training in July 2002 in meetings in his office with John Yoo and two other OLC attorneys. Judge Bybee said that he used that assessment to inform the August 1, 2002 OLC legal opinion that has yet to be publicly released.
The OLC and CIA also ignored a wealth of other published information about the effects of SERE "stress inoculation," such as the June 2000 article, "Assessment of Humans Experiencing Uncontrollable Stress: The SERE Course," in Special Warfare:
Results

As shown in the charts on page 7, SERE stress caused significant changes in students' hormone levels. Recorded changes in cortisol levels were some of the greatest ever documented in humans. In some cases, the changes noted among the trainees were greater than the changes noted in patients undergoing heart surgery....

Changes in testosterone levels were similarly remarkable: In some cases, testosterone dropped from normal levels to castration levels within eight hours.
Or how about this May 2000 article in Biological Psychiatry, Hormone profiles in humans experiencing military survival training?
Conclusions: The stress of military survival training produced dramatic alterations in cortisol, percent free cortisol, testosterone, and thyroid indices. Different types of stressors had varying effects on the neuroendocrine indices. The degree of neuroendocrine changes observed may have significant implications for subsequent responses to stress.
Looking at more psychological than physiological symptoms, one well-known 2001 study in the August 2001 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry looked at dissociative symptoms, e.g., depersonalization, derealization, psychic or emotional numbing, general cognitive confusion (emphasis added):
The current study was designed to assess the nature and prevalence of dissociative symptoms in healthy humans experiencing acute, uncontrollable stress during U.S. Army survival training. METHOD: In study 1, 94 subjects completed the Clinician-Administered Dissociative States Scale after exposure to the stress of survival training. In study 2, 59 subjects completed the Brief Trauma Questionnaire before acute stress and the dissociative states scale before and after acute stress. A randomly selected group of subjects in study 2 completed a health problems questionnaire after acute stress. RESULTS: In study 1, 96% of subjects reported dissociative symptoms in response to acute stress. Total scores, as well as individual item scores, on the dissociation scale were significantly lower in Special Forces soldiers compared to general infantry troops. In study 2, 42% of subjects reported dissociative symptoms before stress and 96% reported them after acute stress.
96 percent! Well, these statistics are very different from those that appeared to say that less than 2% of SERE subjects had any significant psychological symptoms. It's all in how you frame it in the research world, and apparently in the legal world as well.

In summary, even an initial cursory look at the August 1, 2002 Bybee memo on the "Interrogation of Al Qaeda Operative" shows that the memos were written in bad faith, were meant to deceive, and utilized a memorandum by Jerald Ogrisseg that explicitly warned against using at least some of the techniques (waterboarding) that were approved by OLC.

I'm confident that other researchers will find much more wrong with the recently released OLC memos. Their extremely poor quality and their misrepresentations of medical and psychological information make them very hard to imagine using as the basis of "good faith" representations for those CIA interrogators for whom Attorney General Holder granted immunity, i.e., those "who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice..."

I suppose a lot rides now on how you define "authoritative legal advice."

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Submitting Evidence to the Spanish Court on U.S. Torture Plans

Posted by Valtin at 6:28 PM |

Scott Horton has reported that "Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo." The others targeted are John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Doug Feith and William Haynes.

I wrote a series on the issue of grounds for prosecution not too long ago. Now I'd like to help the Spanish prosecutors by supplying some basic evidence, courtesy of the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on "the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody", released late last year.

The rationale for the prosecution is established international law, the same sort of law that led to Spain charging August Pinochet for war crimes, led by the same Spanish judge that referred the Bush crew for possible prosecution, Baltasar Garzon.

Setting the Stage

As one reads the following, please keep in mind that there are many current controversies concerning memos written by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel that were meant to legitimize "aggressive" interrogation techniques and treatment of "war on terror" prisoners. Tomorrow, in fact, is the deadline set by a U.S. court for the release of some of these memos still kept secret, including one dated August 1, 2002 by Jay Bybee (or ghost-written by John Yoo and/or David Addington) giving legal approval to a host of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, including reportedly waterboarding.

The evidence I supply here predates that portion of the timeline. Whether or not Obama releases these memos, there is plenty of evidence to proceed with prosecutions. Jason Leopold reported at The Public Record last Saturday that the Department of Justice told the judge in the ACLU suit to "release documents related to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the CIA in 2005" that they would only give information on videotapes going back to August 2002. But, as Leopold explains, the FBI Inspector General already documented FBI agent reports of "near torture" interrogations of prisoner Abu Zubaydah as far back as May 2002.

And now, of course, we also have the release of a previously secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting torture by the CIA.

But all that in good time, for now I want to discuss Department of Defense and Defense Intelligence Agency collaboration with the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency in plotting "exploitation" practices to be used by U.S. interrogators that would draw upon the torture training model of JPRA's SERE program. SERE is administratively part of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense.

The timeline for this begins as early as December 2001, before, as the SASC report makes clear, Bush's presidential order, based on an opinion by Alberto Gonzales made as early as January 9, 2002, which "closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees." The pre-January 2002 timeline is crucial, as it stands outside, i.e., is prior to, all governmental attempts to cover their intent to torture, and to break international laws and treaties to which the government was signatory.

I humbly suggest that those with means forward what follows to the Spanish prosecutors, once the final announcement of warrants issued is made. The fact that we are still waiting, and the day has passed in Spain, and no warrants have been issued, speaks to the probable amount of strong political pressure from the U.S. exerted on Spain at this time. (For more details on how the struggle for prosecutions is playing out in the United States, including the role of Democratic Senators Feinstein and Rockefeller insisted that CIA torture suspects like Stephen Kappes, #2 at CIA now, were kept on in the Obama-Panetta reign, the better to stifle possible prosecutions of CIA officials -- such shutdown of prosecutions got a push from CIA Director, former Clinton staffer Leon Panetta last week -- see Glenn Greenwald's recent article.)

In what follows, I concentrate on a period at the very beginning of the Bush torture program's existence, as it came into being.

The Evidence

I have added in bold emphases where I felt appropriate, to guide the reader to the essential points. But I strongly recommend that those interested read not only the full quote herein, but the entire report.
(U) On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. While the President’s order stated that, as “a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,” the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

(U) In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

(U) JPRA is the DoD agency that oversees military Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. During the resistance phase of SERE training, U.S. military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures (SERE techniques) designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.” The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy’s SERE school, it included waterboarding.

(U) Typically, those who play the part of interrogators in SERE school neither are trained interrogators nor are they qualified to be. These role players are not trained to obtain reliable intelligence information from detainees. Their job is to train our personnel to resist providing reliable information to our enemies. As the Deputy Commander for the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), JPRA’s higher headquarters, put it: “the expertise of JPRA lies in training personnel how to respond and resist interrogations – not in how to conduct interrogations.” Given JPRA’s role and expertise, the request from the DoD General Counsel’s office was unusual. In fact, the Committee is not aware of any similar request prior to December 2001. But while it may have been the first, that was not the last time that a senior government official contacted JPRA for advice on using SERE methods offensively. In fact, the call from the DoD General Counsel’s office marked just the beginning of JPRA’s support of U.S. government interrogation efforts.
The Exhibits

The one document produced from the December 2001 contact -- a fax cover sheet from the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), sent from "Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner" to "Mr. Richard Shiffrin," who worked for Haynes's in Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office -- introduces a theme of aggressive courting by JPRA/SERE personnel to take on the interrogations/exploitation task. We only have the fax cover sheet at present. I have been informed that the full document is not available as it concerns a different governmental entity, one that did not sign off on declassification, as yet. Perhaps when the full unredacted SASC report is released, supposedly very soon now, we will be able to add another exhibit.
Mr. Shiffrin --
Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.
"Mr. Shiffrin refers to Mr. Richard Shiffrin, who worked for William Haynes's in Donald Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office. Mr. Haynes is reportedly one of the officials the Spanish prosecutors intend to indict. Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner was then head of JPRA.

In June 2008, Dan Baumgartner also gave testimony under oath to the Senate committee regarding the Dec. 2001 approach by DoD. From his testimony:
My recollection of my first communication with OGC relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry. From what I reviewed last year with Committee staff members, the information involved the exploitation process and historical information on captivity and lessons learned.
The theme of JPRA promoting SERE expertise surfaces in Iraq a little less than two years after the first DoD approach. A September 9, 2003 email from Col. Randy Moulton, Commander of JPRA to Col. Mike Okita and a redacted addressee (could this be Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who, coming from his command in Guantanamo, on September 9 was just concluding his evaluation of interrogation procedures in Iraq) again makes the same point about JPRA "expertise".
There is a strong synergy between the fundamentals of both missions (resistance training and interrogation). Both rely heavily on environmental conditions, captivity psychology, and situation dominance and control. While I think this probably lies within DHS responsibility lines, recent history (to include discussions with DHS, USSOCOM, CIA) shows that no DoD entity has a firm grasp on any comprehensive approach to strategic debriefing/interrogation. Our subject matter experts (and certain Service SERE psychologist) have the most knowledge and depth within DoD on the captivity environment and exploitation.
I would remind my readers here that SERE exploitation famously includes the use of physical assault, stress positions, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, sensory overload, and other forms of physical and psychological torture.

Other Evidence: Re John Walker Lindh

Finally, I would like to suggest that there is at least one other piece of evidence related to this early use of torture and/or planning for torture. This concerns the report by Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Department attorney in 2001, tasked as a legal ethics advisor in DoJ's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office, with advising on the procedures surrounding the interrogation of the captured American John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan.

Radack wrote in 2007:
According to a secret document I obtained in June 2004, an Army intelligence officer "advised that before interviewing Lindh, instructions came from higher headquarters for him to coordinate with JSOTF [the Joint Special Operations Task Force] JAG officer. He was told . . . he could collect on anything criminal that was volunteered."

But Higher Headquarters told the intelligence office more than that. Rumsfeld's office told him not to handle Lindh with kid gloves. In a stunning revelation, the documents states: "The Admiral told him that the Secretary of Defense's counsel had authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted." These instructions to get tough wth Lindh, contained in the document I have, are the earliest known evidence that the Bush Administration was willing to push the envelope on how far it could go to extract information from suspected terrorists.
Unfortunately, Ms. Radack does not supply the date for this document, or to whom it was addressed by the Army Intelligence officer in question. I'm sure that the Spanish court could obtain this document in full, if it so desired.

Concluding Remarks

Truly the evidence is massive for government malfeasance and crimes against humanity in the planning and use of torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading procedures against detainees held by both the Department of Defense and the CIA in the past eight years. Moreover, as documented by both myself and the Center for Constitutional Rights, a program that maintains illegal interrogation methods persists within current U.S. procedures, primarily, though not limited to, the use of techniques like isolation, partial sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation, in Appendix M of the current Army Field Manual.

I congratulate the Spanish prosecutors in advance for taking on this crucial litigation, if in fact the warrants are finally issued. The U.S. is also bound by both domestic and international law to take up prosecutions, and it is a serious dereliction of law and duty of the highest order that this has not already occurred.

I hope either Spanish, or other, including U.S. prosecutors, take up the evidence I have presented here as telling documentation of U.S. official plans to subvert the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, if not the U.S. War Crimes Act, and to have done so prior to the issuance of any executive office legal opinions that would have made it supposedly legitimate (an assertion to any legitimacy I also believe to be without merit).

U.S. readers of this should flood the DoJ offices with demands to initiate prosecutions forthwith. The rule of law is at stake. If the highest officials in the land can break the most serious laws with impunity, then there is no rule of law. There is only tyranny.

Also posted at Invictus

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Minutes from a Torturers' Meeting at Guantanamo

Posted by Valtin at 1:22 PM |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persons in Attendance:

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

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

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

* Identify trained resisters
      * Al Qaeda Training

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

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

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

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

Becker: Agreed.

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

BSCT continued:

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

COL Cummings: We can't do sleep deprivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

LTC Beaver: It's at J3 at SOUTHCOM.

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

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

LTC Beaver: We will need documentation to protect us

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

Becker: LEA personnel will not participate in harsh techniques

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

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

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

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

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

Becker: (Agreed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LTC Beaver: Will it go from DOJ to DOD?

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

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

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

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

Becker: I like the part about ambient noise.

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

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

Meeting ended at 1450.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also posted at Invictus and Progressive Historians

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Senate Report Nails Rumsfeld, Sets Up War Crimes Trial

Posted by Valtin at 2:06 PM |

They may not have meant to do it, but the Senate Armed Services' Committee released a report by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain that gives us the best timeline to date on administration decisions to begin torturing detainees. The report, an Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, also describes the means by which both the Pentagon and the CIA approached agencies within government, leading to the very top of the Bush Administration, and how the latter rushed in a series of presidential orders, and memos by the Office of Legal Counsel, to redefine torture law in order to provide legal cover for their blatant violation of the laws of war and those against torture.

The Washington Post article covering these developments, Report on Detainee Abuse Blames Top Bush Officials, is listed as the most viewed item of the day. And for good reason, for anyone who knows how to read such material can see the bombshell that resides within.

Those in the anti-torture community are fond of repeating the fact that torture is a jus cogens norm, that is:
"a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character." Link
But when it comes to the question of prosecuting Rumsfeld and others for the crime of torture, it's generally accepted (by the mainstream media and cable punditry) that the Bush Administration has created sufficient legal cover for themselves, and that we will have to look to international intervention, under the concept of universal jurisdiction, to prosecute these individuals.

But even by their own pathetic lights, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld troika and their assistants failed to protect themselves, as their rush to cover their tracks came TWO MONTHS TOO LATE. They are still trying to keep certain documents secret, it seems, and we must demand they see the light of day, so we can proceed with the prosecutions. (By "we" I mean an Obama Justice Department.)

Here's the key paragraphs in the narrative of the report, at least when it comes to the most vulnerable part of their defense against prosecution. Keep in mind that Levin/McCain begin their narrative with the "Presidential Order [that] Opens the Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques."

On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.
So, now they think they are covered against violations of the Geneva Convention. But they didn't think, or they forgot that they were seeking to break, or already breaking the Geneva Convention, and a host of other treaties and laws, at least as early as December 2001.

Again, from the report (emphasis added):
In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
JPRA runs the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE program, under which military personnel considered at risk of capture are "tortured" under controlled circumstances, with the aim of inoculating them against confessing or revealing secrets under pressure. The SERE program specialized in exposing its recruits to waterboarding, nudity, stress positions, degrading behavior, and sensory overload and sensory deprivation. It was slam everything but the kitchen sink against a person to make them break. During training there are doctors and psychologists around to keep these things from getting out of control. But some of these doctors or psychologists evidently thought they could use their knowledge of the program to "reverse-engineer" it and provide interrogation expertise to the military when asked.

And they were asked first in December 2001:
Given JPRA’s role and expertise, the request from the DoD General Counsel’s office was unusual. In fact, the Committee is not aware of any similar request prior to December 2001. But while it may have been the first, that was not the last time that a senior government official contacted JPRA for advice on using SERE methods offensively. In fact, the call from the DoD General Counsel’s office marked just the beginning of JPRA’s support of U.S. government interrogation efforts.
The subsequent contact between JPRA, SERE, SERE psychologists, the CIA, and Guantanamo personnel make up the bulk of the rest of the report, and is definitely worth pursuing, and very important in its own right. (In fact, I've written much on this previously during the Senate Committee hearings.) But right now I'm concentrating on the critical first approach.

After discussing the December 2001 contact between the Department of Defense and JPRA, the narrative jumps ahead to Spring 2002. The reason for the jump will soon be clear (emphasis added):
Beginning in the spring of 2002 and extending for the next two years, JPRA supported U.S. government efforts to interrogate detainees. During that same period, senior government officials solicited JPRA’s knowledge and its direct support for interrogations. While much of the information relating to JPRA’s offensive activities and the influence of SERE techniques on interrogation policies remains classified, unclassified information provides a window into the extent of those activities.

(U) JPRA’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baumgartner testified that in late 2001 or early 2002, JPRA conducted briefings of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) personnel on detainee resistance, techniques, and information on detainee exploitation.

(U) On April 16, 2002, Dr. Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, circulated a draft exploitation plan to JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton and other senior officials at the agency. The contents of that plan remain classified but Dr. Jessen’s initiative is indicative of the interest of JPRA’s senior leadership in expanding the agency’s role.
We can quite clearly see the use of classification as a cover-up of culpability and probable war crimes. This is doubly true for the classification of any materials between December 2001 and February 7, 2002, the date of Bush's presidential order suspending Geneva rights, because ALL abuse and torture before that date has no cover that even the worst right-wing and pro-military wingnut could find a fig-leaf of bogus legal cover. And that's important because we don't want to win a formal argument about how international law covers Bush, Rumsfeld, et al.'s crimes, we want prosecutions, here, now, in this country. Frankly, I think there are more barriers to bringing charges abroad, for fear of confronting the United States, and we need to set an example for the world ourselves anyway, and try and undo the tremendous damage these individuals have done.

The report goes into succinct detail about the further descent into lawlessness by the administration, the military, and the CIA; how some fought back and tried to protest (military lawyers, CID investigators, etc.), but in the end the administration kept pushing their torture agenda, until the final paper reached Rumsfeld's desk:
With respect to GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request to use aggressive interrogation techniques, Mr. Haynes said that “there was a sense by the DoD Leadership that this decision was taking too long” and that Secretary Rumsfeld told his senior advisors “I need a recommendation.” On November 27, 2002, the Secretary got one. Notwithstanding the serious legal concerns raised by the military services, Mr. Haynes sent a one page memo to the Secretary, recommending that he approve all but three of the eighteen techniques in the GTMO request. Techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval....

(U) On December 2, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld signed Mr. Haynes’s recommendation, adding a handwritten note that referred to limits proposed in the memo on the use of stress positions: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
In the next days and weeks I suppose (and hope) a lot more will be written on this. I have aimed this essay at what I feel is a key revelation in the Senate committee's investigation and report, one that can and should lead to the filing of charges against Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and a number of others. Whether Bush can be prosecuted for his actions as president I leave to the legal minds to ponder.

Oddly, in the conclusions section of the report, the authors leave out the December 2001 solicitation to JPRA and return to a timeline wherein JPRA was approached in July 2002 for information on SERE techniques:
That solicitation, prompted by requests from Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes II, reflected the view that abusive tactics similar to those used by our enemies should be considered for use against detainees in U.S. custody.
I don't know why the Committee would bury in their conclusions an aspect of the timeline that was especially culpable for the administration. Perhaps they felt that with the classification of certain documents they didn't have enough facts to back up their contentions. In that case it is even more essential to call for a declassification of all documents on the torture timeline, and the incoming Obama administration should make this a first priority, if their claims to government transparency are going to carry any weight.

In any case, there's plenty more in the report to keep any war crimes tribunal busy, and also assist those in writing a true history of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I will close with this statement by the committee shooting down the myth that the torture at Abu Ghraib was the result of bad training or a few "rotten apples":
The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.
No kidding!

Onwards to a prosecution of the war criminals and return to civilized norms in the United States.

Also posted at Daily Kos and 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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