30+ torture memos remain sealed while thousands of torture photos will eventually be released. Be prepared: Learn the deep history of US torture in SERE, Vietnam, Latin America, GMTO, Black Sites and beyond in American Torture.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

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

Posted by Valtin at 9:53 PM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake


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


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


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


Why Was the Evaluation Written?


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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



Also posted at Invictus

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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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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Torture Planners: "Why are we talking about this in the White House?"

Posted by Valtin at 3:13 PM |

In a very interesting follow-up to the unfolding story on the 2003 John Yoo memorandum that justified the use of torture, ABC news is reporting how the CIA came to the White House after the spring 2002 capture of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan and asked for permission to use more "aggressive" interrogation techniques. Citing anonymous sources, ABC says that beginning with the Zubaydah case, "the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency." These discussions evidently included the use of waterboarding, as the CIA has admitted using this torture technique on Zubaydah.

The "Principals" -- high-level Bush administration officials -- present included National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice, who chaired the meetings, "Vice President Cheney... Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft."

While Ashcroft is said to have signed off on the legality of the interrogations, he got squeamish about how it was being approved. Perhaps he was afraid of future legal and political consequences. Perhaps he remembered how the secrets of the Wannsee Conference were ultimately leaked. Per the ABC story (also reported over at Reuters):

Lawyers in the Justice Department had written a classified memo, which was extensively reviewed, that gave formal legal authority to government interrogators to use the "enhanced" questioning tactics on suspected terrorist prisoners. The August 2002 memo, signed by then head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, was referred to as the so-called "Golden Shield" for CIA agents, who worried they would be held liable if the harsh interrogations became public.....

But even after the "Golden Shield" was in place, briefings and meetings in the White House to discuss individual interrogations continued, sources said. Tenet, seeking to protect his agents, regularly sought confirmation from the NSC principals that specific interrogation plans were legal....

Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas....

Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
Despite Ashcroft's qualms -- mainly concerned with his political neck, not the safety of prisoners -- the Principals "approved interrogations... pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department's own legal approval." Condi Rice was said to be particularly forceful in giving the CIA power to torture (with Powell echoing Ashcroft's wimpy protests).

As the blogger buhdydharma in an article today, the new revelations "clearly point to a high level, willful conspiracy to commit torture." Beyond the question of conspiracy, serious violations of a number of laws that prohibit torture and inhumane treatment have also been broken. Courtesy of Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First own examination of criminal laws governing laws on torture, let's review what Ashcroft, Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Tenet, and possibly others, may find themselves vulnerable with aggressive prosecution (for footnotes, please refer to original via link):

The recent amendments to the War Crimes Act establish as war crimes “grave breaches” of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions,10 including “torture” and “cruel or inhuman treatment.”11 “Torture” is characterized, in pertinent part, as “an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”12 The separate war crime of “cruel or inhuman treatment,” is defined as “an act intended to inflict severe or serious physical or mental pain or suffering.”13

For the crime of torture under the WCA14 and the Torture Act,15 severe mental pain or suffering is defined as “the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from” several specified actions, including “the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering” and “the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mindaltering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.”16

For the WCA crime of “cruel or inhuman treatment,” serious mental pain or suffering is defined as “the serious and non-transitory mental harm (which need not be prolonged) caused by or resulting from” the same specified actions.17

The Detainee Treatment Act requires that “no person in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (CIDT).”18 The DTA defines CIDT as conduct prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Since the "CIA’s reported “enhanced” interrogation techniques cause the types of physical and mental anguish that are criminalized under the WCA and other laws," it's clear that top administration officials have committed war crimes.

But what are the governmental officials, including elected members of the legislature, going to do about it? Certainly we can expect nothing from Mukasey's Justice Department, which has all but signed off even on waterboarding, and refuses to rule out evidence obtained by same. Rep. Conyers has asked John Woo to appear at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee next month. Meanwhile, the story barely reaches the significance of the front pages in the U.S. press.

This is not surprising, as the Executive Branch of the U.S. government has gotten away with the criminal execution of an illegal, pre-emptive war in Iraq, even when the evidence for this was placed in the public domain for all to see (going back at least to the publication of the Downing Street memos). Reportedly, the congressional offices of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats receive emails and faxes demanding action, up to and including the initiation of impeachment hearings in the House. All to no avail.

The poet William Blake wrote over two hundred years ago:
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
We know that this is more than enough to put the criminal leadership of the Bush administration away in prison for many years. Therefore, enough!!

Give us our bill of indictment. Give us our impartial jury to examine the evidence. Give us justice. Failing this, I shudder to think what monstrous conclusion is being prepared for us in the bowels of history.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why Bush Defends Secret Torture Techniques

Posted by Valtin at 11:17 PM |

"Alternative procedures." "Valuable tools in the war on terror." "Specialized interrogation procedures." "Safe and lawful techniques." "Good policies."

George W. Bush has more euphemisms for torture than his creepy Veep, Cheney, has expletives on supply.

On Saturday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush announced his veto of the Congressional Intelligence bill, which included a ban on CIA use of certain "enhanced" interrogation methods, like waterboarding. Bush defended the use of the so-called "alternative procedures" practiced by the CIA, as necessary for field intelligence officers interrogating "hardened terrorists." The play upon the fear of Americans of terrorist attack in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 events turns upon well-understood traumatic mechanisms in the human psyche.

But I want to concentrate on one telling aspect of Bush's torture apologia. Regarding the attempt by Congress to limit the intelligence agencies to interrogation practices based upon the Army Field Manual (which forbids use of hooding, waterboarding, sexual humiliation, etc.), Bush said (emphasis added):
Limiting the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods to those in the Army field manual would be dangerous because the manual is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that key Al Qaida operatives had been trained to resist the methods outlined in the manual. And this is why we created alternative procedures to question the most dangerous Al Qaida operatives, particularly those who might have knowledge of attacks planned on our homeland. The best source of information about terrorist attacks is the terrorists themselves. If we were to shut down this program and restrict the C.I.A. to methods in the field manual, we could lose vital information from senior Al Qaida terrorists, and that could cost American lives.
While Bush touts various terrorist operations foiled by use of torture, a major Congressional player had a different view:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he had heard nothing to suggest that the CIA, through enhanced interrogation methods, had obtained information to thwart a terrorist attack.

Secrets, Secrets, Secrets... Shhh!

The secret "enhanced" CIA interrogation techniques were authorized by Bush in July 2006, in a secret Executive Order vetted by Steven Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel. This authorization was needed after a 2006 Supreme Court decision had determined that Al Qaida prisoners were subject to the Geneva Conventions. Even earlier secret recommendations -- most famously, then-new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's February 2005 memorandum recommending government torture, which only came to light last year -- demonstrated the tenacity of the Bush Administration's quest to give the CIA and possibly other intelligence agencies the green light for torture.

In his radio address, Bush claims that if the terrorists had access to government interrogation methods, they would be able to prepare themselves to withstand the torture. Indeed, this is the rationale for the 50-year-old military SERE program. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and each branch of the military conducts its own version of it. It was SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who were accused by a Pentagon Office of Inspector General Report last year of reverse-engineering SERE training into torture instruction to U.S. military/CIA forces abroad. (Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair also wrote a great article on this matter last summer.)

So I suppose this is what Bush is referring to when he says that the government had to create "alternative procedures" to counter the presumed wiliness of the "hardened terrorists." Except this is a lie. As regular readers of my blog know, government torture has been well-researched for over 50 years. It also went operational around the same time. The not-unsavvy terrorists certainly know where to go on the Internet to read the CIA's KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation Manual, declassified by the United States in the 1990s, or any of a number of books openly for sale that describe the same.

The KUBARK manual describes the use of fear, isolation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, sleep deprivation, fear, and other techniques to induce regression and dependency in prisoners, in order to make them malleable to an experienced interrogator. SERE techniques were derived from presumed extreme sorts of torture that could be encountered by U.S. servicemen who found themselves prisoners of a government or group who didn't follow the Geneva Conventions. How ironic that the most famous state to announce it wouldn't follow Geneva protocols would be... the United States!

Bush does have a point. Knowledge of torture techniques and counter-measures can help a prisoner subjected to torture or cruel treatment, up to a point. Personality factors play a much larger role, as the KUBARK manual points out (including a CIA bibliography on the subject). Besides, there's a multitude of sources available for the enemy government or sophisticated organization to gather such information. The Congressional bill does not discuss torture counter-measures, to my knowledge.

The government -- and Bush is following advice from the CIA -- wants to keep its torture techniques secret because when a detainee does not know what's coming, it increases anxiety and fear, which creates greater confusion and psychological regression. In the spook biz, they call this extending the "shock of capture."

And then there is the political raison d'etre: Bush doesn't want the general public to know what barbarities are practiced in their name. Unfortunately, there are still too many Americans willing to play ostrich and pretend they don't know what's going on, ducking behind Bush and his surrogates's platitudes and lying homilies. Meanwhile, Bush's congressional critics (mostly Democrats) portray the Army Field Manual as providing a "bright line" between torture and acceptable interrogation technique.

Except this isn't true, either. The Army Field Manual's Appendix M allows selective use of CIA KUBARK-style torture, including use of isolation (also used at Guantanamo today), sleep deprivation, "harsh" induction of fear and play upon a detainees phobias, and the use of sensory deprivation goggles and gloves -- and this despite the fact the AFM in its main text says it forbids use of sensory deprivation. (The NY Times article and others on AFM often mention the use of isolation, wrongly reporting it as limited to 30 days, and not mentioning at all the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation goggles, and "fear up harsh" techniques.)

The Torture Issue Won't End When Bush Is Gone

Spywork is famously presented as a house of mirrors, a wasteland of lies and deceptions. Bush's radio address/veto continues this grand tradition of obfuscation and doublespeak. And it's clear where the lame duck president gets his marching orders. From today's New York Times:
In a memo to CIA employees Saturday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the Army Field Manual does not "exhaust the universe" of lawful interrogation techniques. ""There are methods in the CIA's program that have been briefed to our oversight committees, are fully consistent with the Geneva Convention and current U.S. law and are most certainly not torture," Hayden wrote.

We are very, very far from cleaning up this mess. In the choice between secret CIA torture and its somewhat cleaned up Army Field Manual version, there's very little to make a human rights advocate very happy. The Democratic candidates have made some stir that they would change things, stop the torture, and from Obama, the secret renditions, too; restore habeas corpus, etc. But they aren't exactly out front on the issue, and seem susceptible to military influence, and threats they are "too soft" on "terrorism."

Torture is a hydra-headed beast. It exists around the world, and the U.S. is hardly alone, even among Western so-called democracies, in practicing the barbaric "question." It will take a mass movement, something akin to the abolition of slavery or women's rights movements of the 19th century to change this fundamental evil in human society. For now, we must fight as we can, and try to undo the deadly combination of militarism, self-satisfied careerism, greed and bloodlust that has characterized the Bush torture regime.

One could do worse than to follow right now this hyperlink to Physicians for Human Rights website page on fighting torture. A long journey must begin with some first step.

Also posted at Invictus

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Torture and "Inevitable Demoralization," from 1902 to the Present

Posted by Valtin at 2:51 PM |

Paul Kramer at The New Yorker has written a fascinating look at the use of torture by U.S. troops in the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. Back then, the U.S. was accused of using the infamous "water cure" upon Philippine "insurgents." A then-atypical confession by pro-war Judge Wiliam Howard Taft, head of the pro-U.S. Philippine Commission, described the technique:
The cruelties that have been inflicted; that people have been shot when they ought not to have been; that there have been in individual instances of water cure, that torture which I believe involves pouring water down the throat so that the man swells and gets the impression that he is going to be suffocated and then tells what he knows, which was a frequent treatment under the Spaniards, I am told—all these things are true.
Kramer's article describes the political maneuvering around the torture scandal of that time, in ways that are eerily similar to today's debates. What's different, of course, is that other, more psychological forms of torture have been added since those early days of American imperialist wars. (Over 4,000 U.S. soldiers died in the conflict, and total Philippine deaths, both military and civilian, are estimated to be between a quarter of a million to one million people. It's worth noting that U.S. military activities against Philippine "insurgents" or "brigands" continued until at least 1913.)

Rendition (Deadly) Games: New Revelations

Increasingly, the U.S. is out-sourcing its more barbaric, old-fashioned use of torture to foreign torturers, sending its prisoners secretly via "extraordinary rendition" to sites in countries like Egypt, Morocco, and Uzbekistan. The extent of this secret program of kidnapping and torture is still being assessed via ongoing revelations in the press. In today's UK Telegraph, a former British special forces soldier, Ben Griffin, has charged that the British government was far more complicit in these activities than previously known.
Mr Griffin said the SAS was part of a joint US/UK unit which captured suspected terrorist who were then spirited away for interrogation....

Mr Griffin, who served for three months in Baghdad, added: "I have no doubt in my mind that non-combatants I personally detained were handed over to the Americans and subsequently tortured.

"It is only since I have left the Army and I have read the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on Torture that I realised that we have broken so many of these conventions and treaties in Iraq."
Other recent press reports have implicated other European Union member states -- Poland and Romania -- in aiding the U.S. in their rendition program. A recent New York Times article details U.S. complicity in the infamous Operation Condor program of the 1970-1980s, where a number of Latin American countries "helped one another locate, transport, torture and ultimately make disappear dissidents across their borders, and even collaborated on assassination operations in Europe and the United States."

Meanwhile, currently, we have the hoopla over the recent Senate bill that restricts the CIA to the interrogation protocols of the Army Field Manual masks the fact that the AFM authorizes the use of psychological methods of torture, including sleep and sensory deprivation, and prolonged isolation. President Bush is threatening to veto the bill as too restrictive on CIA operations.

Wither Our Humanity?

Towards the end of his New Yorker piece, Kramer remarks on how the scandal over torture eventually faded away. A few officers had their hands slapped. Commissions took contradictory testimony; editorials fired bombastic fusillades. But in the end, the barbarity was covered up, filed away, and forgotten (until now).

Kramer quotes an extraordinary article from the time (bold emphases are mine, and please forgive my quoting also the racist jargon, indicative of that era):
As early as April 16, 1902, the New York World described the “American Public” sitting down to eat its breakfast with a newspaper full of Philippine atrocities:
It sips its coffee and reads of its soldiers administering the “water cure” to rebels; of how water with handfuls of salt thrown in to make it more efficacious, is forced down the throats of the patients until their bodies become distended to the point of bursting; of how our soldiers then jump on the distended bodies to force the water out quickly so that the “treatment” can begin all over again. The American Public takes another sip of its coffee and remarks, “How very unpleasant!”
“But where is that vast national outburst of astounded horror which an old-fashioned America would have predicted at the reading of such news?” the World asked. “Is it lost somewhere in the 8,000 miles that divide us from the scenes of these abominations? Is it led astray by the darker skins of the alien race among which these abominations are perpetrated? Or is it rotted away by that inevitable demoralization which the wrong-doing of a great nation must inflict on the consciences of the least of its citizens?”
It is difficult to hang onto principles of justice and morality in a society that has become inured to the worst crimes and inhuman behaviors. The memory of events may be forgotten, but they live on in the societal failure to embrace history, in the cynicism and despair towards institutions and belief systems, and in the cries of untold victims whose pleas for mercy and justice echo soundlessly into the void.

Is this our future? Or are we already there?

Crossposted at Invictus

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