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 Three): Roger Aldrich, the Al Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen

Posted by Valtin at 2:06 AM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake

In parts one and two of this series on the origins of the SERE torture program, we examined how unlikely it was that James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, relying on entrepreneurial guile and chutzpah alone, convinced a passive Pentagon and CIA, eager to find some way to get terror intelligence, to buy into their "learned helplessness" interrogation paradigm. It seems plausible that others were in on the scheme, and in part two, we examined the idea that Mitchell and Jessen's superior, Col. Roger Aldrich, had originated the idea of selling SERE interrogation services to the government.


We also know, as established earlier, that Mitchell's first business partner came from Special Operations. Later, Mitchell, Jessen and Associates (MJA) shared the same telephone number as Randall Spivey's RS Consulting business. Spivey was former chief of operations for JPRA's Policy and Oversight Division, until leaving in 2002 to found his own series of contracting companies. Ultimately, he became a governing member of MJA.


As for Roger Aldrich, the "legendary military survival trainer" (as the New York Timesdescribed him) who had been Mitchell and Jessen's Air Force superior, he continued to work at the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) after 9/11, waiting out his military retirement. Subsequently, he joined JPRA contractor Tate Inc. as Director of Training, a job he must have held concurrent with his Mitchell-Jessen post. (MJA and Tate share the same Alexandria, Virginia address.)


David Ayers, head of Tate, Inc., was the other MJA shareholder, along with Joseph Matarazzo, yet another former president of the American Psychological Association who crossed Mitchell and Jessen's path. Matarazzo, who Jane Mayer recently reported worked for the CIA, had been hired by Mitchell and Jessen years earlier, in 1996, along with other prominent U.S. psychologists -- Charles Speilberger, Richard Lazarus, and Albert Bandura -- for an internal review of SERE training procedures, according to a SERE internal document.


According to my source, Mr. Aldrich had contacts with the CIA through Special Forces work. Special Forces has a unique relationship with SERE and JPRA, as all Special Forces operators must receive SERE training and certification, due to the danger of their work. It is my hypothesis that the CIA passed the Al Qaeda document on to Aldrich, and set up the cover story of a "review" of the terrorist manual as the opportunity to launch the torture plan. (See discussion as well in part one of this series.)


The review itself was only a premise, which is clear to anyone who has ever bothered to look at the manual, and its simplistic, if not homely, rendition of how to resist what the manual assumes is inevitable torture. Since the Al Qaeda manual assumes that a number of torture techniques will be used upon the prisoner, including stripping, hanging by feet and hands, beatings, cold water, forced standing and positions, attack by dogs, solitary confinement, use of drugs, being placed in a septic tank, and more, one wonders, given the accounts of torture by U.S. interrogators, just how surprised Al Qaeda members were by the so-called "enhanced" techniques doled out by the SERE/CIA specialists.


Nor should we consider this a conspiracy between only Aldrich, Mitchell and Jessen. As noted above, it seems most probable that the CIA set the mission in motion, utilizing special operations and JPRA contacts. In this scenario, Mitchell and Jessen can best be understood as agents in the operation, and not brain trusters. Moreover, the CIA had been running research studies on the effects of SERE techniques on subjects for some years, preceding 9/11. (A future article will give the particulars, but see this article for some examples.)


It seems possible, given what we know thus far, that Vice President Dick Cheney's office originated the torture program (possibly at the behest of President Bush), utilizing personnel from the Joint Special Forces Command (JSOC) and the CIA. According to New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh, JSOC is said to not be answerable to any particular command structure (emphasis added):


It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.

The chain of command for the torture program appears to have run from Bush-Cheney, to leaders of JSOC and their CIA supporters, to the "legendary" Roger Aldrich, and on down to his trusted men, Mitchell, Jessen, Baumgarten and others at Aldrich's agency, JPRA. From thence, the program spread throughout the CIA, the Defense Department (including the Defense Intelligence Agency), especially via Joint Forces Command, and to the contracting companies that were read into the program, staffed often by compatriots from Special Operations or SERE, or ex-CIA or other intelligence men.


The main problem with analyses of the Mitchell-Jessen program thus far is the failure to plausibly link the top layers of the administration, which we know were involved in approving torture, to such lowly players as Mitchell and Jessen. The actions and connections of Roger Aldrich, and the ersatz chain of command that is described just above has the virtue of describing the necessary connections, although the identities of some of the actors are still unknown.


Whatever actually happened, whether Scott Shane, who wrote the recent New York Times article on Mitchell and Jessen, is right, or my scenario, or some other, we must have investigations with real teeth to get to the truth, followed by prosecutions of those who were responsible for crimes of war, of crimes against humanity.


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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Monday, September 29, 2008

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

Posted by Valtin at 12:06 AM |

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colonel Says No to Torture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kleinman's Revisionist History

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

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

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

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

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

How SERE Took Over

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

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

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

The Historical Meaning of Torture

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

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

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

Also posted at Never In Our Names and Invictus

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nuts & Bolts: How U.S. Organized Torture Program

Posted by Valtin at 11:25 PM |

The Armed Services Committee's hearings last week on interrogation and torture gave us a startling look into how torture was taught at the Naval Prison at Guantanamo Bay. Most articles have not bothered to look deeply into what was discussed in meetings between officials of the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, program and ranking officers and personnel at Guantanamo. This article will look in some detail at what actually occurred. (At the end, I will address an important correction and clarification to an earlier article on SERE.)

As Mark Benjamin writes in his "timeline to Bush government torture":
Soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon and the CIA began an orchestrated effort to tap expertise from the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school, for use in the interrogation of terrorist suspects. The U.S. military's SERE training is designed to inoculate elite soldiers, sailors and airmen to torture, in the event of their capture, by an enemy that would violate the Geneva Conventions. Those service members are subjected to forced nudity, stress positions, hooding, slapping, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and, yes, in some cases, waterboarding.
In an article the other day, I described some of SERE's rocky history, and indicated that by testimony of Lt. Col. Baumgarten, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense, which administers SERE, he was approached by an official of the defense department for information on SERE techniques as early as December 2001. This places DoD interest in possibly reverse-engineering of SERE techniques prior to the January 9 memo by John Yoo providing legal cover to Bush administration assertions that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees held in the new war in Afghanistan. In addition, it predates the January 25 memo by Alberto Gonzales, then a presidential counsel, approving the Yoo argument, and stating that when it came to interrogation of enemy prisoners, the Geneva conventions' "strict limitations on questioning" such prisoners was now obsolete.

In my opinion, and no one has been able to convince me otherwise (although I am no attorney), the query to Baumgarten in December 2001 may be sufficient evidence of war crimes, even by the twisted logic of the White House, who first wanted to torture, and then later dream up the legal justification for it. The only catch -- that no one catch them red-handed in the interim. I again encourage Senator Levin to release the documents that Lt. Col. Baumgarten says convinced him that he had been approached in December 2001. So far Levin and his committee have focused on the approach to SERE in July 2002. Why?

A Course in Torture

SERE training specialists arrived in Guantanamo in late December 2002. A copy of a SERE interrogation Standard Operating Procedure was circulated to camp officials. (All quotes from this and other documents can be found in the document release by SASC made coincident with last week's hearings.)

Most of this SERE SOP remains classified. The memo that accompanied it has been declassified, however:
Subj: GUIDELINES FOR EMPLOYING "SERE" MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES DURING DETAINEE INTERROGATIONS....

The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations. These tactics and techniques are used at SERE school to "break" SERE detainees. The same tactics and techniques can by used to break real detainees during interrogation operations.
The document goes on to mandate SERE-related training for all instructors. The policy memo is approved by the Chief of Interrogation Control Element (ICE), Lt. Col. Ted Moss, Major Geoffrey Miller, Commanding General, Joint Task Force, Guantanamo, and a third colonel whose name I cannot read on the document as it is reproduced.

The SASC produced a small extract from the SERE SOP, dated December 18, 2002. It describes the use of "Degradation Tactics", including slaps to the shoulder, and stomach; something called an "Insult Slap"; and Stripping. In addition, it lists "Physical Debilitation Tactics", specifically "Stress Positions", including variations for kneeling, sitting, standing, something called "Head Rest Index Finger Position", and another one titled "Worship-the-Gods". Finally, the SOP commands "Demonstrate Omnipotence Tactics", via "Manhandling" and "Walling".

That would be all we know from government sources, if it weren't for an extraordinary memo by two SERE specialists written to the Officer in Charge at "FASOTRAGRULANT Det Burnswick". These two officers, John Rankin and Christopher Ross, say they were "directed to proceed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba at the request of LtCol [sic] Moss, Commander of the Interrogation Control Unit." It was their "impression" they were to provide "the theory and application of... physical pressures utilized during our training" to Gitmo interrogators. Utilizing the original SERE SOP, a training plan was worked up. The SERE trainers focused on "resistance", as it was believed that some of the high-profile detainees had undergone their own kind of resistance training, "as evidenced by the Al Queda Training Manual". The memo continues:
On the morning of 31 Dec 02, Mr. Ross and I initiated training with an in-depth class on Biderman's Principles, and the theory and practical application of selected physical pressures, [unclear word, maybe "IAW"] our "Blue Book", to approximately 24 ICE personnel. This training was conducted in one of the newly constructed interrogation facilities located at Camp Delta. During this training it was stressed that the physical pressures are only a part of the overall conditioning process designed to establish and maintain an effective captive management program.
After complaining about security glitches at Guantanamo, and rental car availability ("Future trips should utilize Enterprise Rental"), the memo concludes:
Recommend that future trainers, if requested, be thoroughly prepared to discuss and explain Biderman's Principles and captive management techniques.
Biderman, Brainwashing, and U.S. Torture

Some readers may be familiar with Biderman's "Chart of Coercion", as it has been well-circulated on cult deprogrammer websites for years. The original is supposedly from a 1970's Amnesty International publication on torture. The version released by the SASC -- originally an enclosure to Moss and Rankin's memo discussed above -- is very blurry and difficult to read. But it is almost word for word identical to this version published on the web, and can profitably be compared together.

Albert Biderman was a social psychologist who worked with the government debriefing POWs from the Korean War. At the time there was a huge controversy because many of these POWs were said to be collaborators, and some had told their captors that the U.S. had bombed Korea and China with biological weapons, a definite war crime. The U.S. called it "brainwashing" and began a crash program trying to understand the nuts and bolts of so-called mind control. Biderman became one of the outstanding researchers in this effort. In the early 1960s, he edited with a colleague a collection of research papers by psychologists and psychiatrists encapsulating the subject and entitled it "The Manipulation of Human Behavior." (Also see this review of MHB.)

Biderman became one of the premier experts in interrogation, both of the rapport-building and coercive types. Much of the knowledge gleaned by he and his collaborators was encapsulated in the "Chart of Coercion", or what SERE calls "Coercive Management Techniques". What are these techniques?

1. Isolation: This deprives the prisoner of all social support and "ability to resist". While turning the prisoner upon his own resources, it "makes victim dependent upon interrogator" (quotes are from the SERE version). Furthermore, isolation can be complete, semi, or "group isolation".

2. Monopolisation of Perception: This means again "physical isolation. Darkness or bright light. Barren environment. Restricted movement. Monotonous food." The goal? To fixate the prisoner upon his "immediate predicament", the technique also "eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor," frustrating all action "not consistent with compliance."

3. Induced Debilitation and Exhaustion: This is what it seems to be, i.e., a method to weaken a prisoners' "mental and physical ability to resist." Techniques include: "Semi-starvation. Exposure. Exploitation of wounds. Induced illness. Sleep deprivation. Prolonged constraint. Prolonged interrogation" and "over-exertion", among other practices (tortures!)

4. Threats: Which "cultivates anxiety and despair", including threats of death, non return, "endless interrogation and isolation", threats against family, and "mysterious changes of treatment".

5. Occasional indulgences: To provide positive motivation for compliance, it also has the effect of hindering "adjustment to deprivation."

6. Demonstrating "Omnipotence" and "Omniscience": The purpose of this is said to suggest to the prisoner the "futility of resistance". How is this done? By "demonstrating complete control over victim's fate". (And this, by the way, is a crucial way that the ban on habeas corpus for these prisoners, recently overturned by the Supreme Court, fed into the military's torture program, by demonstrating that there was no appeal to anyone.)

7. Degradation: This is where one finds the prevention of personal hygiene, the insults, taunts, "demeaning punishments" and "denial of privacy". The goal was to damage prisoner self esteem, making "capitulation" a lesser evil. It also "reduces the prisoner to 'animal level' concerns."

8. Enforcing Trivial Demands: Again the point is to develop compliance in the captive, and takes place through "enforcement of minute rules."

So there you have it, these are the "principles" the SERE instructors insisted future trainers for interrogators at Guantanamo (and since SERE instruction migrated to Iraq and Afghanistan as well, we can presume there as well) "be thoroughly prepared to discuss and explain".

If you aren't stunned by this point, you never will be. The hubris and ambition of the American imperial quest has reached it reductio ad absurdum in reducing those who oppose it to the "animal level", and making them objects of torture and omnipotent control. There are other aspects to this scandal that are worth reporting. For instance, Stephen Soldz has just written an excellent summary of the role of military psychologists and the American Psychological Association in all this.

My conclusion is only this: now that you've read this, what are you going to do about it? It's your society. Your leaders have proven impotent in stopping this activity, and the perpetrators have not been held accountable -- yet. Ask yourself, what will I do today, tomorrow, and the next day to stop this barbarity from eating up our society entirely, from destroying the entire social fabric.

A Final Correction and a Further Clarification

In my story the other day, Media & Gov't Torture Cover-up: Sen. Levin, Release the 12/01 SERE Docs, I wasn't sufficiently clear in my description about testimony from a 1960s Green Beret officer. I wrote:
Sergeant Donald W. Duncan, a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, recipient of two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Vietnamese Silver Star, the Army Air Medal, and sundry other decorations, testified at a "War Crimes" tribunal chaired by Bertrand Russell in the 1960s that SERE techniques had been taught to Special Forces interrogators for use in Vietnam....
From the Russell Copenhagen Tribunal testimony (pp.31-32) (bold emphasis added):
Duncan recounts an American instruction class for the Green Berets in "Counter-Measures to Hostile Interrogation" in which the techniques of hostile interrogation are presented in great detail but not any counter-measures, of which the instructor says there are none. A sergeant asks the instructor whether the only reason for teaching the class is for training in the use of the methods of interrogation (involving torture such as lowering of a prisoner's testicles into a jeweler's vise, mutilation, etc.). The instructor replies: "We can't tell you that, Sergeant Harrison. The Mothers of America wouldn't approve. Furthermore, we will deny that any such thing is taught or intended." D. DUNCAN, THE NEW LEGIONS 123-25 (Pocket Books ed. 1968). In his testimony before the Russell Tribunal, Duncan states that this dialogue is a word for word quote. RUSSELL TRIBUNAL, supra, at 463.
As a colleague kindly pointed out to me, the implication in my account is that SERE was involved in reverse-engineering their own techniques in order to teach torture to interrogators. In fact, Michael Otterman, in his book American Torture (where I first came across the Duncan story), writes:
...by the late 1950s US Army Special Forces had coopted coursework from SERE for more sinister purposes....

Sergeant Donald Duncan joined the Special Forces in 1959. At the time, Special Forces resistance training was held at Camp Mackall and was supplemented by classroom training at the Army's nearby Special Warfare School [SWS] at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (pp. 39-40)
Otterman goes on to explain that Duncan was an interrogation instructor at the SWS. He also quotes from Duncan's Russell Committee testimony a more forceful description of how "counter-measure" instruction was used (p. 67 of AT):
The specific purpose for teaching this [at Fort Bragg] is so the student in turn, once he is put in another country, can teach these methods to what we refer to as an 'indigenous counterpart', somebody indigenous to the country. And he in turn then would become the interrogator... In Vietnam, of course, that would be the Vietnamese.
There are two important differences from the Duncan/Vietnam example and the current scandal over SERE and torture. One, the teaching of torture was done by instructors at Special Forces' Special Warfare School (although SERE techniques may also have been utilized there). Two, the ultimate recipients of the training were to be indigenous interrogators, or torturers. The current situation has SERE teaching their techniques to U.S. interrogators and personnel.

The main point remains, after all the distinctions are pulled away: the United States armed forces as a matter of policy have at various times utilized so-called counter-resistance techniques to be used by captured U.S. soldiers as a template for torture to be used on American enemy prisoners or political opponents. The situation with SERE is not new, but part of a military or national security culture that has lost its moral bearings and committed crimes for which they have never been held accountable. (This is not to downplay those portions of the military, as currently the military lawyers, who strenuously opposed this policy).

Originally posted at Invictus and The Public Record

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