Journalist Michael Otterman, author of the excellent book, American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, was kind enough to forward to me some months ago a document he obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. The document consists of the after-action reports made by Colonel Steven Kleinman and Terrence Russell, two of the three team members sent by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) to a top-secret special operations facility in Iraq in September 2003.
The reports, written shortly after both JPRA officials finished their assignment, present two starkly different accounts of what took place that late summer in the depths of a JSOC torture chamber. Even more remarkable, Col. Kleinman, who famously intervened to stop torture interrogations at the facility, had his own report submitted to Russell for comment. Indeed, Kleinman’s report as released contains interpolations by Russell, such that the documents become a kind of ersatz debate over torture by the JPRA team members, and at a distance, some of the Task Force members.
This extraordinary document is being posted here in full for the first time. Click here to download.
Kleinman told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which in 2008 was investigating detainee abuse in the military (large PDF), that he thought as Team Leader (and Intelligence Director at JPRA’s Personnel Recovery Academy) he was being sent to the Special Mission Unit Task Force interrogation facility to identify problems with their interrogation program.
Much to his surprise, he and his JPRA team were being asked to provide training in the kind of techniques originally used only for demonstration and “classroom” experience purposes in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE program. (JPRA has organizational supervisory control over SERE, though the constituent arms of the military services retain some independence in how they run their programs.)
But not far into his mission, JPRA’s Commander, Colonel Randy Moulton, told Kleinman and his team they were “‘cleared hot’ to employ the full range of JPRA methods to include specifically the following: Walling – Sleep Deprivation – Isolation – Physical Pressures (to include stress positions, facial and stomach slaps, and finger pokes to chest) – Space/Time Disorientation – White Noise”.
The story of the JPRA team visit and how it went bad, how Kleinman intervened when he saw a kneeling prisoner being repeatedly slapped, how he refused to write up a torture interrogation protocol for use at the TF facility — widely believed to be Task Force 20 (as reported by Jane Mayer in her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals) — has been told at this point a number of times.
But never has the degree of acrimony and conflict that went on between Kleinman and his other JPRA team members, and the back and forth with superiors and TF personnel been so carefully detailed.
Russell, who was a civilian manager for JPRA’s Research and Development division, was in particular open about why the team had been sent, and who they were helping. Kleinman, on the other hand, explained in his report at the outset that a nondisclosure agreement put “significant limitations on the details of our actions that can be reported herein.”
Russell was not so reticent. He’s quite clear the purpose of the TDY (temporary assignment) was “To provide support to on-going interrogation efforts being conducted by JSOC/TF-20 elements at their Battlefield Interrogation Facility (BIF)…. At the request of JSOC, a JPRA support team was formed to advice [sic] and assist in on-going interrogations against hostile elements operating against Coalition Forces in Iraq. The mission of the TF-20 interrogation element, J2-X, was to exploit captured enemy personnel and extract timely, actionable intelligence to support operations that would lead to the capture of ‘Black List’ and other high-value and terrorist personnel.”
According to Russell, “TF-20′s deputy commander and JPRA/CC [that is, Commander, who was Col. Randy Moulton] approved the support team to become fully engaged in interrogation operations and demonstrate our exploitation tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to the J2-X staff.”
“A lack of clear guidance”
Whatever the understanding of the team when it arrived, from the very beginning there was a debate over the “effectiveness” of the techniques being discussed. Kleinman noted “a lack of clear guidance on the legal status of the detainees and the absence of definitive directions pertaining to the treatment of those detainees.”
According to the 2008 SASC report, TF-20 was operating under the same interrogation SOP that a similar special forces task force had used in Afghanistan. But this was also a time when there was a lot of turmoil with the Department of Defense over exactly what interrogation techniques were “legal.” Indeed, only days before Kleinman and his team arrived at the BIF, Major General Geoffrey Miller had come to Iraq to assess detention and interrogation operations five months after the invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces. He was counseled the military in Iraq to “get tougher with detainees.”
The 2002 Special Forces TF interrogation SOP for Afghanistan is apparently still classified, but we know from other sources that it included use of sensory overload (“loud music”), sleep deprivation, 20-hour interrogations, stress positions, “controlled fear,” and use of dogs, among other torture techniques.
Once at the BIF, Kleinman saw “clear violations” of the Geneva Conventions and “acted to terminate the activity,” according to his own after-action report. It’s amazing to then have the opportunity to see what the other senior JPRA-SERE official at the site had to say.
Russell commented on this portion of Kleinman’s report: “I think the clear violation of the TF policy was of a minor nature — that being a 10-minute extension of the kneeling policy. The use of insult slaps was, in the opinion of [one or two words redacted], serious enough to stop the interrogation — an action I did not then or now feel warranted his [Kleinman's] direct intervention…. This direct intervention by JPRA staff, vs. having their own chain of command step in, resulted in irrevocable damage of our relationship with [TF] staff.”
While Russell was given an opportunity to counter Kleinman’s narrative, Kleinman received no such reciprocal courtesy. He told me in a voicemail message in January 2012 he had written his report assuming it was “eyes only for the commander.”
He continued: “And oddly enough, I never saw Terry’s [i.e., Terrence Russell's report] until months and months later, I think when the investigation started. And what I didn’t know was Terry was given immediate access to mine and was able to try to respond point for point without me being able to respond to his responses. Also my copy, when I went to look for it on the official email, had disappeared for quite a while. And so anyway, there was a lot of weird things going on at the time, as you can imagine.”
The “Effectiveness” Question
A full analysis of this remarkable document would take up too much space for a blog post, but it’s important to point out one exchange between Kleinman and Russell in regards to differences over the “effectiveness” of the SERE and other interrogation and torture techniques, as the discussion strangely presages the debate about the efficacy of torture that has surrounded the controversial film Zero Dark Thirty.
Kleinman argued to his commander in his after-action report, “While JPRA simulates methods employed by nations not compliant with the GC [Geneva Convention] provisions, U.S. interrogators are bound by federal law to operate in strict accordance with those guidelines. [2 lines redacted] Intelligence interrogation involved, to a considerable degree, the recruitment of a detainee’s willing cooperation through the skilled employment of psychological levers that do not include the presentation of threats either explicitly or implicitly.”
Russell countered: “While some few of the tools employed, namely some physical pressures, are outside GC guidelines, [1-1/2 lines redacted] This is routinely done with little use of tactics prohibited by the GCs.”
Kleinman then discussed his own experiences as an interrogator, concluding, “… the use of non-coercive methods have proven far more effective in obtaining reliable and actionable intelligence than coercive methods. Recent studies of interrogation in support of the global war on terrorism corroborate this finding; conversely, the use of coercive methods has consistently proven to be ineffective and counterproductive.”
Russell took umbrage at this, and referencing studies on interrogation done at Guantanamo, made his case for the use of coercive techniques, unconsciously echoing the words of Bruce Jessen, made years before in notes for the construction of a SERE instruction class that he and James Mitchell (and possibly others) would reverse-engineer into the “enhanced interrogation program” of the Bush years.
“In regards to the recent study on effectiveness at GTMO,” Russell wrote, “of which there is plenty of room to debate whether or not that have had [sic] much success, there are a number of major variables not here addressed. GTMO is a strategic interrogation/debriefing facility — not a battlefield interrogation facility. In addition, a key component of the process of exploiting a source is to get them to a mental state of despair and recognition of the omnipotence of the interrogator. Once in that state, the exploiter can offer a way out — namely cooperation via non-coercive methods. At GTMO they have the luxury of holding a person for 18-24 months in a facility cut off from family, country, and support systems, with seemingly no end in site [sic], that would cause most rationale [sic] persons to move into a state of despair. A battlefield/tactical interrogation facility does not have that time luxury — the requirement to put a resistant detainee into a state of despair must and can be accelerated though the use of coercive exploitation applied IAW [in accordance with] directives, well-considered SOPs and ROEs [Rules of Engagement]. Once there, non-coercive methods are employed to gain the reliable information sought.”
Russell’s statement is remarkable enough, but I asked Kleinman some time ago what “effectiveness” studies he and Russell were referring to. Kleinman told me that he was referring to many different kinds of studies going back to the Cold War years. He didn’t believe Russell had any “study on effectiveness at GTMO” that he could actually refer to.
But after checking around, I discovered there appears to be such a study done by Major General Miller himself. In early 2003, Miller, who was then Commander Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, had submitted a document to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Working Group on interrogations, looking into what extended set of coercive methods would be allowable for use by DoD interrogators. Miller titled his four page paper, Effectiveness of the Use of Certain Category II Counter-resistance Strategies. It was published later as Enclosure 66 of the Schmidt-Furlow Report, “Investigation into Federal Bureau of Investigation Allegations of Detainee Abuse at Guantánamo Bay Detention Center.”
According to the ACLU, the memo “is a response to the Director’s request for info concerning the effectiveness of interrogation techniques approved by the Secretary of Defense. ‘Included with this memo is a timeline of interrogation techniques used, info obtained as a result and justifications for their use’, but this info is either redacted or not present. ‘Numerous detainees demonstrated counter-resistance techniques. Consequently, [redacted] Commander, JTF-170 requested authorization to employ specific techniques in addition to those in the Field Manual. These techniques were approved by the Secretary of Defense.’”
I can’t know for sure if this was Russell’s GTMO “effectiveness” document or not, but it would seem like a prime candidate (unless Kleinman was right and Russell never knew of any actual study). Since the document is nearly entirely censored, we can’t know for sure, nor we do know how such “effectiveness” was studied.
I was unable to find a way to reach Russell to obtain his comment.
Today, Kleinman is Director for Strategic Research for The Soufan Group, according to a webpage at the company’s website.
High-Value Interrogation Group and Current Research on Interrogation “Effectiveness”
The current official DoD directive on interrogation specifically disallows the use of SERE-derived interrogation techniques. However, it does task the Director, Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC), with “assessment of the effectiveness of intelligence interrogations.”
According to a March 2011 report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (large PDF), the administration’s High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG) is currently responsible for some of this research. The report states, “The HIG also has responsibilities concerning improving the training of interrogators and sponsoring research on interrogation.” Presumably, that includes research on the “effectiveness” of interrogation methods.
How that research is conducted, and the ethics that inform such a project, are kept secret. Recently, however, one HIG researcher, psychologist Susan Brandon, who also works for DCHC, was known to be involved in research on the case of the supposed (and confessed) Iranian-American would-be assassin, Mansour Arbabsiar.
The HIG’s tasking for interrogation research was echoed in remarks to the press by then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair in February 2010, according to a story by AFP.
An elite US interrogation unit will conduct “scientific research” to find better ways of questioning top suspected terrorists, US intelligence director Dennis Blair said Wednesday.
“It is going to do scientific research on that long-neglected area,” Blair told the House Intelligence Committee, without elaborating on the nature of the techniques being tested.
A spokesman for Blair, Ross Feinstein, also declined to detail “specific research projects” but stressed that any such projects would follow US law, which forbids torture, and abide by internal review safeguards.
All Photos by Shrieking Tree under Creative Commons License