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My Year at FDL: A Review

7:33 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

I thought it might be interesting to summarize the work I’ve done at FDL this past year. My output shrank in relation to prior years, due to conflicts with work and the inevitable slowing of the aging process, but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to bring FDL readers.

Torture protestors in orange jumpsuits with covered heads

Another year of drawing attention to torture and human rights abuses on Firedoglake.

Since I have posted at both MyFDL and The Dissenter, as well as contributing to Firedoglake Book Salon, I thought a personal post such as this might fit in best here.

While the following is not a complete listing of all my work here this year, it highlights those articles that involved original research or analysis.

In no particular order, the work I thought important included (first, at The Dissenter):

* Writing in-depth analysis of the frame-up of Ahmed Abu Ali, whose confession under torture was allowed in court, and how that was allowed to happen by cherry-picking the testimony of psychological experts

* Revealing that Obama never rescinded all the torture memos. One of these, written by Stephen Bradbury, was a spurious defense of the newly written Army Field Manual for interrogation and its “Appendix M” that allowed for psychological forms of torture.

* Provided a full examination of the Army report on the controversial death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Latif. The only other comprehensive look at the Army’s report was by Jason Leopold at Al-Jazeera. (I wrote a separate article as well on Col. Bogdan at Guantanamo and his onerous search policy, which led to the detainees’ wide-spread hunger strike, and whose origins had to do with Latif’s death.)

* When US was pushing for military intervention in Syria because of a chemical weapon attack in that country’s civil war, I noted the US was not trustworthy, as they had a history of the US covering up large-scale biological and chemical warfare, a history that has a decades-long cover-up that is still only partially understood (see this recent blog post at my personal site). (This article was a good adjunct to the Foreign Policy article on how the US helped Iraq’s Saddam Hussein gas Iran.)

* Revealed a hitherto unremarked CIA/Psychological Strategy Board document that showed the U.S. was lying about claims it wanted independent investigations into the charges by China, North Korea and the USSR that the U.S. had used biological weapons during the Korean War. Moreover, the document hinted at other hidden U.S. war crimes, including possible use of chemical weapons in Korea as well. I can say that I’ve gotten a number of emails and engaged in discussions with multiple historians privately since release of this article, which seriously challenged not only U.S. histories written on the period, but again, like the other article mentioned one paragraph above, draws grave questions about the credibility of what the U.S. government says about WMD threats — I’ll have more to write about this very soon.

* My Dissenter article was the only press or blog report on the findings of a Georgetown professor that placed well-known and influential psychologist Martin Seligman into even greater contact with Mitchell and Jessen, who allegedly helped form the CIA’s torture program, than had been previously known.

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Japanese WWII Torture Document Eerily Reminiscent of US Torture Program

9:44 am in Torture by Jeff Kaye

The following is taken from a 63 year old book published in the early days of the Cold War. Titled Materials on the Trial of Former Serviceman of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1950), the book contains trial summaries and testimony from the Khabarovsk war crimes trial in December 1949.

Derided as just another Stalinist show trial at the time, historians have since confirmed the evidence regarding the crimes prosecuted, including deadly biological experiments on prisoners by special units of the Japanese Imperial Army, the most famous of which was Unit 731.

page from Soviet war crimes trial book

photo from war crimes book with Japanese text of torture instuctions

The selection below is one of the exhibits contained in the book, collected in a section labeled “Documentary Evidence.” The book itself has been out of print for decades, and is generally unavailable, except via some few libraries and antiquarian bookstores.

The selection included here is on the Japanese Army use of torture. The reader will notice that the Japanese Army demonstrated many of the same techniques and concerns the U.S. showed when it was implementing its own torture program under the CIA and the Department of Defense.

The Japanese torture program included, as described here, use of stress positions, physical attack, and a form of waterboarding. The interrogators were instructed to be aware of possible false information by prisoners in order to get “relief from suffering.” They appeared to also be concerned in the truthfulness of information obtained, and the possibility of deception.

Moreover, the Japanese were quite worried about others knowing about the torture. While they do not outright call for the murder of prisoners, one is left to guess at what “measures must be taken” so that prisoners did not talk of the torture “afterwards.”

The material from the Khabarovsk trial is consistent with that published in a report by the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers on “Japanese Methods of Prisoner of War Interrogation” (June 1, 1946). Techniques described there include: beatings of various sorts (derided, though, as “the most clumsy method”); threats of “murder, torture, starving, deprivation of sleep, solitary confinement, etc.”; psychological threats; water torture, which sometimes resulted in fatalities; attaching a prisoner’s thumbs to a “motor car which proceeds to pull him around in a circle until he falls exhausted,” and other tortures. Some Japanese soldiers and officers were prosecuted for war crimes after the war for such inhumane and criminal conduct.

What Made the Khabarovsk Trial Special

What makes the selection from the Khabarovsk trial unique is the degree to which the document discusses the importance of hiding the torture, and how to deal with deception. Interestingly, there is no discussion of producing false confessions.

It is noteworthy, too, to understand that thousands of prisoners who were sent to Unit 731 had also been, or were interrogated and/or tortured, at the site where biological experiments on them were done. All the prisoners were killed after the experiments were completed. The results of the experiments were operationalized in biological warfare campaigns by the Japanese in China that killed, recent estimates claim, perhaps as many as half a million people.

In future stories, I will discuss at much greater length aspects of this material that has gone unreported for years. The reasons for such a lack of historical writing is not lack of interest, but the fact that what materials the Japanese did not destroy were kept classified by the Americans for decades as part of an amnesty deal made with the leaders of the Japanese biological warfare program. The deal included a transfer of data on the fatal human experiments to the U.S. Army and intelligence services. Both the Department of Defense and (most likely) the CIA were involved in the decision to give amnesty to the Unit 731 et al. criminals.

For more information on the deal made between the U.S. and the Japanese described here see Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army Secret of Secrets, 1989, Hodder and Stoughton, London; Sheldon H. Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-1945, and the American Cover-up, rev. ed. 2002, Routledge, New York; and Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague Upon Humanity: the Secret Genocide of Axis Japan’s Germ Warfare, 2004, Harper, New York.

The Khabarovsk selection reprinted below appears on pages 235-237 of Materials. I have tried my best to reproduce the material as it is in the book. What is italic or bold here is italic or bold in the book. Extra spacing between letters is as in the printed material. Case has been preserved. Paragraph breaks are by extra lines, while in the book they are by indent.

Book Excerpt

File No. 48. Pages 90, 112, 113, 124, 125, 126. “Operation Officer’s Guide (Part I).” From the files of the Mutankiang J.M.M.

Translated from the Japanese
S t r i c t l y  C o n f i d e n t i a l

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Government’s Psychological Evaluation of Manssor Arbabsiar Fails to Impress

2:31 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

Manssor Arbabsiar

Gregory B. Saathoff M.D. is the latest mental health professional to weigh in on the Manssor Arbabsiar case. Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel has been dissecting aspects of Saathoff’s narrative of events surrounding Arbabsiar’s interrogation and confession (see here, here, and here).

I want to look more closely at the claims Saathoff makes in an October 3 “Forensic Psychiatric Evaluation” on Arbabsiar’s mental status, symptoms and diagnosis. The evaluation was dated the same day as a government memorandum arguing against a defense motion to dismiss or suppress evidence drawn from Arbabsiar’s interrogation. The reason for such dismissal or suppression? The defense presented expert opinion that Arbabsiar had been in a manic episode during the period of his interrogation, having a previously undiagnosed case of Bipolar Disorder. As a result, he was not in his right mind when he waived presentment (presentation before a judicial official) and his Miranda rights.

For those who have forgotten, Arbabsiar is Iranian-born, but a U.S. naturalized citizen, a Texas used car salesman with a cousin in the Iranian Quds force. According to U.S. prosecutors, in 2011, Arbabsiar contacted a confidential DEA informant in Mexico, and, believing he was talking to someone in a Mexican drug cartel, arranged the assassination of Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. But the assassination and other alleged terrorist plots, of course, never took place, and Arbabsiar was detained in Mexico, flown to the U.S. and interrogated by the FBI at (it turns out) an undisclosed military base from September 29 to October 10, 2011.

Here’s Saathoff quoting FBI Special Agent Shalabi about what the latter called Arbabsiar’s “erratic” behavior during his “confession” in the early morning hours of October 3:

FBI SA Shalabi recalled in a September 7, 2012 interview that after having observed Mr. Arbabsiar sleeping soundly, Mr. Arbabsiar awakened at 3 am and expressed concerns about jail. “The first thing out of his mouth was “What is jail like in the United States? How harsh are the conditions? What should I expect?” After going into the bathroom [where elsewhere we learn he "washed his shirt in the bathroom sink" - JK], Mr. Arbabsiar came back out into the living area, and FBI SA Shalabi recalled Mr. Arbabsiar’s statements and behavior:

“You know what I did?” And I said “no”. Then on his own accord, without me asking, (I decided to keep my mouth shut) he told me he was in big trouble. Had gotten involved in big politics. Wife had a lot of financial demands. Son’s pregnant girlfriend added more to the stress. So he told me that he decided to go to Iran to solicit more help for [his] family… He said that his cousin was a “big general”, [who] was “senior” with decision-making powers. [He was] Approached by cousin to then give money to kill the Saudi Ambassador. As he was telling me this, he reflected back on the whole situation. As he told me the story, [as] he said that, he looked upset and [said that he] had been used by his cousin. Then he went back to smoking [elsewhere Arbabsiar is described as smoking four packs a day - JK], tossed and turned, and then fell asleep.

For the U.S. it was a propaganda coup, for it claimed that someone in the Iranian government was planning or instigating a terrorist attack in the U.S. against a foreign diplomat. The hawks in the U.S. government squawked loudly and long.

No one ever seems to notice that the only foreign diplomat ever actually assassinated in the U.S. was former Chilean ambassador to the U.S., Orlando Letelier, murdered in Washington D.C. in 1973 by order of the government of Augusto Pinochet. The hit man was Michael Townley, an agent for Chile’s intelligence directorate (DINA) who also worked for the CIA. In 2000, it was revealed that the mastermind of the terrorist attack, which also killed Letelier’s assistant, Ronnie Moffett, was Chilean intelligence chief Manuel Contreras, and he, too, was a paid asset of the CIA.

In the case against Arbabsiar, the evidence seems sketchy. Wheeler points out that Saathoff’s report explains the DEA informant Arbabsiar is supposed to have contacted “had a younger sister with whom he had a sexual relationship in 1992, while he was married to his third wife”! What a coincidence, one might say.

But particularly damaging to the government are the questions surrounding the veracity of his confession, which was attacked by top mental health experts brought in by the defense, who stated Arbabsiar, who had waived his rights within hours of capture (while possibly jonesing terribly for a cigarette), suffered from bipolar disorder and was not able to make a reasoned decision about his rights or actions.

Bipolar Disorder with “Impaired Cognitive Functioning”

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UK Torture Inquiry Farce on Last Legs, While Rendition to “Killing” Remains Uninvestigated

8:36 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor at the UK Guardian are reporting that the widely heralded 2010 announcement of a British government official inquiry into UK torture is facing a boycott by British human rights and attorney groups. The reason is undue secrecy.

[British Prime Minister] Cameron also made clear that the sort of material that has so far been made public with the limited disclosure in the Guantánamo cases would be kept firmly under wraps during the inquiry. “Let’s be frank, it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret,” he said. “So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public.”

This from the UK Guardian… July 14, 2010.

The handwriting was on the wall for some time on this sham inquiry, but the British human rights and lawyer groups kept fighting to make something real out of it. I can understand the impulse to do this, but really the inquiry’s true intentions were telegraphed when Sir Peter Gibson was made its chair, as I noted when the news first broke.

The investigation is being conducted by a panel of three, whose head is the intelligence-connected Sir Peter Gibson, who is Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA). Many questions have been raised by the appointment of Gibson, and it is startling to think that British human rights groups will accede to the appointment, given Gibson’s likely bias, not to mention his track record in other “judge-led” investigations.

The legal human rights charity group Reprieve describes three fatal flaws embedded within the official rules recently published for the inquiry:

First, the definition of evidence that will remain classified forever is hopelessly overbroad. Set out in Annex A [of the Detainee's Inquiry Protocol - PDF], this effectively includes anything that would in any way breach an “understanding” between the UK and its allies – in other words, anything the Americans would find embarrassing will not be made public…. Given that the essence of British complicity involves working with the US on torture and rendition, the exception to publicity swallows the rule.

Second, there is no meaningful, independent (preferably judicial) review of what should be kept secret… Unlike other inquiries where victims have made serious allegations of torture, the victims will not have meaningful legal representation. Their advisers will be denied access to any documents or hearings deemed secret by the inquiry.

Third, the Inquiry is left toothless due to a lack of powers to compel the attendance of witnesses or the provision of evidence or information from any party or organisation.

Truly, the UK government’s so-called inquiry is being set up as Reprieve director Clive Stafford-Smith called it, “a whitewash.” According to the Guardian article Shami Chakrabarti, director of the British group Liberty, states the inquiry is “a sham.” “When is an inquiry not an inquiry?” Chakrabarti asked. “When it’s a secret internal review.”

Hiding Murder in the Rendition Program

While the U.S. Department of Justice is finally considering two cases of murder of detainees by the CIA, in general, the Obama administration has an official policy of “not looking back” and non-accountability when it comes to crimes of torture. But it seems likely there are more crimes waiting to be revealed.

Last July, around the time the UK torture inquiry was first proposed, I broke the story that the revelations of UK cooperation with U.S. rendition policies included possible “rendition to killing.”

Like much of what I report, the revelation was not consistent with the accepted narrative of what the U.S. media is allowed to report, so it was also ignored by the supposed alternative blogosphere, who mainly grubs after the crumbs that are begrudgingly reported by Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or second-tier establishment-organs-cum-alternative-press like Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, or Salon.com. The mainstream press reports what government officials tell them, while the “alternative” press and bloggers report what academic and governmental dissidents say. Rarely is any real investigative work done.

But this revelation was based on hard documentation, as reported in my July 14, 2010 article.

A series of documents released on July 14 in the UK Binyam Mohamed civil case, Al Rawi and Others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Others, have produced a series of explosive revelations, reported in Britain and as yet unknown here in the U.S….

Now, one of the most incendiary revelations in the documents concerns instructions given to MI6 Special Intelligence Service (SIS) over detention operations. According to Chapter 32 of MI6′s general procedural manual, “Detainees and Detention Operations”, “the following sensitivities arise” (PDF – bold emphasis added):

a. the geographical destination of the target. Where will she or he be held? Under whose jurisdiction? Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?

b. what treatment regime(s) for the detainees can be expected?

c. what is the legal basis for the detention?

d. what is the role of any liaison partner who might be involved?

The “objective” of “killing” points to the existence of extrajudicial murders carried out by the intelligence services. It’s not clear if the killings are by UK or liaison — including United States — forces. “Liaison partners” refers to instances of operational cooperation with non-UK intelligence agencies.

I have since discovered that BBC reported the same revelations about “killing” on July 15, so at least it was reported in the British press, where it made some stir, the BBC labeling as “stark” the paragraph on about “killing” as “the objective of the operation.” Still, no U.S. news outlet picked up on this.

This is not the first time that unheralded killings of detainees has appeared in an otherwise unnoticed document. Last December I reported on a discussion of Guantanamo health protocols at a February 19, 2002 meeting of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board, where officials were told that a “number of the detainees have died of the wounds that they arrived with.”

This is not as impossible or incredible as it may sound. We know that Guantanamo, like other DoD and CIA sites had their share of “ghost prisoners,” i.e., prisoners whose existence was never reported to the International Red Cross or anyone else. Some of these disappeared forever. We don’t know how many. (Maybe a real torture inquiry would shed some light on this.) Indeed, Manadel al-Jamadi, the subject of one of John Durham’s recently announced criminal investigations, was such a ghost prisoner. And he, too, ended up dead, murdered.

Nor are such renditions and ghost prisoners a recent phenomenon. Consider the case of a Bulgarian political activist Dmitrov (aka “Kelly”) who was rendered to U.S. Fort Clayton in Panama in the early 1950s, where, according to declassified CIA documents, he became a victim of the CIA’s Project Artichoke mind control program. The full story was reported by H.P. Albarelli and myself in a Truthout article last year.

The United States, Great Britain and their partners in torture and rendition believe they are above the law, and that they can game the system forever. Perhaps they are right, and we have lost the battle before it was ever really engaged. I refuse to believe this is so. I can’t believe that I am alone in wanting justice, and seeking a radical change in the configuration of forces that control this planet, which are currently organized in the name of power and oppression, for the benefit of an economic elite, and not around justice, social and economic equality, and a rational, humane world order based on cooperation and mutual respect for all nations and all individuals.

We desperately need a real, international inquiry into the crimes of torture, rendition, and aggressive war. But there is no political force currently operative that has the power and influence to make this happen, as the pending collapse of the UK torture inquiry enterprise demonstrates. And that is truly the dilemma of our times.

Could Durham’s CIA “Investigation” Lead to Understanding Migration of Torture Techniques?

10:31 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

photo: takomabibelot via Flickr

With the news that John Durham has decided to finally open criminal, and not just “preliminary,” investigations into the deaths of two prisoners held by the CIA (apparently Manadel al-Jamadi and Gul Rahman) the CIA can now “exhale,” as Spencer Ackerman describes it. The CIA’s sigh of release is related to the fact that of at least 101 cases of CIA abuse only two might be prosecuted. Spencer quotes outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta:

 

“On this, my last day as Director, I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us,” Panetta wrote to the CIA staff on Thursday. “We are now finally about to close this chapter of our Agency’s history.”

Ackerman also quoted the new CIA director, General David Petraeus: “During his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Petraeus issued a public plea to take the ‘rear view mirrors off the bus’ and drop any inquiries into CIA torture. He also suggested that the CIA might return to abusive interrogations in “special cases” of imminent danger…”

Petraeus was approved for his new CIA position on a unanimous Senate vote. No one in Congress bothered to ask about his affiliation with former “Salvador option” specialist James Steele, or his activities in relation to the training of Iraq security forces, at the same time as U.S. forces were given a “fragmentary order” (FRAGO 242) which told U.S. forces not to interfere with the torture of prisoners they were handing over to these same Iraqi security forces. FRAGO 242 was a direct contravention of U.S. treaty obligations under the Convention Against Torture not to turn prisoners over to forces that would likely torture them.

But this is America, and it appears most of the reporting class, both mainstream and of the more alternative, “blogging” sort, have taken to heart the no-accountability plea of the Obama administration, and never bothered to ask why Petraeus was given such a free ride re questions about torture and other abuse under his command noted above, or his association with the operations of terror groups like the Wolf Brigade. (I plan to write more about this later.)

Comparing the 2002 OLC Memos with Later CIA Iterations of its “Techniques”

But not everyone is letting things slide. Marcy Wheeler is taking a closer look at the new information that we can glean from the Durham investigations. One thing she notes, which she has covered before, is how the techniques used on Rahman were never approved by the Yoo/Bybee memos. The water dousing and exposure to extreme cold were techniques noted in a 2004 letter written by the CIA General Counsel to the OLC’s Jack Goldsmith, a follow-up request concerning the CIA’s “Legal Principles Applicable to CIA Detention and Interrogation of Al-Qa’ida Personnel,” otherwise known as the Bullet Points memo, and the earlier OLC memos . But did someone vet some of these techniques, at another time and place, for a different agency… at DoD perhaps?

I think it’s worth noting that the Bullet points memo cited 17 techniques (it’s really 16, though) the CIA relied upon, and it would be worth comparing those techniques in general with the ten approved torture techniques in the 2002 Yoo/Bybee memo.

Yoo/Bybee, 2002:
1. Attention grasp
2. Walling
3. Facial hold
4. Facial slap (insult slap)
5. cramped confinement
6. wall standing
7. stress positions
8. sleep deprivation
9. insects placed in a confinement box (really, the use of phobias)
10. the waterboard

– I’d note, as I have before, that some of these techniques were really omnibus in nature, particularly “sleep deprivation”, which included within its definition (from the Bradbury 2005 memo, which avers, however, to how “sleep deprivation” was already being used), “sleep deprivation, forced sleep deficit was combined, as we can see, with shackling, forced positions and forced standing, humiliation, manipulation of diet, sensory overload, and possibly other torture procedures.” (quote is from my article)

Now, let’s look at the Bullet Point document (4/28/2003), written (PDF) it appears by John Yoo and Jennifer Koester, with duplicated items from August 2002 asterisked; all others are “new” and presumably unapproved (though more on that in a moment).

1. Isolation
2. Sleep deprivation*
3. “reduced caloric intake (so long as the amount is calculated to maintain the general health of the detainee)”
4. deprivation of reading material
5. “loud music or white noise (at a decibel level calculated to avoid damage to the detainee’s hearing)”
6. the attention grasp*
7. walling*
8. the facial hold*
9. the facial slap (insult slap)*
10. the abdominal slap
11. cramped confinement*
12. wall standing*
13. stress positions*
14. sleep deprivation [this is a duplication in the list of #2, but is listed twice in the bullet point list, so is included here]
15. the use of diapers
16. the use of harmless insects* [though changed from the more precise use of insects in a confinement box from Yoo/Bybee 2002]
17. the waterboard*

On March 2, 2004, as Marcy Wheeler has noted, “CIA General Counsel Scott Muller [wrote] to Jack Goldsmith asking for reaffirmation of several legal documents, including [the] Legal Principles document, released with redactions”. (PDF to Muller’s letter)

Muller added some new techniques to the Bullet Points document, including pouring, flicking, or tossing of water (“water PFT) and “water dousing” (using water from a bucket or water hose). “Both water PFT and water dousing are used as part of the SERE training provided to US military personnel,” Muller wrote, noting later in his letter, “there are virtually no health or safety concerns with water PFT as part of an approved interrogation plan.”

Muller explains, too, that “[a] medical officer is present to monitor the detainee’s physical condition during the water dousing session(s), including any indications of hypothermia. Upon completion of the water dousing session(s), the detainee is moved to another room, monitored as needed by a medical officer to guard against hypothermia, and steps are taken to ensure the detainee is capable of generating necessary body heat and maintain normal body functions.”

These explanations about safeguards, written over a year after Rahman’s death, appear to be a cover for Rahman’s death, as evidently there were no safeguards used there. Or perhaps, Rahman was an experimental case, much as Zubaydah was when it came to other torture techniques (“walling” and waterboarding, for instance).

Gul Rahman died of hypothermia (and likely other torture) on November 20, 2002, shackled after a session of water dousing in a cold room in the CIA’s infamous Salt Pit prison. Was there a medical monitor present? We have reason to believe that CIA doctors were at all the black sites, so what were they doing on November 20, 2002?

CIA and DoD Techniques Compared

As we have seen, by April 2004, the number of CIA known techniques have escalated to 18 (or 19, given the replication of “sleep deprivation” in the original list, which is, as I will suggest below, a typo, as most likely the second mention of sleep deprivation is really meant to be “sleep adjustment”).

Finally, I think it’s worth looking at the techniques approved for DoD by Rumsfeld on April 16, 2003, after the infamous “Working Group” review. I’m not going to list them all. They were divided into categories of severity. One of the techniques that led to the Working Group review was “Exposure to cold weather or water (with appropriate medical monitoring”) in Jerald Phifer’s October 11, 2002 memo to the Commander of Guantanamo’s Joint Task Force 170 .

The DoD techniques, approved around the same time as the CIA’s Bullet Point list, included (the list below is not definitive, but meant to compare/contrast with those above):

1.  “Incentive/Removal of Incentive: Providing a reward or removing a privilege. ‘above and beyond those that are required by the Geneva Convention, from detainees. [Sounds very much like "deprivation of reading material" in the Bullet Point document, though could be more related to sensory deprivation]
2. “Fear Up Harsh: Significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee.”
3. “Pride and Ego Down: Attacking or insulting the ego of a detainee, not beyond the limits that would apply to a POW.”
4. “Futility: Invoking the feeling of futility of a detainee.”
5. “Mutt and Jeff: A team consisting of a friendly and harsh interrogator. The harsh interrogator might employ the Pride and Ego Down technique. [Caution: Other nations that believe that POW protections apply to detainees may view this technique as inconsistent with Geneva IIt, Article 13...]”
6. “Dietary manipulation: Changing the diet of a detainee; no intended deprivation of food or water; no adverse medical or cultural effect and without intent to deprive subject of food or water…” [bold emphasis added]
7. Environmental manipulation, including “adjusting temperature”
8. Sleep Adjustment, refers to shifting hours of sleep, i.e., playing around with circadian rhythms, “NOT sleep deprivation” [this may account for the confusion in the Bullet Points document, which appears to draw on approvals made for DoD, whatever the nature of those approvals).
9. False Flag
10. Isolation [which includes a host of caveats, including possible violations of Geneva III, Articles 13, 14, 34 and 126]

Savvy readers will remember that this was a ratcheting down of earlier DoD-approved techniques (Dec. 2002), that also included deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, stress positions, inducing stress by manipulation of detainee’s fears (IPCRESS for those who remember that book/movie), 20 hr. interrogations, and hooding, among others.

It appears, from a pursuit of how the torture techniques migrated, that there was a good deal of synergy going on between DoD, CIA, and likely Special Forces. I’d point out that in the Muller letter to Goldsmith, there are some redactions, one of them concerns a redacted technique, one that is associated with SERE.

Like other approved interrogation techniques, [approximately sixteen character spaces redacted] is used as part of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training provided to US personnel.

The implication is that some other SERE technique was approved and the technique is being ported over from DoD. I believe the redacted technique could be “exposure to cold”, which would fit the redacted area, and speaks to a technique otherwise unremarked in the Bullet Points document, but which was obviously used by CIA, as it was by DoD (under the rubric “environmental manipulation”).

It’s additionally worth noting there were psychologists and psychiatrists around who moved between all these agencies. Some techniques were apparently never written down or approved, but certainly used, particularly those that played on sexual humiliation or other cultural or religious sensitivities and vulnerabilities.

Factoring in the Experiments Angle

It would be a mistake to think that the documents will provide a full story of what occurred. This is especially true when it comes to considering what kinds of experimentation were actually being conducted on the detainees. Jason Leopold and I have written about the unprecedented use of the antimalarial mefloquine on all incoming detainees (see here, here, and here).

Another possible experiment may have surrounded the use of dietary manipulation, and the Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research’s study on The Guantanamo Diet noted, “The detainees’ weight varies so wildly that many have been obese briefly and underweight and malnourished at other times…. Professor Denbeaux concluded, “The most compelling question is how can the detainees’ weight swing from obese to under nourished when the medical staff is in complete control of all food intake.”

I’m looking into the latter issue, but will note that dietary manipulation, which shows up in the Bullet Point document as “reduced caloric intake”, as well as DoD docs,  is allowed so far as I can perceive in the current Army Field Manual (FM 2-22.3). The latter states “Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care” is “prohibited,” but I think, as in the caveat on dietary manipulation above, re the detainee’s “general health” that there is a lot of room for leeway, i.e., what is considered “necessary”? Note the use of the word “intended” as regards “dietary manipulation” in the April 2003 list of DoD “techniques.”

The list of AFM prohibited techniques is followed immediately by the following statement: “While using legitimate interrogation techniques, certain applications of approaches and techniques may approach the line between permissible actions and prohibited actions. It may often be difficult to determine where permissible actions end and prohibited actions begin.”

No kidding.

Torture & the Art of the Gratuitous Lie: Dissecting Rumsfeld & Thiessen’s Wild Whoppers

1:56 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

As if we already didn’t know the media is full of lies and stupidity, two new examples have surfaced in recent days, with former administration officials and their media mouthpieces vying for who can pronounce the most incredible lies about the torture policies of the U.S. government. What’s even more amazing is that one ostensibly progressive website and its members have taken at least one of these lies as good coin, a lie so blatant that it only takes a moment’s reflection to realize it’s total BS.

First, though, precedence should be given to the op-ed by Donald Rumsfeld in last Thursday’s Washington Post. Titled “How WikiLeaks vindicated Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy,” the former Secretary of Defense — who was the Bush administration official who authorized aggressive torture techniques based on SERE torture resistance training for use in DoD interrogations, a fact the Washington Post forgot to mention in its brief bio on Rumsfeld — manages to dredge up every falsehood and canard spewed out by the government to justify the torture they used, from Al Qaeda’s purported threats to unleash a “nuclear hellstorm” if Bin Laden was captured, to the supposed “dirty” bomb plot (dreamed up from “confessions” made under torture by Binyam Mohamed, who had looked at a joke website on nuclear bombs online, and was originally a charge against Jose Padilla, later dropped because it would have been laughed out of even Bush’s courts).

But the oddest lie, gratuitously thrown in, concerns Rumsfeld’s claims about what the Wikileaks documents allegedly reveal about the purported “suicides” of three Guantanamo prisoners in June 2006. Readers might remember the Scott Horton article in Harper’s Magazine back in January 2010, “The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.” (Horton’s article produced an upset of sorts at the National Magazine Awards last week, winning the “Reporting” award, beating out Michael Hasting’s Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and Jane Mayer’s New Yorker exposé on the Koch brothers. — Congrats, Scott!)

While Horton’s article laid out compelling evidence of a cover-up over the possible killings of these three detainees, one of whom had already been cleared for release and return to Saudi Arabia only weeks prior to his death, Rumsfeld claims that the recent Wikileaks release of Guantanamo documents (Detainee Assessment Briefs, or DABs) provide evidence backing the government’s contention the three prisoners committed simultaneous suicide.

The documents should also disprove some myths that have dogged Guantanamo and the reputations of those who honorably serve there. The classified record, for example, confirms that three detainees who died in 2006 were suicides — not, as some have irresponsibly alleged, victims of brutal interrogations.

Yet nowhere in the Wikileaks documents, and nowhere in the DABs for Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, or Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani — the three men who died — is there any evidence or claim that their deaths were suicides. Nowhere in these documents is there even a discussion of these suicides, so it is very odd that Rumsfeld, who was sued by the parents of two of the deceased prisoners, should even bring up this story. In Horton’s article, it’s noted that Rumsfeld might have put the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in charge of a secret interrogation black site at Guantanamo, called unofficially Camp No by some Gitmo personnel, where the three men were seen taken by guards on duty that night. Rumsfeld has never spoken out on the “suicides” before. I wonder what he’s trying to preempt.

For a thorough demolition of Rumsfeld’s lies, readers may wish to peruse former Col. Larry Wilkerson’s declaration under oath “that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all knew — and didn’t care — that ‘the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent.’”

Marc Thiessen’s Theater of the Absurd

Even more gratuitous, and a lie easily disprovable on its face, is the recent assertion, as reported by the overly-creduous Josh Gerstein at Politico, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “figured out” how to outlast his 183 waterboardings by CIA torturers (bold emphasis added).

“He figured out the limits,” Marc Theissen, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said during a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. KSM “actually mocked his interrogators by holding out his arm and counting off the seconds with his hand. He knew exactly how far we could go and when the terrorists know how far you can go it’s very very hard to break them.”

Aside from the ridiculous, if not scandalous assertions about the efficacy of torture — a crime considered “jus cogens,” a crime against humanity, and a war crime outlawed by U.S. treaties — the idea of KSM “holding out his arm to count off the seconds with his hand” would be amazing… if it weren’t that his arms and legs were strapped down to a gurney!

Such a blatant lie should have been caught by Gerstein, or by the naive diarist that posted the story over at Daily Kos, winning a spot on the “recommended” list, even though the diarist and many of the commenters there took Theissen’s mendacious fiction to be fact.  It wouldn’t take more than a few minutes on Google to find this description from the 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo by Jay Bybee and John Yoo (bold emphasis added): “In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner.

Additionally, one could go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and read the CIA’s own guidelines from its Office of Medical Services (OMS) (PDF). Except for the manner in which breathing was obstructed in the prisoner (as discussed in the CIA IG report on the torture program – PDF), the CIA’s waterboarding followed the SERE model, in which, OMS noted (bold emphasis added), “the subject is immobilized on his back, and his forehead and eyes covered with a cloth.”

The idea that frustrated CIA torturers were repeatedly waterboarding KSM as he stubbornly held up his arm and hand to count off the seconds of torture is ridiculously absurd, not least because it was physically impossible. What the CIA medical personnel did have to report about the waterboarding showed that some resistance was, in their opinion, possible: “While SERE trainers believe that trainees are unable to maintain psychological resistance to the waterboard, our experience was otherwise. Some subjects [KSM?] unquestionably can withstand a large number of applications, with no immediately discernable [sic] cumulative impact beyond their strong aversion to the experience.”

Now, the CIA is no more believable than their mouthpiece, Marc Theissen, but it’s notable that even for the unnamed detainee or detainees who supposedly could “withstand a large number of applications,” the torture produced a “strong aversion.” What the words “withstand” or “aversion” even mean when issuing from the offices of the CIA, I’m not even sure anymore. But it certainly is far different than the picture of an obstreperous KSM that Thiessen provides in order to show that Al Qaeda had learned how to “resist” even a technique as powerful as the waterboard. That this says nothing about the legality or logic of using such torture is an example of how an implicit and dangerous lie is hidden within the blatant outer husk of an absurd lie, i.e., that U.S. torture was not harmful.

As for waterboarding, the fact that SERE training had largely banned waterboarding as too dangerous for their trainees, and the fact that government lawyers hid that fact in the memos they wrote to approve Bush’s “enhanced interrogation program,” was revealed in a series of exclusive articles I wrote here at Firedoglake last year (see here and here).

News and Analysis You Can Count On — Become a FDL Member Today

No matter what news source you like, you’re not going to find truth-telling and analysis on issues like torture as often as you will at Firedoglake. FDL has initiated a membership program to help put this great site on a firmer financial basis, free from corporate influence or subservience to the mainstream media. If you’re reading this, you already know that in-depth reporting and analysis by Marcy Wheeler, Jane Hamsher, David Dayen, Jon Walker, and many others is an everyday occurrence here. And then there are the movie discussions, the Book Salon every weekend, with important and relevant authors interacting with our readers, webinars for FDL members, and more.

When you can be an FDL member for as little as $5 or $10 per month, you’re doing yourself a favor by signing up right now. It will be the best few dollars you’ll have spent recently, and you’ll become part of a thriving and growing online community.

Important Files Missing in WikiLeaks Guantanamo Release

11:02 am in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

File Cabinet for sale $130

File Cabinet for sale $130 by sgroi, on Flickr

Important detainee files are missing in the Guantanamo files released by Wikileaks. There appear to be sixteen missing files, one of which is mislabeled in the database. The mislabeled file concerns a “Detainee Assessment Brief” for Abdurahman Khadr, the brother of Omar Khadr and an admitted “asset” for the CIA, who once described how he was sent to Guantanamo as a fake prisoner to spy.

The other missing files are suspicious, not least because of who these men were, or the stories behind their capture or subsequent fate.

The missing men include Yaser Hamdi (called Himdy Yasser in the database), ISN 009, who was an American citizen labeled an “illegal enemy combatant,” and like U.S. citizen Jose Padilla (who never was at Guantanamo), was sent from Guantanamo to the Navy Brig at Charleston, South Carolina, where he endured terrible isolation and sensory deprivation. His habeas case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which issued a landmark ruling, Hamdi v Rumsfeld, limiting executive rights in regards to incarcerating prisoners without a hearing. Hamdi was later forced to renounce his U.S. citizenship and sent to Saudi Arabia.

Also missing is the file for “high-value” detainee Muhammad Rahim, held by the CIA and only sent to Guantanamo in March 2008, making him a quite late arrival. His ISN, 10030, is not even listed on the Wikileaks database. Another late arrival is also missing. Inayatullah was sent to Guantanamo in August 2007, after having been captured in Afghanistan and, according to press coverage quoting the Defense Department, admitting that he was a leader of al-Qaeda in Zahedan, Iran.
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Why the U.S. Wants Military Commission Show Trials for 9/11 Suspects

5:17 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A number of commentators have replied to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement today that five suspects in the 9/11 attacks, including alleged Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will not be tried in civilian courts for the terrorist attacks almost ten years ago, but will be tried by President Obama’s revamped military commissions tribunals. What no commentator has stated thus far is the plain truth that the commissions’ main purpose is to produce government propaganda, not justice. These are meant to be show trials, part of an overarching plan of “exploitation” of prisoners, which includes, besides a misguided attempt by some to gain intelligence data, the inducement of false confessions and the recruitment of informants via torture. The aim behind all this is political: to mobilize the U.S. population for imperialist war adventures abroad, and political repression and economic austerity at home.

Holder claims he wanted civilian trials that would “prove the defendants’ guilt while adhering to the bedrock traditions and values of our laws.” The Attorney General blamed Congress for passing restrictions on bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for making civilian trials inside the United States impossible. Marcy Wheeler has noted that the Congressional restrictions related to the Department of Defense, not the Department of Justice, and there is plenty of reason to believe the Obama administration could have pressed politicians on this issue, but chose not to. (Others see it differently.)

Human rights organizations have responded with dismay, if not outrage. Center for Constitutional Rights, whose attorneys have been active in the legal defense of a number of Guantanamo prisoners, stated, “The announcement underscores the fact that decisions about whether to try detainees in federal court or by military commission are purely political. The decision is clearly driven not by the nature of the alleged offense, or where and when it was committed, but by the unpopularity of the detainee and the political culture in Washington.” CCR also compared the precedent-setting behavior to “Egypt’s apparent plans to use military trials for protesters at Tahir Square.”

Human Rights First spokesperson Daphne Eviatar said, “Decisions on where to prosecute suspected terrorists should be made based on careful legal analysis, not on politics. This purely political decision risks making a second-class justice system a permanent feature U.S. national security policy – a mistake that flies in the face of core American values and would undermine U.S. standing around the world.”

Most organizations stressed the fact that this was an about-face for the Obama administration. Indeed, one of the oldest human rights organizations in the United States, Human Rights Watch, called the decision a “blow to justice.” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said, “The military commissions system is flawed beyond repair. By resurrecting this failed Bush administration idea, President Obama is backtracking dangerously on his reform agenda.”

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers statement concentrated on the faults of the military commissions themselves, headlining their press release, “At Guantanamo, “Detainees Are Presumed Guilty”:

“Despite some cosmetic changes since the Bush-era commissions, the commission rules still permit the government to introduce secret evidence, hearsay and statements obtained through coercion,” said the association’s Executive Director, Norman Reimer. “NACDL maintains that the rules and procedures for these commission trials raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to constitutional principles upon which our country was founded. “

Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, echoed this today when he called the military commissions “rife with constitutional and procedural problems,” noting the outstanding cases “are sure to be subject to continuous legal challenges and delays, and their outcomes will not be seen as legitimate.”

The Origins of the Military Commissions

CCR, HRF, HRW, and NACDL are all correct, so far as they go. It is evident to many observers that only peculiar military exigency, backed by facts, could allow for military tribunals, as the Supreme Court’s 2006 Hamden decision made clear. It is a matter of historical record that the Bush-era military commissions policy, adopted by President Barack Obama, was initially pushed by former CIA employees William Barr and David Addington, with the encouragement of former Vice President Dick Cheney, along with other “War Council” participants John Yoo, Defense Department counsel under Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and Bush lawyers Alberto Gonzales and Timothy Flanigan.

At the same time the military commissions proposal was initiated, via a military order by Bush, the Bush administration was stripping detainees of Geneva Conventions protections, as well as implementing a program of torture, with Haynes soliciting the Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) as early as December 2001 for techniques used in the “exploitation” of prisoners.

In a recent article by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, it was shown that the JPRA program that was “reverse-engineered” was Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course SV-91, “Special Survival for Special Mission Units,” whose mission was to train U.S. military and intelligence personnel to withstand torture meant to “exploit” them for enemy purposes. Those purposes went far beyond the gathering of intelligence. As then-SERE psychologist Bruce Jessen, who was later to work as a contract psychologist and interrogator for the CIA beginning in 2002, noted in notes for SV-91 written in 1989:

“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”

Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”

A former colleague of Dr. Jessen, and along with him a founder of the SV-91 SERE class, former Captain Michael Kearns told Leopold and Kaye:

“What I think is important to note, as an ex-SERE Resistance to Interrogation instructor, is the focus of Jessen’s instruction. It is exploitation, not specifically interrogation. And this is not a picayune issue, because if one were to ‘reverse-engineer’ a course on resistance to exploitation then what one would get is a plan to exploit prisoners, not interrogate them. The CIA/DoD torture program appears to have the same goals as the terrorist organizations or enemy governments for which SV-91 and other SERE courses were created to defend against: the full exploitation of the prisoner in his intelligence, propaganda, or other needs held by the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents. Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press.”

The Stalinist governments of the USSR and East Europe used to make a great practice of show trials, one of the most famous being the trial of Hungarian Cardinal Mindszenty. Arthur Koestler’s famous book Darkness at Noon is about the show trial and confession of an “old Bolshevik” under Stalin’s regime. Such show trials still occur in many parts of the world, from China and Vietnam, to Indonesia, Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and the list could go on and on.

That list now includes the United States, where most recently, former child prisoner Omar Khadr was tried in a military commission, pleading guilty with a coerced confession, after years of torture and imprisonment in solitary confinement, his penalty phase of the military tribunal amounting to a show trial, complete with psychiatric “expert” testimony about Khadr’s supposed propensity for “terrorism.” The result? A 40-year sentence for the young man who never spent a free day as an adult, part of a staged deal with the U.S. military prosecutors, who presumably will release Khadr to Canadian authorities in a year or so, where he will continue to be imprisoned, pending any appeals there. But the penalty “trial” got a lot of press, and the U.S. was able to garner a propaganda “victory.”

Without Accountability, Whither America?

The United States is only a small step away from some kind of dictatorship. This may sound like hyperbole to some, but the lack of a clear and strong opposition to military and intelligence community institutional pressures has driven the Obama administration to the right even of the Bush administration on matters of secrecy and executive power. Proposals for “terrorist” or “national security” courts continue to be seriously considered, while the public uproar over the use of torture on prisoners has died down ever since Barack Obama told his Democratic Party followers not to “look back,” and made clear that accountability for war crimes would not happen on his watch. Meanwhile, tremendous inroads are made on privacy rights, while surveillance of private citizens, strip searches at airports, seizures of personal computers, and gathering of personal data from emails and phone calls are now everyday occurrences.

As a result, Obama has been the active creature of militarist forces within the government, and on point after point, has given way to lobbying by the military and intelligence establishments, themselves beholden to a power elite that holds the economic reins of the country, from oil to finance, in their hands. Obama’s role is most evident in his recent military actions against Libya.

The courts, too, have stepped back from their gesture towards judicial independence under Bush, with the Supreme Court ruling today that it would not hear three Guantánamo detainee cases, appeals on rejected habeas reviews regarding Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah, Ghaleb Nassar Al-Bihani and Adham Mohammed Ali Awad. While the cases concerned issues surrounding use of hearsay, other evidentiary standards, the role of international law, and the right to a meaningful challenge to detention, the Court gave no explanation for denial of cert. Courthouse News noted, by the way, that new Justice Elena Kagan “does not appear to have recused herself from consideration of two of the cases because of her prior work as U.S. Solicitor General.”

Meanwhile, some anti-torture activists are trying to pursue accountability the best they can, going after the licensure status of mental health professionals who participated in the Bush torture regime. Complaints against former Guantanamo Chief Psychologist Larry James and CIA contract interrogator James Mitchell have not gotten very far, with their cases dismissed.

Another case against former Major John Leso, a psychologist working for the DoD Behavioral Science Consultation Team at Guantanamo, who in 2002 helped write an interrogation protocol that relied in part on SERE “reverse-engineered” torture techniques, was also dismissed, but according to Raw Story, this Tuesday the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) will ask the New York Supreme Court to reconsider the decision of the New York State Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) not to investigate the misconduct complaint against Leso.

The issue of the military commissions must be considered in the context of its embedded existence as part of a full-scale exploitation plan upon prisoners, implemented as part of a war policy with strong imperialist ambitions, initiated by the United States in the aftermath of 9/11. The agitation for such a war preceded 9/11. The terrorist attack set lose this militarist policy, whose appurtenances — military tribunals, exploitation of prisoners, psychological warfare, secret prisons, false confessions, experimental torture programs, and unchecked executive power — threaten to end the semblance of democracy in the United States once and for all.

Means and Ends: Newly Published Notes of Bruce Jessen Reveal Real Purpose of Bush’s Torture Program

2:06 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

As part of a new investigative story, Truthout has published documents written by the former psychologist for SERE, and later CIA contract interrogator for the Bush torture program, Bruce Jessen. Before going to work for the CIA with his former SERE partner, psychologist James Mitchell, Jessen authored a 2002 “draft exploitation plan” for military use, based on his experiences as a SERE instructor. The newly-discovered documents, provided to Truthout by former SERE Air Force Captain Michael Kearns, were written back in 1989 when Jessen was transferred from his clinical role elsewhere in SERE to help staff a new survival training course for Special Mission Units undertaking dangerous assignments for Special Operations forces abroad.

Jason Leopold and I co-authored the new story, which includes a video interview with Captain Kearns, who helped hire Jessen back in 1989 for his new SERE role helping put together the class titled SV-91. The documents include notes for a portion of that class, known as “Psychological Aspects of Detention.” The other document is a paper by Jessen, “Psychological Advances in Training to Survive Captivity, Interrogation and Torture,” which was prepared for a symposium at that time: “Advances in Clinical Psychological Support of National Security Affairs, Operational Problems in the Behavioral Sciences Course.”

Jessen’s notes, in particular, demonstrate that this course material, which was “reverse-engineered” to provide a blueprint for the interrogation and detention policies of the Bush administration — some of which remain in use today — emphasized not just the ways to coercively interrogate an individual for intelligence purposes, but to “exploit” the detainee for a number of uses. As Jessen wrote (and those following the Bradley Manning torture case will find this quite chilling, I suspect):

“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”

Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”

What is “Exploitation”?

If one were to search for the term “exploitation” in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse, published with numerous redactions in late 2009 (PDF), you would find numerous mentions of the term. While at times the word “exploitation” appears to be used as a synonym for the “breaking down” of prisoners, it doesn’t usually explain for what purpose. Indeed, many have noted that such “breaking down” is antithetical to the production of information from an interrogation suspect. Jessen says as much in his notes. But there are other reasons to break someone down.

For instance, the SASC report notes that “The ‘Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training’ presentation described methods used by al Qaeda to resist interrogation and exploitation…” (p. 39 of the PDF). “The presentation on detainee “exploitation” described phases of exploitation and included instruction on initial capture and handling, conducting interrogations, and long-term exploitation.” “Another slide describing captor motives states: establish absolute control, induce dependence to meet needs, elicit compliance, shape cooperation…. techniques designed to achieve these goals include isolation or solitary confinement, induced physical weakness and exhaustion, degradation, conditioning, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, disruption of sleep and biorhythms, and manipulation of diet” (p. 40 of the PDF). When intelligence is the aim of the “exploitation process”, it is specifically called “intelligence exploitation” in the report.

One of the primary reasons exploitation is used on prisoners is to produce false confessions. Indeed, it was the torture of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi that was used to provide the false intelligence about Saddam Hussein seeking nuclear materials that was to provide a major casus belli for the United States for their war with Iraq.

Other examples of exploitation include the recruitment of prisoners as intelligence assets, i.e., as snitches and spies. Indeed, the Truthout article notes a number of cases of attempting just such recruitment of former Guantanamo detainees, while they were still incarcerated. Another long-standing example of such exploitation is the use of prisoners in show trials, which have been used in a number of countries as a means of squashing dissent and offering a faux-legitimate function to governmental security forces. This was the case in the famous 1949 show trial of Cardinal Mindzenty of Hungary by the Stalinist government there.

It was also the case more recently in the military commissions show trial of former “child soldier” Omar Khadr, who was tortured, held in solitary for years, then forced to sign a confession and endure a military show trial which sentenced him to 40 years in prison (while a backroom deal supposedly has reduced that to 8 years and release from Guantanamo to Canada sometime next year).

Show Trials, False Confessions, Spying, Medical Experimentation

In a little remarked aspect of the Khadr case, his brother, Abdurahman, who was also held as a prisoner at Guantanamo while also working as a spy for the CIA, trying to get intelligence from prisoners there, testified under oath in 2004 that Omar had agreed to collaborate with the FBI, but was returned to onerous torture conditions after he changed his mind. We don’t know the kind of collaboration he was ready to provide, though it’s noteworthy that his brother had already been working for a few years as a CIA asset.

A. My brother Omar cooperated with the FBI and he was ready, they were being ready to release him and then he was in his cellblock and people saw that he was being ready to be released so they told him: “Oh, you told everything. You are going to hell. So if you don’t change you are going to go to hell.” So the next time he went to interrogation he denied everything so they took away everything from him and he is still there till now.

Q. Because he decided not to continue the collaboration?

A. Not to continue the cooperation.

Perhaps one of the most heart-rending accounts of a prisoner being broken and used for false confessions is in the autobiography of David Hicks. Hicks also discussed his torture in an interview recently with Jason Leopold at Truthout, describing his experience of solitary confinement, beatings, stress positions, being drugged, and having “every aspect of our lives” controlled by the Guantanamo authorities. In particular, he describes another aspect of exploitation of prisoners I haven’t mentioned thus far, medical experimentation, as he was constantly given different pills, injections, blood tests. His sense of being an experimental guinea pig has been echoed by a number of other former detainees, most recently the German-born ethnic Turk, Murat Kurnaz.

The following is from Mr. Hicks’ book, Guantanamo: My Journey. It could be used as a teaching text on the meaning of “exploitation,” and what the U.S. government implemented at Guantanamo. But we cannot forget that an innocent human being was the subject of this evil.

As time passed, the threat of ‘special treatment’ and psychological conditioning took its toll. The interrogators wore me down so that when they said, ‘So when you attended the al-Qaeda training camp…’ I would answer the question without denial or protest. I became too exhausted to argue. I allowed the interrogators to frame my words and say anything they wanted….

The interrogator’s associate, who had remained quiet until now, said they had a proposal for me: they would place me next to the various English-speaking detainees over a period of time, and I was to milk each one for information and report it back to the interrogators. If I agreed to do this, I would be allowed fifteen minutes with a lady from the Philippines. I instantly refused and requested to be sent back to my cage….

A goal of interrogation is to repeatedly break you and then put you back together until the parts can be manipulated. You become the interrogators’ creation…. The memory of what I have described depresses me deeply to this day. It does something to the soul; it felt like something had died inside me….

My end of the bargain was that I had to verbally repeat my story, agreeing with anything they added, even when they dictated my thoughts, beliefs and actions incorrectly. They also fed me things to say about other detainees as well. I did so obediently, even though I knew they were all lies. I struggled terribly with this and hated every minute of it, especially when they brought up other detainees. I searched desperately for the courage to resist and renege on the deal. I had no recourse. I had crumbled and was fully theirs.

Up until now, the primary narrative surrounding the torture scandal has been about the purported efficacy of using torture to produce intelligence in the “war on terror.” But the new Jessen material demonstrates that the program used as the basis for the “reverse-engineering” of the SERE torture techniques was a full-blown exploitation program, whose aims went far beyond the mere elicitation of information, but included the physical and psychological pressures to produce absolute compliance in prisoners for the purpose of false confessions, show trials, recruitment of spies, and medical experimentation.

As Capt. Kearns is quoted in the Truthout article, “The Jessen notes clearly state the totality of what was being reverse-engineered – not just ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but an entire program of exploitation of prisoners using torture as a central pillar.”

It will be up to the press and the blogosphere to make the full reality of the Bush-era torture program fully understood to the population at large, to weave the kinds of information provided here into the narrative of events. Only when the full extent of this program is revealed, can we begin to take steps to end such heinous activities, and bring to justice those who sought a number of nefarious ends through means almost too awful to recount.

Isolation: “The Ideal Way Of ‘Breaking Down’ A Prisoner”

7:04 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

The isolation and degradation of Bradley Manning by the Marine Corps penal authorities at the Quantico brig represents a significant acceleration of government torture policy, as it is meant, among other things, to further desensitize the U.S. population to the use of torture. Torture will be used on political dissidents in this country, that is clear now, and PFC Manning is the first, but there will be others.

How bad is isolation? Bad enough that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself felt it warranted a “caution” in his April 16, 2003 memo authorizing certain aggressive forms of interrogation, i.e., torture.

Caution: the use of isolation as an interrogation technique requires detailed implementation instructions, including specific guidelines regarding the length of isolation, medical and psychological review, and approvals for extension of the length of by the appropriate level in the chain of command. This technique is not known to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days. Those nations that believe that detainees are subject to POW protections may view use of this technique as inconsistent with the requirements of Geneva III, Article 13 which provides that POWs must be protected against acts of intimidation; Article 14 which provides that POWs are entitled to respect for their person; Article 34 which prohibits coercion and Article 126 which ensures access and basic standards of treatment. Although the provisions of Geneva are not applicable to the interrogation of unlawful combatants, consideration should be given to these views prior to application of this technique.

Rumsfeld — bureaucrat that he is — concentrates on the legal obstacles to the use of isolation. But the psychological components have been well studied for decades. The following is from a 1961 article on use of isolation for interrogations written by Lawrence Hinkle, then a psychiatrist at Cornell Medical Center, and a CIA consultant (link to quote can be found here, emphasis in quote is mine):
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