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While Texas Dismisses Torture Charges Against James Mitchell, Other Investigations Under Political Pressures

6:16 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

Danny Robbins at Associated Press reported last Friday that the Texas State Board of Examiners dismissed a licensing complaint filed by a Texas psychologist against former SERE psychologist James Mitchell. Mitchell was accused of “violating the standards demanded by the Psychologists‘ Licensing Act and the Board‘s Rules of Practice” (PDF). Specifically, the complaint cited Mitchell’s role in the design and implementation of a torture program, “ignoring the complete lack of a scientific basis for the regime‘s safety and—assuming its safety—its effectiveness,” as well as his actual participation in the torture of prisoners such as Abu Zubaydah.

The complaint against Mitchell was filed on June 16, 2010, and was signed by Texas psychologist Jim L.H. Cox. Attorneys Dicky Grigg and Joseph Margulies were also signatories to the complaint. Grigg and Margulies have also represented Guantanamo prisoners before the government.

According to the AP story, “The board said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Mitchell violated its rules,” despite the fact that “thousands of pages of evidence, including sworn testimony, tying Mitchell to practices that violate professional ethics” were presented to the board. It is not known if Mitchell utilized in his board defense any of the $5 million “indemnity” defense fund set up by the CIA for use in legal defense for Michell and his CIA contractor partner, Bruce Jessen.

The hearing was held on February 10. Proceedings were held in secret session, and only Mitchell and his representative were present before the three board members. No complainants were at the hearing. Two days later, the board issued its finding of dismissal. Strangely, no reports of the Texas board decision surfaced for another two weeks.

As AP notes, the Mitchell decision follows the dismissal of other cases brought before boards in New York, Ohio, and Louisiana, concerning other military psychologists, Major John Leso and Colonel Larry James. Late last year, the Center for Justice and Accountability and the New York ACLU filed asked a New York court “to order the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) to perform its duty to investigate a complaint of professional misconduct against Dr. John Francis Leso, who, as asserted in the complaint, violated professional standards when he designed and participated in the abusive interrogation program at Guantánamo.”

Worldwide Actions to Hold the Torturers Accountable

The decision of the Texas state board also comes in the context of a number of legal actions worldwide to bring the Bush-era torturers to justice. Lawyers and international human rights activists and organizations continue to press for investigations and prosecutions of the torture of Abu Zubaydah and other “high-value” detainees held in CIA black site prisons around the world, or sent to foreign countries for torture as part of the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program.

Most recently, the Spanish National Court announced it had the competent standing to proceed with the investigations into the torture of former Guantanamo prisoner Lahcen Ikassrien, since he had been a Spanish resident for 13 years. Center for Constitutional Rights said in regards to the decision:

Since the U.S. government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the U.S. torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity.

Meanwhile, in Poland, where the U.S. constructed one of the CIA black site prisons, authorities were stymied in their efforts to secure U.S. cooperation into their country’s investigation into the CIA activities at the black site near the Szymany air base in northern Poland. The Obama administration cited an international Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, whereby “a country has the right to refuse to provide legal assistance if the execution of the request would encroach on this country’s security or another interest of this country.” Requests for an investigation were forwarded by legal represenatives of former CIA prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

In a direct rebuff to the United States, a Polish state prosecutor last January became “the first state official to accept Abu Zubaydah’s claims that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland.” Zubaydah is being represented by Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski, who is working with the British human rights charities Interights and Reprieve, in addition to U.S. lawyers Joseph Margulies and Brent Mickum. Al-Nashiri was recognized as a “victim” of torture by Polish authorities last fall.

In Lithuania, where other black site prisons also operated, presumably near Vilnius, state authorities meanwhile have dropped investigations into torture, rendition and CIA activities. After initial support for an investigation of the prisons — one of them constructed at a former horse riding club — Prosecutor Darius Valys announced in January that the investigation was over. According to a report by Reprieve, Valys admitted “that three ex-security services agents had ‘abused their position’” but “oddly stopped short of addressing allegations of serious official crimes, including torture and illegal imprisonment.” In addition, the Lithuanian prosecutor made a pro forma nod to expired statutes of limitation, and also a bizarre charge that NGO “lack of transparency” had harmed the investigation.

Attorney Joseph Margulies replied, “The Prosecutor is trying to deflect blame for the failure of his investigation onto NGOs and the media. It’s ironic that an official investigation into a secret torture facility should claim to be thwarted because the media is insufficiently transparent.”

UK State Investigation Blasted by Human Rights Groups

A British government investigation into UK complicity with U.S. torture programs, announced last July after revelations in the UK court case on Binyam Mohamed, has met criticism from almost the beginning. In particular, the decision to have Sir Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA), lead the investigation was questioned from the very start.

At this point, a number of British NGOs are so concerned that the inquiry, according to the UK Guardian,  “will fail to meet the UK’s obligations under international and domestic law,” that they are considering boycotting the proceedings. Nine of the NGOs – Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, JUSTICE, Liberty, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Redress, Reprieve, the AIRE Centre and British Irish Rights Watch — have written a letter to Gibson expressing their concerns.

The letter is substantive and detailed, and includes discussion of whether the inquiry as currently constituted can meet Article 3 (prohibition against torture) requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) regarding promptness, independence, and thoroughness. In addition, the NGO signatories note the insufficiency of public scrutiny and victim participation, the lack of effective remedy and redress for victims, secrecy invoked over the material to be presented, and “the lack of any current powers to compel the production of documents or the attendance of witnesses.”

Another outstanding issue facing the inquiry concerns the last British resident in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer. As Andy Worthington pointed out in an article on the torture inquiry, due to begin this coming week, Aamer “is still held despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007, when President Bush was still in power.” Aamer is the only British torture prisoner to directly claim “that British agents were in the room when he was tortured by US operatives in the US prison in Kandahar prior to his transfer to Guantánamo in February 2002.” Worthington notes that the British inquiry “cannot legitimately begin while he is still held,” as Aamer is a crucial witness as to UK participation, “whose testimony Sir Peter Gibson will need to hear if the inquiry is to have any credibility.”

What Is to Be Done?

It is perhaps unavoidable that the efforts to establish investigations and promote accountability have been led by attorneys and human rights activists (most of them attorneys, too, by the way). As a result, the movement for accountability appears to rise and fall based on the legal decisions of governments, administrative boards, military commissions, and non-U.S. governmental prosecutors. While these legal actions are necessary, and the lawyers and NGO personnel involved deserve our thanks, at the same time the anti-torture movement suffers from an over-reliance on legalism at the expense of social struggle to end the use of torture.

On the other end of the spectrum, groups that promote local activism to bring justice to torture victims or accountability to war criminals like John Yoo, tend to get lost in overly parochial approaches, which when they fail, as in the case of the defeat of a Berkeley, California measure to endorse resettling cleared Guantanamo detainees in that city, promote demoralization and/or endless rounds of campaigning, with little or no progress. While such activists also deserve praise for their efforts, behind the scenes they too express frustration over what course of action might bring greater success.

The underlying problem is political, and lies in a refusal to take on the legitimacy of the so-called “war on terror,” which the U.S. uses as an excuse for the extension of its power abroad in support of corporations that seek to extend their economic influence and power, and which are interpenetrated with the U.S. military and intelligence establishment in that effort. It is apposite to notice, too, the efforts of the government to interdict and obstruct the work of anti-government critics, as the recent revelations surrounding FBI abuse and HBGary make abundantly clear.

In addition, effective action means taking on the misleadership and perfidy of both political parties, both Democratic and Republican. The Obama administration’s refusal to investigate war crimes, and its implication in ongoing war crimes (abuse of prisoners, assassination, use of drones) has not seriously been challenged by the liberal establishment.

The issue of U.S. or British torture is not really separable from issues of war abroad and domestic crackdown on civil liberties at home. Nor is it separable from the economic policies of the United States, which under both political parties has favored the enrichment of a privileged class over the immiseration of large portions of the population.

Nothing demonstrates the bankruptcy of the current ruling elites than the use of torture and assassination. The fight against torture must mean a full political assault against the legitimacy of a state apparatus and its defenders, who use such horrific means as torture as a bulwark against those who they fear challenge their rule and privileges. It must also involve the full use of the social power of civil society (unions, churches, professional organizations), which thus far have remained wedded to leaderships that will not challenge the electoral mastery of a morally and politically bankrupt two-party system.

SF Chronicle Columnist Slimes Waterboarding Victim in Bid to Stop Berkeley Resolution on Guantanamo Detainees

12:40 pm in Afghanistan, Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

How thoughtlessly do the apologists for America’s gulag at Guantanamo defame those who have been seriously tortured!

San Francisco Chronicle/SF Gate columnist Debra Saunders has written a hit piece against activists in Berkeley who are seeking to pass a City Council resolution to resettle cleared Guantanamo detainees within the city limits of this college town for the University of California, the home of the Free Speech Movement, People’s Park, and also known for other antiwar and progressive causes over the years. A vote on the resolution before the Berkeley City Council is scheduled for Tuesday night, February 15.

Last December, the City of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission passed a recommendation asking the Berkeley City Council to adopt the resolution, officially called “Resolution to Assist in the Safe Resettlement of Cleared Guantanamo Detainees.” A full copy of the resolution is available here. Sponsors include No More Guantanamos; Code Pink Women for Peace, Golden Gate Chapter;  Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture (UC Law School); Ecumenical Peace Institute; Legislative Committee, Tenants Assn., Strawberry Creek Lodge (senior citizens); and others.

The Water Torture of Djamel Ameziane

It’s no surprise to discover that Saunders’ column was picked up by a number of conservative outlets, especially as it retails the lie that the detainees are dangerous, or likely to “return” to terrorism if released. Besides uncritically accepting Department of Defense figures, she lies about what they actually say, and then tries to impugn the stories of the two Guantanamo detainees mentioned by the Berkeley commission, one of whom, Algerian Berber Djamel Ameziane, has the distinction of being the only Guantanamo prisoner to have suffered a form of waterboarding.

Petitioned by lawyers from Center for Constitutional Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, intervened on Ameziane’s case in 2008 with the U.S. State Department to ask for guarantees of humane treatment for Ameziane.

From the petition before the Inter-American Commission, p. 24 (PDF):

In another violent incident, guards entered his cell and forced him to the floor, kneeing him in the back and ribs and slamming his head against the floor, turning it left and right. The bashing dislocated Mr. Ameziane’s jaw, from which he still suffers. In the same episode, guards sprayed cayenne pepper all over his body and then hosed him down with water to accentuate the effect of the pepper spray and make his skin burn. They then held his head back and placed a water hose between his nose and mouth, running it for several minutes over his face and suffocating him, an operation they repeated several times. Mr. Ameziane writes, “I had the impression that my head was sinking in water. I still have psychological injuries, up to this day. Simply thinking of it gives me the chills.”

Ameziane left discrimination against his Berber ancestry and his Muslim faith, and the chaos of civil war in Algeria in the early 1990s, as a young man in his 20s to work in Vienna, where — yes, Debra Saunders — he was the highest-paid chef  at the well-known Italian restaurant Al Caminetto Trattoria. But Ameziane ultimately lost his work permit, due to anti-immigrant hysteria in Austria, and then went to Canada, where he spent five years waiting upon his claim for political asylum. Only after it was denied did Ameziane leave for Afghanistan in 2000, believing that the only place for him after all might be an Islamic country that ruled with Sharia law. After 9/11 and the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, he was arrested in a mosque and later turned over to the Americans, probably for bounty money.

Saunders quotes Thomas Joscelyn, right-wing columnist and senior fellow for the neo-conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, as writing that Ameziane must have been a jihadist, because he was caught in a lodging supposedly owned by Abu Zubaydah, and that “to ‘gain admittance to a Taliban guesthouse, recruits need a certified Taliban or al Qaeda member to vouch for their commitment’ to jihad.” Except, Zubaydah was never a member of the Taliban or al Qaeda, and the guesthouse was not associated with them either. But what do such little facts matter to these conservative hirelings for the torturers?

In fact, not only were the others captured at this “safe house” later released or cleared by the Americans, but two different Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearings for Ameziane found that “while in Afghanistan, the detainee did not receive any military or terrorist training and did not see any fighting.” Nor was any evidence of any terrorist or military activities ever produced.  ”Has Ameziane been cleared by U.S. authorities? Not that I can find,” writes Saunders. Perhaps she never read the Reuters headline: Obama team clears 75 at Guantanamo for release. Nor is she likely aware that the Anglican Diocese of Montreal has said they would sponsor his settlement in Canada.

Russian Prisoner Already Welcomed by Massachusetts Towns

Saunders also attacks the other Guantanamo detainee mentioned by the Berkeley commission as a possible candidate for resettlement, Ravil Mingazov, a former Russian ballet dancer, who was conscripted into the Russian army and performed for two years in the Army’s ballet troupe. A convert to Islam, he found himself subjected to discrimination in Russia, had his house ransacked by the KGB (according to a report by Andy Worthington), and like Ameziane and many others left for what they thought of as an Islamic refuge in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Mingazov has already been sponsored for settlement in resolutions similar to that up for vote in Berkeley, specifically in the Massachusetts towns of Amherst and Leverett. The Guantanamo prisoner, the last Russian to be held in the U.S. torture prison in Cuba, was granted his habeas corpus petition last Spring. In his opinion (PDF), Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. noted that the only real “evidence” supplied by the government was Minagzov’s stay overnight at Issa House, owned by Abu Zubaydah. But the government could not prove that the house was associated with al Qaeda, Kennedy wrote. Nor could the government prove for the purposes of even a habeas hearing that Mingazov had ever been at a training or terrorist camp, or involved with the Taliban or al Qeada. He was a classic case of the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Court simply will not conclude that a one-night stay at Abu Zubaydah’s house, where Mingazov was unable to communicate with most if not all other occupants, from which he was sent away shortly after his arrival, and which goes in no way to show that Mingazov was part of Al Qaeda’s command structure, meets the standard for lawful detention.

Mingazov was tortured under U.S. confinement at Bagram, where he “‘endured harsh conditions and suffered physical … abuse,’ in particular being “severely beaten, slammed into the ground, hung by [his] arms for extended periods of time, and deprived of food and sleep.’” But, according to Saunders, Mingazov has not been “cleared” for release, despite Judge Kennedy’s decision.

It is eerie how much both of these cases rely on supposed links to “high-value” prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who the Bush Administration pushed early on as an al Qaeda mastermind, author of the “Manchester” resistance manual, leader of his own terrorist forces, etc., and who was famously tortured in CIA prisons, waterboarded an admitted 83 times. These claims about Zubaydah’s significance, which were quietly dropped in recent years, have been revived in recent months in some court rulings and even in the Center for Public Integrity’s Pearl Project report (see pg. 54).

Statistics and Damned Lies

Perhaps the most egregious lie Saunders spreads was born from the fertile minds of the right, spinning the 2010 “Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” put out by the Director of National Intelligence last year. Saunders says the report confirms that “the Director of National Intelligence reported in December that 25 percent of released Gitmo detainees have been confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorism.” Actually, the report says that “the Intelligence Community assesses that 81 (13.5 percent) are confirmed and 69 (11.5 percent) are suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer.”

Saunders leaves out the part about “insurgent activities,” because to the right-wing, anyone who would oppose with arms the United States, even if the U.S. invaded their country, must be a terrorist. In this, they are assisted by the current administration, who continues to view the “war on terror” with the same point of view of their Bush/Cheney predecessors.

Not only does Saunders not mention that the confirmed number of even this dubious figure is actually 13 or 14 percent, but she hides the fact that the “suspected” figure is questionable itself, as it relies on “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” (emphasis added). In a press release following the Pentagon’s latest release on “recidivism” figures for former Guantanamo detainees, Center for Constitutional Rights commented, the government “persists in using the language of ‘re-engagement’ to describe individuals, despite the fact that the majority of them should never have been detained in the first place and were known early on by the government to be innocent. It is not possible to return to the battlefield if you were never there in the first place.” Furthermore, “the latest report only summarizes its figures without actually naming any alleged recidivists or including any information that would enable meaningful scrutiny.”

Saunders also quotes Joscelyn as saying that the prisoners who have received transfers or releases from Guantanamo are hardly cleared of terrorist stigma. “They didn’t find any innocent goat herders,” Joscelyn said. But this totally contradicts statements by former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, who wrote in a guest post at The Washington Note in March 2009 about “the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there.” Wilkerson said that “several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.” The reason they didn’t, Wilkerson concluded, was because they feared looking bad, and endangering the “war on terror” campaign.

Saunders concludes her article, with the strange assertion that “in a new act of fiction, Berzerkeley plays make-believe by pretending that two Gitmo detainees should be dating your cousin.” While presumably a response to a quote by Berkeley Peace and Justice commissioner Rita Maran earlier in the article, the use of this turn of phrase, so similar to historically racist forms of expression, to the effect that one would not want one of your relatives to date one of those people (Irish, Italians, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, etc.), is not coincidental. The fear-mongering against the Guantanamo detainees has always carried a racist edge to it.

The resolution up before the Berkeley City Council to advocate resettlement of two cleared Guantanamo prisoners is agenda item 18 on the Council’s agenda Tuesday night. The resolution also asks Congress to reverse its position and agree to the release of cleared detainees into the United States. It also predicates any resettlement in Berkeley upon a rescission of the Congressional ban on domestic detainee resettlement.

Update, 2/16/11: According to news accounts, the Berkeley City Council rejected the resolution to resettle detainees from Guantanamo. There were four votes “for,” one “against,” and four abstentions. The resolution needed five votes to pass. Unfortunately, the fate of this resolution speaks volumes about the political situation in the United States today.

Washington Post Rehabilitates Abu Zubaydah Torturer

9:32 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

I haven’t been blogging much of late, as I’m working on a few big investigative pieces. The first, due out later this week at Truthout, will take up the issue of the involuntary drugging of detainees, previously the subject of a big Washington Post exposé in April 2008. Another article, on the build-up to the torture and experimentation program inside the Department of Defense in 2001-2002 (co-written with Jason Leopold) also will be out soon. Meanwhile, the news scans by, and while I can count on Marcy, Spencer, Leopold, Jim White, Jeff Stein and others to catch and comment on the most egregious stories, others simply scroll onwards without comment.

One such story concerns an article by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post at the end of last month. Entitled "Guide tells how terrorism suspect became informant," Pincus related the tale of a pre-9/11 interrogation described in "a newly disclosed 2009 teaching guide for government interrogators by the director of national intelligence’s Intelligence Science Board [ISB]." The guide recounts, among other examples, the interrogation of Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, a suspect in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya that killed 218 people. Al-Owhali was later convicted for his part in the terrorist action, and sentenced to life without parole in May 2001.

The ISB study (PDF) was initially linked at Secrecy News, where Steven Aftergood calls the ISB "an official advisory group to the Director of National Intelligence." (A note at the Intelligence & Security Academy website describes the ISB as serving under the Director of Central Intelligence.) The purpose of the teaching study was to ostensibly examine "important recent examples of effective, non-coercive intelligence interviewing with high value detainees."

And non-coercive it certainly appears to be, as Pincus reports it. The FBI interrogator hands out butterscotch candy to suspects to build rapport. He shows a "’demonstrated appreciation’ for the Muslim beliefs of the suspect and the interpreter." He shares meals with Al-Owhali, and even when the interrogation falls into a "good cop, bad cop" pattern, the occurrence is supposedly unplanned. In the end, the hardened Al Qaeda terrorist gives in, telling his captors, "If you promise I’ll be tried in the United States, I’ll tell you everything. America is my enemy, not Kenya. I will tell you all about involvement with the bombings, bin Laden and al-Qaeda."

There are two things about the Pincus story that I thought important. For one thing, Pincus selectively chose the Al-Owhali case and ignored the other major "teaching" example, which involved initial physical torture, and three subsequent years of isolation and sensory deprivation of a prisoner. And then, as a second fact of some note, Pincus chose the story of Al-Owhali interrogator FBI Special Agent Stephen Gaudin without once mentioning the latter’s dubious role in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.

A Tale of Two (FBI) Interrogators

The story of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in Thailand has been told now many times, in more than one version, and even still all the facts are not known. The Zubaydah interrogation was made famous as the purported experimental test case for the new "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EIT) of the CIA. The famous "second" Yoo/Bybee memo of August 1, 2002 was meant to authorize torture techniques on Zubaydah. The EITs, which included waterboarding, wall slamming, sleep deprivation, stress positions, insects in a confinement box, and more, were derived via reverse-engineering the torture techniques taught in the the "Resistance to Interrogation" classes of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE survival schools.

One version of the story comes from the testimony of Ali Soufan, one of the FBI agents present at the Zubaydah interrogation. According to his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2009, he and his FBI compatriot (who turned out to be Stephen Gaudin), who had supposed great success eliciting information from Zubaydah using standard interrogation techniques, were appalled when James Mitchell and the Counter-Terrorism Center team arrived, and began to implement their harsh form of interrogation. Gaudin, Soufan and "a top CIA interrogator who was working with [them]" protested to their superiors, and the FBI pulled Soufan out. Gaudin stayed for a month or so longer, though Soufan never mentioned that. (Soufan’s testimony also touts as "successful" the elicitation of the supposed "dirty bomb" plot of Binyam Mohamed and Jose Padilla, intelligence that was later discredited, and Mohamed, at least, was released from Guantanamo last year.)

The 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report (PDF) on detainee abuse was the product of the biggest and longest investigation of U.S. torture outside the Pentagon or the Executive Branch. In their report, Senator Carl Levin’s investigators gave a very different view of what went down in Thailand:

The FBI Special Agent [Soufan] told the DoJ Inspector General that he also "raised objections to these techniques to the CIA and told the CIA it was ‘borderline torture." According to the unclassified DoJ Inspector General’s report, a second FBI agent present [Gaudin] did not have a "’moral objection’" to the techniques and noted that he had "undergone comparable harsh interrogation techniques as part of the U.S. Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training."

[One short paragraph redacted]

(U) According to the DoJ Inspector General’s report, FBI Counterterrorism Assistant Director Pat D’Amuro gave the instruction to both FBI agents to "come home and not participate in the CIA interrogation." The first FBI Special Agent left immediately, but the other FBI agent remained until early June 2002.

In Jane Mayer’s version of events, recounted in her book, The Dark Side, she gives what is essentially Soufan’s version, and even states that both FBI agents, being appalled, left the interrogation, unable to stop the "experiment" that was the EITs. Even so, the SASC’s version is more authoritative, drawing as it does on the May 2008 Department of Justice Inspector General’s report (PDF) on "the FBI’s Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq."

The DoJ IG Report is revealing about the actions of Soufan and Gaudin, called Thomas and Gibson in the report, respectively. Not only were these FBI agents present when the CIA arrived, but they participated in interrogations of Zubaydah when he had already been subjected to sleep deprivation, shackling, and stress positions. Indeed, the FBI had been instructed by their superiors when they arrived not to give Zubaydah any Miranda warnings. Even more, Gibson/Gaudin was singled out in the report for participating in the CIA’s use of the EITs, having been assured by the CIA that the techniques were "approved ‘at the highest levels’ and that [he] would not get in any trouble."

Yet, in the end, the IG report absolved Gibson/Gaudin of his participation in CIA torture, noting that at the time of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah Gibson/Gaudin had received "no guidance" regarding participation in the CIA’s "non-FBI techniques". Instead he had been told that regular FBI procedure was not to be followed (no Miranda warning, no FD-302 interview summaries). As a result, the IG concluded that "under these circumstances, there was insufficient basis to conclude that Gibson’s cooperation with the CIA while the CIA was using non-FBI techniques on Zubaydah violated clear FBI policy." (See pp. 321-324 of the DoJ IG report.)

None of all this, of course, is mentioned in Pincus’s bright and glowing review of the al-Owhali interrogation. But even more, there’s nothing about this in the ISB’s own document, which presents the al-Owhali interrogation as a teaching exercise. That the ISB is disingenous about really reforming U.S. interrogation is made manifest by the other major interrogation case study presented in the report.

The ISB presents the story of Nguyen Tai, "the most senior North Vietnamese officer ever captured during the Vietnam War." After months of brutal torture by the South Vietnamese government — without the production of useful intelligence — Tai is turned over to U.S. interrogators, who keep Tai imprisoned in total isolation for three years, his room "painted all in white, lit by bright lights 24 hours a day, and cooled by a powerful air-conditioner." When some useful intel is finally "educed" out of Mr. Tai, the ISB commentary chalks this up to "the skillful questions and psychological ploys" of the American interrogators, never mentioning the deleterious effects that three years of psychological torture may have produced in the prisoner. Instead, the ISB intones there was no "physical infliction of pain," and leaves the student interrogator to ponder the wonders of "non-coercive" interrogation.

The ISB has been linked to the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, that the Obama administration implemented as a supposed reform of Bush-era interrogation abuses. While the worst elements of the EITs may have ended — I’ve heard no further reports of waterboarding, for instance — terrible abuses and torture, with roots in the sensory deprivation research of the CIA and military in the 1950s-1970s, and fully implemented in the KUBARK CIA interrogation manual of the 1960s, continue to this day. In fact, we can see that such techniques as isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation are still a staple of U.S. interrogation, as evidenced by the special techniques reserved for non-POWs in Appendix M of the current Army Field Manual.

One wonders what impulse directed Walter Pincus and the Washington Post to consider rehabilitating the image of an FBI agent heavily criticized in two government investigations of detainee abuse. I suppose one wishes to take care of one’s own, and following the non-accountability orders of the Obama administration, who asks us not to look back at the crimes of the past, that is just what the Post is doing. Or is it? The account of the al-Owhali interrogation is precisely a look back at a sanitized past, which is exactly the kind of past the current administration appears willing to allow. The relative disinterest of many progressive commentators, the press, and Democratic politicians in pursuing an investigation of not just past crimes, but undertaking an examination of the forces at work today in constructing interrogation policy, only ensures that abuses will continue.

Did Abu Zubaydah Have Dissociative Identity Disorder? And Why It Matters

5:58 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Last week, Jason Leopold got an important scoop in his interview with former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Kiriakou first became known when he revealed the CIA had indeed used waterboarding. He was also the agent known for capturing supposed Al Qaeda mastermind, Abu Zubaydah. His interview with Leopold is fascinating and bears re-watching, as he also touches on other subjects, including his role in the Plame affair.

Marcy Wheeler has noted the inconsistency between Kiriakou’s claims in the video that Abu Zubaydah’s diaries were not, as portrayed by Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine, the diaries of a mentally ill individual, but simply those of a creative mind, since the government relies on these diaries as supporting material in its terrorism case against Zubaydah. (See also this earlier story by Leopold.)

According to Kiriakou (Marcy’s transcription):

Those weren’t diaries…. They were journals and doodle books. He would write these letters to himself. They weren’t really letters to himself. It was like a work of fiction.

Well, were they letters or not, John?

The quick switch (they were, they weren’t) is highly suggestive of lying and the use of a cover story. The preponderance of the reports from third parties suggest that Zubaydah has a mental disorder. The use of different personalities would suggest that disorder could be Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), one of the dissociative syndromes listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV-TR, otherwise known as the DSM.

Could Abu Zubaydah simply have been a singularly creative fellow, a Muslim belles-lettrist? For one thing, that side of his personality never surfaced in the psychological profile written up on him in July 2002. While this psychological profile is full of lies, half-truths, and other material aimed at allowing for a decision to use advanced EITs on him (like waterboarding), there is no reason to think that it would have left out a significant aspect of his functioning regarding what was in his diaries. Instead, it likely points to the fact that the CIA cover story on Abu Zubaydah was not yet fully developed by the summer of 2002, or that is would have to change significantly in the following years.

The existence of a DID profile for Zubaydah (if that were to be true, and there is some indication that it might be) is also notable because the artificial creation of dissociated personalities was a primary aim of CIA interrogation research for decades. This article by Dr. Colin Ross, past president of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, describes some of this history, beginning with Projects Bluebird and Artichoke, and including the "psychic driving" experiments of Ewan Cameron (as described, among other places, in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine). Over the years, the subject was relegated to conspiracy websites, haunted by a combination of schizophrenic, paranoiacs, and dedicated would-be historians, in addition to real victims of former government experiments.

I say relegated, because discussion of this topic has long not been considered respectable. (This might change now that the current Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, has stated that MKULTRA was a "true" conspiracy (PDF).) There is only one successful, mainstream book, which has been in print for 30 years or so now, that even treats the subject of government-created dissociated personalities, and that is John D. Marks’ Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control – The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences. (This is not to belittle the other excellent authors who have published on the subject.)

Marks, who was once staff assistant to the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, wrote his book utilizing 16,000 documents obtained painstakingly via FOIA, as well as interviews with psychologists and CIA officers. He blew the whistle on the mind control programs, which had been partly revealed by the Rockefeller Commission and Congressional investigation.

DID is a relatively rare psychiatric disorder. If Abu Zubaydah has this disorder, it certainly could have been developed in the course of his life. On the other hand, it would also be quite a coincidence that the man trumpeted by the government as an Al Qaeda mastermind, close to Osama bin Laden, who later turned out to be no such thing, and who was a key experimental guinea pig in the CIA’s EIT program, should also turn out to have DID.

It should be noted, too, that the study of dissociative phenomenon among SERE trainees has been a primary focus of military and CIA researchers, as evidenced by this report (PDF), and this journal article. An article at Truthout last year explored the links between one of the key researchers of these studies and the CIA.

The Man Who Was Almost There

According to an article by Ron Suskind in Time Magazine, Zubaydah’s diaries, "which the government refuses to release, is written in three voices over 10 years and is filled with page after page of quotidian nonsense about housekeeping, food and types of tea." The diaries, discovered in the safehouse where Zubaydah was captured, are thousands of pages long. In a Washington Post review of Suskind’s book, Barton Gellman went into more detail:

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" — a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI’s top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

But according to George W. Bush, in a statement made as late as September 6, 2006, Zubaydah was "a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden" (H/T Blueness at Daily Kos). Who was this man captured by Kiriakou and his associates? There are only so many scenarios here that fit the known facts.

1) Abu Zubaydah was a lower-level jihadist who was the victim of bad intel and tortured. He was also a creative individual who wrote "doodle" notebooks to himself using multiple narrators as representing himself, mostly to amuse himself. Nevertheless, some good intel came from his interrogations.(Kiriakou’s narrative)

2) Abu Zubaydah was a high-level jihadist, worked with OBL. Was captured and tortured, and the U.S. obtained valuable intel that stopped terrorist attacks. His diaries contain evidence of his crimes. While they show evidence of "cognitive impairment," such impairment, or even any possible evidence re "multiple voices" is not relevant to the case against him. (Official U.S. government narrative)

3) Abu Zubaydah was thought to be a high-level jihadist, but upon examination wasn’t really too important. In fact, he appeared mentally ill, and wrote his diaries in multiple voices (three of them). He was inadvisedly used as a subject of the CIAs EIT program. (FBI interrogators’ and Ron Suskind narrative)

4) The biography of Abu Zubaydah is only partial known. He was a jihadist in the anti-Soviet war, and was badly wounded there. At some point he developed DID, or a DID syndrome was produced within him by government action. The government had a good deal of interest in experimenting on someone with DID, as it would have been valuable to them to know if the physiological variables they were testing (e.g., cortisol, catecholamines, etc.) would vary under "uncontrollable stress" (torture); in addition, if a learned helplessness syndrome could vary under different personalities. He was a very unusual and valuable guinea pig to them. It is also not impossible that they intended at some point to use him as a double agent, testing the use of dissociated personality "Manchurian Candidates" in dangerous Muslim extremist circles. (This is my quite speculative, hypothetical narrative, but grounded in reports of his possible mental illness, and in known practices and ambitions of the U.S. defense and intelligence agencies.)

By the way, Kiriakou’s assertion that Zubaydah did not seem schizophrenic or "mentally retarded," so therefore could not have multiple personalities shows his naivete or ignorance regarding DID. Someone with multiple personalities can appear quite normal and logical in some or all of these personalities. It is the dissociated or separate nature of the different personalities, far beyond the different tendencies or ways of operating publicly vs privately that is in all of us, that makes it unique and pathological. That and the fact that some of these personalities can be unconscious of the existence of other personalities. Remember, this is a rare phenomenon.

There are surely plenty of readers who believe this kind of analysis to be "far-out" there. Yet my hypothesis is quite possible. I won’t say it is probably true, because I don’t have enough information. Those still thinking that Zubaydah as a dissociated guinea pig is some sort of science fiction hokum should read more deeply into the history of U.S. mind control programs. One could start with an article by H.P. Albarelli and myself that reviewed the "Lyle case," an example of the CIA using Artichoke techniques to "re-condition" and "re-orient" a person through the use of drugs and hypnosis.

The attempt to control and predict human behavior, which was a cardinal principle of modern behaviorist psychology, has joined up with the imperial ambitions of post-Hiroshima America, and what it has produced are outlandish schemes and programs aimed at the control of individuals through psychological and physiological techniques that can only be called torture. Whether Abu Zubaydah was a potential Manchurian Candidate or not, the experiments done upon him and others to create an all-powerful form of coercive interrogation will go down as one of the horrors of modern times.

Psychologists Notes May Indicate Zubaydah Torture Experimentation

12:01 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Originally posted at Truthout

One interesting nugget found in newly released CIA documents related to the destruction of 92 torture tapes concerns the unreported existence of psychologist’s notes as a standard part of the interrogation protocol.

In a "top secret" paper (undated) entitled "The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, March 2001 – January 2003," in a section that, though heavily redacted, describes the review of the tapes by a CIA attorney from the Office of General Counsel, "interrogation materials" are described as consisting of "videotapes, logbook, notebook, and psychologist’s notes."

(The "March 2001" date on the report is surely incorrect, and should say March 2002, when Zubaydah was captured and brought into the CIA interrogation process. There are many errors and outright lies in the report. One of them concerns the affirmative statement that Zubaydah was "the author of a seminal Al Qaeda manual on resistance to interrogation methods." This is a step beyond the conditional language used to assert the same claim in other CIA documents. The al-Qaeda manual’s authorship is considered unknown. It was discovered in May 2000 on a computer drive belonging to Anas al-Liby in Manchester, England. Al-Liby was reportedly working then with purported double or triple agent, FBI informant and former US Special Forces member, Ali Mohamed. Al-Liby himself, was, according to a November 2002 story in the UK Guardian, a member of a Libyan al-Qaeda cell that was paid by British intelligence in 1996 to attempt an assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.)

The content of those psychologist notes, should they become available, will indicate to what end CIA interrogators and/or behavioral scientists were measuring the responses of Zubaydah or other prisoners to variations in the interrogation techniques’ application. Variables of interest to CIA psychologists might include head movements and hand movements, facial expressions or microexpressions, used in detecting deception or behavioral manifestations of stress. These types of observation are synonymous with computer analysis and argue for the use of a digital video system or the transfer of analog video into data stored on magnetic or optical media. The same release of documents to the ACLU that contained the "The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah," also described CIA officials asking for "instructions" regarding the "disposition of hard drives and magnetic media" associated with the torture of Zubaydah.

In his or her notes, the CIA psychologist-analyst also would be describing mood; affect (appropriate or not, what it was); observed variations in consciousness, including instances of possible dissociation; and particularly unusual behaviors (e.g., urinating on oneself, or continually masturbating, as Zubaydah was reported to do as a soothing activity for a person highly stressed and regressed).

The examination of psychological variables, such as could be determined upon videotape review, does not rule out other forms of data that could be drawn from the prisoner interrogations. The CIA has noted that it took preliminary medical examinations of prisoners, and that while they were subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" they were medically and psychologically monitored daily. Such medical forms of monitoring would include variables associated with the experience of "uncontrollable stress."

Studying "Uncontrollable Stress" and "Learned Helplessness"

In a number of professional studies, the terms "uncontrollable stress" and "learned helplessness" are used interchangeably, as in this example. The term learned helplessness itself was fashioned by psychologist, researcher and former American Psychological (APA) President Martin Seligman. The theory was taken up by military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen to describe the kinds of effects on prisoners the enhanced interrogation techniques were meant to produce. While Seligman spoke to a SERE meeting in 2002 on the subject of learned helplessness, he denies he had any connection with the formation of the Bush-era torture program. Last August, Scott Shane of The New York Times reported that Mitchell visited Seligman’s home, accompanied by CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard, where "a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered … to brainstorm about Muslim extremism."

CIA and Department of Defense (DoD) researchers are known to have experimented (including upon SERE mock torture trainees) with the use of a number of techniques to measure such uncontrollable stress, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), acoustic startle eye-blink response (ASER), heart rate variability (HRV), testosterone and neuroendrocrine sampling, particularly of cortisol and neuropeptide-Y (NPY).

Psychologist’s notes might also include preliminary hypotheses in relation to these reactions and the psychological theories of learned helplessness that were driving the interrogations. Perhaps – and this would be even more important – we would discover evidence that the psychologist(s) were conjuring suggestions about ways to manipulate the situation on a day-by-day basis.

From what is known or speculated about a second taping system used in the interrogation of Zubaydah, it seems likely that psychologist notes were also an integral part of the process involved in the use of those tapes.

The specific use of psychologist’s notes corroborates earlier information that ongoing psychological and medical observations were playing a key role in the CIA interrogation process. This was clearly revealed in the various Office of Legal Counsel memos released last year. According to a report by Sheri Fink at ProPublica in May 2009, descriptions of CIA cables released to the ACLU at that time (see PDFs here and here) showed that "medical update[s]" and "behavioral comments" regarding the interrogation of Zubaydah were sent from CIA personnel in the "field" to CIA headquarters on a daily basis. Fink elaborates:

On five occasions between Aug. 4 and Aug. 9, [2002] an additional cable was sent containing "medical information" along with such information as the strategies for interrogation sessions, raw intelligence, the use of interrogation techniques to elicit information, and the reactions to those techniques. The fact that medical information was included in these cables hints that Abu Zubaydah was medically monitored during or after being subjected to those techniques. Both professional organizations and human rights groups have rejected as unethical any monitoring role for medical personnel.

A number of psychologists have been associated with the CIA interrogation program, either directly through participation in the planning and implementation of the torture, or by supporting the presence of psychologists in the interrogation process. The latter issue embroiled the APA in a controversy that led to the exodus of many members. A number of the presidents and other prominent members of the APA have been connected in one way or another to the CIA and DoD interrogation programs, in clear violation of the organization’s own ethical standards.

Last August, Physicians for Human Rights released a white paper that raised the question of medical collaboration with the CIA in constructing its torture interrogation program.

"The [CIA] Inspector General’s report confirms much of what had been reported about the essential role played by health professionals in designing, deploying, monitoring and legitimizing the program of torture, but also raises disturbing new questions which require further investigation," stated the study "Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s Report."

"The possibility that health professionals monitored techniques to assess and improve their effectiveness, constituting possible unethical human experimentation, urgently needs to be thoroughly investigated."

CIA Second Taping System Reported in Zubaydah Interrogation

11:20 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold has published an important article on Abu Zubaydah and the questions swirling around the destruction of the videotapes of his interrogation by the CIA. The Truthout reporter writes that a number of intelligence sources have described a hitherto unreported second taping system that was used on Zubaydah at the black site CIA prison in Thailand where the interrogations took place in 2002-2003.

Reportedly, this second set of tapes appear to have been used to collect "’data’ about Zubaydah, specifically, how much mental and physical pain he could endure after each torture session he was subjected to that took place prior to the issuance of OLC legal memos in August 2002." This data was then used to shape the parameters of the torture program and the types of legal approval John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury gave in those legal memos.

It is unknown if the purported second taping system was used on other CIA prisoners at the Thailand black site, but Leopold’s article also reports, in another important angle on the scandal, "that a similar taping system was also set up at a secret site at Guantanamo about a year later where interrogations of other high-value prisoners were also recorded." Last January, Scott Horton at Harper’s published a major expose concerning the possible killings of three prisoners in 2006 at a hitherto unrevealed secret site at Guantanamo unofficially known as Camp No. The prisoners had previously been labeled "suicides" by camp officials.

The issue of the tapes disposal has been under criminal investigation for many months by Special Prosecutor John Durham. Last August, Attorney General Holder also picked Mr. Durham to lead an inquiry into the abuse of prisoners subjected to the CIA’s interrogation program.

The investigation into the destruction of the tapes has included grand jury testimony by some CIA principals and a grant of immunity to CIA attorney John McPherson, who, according to the Washington Post, "reviewed the tapes years before they were destroyed to determine whether they diverged from written records about the interrogations."

Leopold is now reporting that the Senate Intelligence Committee has decided to look into the situation surrounding Abu Zubaydah’s CIA interrogation:

The panel will scrutinize thousands of pages of highly classified documents related to Zubaydah’s detention and torture to determine, among other things, whether the techniques he was subjected to [were] accurately reflected in CIA cable traffic sent back to Langley, whether he ever provided actionable intelligence to his torturers, and how the CIA and other government agencies came to rely on flawed intelligence that led the Bush administration to classify him as the No. 3 person in al-Qaeda and its first high-value detainee, Hill sources said.

As was reported in May 2009, FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who was one of the early interrogators of Mr. Zubaydah, in his prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee investigating prisoner abuse, mentioned the experimental nature of the CIA’s interrogation methods no less than four times. Mr. Zubaydah himself told the International Committee of the Red Cross that he heard or he suspected the CIA was experimenting with torture techniques upon him. I reported at the time:

It seems likely that Abu Zubaydah was a primary subject of JPRA/SERE’s reverse-engineering of torture techniques, using the paradigm of psychologist and former American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman’s theory of "learned helplessness."

According to a report last month by Mr. Leopold, a national security official said that Abu Zubaydah was used as an "experiment. A guinea pig." News of a second taping system, used to gather specific kinds of psychological or psychiatric data on the CIA’s interrogation subject(s), appear at the same time as revelations stemming from a release of CIA documents to the ACLU that describe CIA officials asking for "instructions" regarding the "disposition of hard drives and magnetic media" associated with the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Marcy Wheeler has been following a number of issues associated with the release of these documents at her Emptywheel blog.

Waterboarding Too Dangerous, Internal DoD Memo Reveals

5:16 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Originally posted at Truthout

In recent weeks, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has been on a public relations campaign defending the efficacy of waterboarding, going so far as to say that the torture technique sanctioned by the Bush administration is not only safe, but is in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

On Tuesday, in an interview with "Fox News," John Yoo, the former Justice Department attorney who was the principal author of legal memoranda that cleared the way for CIA interrogators to waterboard "war on terror" detainees and subject them to other brutal torture techniques, asserted that waterboarding was harmless.

In his defense of the practice, Yoo cited the thousands of US servicemen who have undergone SERE training and said, "we don’t think it amounts to torture because we would not be doing it to our own soldiers otherwise."

However, a previously unreleased internal Department of Defense (DoD) memo, summarizing a review of the Navy SERE program in late February – early March 2007, reveals that there was fierce criticism within the DoD of the Navy SERE school in North Island, San Diego, for being the only SERE facility to still use waterboarding in its training program.

The memo, obtained by Truthout, stated that the use of waterboarding left students "psychologically defeated" and impaired in the ability to develop "psychological hardiness."

The attempt to remove waterboarding from Naval survival school training goes back to at least 2005, which was also the period when then-Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney Steven Bradbury was fashioning a series of legal opinions that approved waterboarding as an "enhanced interrogation" technique. Bradbury cited the use of waterboarding on numerous SERE students over the years, supposedly without reported serious injury or prolonged mental harm, as relevant in approving it as not meeting the legal criteria for torture.

The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency memo from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is marked "For Official Use Only," and addressed to the headquarters of the departments of the Navy and the Marine Corps, and copied to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs. US Air Force Col. Brendan G. Clare signed it.

SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and SERE schools exist across the military services, but the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) is considered the "Executive Agency" for all the SERE schools. The aim of SERE "Code of Conduct" training is to prepare US military personnel for possible capture and torture by an enemy that does not follow Geneva conventions guidelines.

The Clare memo stated, in part:

3. Area of Concern: The JPRA official stance is that the water board should not be used as a physical pressure during Level C SERE training. This position is based on factors that have the potential to affect not only students but also the whole DoD SERE program. The way the water board is most often employed, it leaves students psychologically defeated with no ability to resist under pressure. Once a student is taught that they can be beaten, and there is no way to resist, it is difficult to develop psychological hardiness. None of the other schools use the water board that leaves the San Diego school as a standout.

In an attachment to Colonel Clare’s memo, "Observations and Recommendations," JPRA indicates that the waterboard technique as used in the SERE schools is "inconsistent" with the JPRA philosophy that its training and procedures be "safe, effective" and provides "a positive learning experience."

The water board has always been the most extreme pressure that required intense supervision and oversight because of the inherent risks associated with its employment…. Forcing answers under the extreme duress of the water board does not teach resistance or resilience, but teaches that you can be beaten. When a student’s ability to develop psychological resiliency is compromised… it may create unintended consequences regarding their perception of survivability during a real world SERE event. Based on these concerns and the risks associated with using the water board, we strongly recommend that you discontinue using it [underlined in the original].

According to a "Talking Paper" attached to the memo, JPRA addressed its concerns regarding waterboarding with the commander of the San Diego SERE program going back to 2005. The paper indicated that waterboarding continues at the California SERE School because it is "an emotional issue with former Navy POWs." The talking paper, dated October 11, 2007, was incisive regarding criticism of the North Island program. Colonel Clare indicated that three of the six SERE schools had been visited by Congressional staffers, and that "It’s only a matter of time before Navy SERE School (W) is visited and the Navy has to explain and justify the continued use of this instructional method and JFCOM/JPRA is asked, why it was allowed to continue."

Furthermore, the paper indicated that JPRA felt it had "exhausted all efforts" at lower levels of bureaucracy, and indicated the issue should be brought to the attention of officers at the JFCOM [Joint Forces Command] Flag level, with an eye to preventing "an embarrassing situation" for the military, and "discretely prevent a risky and documented ineffective training technique." As of October 2007, there were no DoD restrictions on physical pressures applied during SERE training, including the waterboard.

Colonel Clare indicated that he specifically brought his concerns to Air Force Gen. Lance L. Smith, Commander, JFCOM, in December 2006, but was told that lacking anything in writing, "I should ‘stay in my lane.’" (General Smith left JFCOM in November 2007 and is now retired.)

The Navy SERE school in Brunswick, Maine, discontinued the use of waterboarding in its training curriculum after a SERE psychologist found via "empirical medical data … elevated levels of cortisol in the brain stem caused by stress levels incurred during water boarding." Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands as part of the body’s fight-or-flight mechanisms. Excess cortisol can lead to chronic stress, impaired cognitive abilities, thyroid problems, suppressed immune functioning, high blood pressure, and other health problems.

The OPR Report and the PREAL Manual

A great deal has been written about the purported safety of waterboarding. Recently, former Vice President Dick Cheney has advocated its continued use, and told ABC "This Week" that he was "a big supporter of waterboarding."

The issue came to prominence again when the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report was released February 19. The report capped a four-and-a-half-year-long investigation into misconduct by Justice Department attorneys in the writing of memos and other written materials used to justify the use of harsh interrogation techniques ordered by the White House and the CIA.

In each of the released three drafts of the OPR report, there is a short section, introduced without comment, on a May 7, 2002, SERE "Pre-Academic Laboratory (PREAL) Operating Instructions" manual. We do not know when or how the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) obtained this manual, but it’s possible that it was supplied by the same means that other JPRA/SERE material was delivered to OLC.

The August 2002 torture memos drafted by Yoo and former OLC attorney Jay Bybee, as well as memos written in 2005 by former OLC acting head Bradbury, had relied in part on assurances from the SERE program and personnel that the waterboard technique was not physically harmful, was used upon SERE students, albeit at a lesser degree of application, and was, therefore, with medical monitoring, safe to use.

The PREAL document had noted, as OPR pointed out, that SERE training was different from "real-world conditions." Under the SERE techniques, the SERE trainee could "develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness’" during training.

The interrogator must recognize when a student is overly frustrated and doing a poor job resisting. At this point the interrogator must temporarily back off, and will coordinate with and ensure that the student is monitored by a controller or coordinator. (Pages 40-41 of the OPR Final Report.)

Despite the warnings that, even at SERE training school level, the dangers of waterboarding (and other SERE techniques) required monitoring, with the implication that the dangers were even worse in "real-world conditions," neither the OPR report, nor the memorandum written by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who reviewed the final OPR report, indicated that SERE itself had decided the dangers were too great to include waterboarding in its training. It is not known when waterboarding was ceased at the bulk of the SERE schools, but it appears that it had been discontinued for the reasons described above at all but the North Island SERE school by the time Bradbury was writing his OLC opinions, which like the Yoo/Bybee memos approved the use of waterboarding.

"Learned Helplessness"

According to a related SERE document, dated September 26, 2007, written by SERE Human Factors Chief Gary Percival Ph.D., "Waterboarding consists of immobilizing an individual and pouring water over their face to simulate drowning." It elicits a gag reflex in the victim, "making the subject believe his or her death is imminent." The document noted that when waterboarding is "poorly executed," it "can cause extreme pain and damage," including broken bones from pulling against restraints. As a result, and in line with risks associated with other SERE techniques, at SERE school both medical and psychological monitoring is considered vital to protect students from injury. Dr. Percival indicated that JPRA did not support use of waterboarding in SERE training, as it "does not teach resilience or resistance," and "risks promoting learned helplessness."

As the SERE techniques were "reverse-engineered" by SERE psychologists and CIA contractors, John Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, and possibly others, for use by the CIA in early 2002 (or late 2001), the requirements for the presence of both medical and psychological personnel at the interrogation site was written into the torture protocols. Besides possible physical damage or even death, the presence of psychologists, in particular, was meant to provide monitoring capacity to prevent the acquisition of a state of "learned helplessness" in the prisoner.

A 2001 document written for the Human Factors Directorate of JPRA, "Scientific Implications for Code of Conduct Training Across the Captivity Spectrum," co-written by Dr. Percival and Dr. J. Bruce Jessen, described learned helplessness:

When students feel they are faced with unsolvable problems, their performance and retention are significantly reduced. Training models that induce learned helplessness are worse than no training at all.

According to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, learned helplessness (LH) is "A laboratory model of depression in which exposure to a series of unforeseen adverse situations gives rise to a sense of helplessness or an inability to cope with or devise ways to escape such situations, even when escape is possible."

The original experiments on LH, performed by former psychologist and former American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman, in the mid-1960s, and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology with Steven Maier as "Failure to Escape Traumatic Shock," exposed dogs to a situation where they were faced with inescapable electrical shocks. Within a short period of times, the dogs could not be induced to escape the situation, even when provided with a previously taught escape route. Drs. Seligman and Maier theorized that the dogs had "learned" their condition was helpless. The experimental model was extended to a human model for the induction of clinical depression and other psychological conditions.

According to New York Times reporter Scott Shane, James Mitchell was an admirer of Dr. Seligman’s writings on LH, and told him so at a meeting at Dr. Seligman’s home in December 2001, where "a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered … to brainstorm about Muslim extremism." CIA psychologist Kirk M Hubbard accompanied Dr. Mitchell.

According to the OPR report, in late July 2002, OLC attorneys received a psychological assessment of Abu Zubaydah "and a report from CIA psychologists asserting that the use of harsh interrogation techniques in SERE training had resulted in no adverse long-term effects" (p. 62). In the CIA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," (EITs) released last year, the proposal to use SERE-like techniques on Zubaydah, and other prisoners, originated in the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center and the Office of Technical Services (OTS). The report stated:

CIA’s OTS obtained data on the use of the proposed EITs and their potential long-term psychological effects on detainees. OTS input was based in part on information solicited from a number of psychologists and knowledgeable academics in the area of psychopathology….

OTS also solicited input from DoD/JPRA regarding techniques used in its SERE training and any subsequent psychological effects on students.

Moreover, the CIA OIG report remarked that the subsequent Yoo/Bybee memos of August 1, 2002 were "based, in substantial part, on OTS analysis and the experience and expertise of non-Agency personnel and academics concerning whether long-term psychological effects would result from use of the proposed techniques."

It is not known if Dr. Hubbard, or Drs. Jessen or Mitchell, or even psychologist Dr. R. Scott Shumate, who accompanied Mitchell to the Thailand interrogation of Zubaydah in April 2002, were among those in the CIA who guaranteed "no adverse long-term effects" for the torture techniques proposed. Dr. Shumate was the chief operational psychologist for the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center at the time, and is reported to have left the Zubaydah interrogation in protest over the use of SERE techniques.

Dr. Seligman denied that he had any connection with the implementation of the CIA’s torture program. In a recent article, he described his association with the SERE program:

I gave a three-hour lecture sponsored by SERE (the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape branch of the American armed forces) at the San Diego Naval Base in May 2002. I was invited to speak about how American troops and American personnel could use what is known about learned helplessness to resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors. This is just what I spoke about.

I was told then that since I was (and am) a civilian with no security clearance that they could not detail American methods of interrogation with me. I was also told then that their methods did not use "violence" or "brutality." James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were present in the audience of between 50 and 100 others at my speech, and that was, to the best of my knowledge, the sum total of my "assisting the CIA."

The San Diego base is the site where the controversial continuation of waterboarding students in SERE training continues. Dr. Seligman did not describe under what circumstances he was told he could not be given details about the US interrogation program or even why the subject came up.

Dr. Seligman now says he is "grieved and horrified" over the use of the learned helplessness theories in the construction of the CIA’s torture protocols. Yet, when I wrote to Dr. Seligman in August 2007 to ask, "what is your position on the use of your research by others, and on psychologists involved in military/CIA interrogations under the current administration?," Dr. Seligman replied: "The only ‘position’ I am comfortable staking out is ‘Good science always runs the risk of immoral application. It goes with the territory of discovery.’"

The Margolis Memo, SERE and the Waterboard

In a memo to the attorney general vacating the decision of the OPR report to charge OLC torture memo authors Yoo and Bybee with "professional misconduct" and refer them for bar discipline, Margolis supplied his own analysis of the use of the SERE material. He described SERE training as "relevant to the threshold question of whether everyone subjected to the waterboard suffers severe physical pain or suffering." Furthermore, Margolis stated that Yoo and Bybee relied on the psychological assessment of Zubaydah in order to assess if Zubaydah "would suffer severe mental pain or suffering as a result of the waterboard."

Margolis felt the Yoo/Bybee memo relied too much on the SERE experience, and not enough on the monitoring of Zubaydah or others by CIA medical personnel and psychologists, or on the CIA’s psychological assessment of Zubaydah. But the evidence of the recently revealed 2007 JPRA memo on waterboarding shows that the SERE schools themselves had serious doubts that waterboarding could be made safe, even under controlled conditions. This doubt had led them to campaign vigorously within the Pentagon bureaucracy to end the use of the waterboard at the remaining SERE school where it was used.

There is no indication in his memo that Margolis was aware of this situation, nor made an attempt of his own to investigate the facts behind the CIA or OLC assertions regarding waterboarding and its use by SERE.

As for the Zubaydah psychological evaluation, 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 is amateurishly and hastily written, and is mostly a compilation of claims about Zubaydah that have since been refuted or even dropped by the government, e.g. that Zubaydah was a top al-Qaeda official, that he wrote the al-Qaeda resistance manual etc.

While Margolis could say that both Yoo and Bybee were not competent to judge the validity of the psychological evaluation of Zubaydah, and that they relied on the statements of the CIA psychologists in the case, nevertheless, it is notable that the psychological evaluation was only produced after Yoo had indicated in a July 13, 2002, letter to CIA acting General Counsel John Rizzo that consultation with "experts" would constitute the "due diligence" necessary to contest a charge of "specific intent" in a torture case. A psychological evaluation could be considered such a consultation with experts. Yoo also cited as examples of such "due diligence" surveys of professional literature and "evidence gained from past experience."