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UK Foreign Office Secret Opinion: It’s OK to Gather Evidence Through Torture

9:03 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Craig Murray, the UK’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan, has posted at his blog copies he received of telegrams he obtained via Freedom of Information Act. As part of his official duties as ambassador, he had sent these telegrams to the Labor government of Tony Blair in 2003, describing the use of torture in the production of UK intelligence. As Murray reminds us, he was "smeared and sacked" for daring "to apply simply the most basic of humane standards."

Since he was literally there — he wrote these telegrams — Murray can fill in the redacted sections with what he knows he wrote. He explains that these sections "detail British ministers’ receipt of the torture intelligence from the CIA, and point out that the purpose of the CIA intelligence is consistently to paint a false picture, exaggerating the strength of al-Qaida in Central Asia."

Once extremely top secret, these telegrams prove, Murray says, UK complicity in torture. I’d add they prove the same thing about the U.S. government.

The most amazing new piece of evidence is a March 13, 2003 memo by UK Foreign Office Legal Adviser Michael Wood that it was perfectly okay for the government "to receive or possess information under torture." Cynically, Wood agrees that the evidence so derived would not be admissible in court, but there is no treaty obligation in the Convention Against Torture against gathering such information. The twisted nature of this ruling, made in secret, is the equal to anything produced by Yoo, Bybee or Bradbury.

Reproduced below is the text of one of mostly unredacted telegrams. The others can be downloaded here, here and here (PDFs). The last of the links here contains the Wood memo.

Redacted.
Redacted.
Manuscript Note: Matthew Kidd, Redacted
Grateful for views from both Redacted and Legal Advisers.
Wm Ehrman

Fm Tashkent
To Routine FCO
TELNO Misc 01
Of 220903 January 03
INFO ROUTINE UKMIS NEW YORK, UKMIS GENEVA, UKDEL VIENNA

FOR WILLIAM EHRMAN

Your relno 323

RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE PROBABLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE

1. Thank you for TUR. I apologise for not findng you at the Leadership Conference, but I had decided to drop this. What seemed to be a major concern seemed not a problem to others, and this caused me some self-doubt.

2. However I see that the Economist of 11 to 17 January devoted its front cover, a full page editorial and four whole pages of article to precisely the question I had raised. Reading a newspaper on the flight back here 12 January, I was astonished to find two pages of the Sunday Mail devoted to exactly the same concerns. Back in Tashkent, I find Human Rights Watch urging the US government not to extradite Uzbek detainees from Afghanistan back to Uzbekistan on the same grounds. All of which emboldens me to think I am in good company in my concern. These stories all quote US sources as indicating that the CIA is accepting intelligence obtained under torture by "allied" governments. As I already explained, I too believe that to be most probably true here.

3. Redacted. You accept that torture of detainees in Uzbekistan is widespread. Redacted.

4. Redacted. I can give you mounds of evidence on torture by the Uzbek security services, and I have et victims and their families. I have seen with my own eyes a respected elder break down in court as he recounted how his sons were tortured in front of him as he was urged to confess to links – I have no doubt entirely spurious – with Bin Laden. Redacted.

5. Redacted.

6. I am worried about the legal position. I am not sure that a wilful blindness to how material is obtained would be found a valid defence in law to the accusation of having received material obtained under torture. My understanding is that receiving such material would be both a crime in UK domestic law and contrary to international law. Is this true? I would like a direct answer on this.

7. Redacted.

8. The methods of the Uzbek intelligence services are completely beyond the pale. Torture including pulling out of fingernails, electrocution through genitals, rape of dependants, immersion in boiling liquid – is becoming common, and I weigh those words very carefully. Redacted.

MURRAY
YYYY
Single Copies
DG DEFINT 1

NNNN

Kudos to Ambassador Murray for standing up against obloquy all these years, and persevering to bring us the truth. The latter is a slim commodity in the United States, where the U.S. Congress, under Democratic Party leadership, refuses to implement the needed investigations of the torture activities of this country, and of the decisions that led to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, they kowtow to the President’s "don’t look back" policy, which only ensures that in the present the forces that dragged this country into war and barbarity will have free play to continue to do so.

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.