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Gitmo Detainee Death Mystery Deepens with News of Drug Overdose

11:37 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif

Charlie Savage at the New York Times reports that “several people briefed on a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry” into the death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who was found unresponsive in his cell last September, have revealed that the prisoner “died from an overdose of psychiatric medication.”

As Savage notes, the military autopsy has reportedly declared Latif died a suicide. Accordingly, investigators are said to be following up a scenario wherein the Yemeni detainee, recently moved from the psychiatric ward to a disciplinary solitary unit at Camp 5, hoarded medications somehow, and used them to overdose last September 8.

To date, we do not know what kinds of medications were involved, except they were “psychiatric” in nature. Nor do we know how many different medications were supposedly involved. While the Times article implies investigators are looking at pills, as explained below, Latif also received forcible injections of drugs at various times.

Jason Leopold broke the story labeling Latif’s death a suicide in a November 26 article at Truthout. The autopsy report itself has not been publicly released, and has been the subject of wrangling between U.S. and Yemen authorities, a dispute that has left the former Guantanamo’s body in limbo (allegedly frozen) at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Cause of Death vs. Manner of Death

Read the rest of this entry →

The Significance of HRW’s New Call to Prosecute Bush Administration Officials for Torture

5:01 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report Tuesday. As they stated in the press release announcing the 107-page report, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees” (HTML, PDF), there is “overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration.” As a result, President Barack Obama is obliged “to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials.”

In particular, HRW singled out “four key leaders” in the torture program. Besides former President George W. Bush, the report indicts former Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. But others remain possible targets of investigation and prosecution. According to the report:

Such an investigation should also include examination of the roles played by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft, as well as the lawyers who crafted the legal “justifications” for torture, including Alberto Gonzales (counsel to the president and later attorney general), Jay Bybee (head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)), John Rizzo (acting CIA general counsel), David Addington (counsel to the vice president), William J. Haynes II (Department of Defense general counsel), and John Yoo (deputy assistant attorney general in the OLC).

But the key passage in the HRW report concerns the backing for international prosecutions, under the principle in international law of “universal jurisdiction,” which was used back in 1998 by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón to indict former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for genocide and murder.

Unless and until the US government pursues credible criminal investigations of the role of senior officials in the mistreatment of detainees since September 11, 2001, exercise universal jurisdiction or other forms of jurisdiction as provided under international and domestic law to prosecute US officials alleged to be involved in criminal offenses against detainees in violation of international law. [emphasis added]

Indeed, in an important section of the report, HRW details the failures and successes of pursuing such international prosecutions in the face of U.S. prosecutors’ failure to act and investigate or indict high administration officials for war crimes. This is even more important when one considers that the Obama administration has clearly stated its intention to not investigate or prosecute such crimes, going after a handful of lower-level interrogators for crimes not covered by the Bush administration’s so-called “legal” approvals for torture provided by the infamous Yoo/Bybee/Levin/Bradbury memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel.

Nor has Congress shown even a smidgen of appetite for pursuing further accountability: not one Congressman or Senator has stepped forward as yet to endorse HRW’s new call. Instead, they demonstrated their obsequiousness by approving Obama’s nomination of General David Petraeus as new CIA director 94-0, despite the fact that Petraeus has been implicated in the organization of counter-terror death squads in Iraq, and was in charge of training Iraqi security forces who repeatedly were documented as engaging in widespread torture. It was during Petraeus’s tenure as chief of such training for the coalition forces, that the U.S. implemented the notorious Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) 242, which commanded U.S. forces not to intervene in cases of Iraqi governmental torture should they come across such it (which they often did). No one during Petraeus’s testimony in his nomination hearings even questioned him about this.

Why this report now?

I asked Andrea Prasow, a senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, why this report was issued now, noting that some on the left had already questioned the timing of HRW’s action.

“Because it really needed to be done,” Prasow explained. She noted the recent admissions by former President Bush and Vice President Cheney that they had approved waterboarding. Furthermore, “following the killing of [Osama] Bin Laden, we saw the immediate response by some that torture and the enhanced interrogation techniques led to the capture of Bin Laden. And it became a part of normal debate about torture. It shows how fragile is the current commitment not to torture.”

Prasow also noted the recent closure of the Durham investigation, which resulted in the decision to criminally investigate the deaths of two detainees in CIA custody, while 99 other cases referred to his office were closed. I asked her whether she felt, as I do, that the announcement of the two investigations were meant to forestall attempts by European (especially Spanish) prosecutors to pursue “universal jurisdiction” prosecutions of U.S. officials for torture.

“I don’t see how there’s a defensible justification that the investigations Durham announced can do that,” Prasow said. “It’s pretty clear that there should be an investigation into the deaths of these detainees,” she added, “but it’s so clear the investigation is very limited. The scope of the investigation is the most important part. Even if Durham had investigated the 100 or so cases that exceeded the legal authorities, it wouldn’t be sufficient. What about the people who wrote the legal memos? Who told them to write the memos?” she said, emphasizing the fact that Durham’s investigation was limited by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to only CIA crimes, and only those that supposedly exceeded the criteria for “enhanced interrogation” laid out in a number of administration legal memos. The torture, Prasow noted, was “throughout the military” as well, including “hundreds or thousands” tortured at sites in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

Prasow noted that the Obama administration has made it policy to block attempts by torture victims to get compensation for torture, asserting a policy of protecting “state secrets” to shut down court cases. “But there are other ways of providing redress,” she said, adding that “providing redress is part of international laws.” The HRW report itself states, “Consistent with its obligations under the Convention against Torture, the US government should ensure that victims of torture obtain redress, which may include providing victims with compensation where warranted outside of the judicial context.”

The new HRW report comes on the heels of a controversy roiling around a proposed United Kingdom governmental inquiry into torture. A number of British human rights and legal agencies have said they would boycott the UK proceedings as a “whitewash.” As Andy Worthington put it the other day:

As a result of pandering to the Americans’ wishes, the terms of reference are “so restrictive,” as the Guardian described it, that JUSTICE, the UK section of the International Commission of Jurists, warned that the inquiry “was likely to fail to comply with UK and international laws governing investigations into torture.” Eric Metcalfe, JUSTICE’s director of human rights policy, said that the rules “mean that the inquiry is unlikely to get to the truth behind the allegations and, even if it does, we may never know for sure. However diligent and committed Sir Peter [Gibson] and his team may be, the government has given itself the final word on what can be made public.”

Andrea Prasow echoed Metcalfe’s fears, saying HRW had “some concerns about how much information [in the UK inquiry] was going to be kept secret. I think transparency, making it as public as possible, is most important.”

The fight for transparency also makes HRW’s call for prosecutions of high government officials, along with “an independent, nonpartisan commission, along the lines of the 9-11 Commission, [that] should be established to examine the actions of the executive branch, the CIA, the military, and Congress, with regard to Bush administration policies and practices that led to detainee abuse,” very timely. In a column the other day at Secrecy News — Pentagon Tightens Grip on Unclassified Information — Steven Aftergood reported on a Department of Defense proposed new rule regarding classification. While the Obama administration is supposedly on record for greater governmental transparency, the new rule imposes “new safeguard requirements on ‘prior designations indicating controlled access and dissemination (e.g., For Official Use Only, Sensitive But Unclassified, Limited Distribution, Proprietary, Originator Controlled, Law Enforcement Sensitive).’”

According to Aftergood, “By ‘grandfathering’ those old, obsolete markings in a new regulation for defense contractors, the DoD rule would effectively reactivate them and qualify them for continued protection under the new Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) regime, thereby defeating the new policy.” Even worse (if possible), “the proposed rule says that any unclassified information that has not been specifically approved for public release must be safeguarded. It establishes secrecy, not openness, as the presumptive status and default mode for most unclassified information.”

Much of what we know about the Bush-era torture program is due to the work of the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, who have used the Freedom of Information Act to gather hundreds of documents, if not thousands, that document the paper trail surrounding the crimes of the Bush administration. Reporters and investigators like Jane Mayer, Philippe Sands, Alfred McCoy, and Jason Leopold have also contributed much to our understanding of what occurred during the Bush years. The work of investigators going back years demonstrates that U.S. research into and propagation of torture around the world goes back decades.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has also produced an impressive, if still partially redacted, investigation (large PDF) into detainee abuse by the Department of Defense. Their report, for instance, concluded regarding torture at Guantanamo that “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.”

When one puts together the accelerated emphasis on “state secrets”; the Obama political program of “not looking back” in regards to U.S. war crimes (while supposedly pursuing accountability for torture and war crimes committed by other countries); the political passivity, if not cowardice of Congress; the fact that Obama “has not been transparent on the rendition issue, not even saying what its policy is,” according to Andrea Prasow; and finally the lies and propaganda spewed forth by the former Administration’s key figures and their proxies, one can only agree with HRW that enough is enough. The time for investigations and prosecutions into torture and rendition is now.

And if they won’t listen in Washington, D.C., perhaps they will in Madrid. Or some other intrepid prosecutor in — who knows? — Brazil or Argentina or Chile will pay back America, as a matter of poetic but also real justice for the crimes endured by their societies when the U.S. helped organize torture and terror in their countries only a generation ago. There were no U.S. investigations into actions of government figures then, and now we are faced with another set of atrocities produced by our own government. If we do not act now, what will our children face?

DoD Whistleblower: Documents Show Intel Withheld from 9/11 Congressional Investigators

2:46 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

As I reported back on May 24, both here and at Truthout, a Department of Defense Inspector General for Intelligence report, declassified only months ago, corroborated the accusations of a former Acting Chief of the Asymmetrical Threats Division of Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC) that his unit was told to stop tracking Osama bin Laden in the months prior to 9/11. But the IG report (PDF) cleared JFIC of any wrongdoing and declared, regarding charges JFIC withheld information when asked, that the intelligence agency had “provided a timely and accurate reply in response to the 9/11 Commission.”

Except, thanks to the former Acting Chief of the Asymmetric Threats Division, who released his original declassified letter of complaint to the DoD IG to Truthout, we can see that he never made a claim about information withheld from the 9/11 Commission. The complainant, who the IG dubbed “Iron Man” to protect his identity, said in his letter (PDF) that the “purpose” of his coming forward was “to formally complain” to the inspector general that “JFIC, when instructed in or before May 2002 to provide all original material it might have relevant to al-Qa’ida and the 9/11 attacks for a Congressional inquiry, intentionally misinformed the Department of Defense that it had no purview on such matters and no such material” (emphasis added).

The Congressional inquiry, published in December 2002 as “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before And After The Terrorist Attacks Of September 11, 2001″ (large PDF), never mentions the Asymmetrical Threat Division, called DO5 in government documents, or that JFIC was tracking Osama bin Laden, or perhaps most explosively, that multiple briefings were given on possible targeting by Al Qaeda, as early as summer 2000, of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Indeed, these buildings were considered the top targets by DO5, and the military intelligence analysts considered contacting WTC security and architectural/engineering staff, but held off, as Iron Man put it, “because of a command climate discouraging contact with the civilian community.”

Briefings were given on DO5′s work to other elements at U.S. Joint Forces Command (parent command to JFIC and DO5), to CIA, DIA, NSA, NCIS, and other agencies. Iron Man listed some of the names of who received the briefings in his letter of complaint, but they are redacted in the declassified version provided to Truthout.

The entire story and Iron Man’s documents are the subject of a new article at Truthout, authored by Jason Leopold and myself. Iron Man, a former deputy and then Acting Head of the Asymmetrical Threats Division, came forward for reasons of integrity, both professional and personal. Iron Man wrote to the IG in 2006:

I do believe that knowledge of the work done by DO5 would add to DoD’s understanding of its role in the events leading up to 9/11, and how to avoid future attacks. I have been falsely accused of revealing classified information on DO5′s work, when I am certain that information is not and has not been classified since 9/11, and I do want to see myself cleared of that false accusation. In addition, I and the deputy of that team, [redacted], especially carried the burden of knowledge of how close DoD came to bin Ladin and perhaps being able to reduce the number of lives lost on 9/11. I do not want that burden any longer.”

According to Truthout, both a Defense Department spokesperson and spokespeople for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees did not respond to calls for comment.

Why Does It Matter?

The entire 9/11 field of inquiry has been vilified, poisoned over the years by ridicule, sometimes fantastic conspiracy mongering, and fearfulness by journalists of approaching the material, lest they be branded as irresponsible or some kind of conspiracy freak. As a result, little work has been done to investigate, except by a small group of people, some of whom have raised some real questions, others who were intoxicated by the possibility of some giant conspiracy.

If anything, this story is about an intelligence and oversight scandal. It happens to concern 9/11, a very important and meaningful event in modern times. The official story says that no one knew that Al Qaeda was going to attack the World Trade Center or Pentagon, that there was an intelligence failure. But a whistleblower who was a primary participant in the intelligence work around Al Qaeda, whose department worked closely with the military command responsible for terrorism aimed against the United States (USJFCOM’s JTF-Civil Support), has come forward to say that narrative is not true, and to document how and why.

In the future, I’ll next take a look at the IG report itself, which concentrated on Iron Man’s allegations surrounding JFIC’s cover-up of its activities. The report, titled “Review of Joint Forces Intelligence Command Response to 9/11 Commission,” was either a totally inept job from start from finish — even getting the allegation wrong, as noted above — or it was a suborning of IG function to squelch misdeeds from being reported.

Congress should be looking at this pronto, or it will be assumed that its oversight function is a total joke, and the august Senators presiding over their oversight committees mere stooges.

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.

NRC on Research on “War on Terror” Detainees: “A Contemporary Problem”?

10:13 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A National Research Council (NRC) 2008 report on a conference on Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies examined briefly what it characterized as a “contemporary problem,” the possibility of doing research on “war on terror” detainees, removed by the U.S. government from Geneva protections against experiments done on prisoners of war.

In a section of the report that looked at the “Cultural and Ethical Underpinnings of Social Neuroscience,” the report’s authors examined the “Ethical Implications” of these new technologies. The section explored the birth of the new field of bioethics, in response to the scandalous revelations of the Tuskegee experiments. The report noted that “On the whole, however, the system of protections for human research subjects is not well designed to capture instances of intentional wrongdoing,” providing “rather… guidance for well-motivated investigators who wish to be in compliance with regulatory requirements and practice standards.”

The report further described the history surrounding the importance of the rules that constitute the need for informed consent of research participants, and how the Nazi-era experiments led to the Nuremberg principle that “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” While claiming the current “formal procedures in place for the use of military personnel in medical experiments” are “stringent,” that doesn’t imply “that no abuses can occur, nor that convenient alternative frameworks (such as field testing) cannot be used to circumvent the research rules, but only that the official policies and procedures in the military are rigorous.”

But even with such supposedly “rigorous” policies, the report’s authors see a problem. They ominously ask whether “classified research can ever be ethically sound inasmuch as it lacks transparency, such as in the form of public accountability. For example, if a member of an ethics review board disagrees with a majority decision involving a classified human experiment, that member would be unable to engage in a public protest of that decision.”

At this point in the discussion, another interesting, and even more ominous question rises up before the NSC panel (emphasis added):

A contemporary problem is the status of detainees at military installations who are suspects in the war on terrorism. Presumably, the ethical standards that apply to all human research subjects should apply to them as well. But if they are not protected by the provisions of the Geneva protocols for prisoners of war, the question would be whether as potential research subjects they are nonetheless protected by other international conventions, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948). Those technical questions of international law are beyond the scope of this report.

Why should the question of research on detainees arise in this discussion at all?

Evidence of Military Research and Experimentation on Detainees

Jason Leopold and I have been investigating the possibility of research being conducted upon detainees at Guantanamo and other “war on terror” prisoners held by the Defense Department and the CIA. Back in September 2009, I published articles at Firedoglake, The Public Record, and Truthout that noted the research on “uncontrollable stress” conducted upon SERE survival school students subjected to mock torture predated the institution of the so-called “enhanced interrogation program of the CIA. The research was conducted by, among others, a CIA-linked psychiatrist, Dr. Charles A. Morgan III, who is affiliated with Yale University and the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Morgan has denied his CIA affiliation, but for documentary evidence, see this list of participants at this 2004 DoJ/FBI conference.

This research used methods that were similar to those later instituted under a plan developed by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, formerly employed by the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), parent organization to the SERE program, to use coercive forms of interrogation on the new “war on terror” detainees, who the White House and their attorneys at the Office of Legal Counsel  removed from the protection of Geneva Convention protocols. In a report on CIA experiments on torture, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) noted in an appendix the existence of the Morgan research, but failed to make public the CIA connections, even though they certainly were aware of them.

Originally, the PHR report was going to include a footnote on the existence of a new protocol on human experimentation protections in the military signed by Paul Wolfowitz in early 2002. While they chose not to follow up on this, Leopold and I conducted a seven-month long investigation into the March 2002 issuance of Department of Defense Directive 3216.02, “Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research.” We noted that “the Wolfowitz directive weakened protections that had been in place for decades by limiting the safeguards to ‘prisoners of war’.” Even more, it allowed for waivers of informed consent if the head of a DoD department thought it necessary. There had never been such loose rules on informed consent ever explicitly allowed in the history of military research, although no prominent ethicist had discussed this until we published our article. Prominent ethicist Alexander Capron was quoted in our story for calling these changes “controversial both because it involves a waiver of the normal requirements and because the grounds for that waiver are so open-ended.”

While retaining the blanket prohibition against experimenting on prisoners of war, Wolfowitz softened the language for other types of prisoners, using a version of rules about “vulnerable” classes of individuals taken from regulations meant for civilian research by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

By removing the detainees from Geneva protections, and taking away “prisoner of war” protections, Bush and the White House lawyers, among them Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, opened up the captured prisoners, many of them sold to the Americans for bounty reward, to possible experimentation.

DoD and HHS Acting Together on Experiments?

Buried in the Wolfowitz directive was a provision (4.4.1) that “actions authorizing or requiring any action by an official of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with respect to any requirements” of research on “vulnerable populations” like prisoners “shall be under the authority of the Director, Defense Research and Engineering.” The reason for HHS involvement was because research “supported or conducted by the Department of Defense that affects vulnerable classes of subjects” had to meet the protections of HHS’s Common Rule language that covers protection of human subjects.

When queried whether there had ever been any DoD research on any kind of prisoner, or the use of HHS personnel to monitor such research, a spokesperson for Defense Research and Engineering indicated that they had no comment.

In 2002, there was another assault on prisoner protections for research, when Bush’s Secretary of HHS asked for and received a year later a blanket waiver for all informed consent on prisoner experimentation for “epidemiological” reasons, including the taking of biological samples. In a future article, I will explore the repercussions of this new policy — also never discussed by any ethical panel, and certainly not by the NRC — on research upon prisoners, and more specifically the possibility of experiments done on the detainees at Guantanamo.

This further investigation may throw light upon the Guantanamo SOP wherein all detainees were subjected to a never-before-attempted use of mass administration of treatment doses of the controversial anti-malaria drug mefloquine (Lariam), as also reported in a special investigation by Jason Leopold and myself last December. The scandal was also the subject of an independent investigatory report published at the same time by Seton Hall University Law School’s Center for Policy and Research.

In a 2002 report on mefloquine adverse events, “Unexpected frequency, duration and spectrum of adverse events after therapeutic dose of mefloquine in healthy adults,” published in top medical journal Acta Tropica, it was noted that 73% of the participants suffered “severe (grade 3) vertigo…” which “required bed rest and specific medication for 1 to 4 days.” Nevertheless, DoD maintains that the use of mefloquine was for public health purposes, to prevent malaria from spreading in Cuba. But as our investigation showed, talking with military medical experts, and examining other military responses to malaria threat, including in Cuba, no such use of such mass treatment doses, with its attendant dangers, was ever used or even proposed. Nor did DoD medical officers at Guantanamo demand the same protocols be used on foreign workers from malarial areas brought into the camp at this same time to work on building Camp Delta and other facilities at the naval base. The workers were employed by Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton.

Was the mefloquine use part of an experimental protocol on the adverse side effects of the drug, a subject of much controversy within DoD at the time? Was it a method of softening up prisoners for interrogation? While calls for greater transparency go unheeded, further investigation by the press may bring answers to these explosive questions.

Guantanamo Medical Chief Was “Advised Not to Talk About” Drug Decision

5:54 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A new story at Truthout, which I co-authored with Jason Leopold, takes up the investigation of the story into the mass drugging of Guantanamo detainees with the controversial drug mefloquine, aka Lariam, which we originally reported earlier this month. When I wrote about the issue here at Firedoglake, I noted that DoD had scrubbed one the key documents we used. I thought it had resurfaced, but looking today, it’s gone again.

The issue of documents is not so key for this latest look into DoD actions at Guantanamo, as we interviewed or had email exchanges with key individuals involved. The most important was Captain Albert Shimkus, Jr. (ret.), who from 2002 to summer 2003 was former commanding officer and chief surgeon for both the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo Bay and Joint Task Force 160, which administered health care to the detainees. A copy of a January 23, 2002 SOP obtained by Truthout showed that it was Shimkus who signed off on the mefloquine policy.

As the article at Truthout explains:

Capt. Albert J. Shimkus… defended the unprecedented practice, first reported by Truthout earlier this month, to administer 1250 mg of the drug mefloquine to all “war on terror” prisoners transferred to Guantanamo within the first 24 hours after their arrival, regardless of whether they had malaria or not. The 1250 mg dosage is what is used to treat individuals who have malaria and is five times higher than the prophylactic dose given to individuals to prevent the disease. One tropical disease expert said there is no “medical justification” for the practice….

Although there were two media reports in 2002 that quoted Shimkus saying “war on terror” detainees were given antimalarial medication, neither he nor any other military or Pentagon official ever disclosed to lawmakers or military personnel who raised questions about the efficacy of mefloquine, that mass presumptive treatment was the policy in place at Guantanamo.

“There were certain issues we were advised not to talk about,” Shimkus told Truthout in an interview, explaining the reason the policy was never publicly disclosed.

In the interview with Truthout, Shimkus goes on to describe what agencies and personnel he relied on to make the decision, as he readily admitted that he was no public health or malaria expert himself. Nevertheless, he persistently defended the mass administration of mefloquine, even if it did possibly lead to serious side effects in some of the detainees. He maintained the “benefits outweighed the risks.”

The Truthout article explains how unusual this kind of antimalaria approach is. In fact, in regards to the use of mefloquine, or of any population transfer from Central or South Asia to a non-malarial endemic area, the procedure was unprecedented, and if you believe the many links provided from the CDC, and elsewhere, was dangerous.

With the original Truthout investigation drawing upon a parallel study by Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research, and suppositions by both investigations that mefloquine, whose drug family was linked to studies done by the CIA’s MKULTRA (see section on quinolines), was used experimentally to soften up the detainees, Captain Shimkus specifically denied any knowledge of any experiment done on the detainees in regards to mefloquine, or anything else. “I don’t remember in my 18 months [at Guantanamo] a word spoken in regards to research.”

But there was some reason he had been told not to talk about the procedure, and other matters. If the medical treatment at Guantanamo was so world-class, why are they hiding information about what was done there? Why can’t redacted medical records be released? Why do even detainee’s attorneys find it next to impossible to obtain these records? Why is a DoD Inspector General report on drugs and detainees kept totally classified?

The only way such thing can be kept secret is because the American people are not clamoring for the truth to be revealed. That is a sad and sombre reflection upon the state of this society as it goes into the second decade of the 21st century.

Jason and I have brought the country the first clear indication of what kind of drugging shenanigans were happening at Guantanamo. I’ll be honest, I’m unhappy with the response from the human rights community and key political bloggers, not to mention the mainstream press. Has the decision of the Obama administration to leave Guantanamo open, and to follow Bush in the policy of indefinite detention and abusive interrogation (Appendix M), so paralyzed the country that very serious charges of drugging of prisoners can pass by unremarked?

I thank Firedoglake and Truthout for supporting the work that furthers these kinds of investigations. But much more needs to be done. The blowback from non-accountability over torture is creeping into the society at an ever-expanding rate. We see this in the seeming acceptability in which accused prisoners, like Bradley Manning, are kept in onerous conditions akin to a Supermax prison… or Camp Echo at Guantanamo.

For readers, the question of what next lies before you with a moral imperative this holiday season. We bring you the news. You can hide your heads, or you can choose to act, raise your voice, make known the unacceptability of such treatment by the state on prisoners held without charge, without trial, victims of a “war on terror”, itself the blowback from a decades-long policy of supporting dictators and torturers abroad.

From Past to Present-day: Guatemala Revelations and CIA/DoD Experimentation

12:46 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Headlines were made last week concerning revelations of a 64-year-old scandal only recently discovered by historian Susan M. Reverby of Wellesley College. Reverby discovered that a key researcher who was part of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis study had also headed a project in Guatemala that deliberately infected prisoners and insane asylum inmates with various venereal diseases, ostensibly in order to study how the diseases were transmitted and if they human contagion could be blocked.

Inoculation was difficult, the researchers found, and they had to result to making abrasions and dripping rabbit-infected pus on the genitals of human beings, some of whom had no idea what was being done to them, to try and get the desired results. The study was inconclusive, and ended after only a few years, but not before more than 700 individuals had been inoculated. The human subjects were supposed to be treated with penicillin if they contracted any disease, but record keeping and controls on the project were poor. None received adequate informed consent. Moreover, the researchers involved, working for the U.S. Public Health Service, knew the experiment would never pass muster if done in the United States. A similar experiment in U.S. prisons in 1911 was shut down because of controversy over the unethical experimentation upon prisoners. See Reverby’s preprint version (PDF) of her academic article for a much fuller discussion of what occurred.

These revelations are only the latest in an ongoing series of scandals regarding government illegal and unethical experimentation. Earlier this year, investigative journalist H.P. Albarelli detailed the many activities of the government its decades-long mind control project, as well as the use of drugs in clandestine operations in his book A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War. (Albarelli was also a guest at FDL Book Salon last January.) Albarelli’s book also covered the LSD poisoning by the CIA of the entire French village Pont-St.-Esprit in August 1951, a story picked up only a few months ago by BBC.

There are plenty of other underreported and important stories out there on the terrible scandal that has been U.S. illegal experimentation. The Department of Defense experimented on over 7000 soldiers at its Edgewood Arsenal, part of "a secret testing program in which U.S. military personnel were deliberately exposed to chemical and biological weapons and other toxins without informed consent." Troops were tested with "nerve gas, psychochemicals, and thousands of other toxic chemical or biological substances and perhaps most gruesomely, the insertion of septal implants in the brains of subjects in a ghastly series of mind control experiments that went awry." The program ended in 1976 after approximately twenty years. Remarkably, a lawsuit by veterans is still alive and wending its way through the courts.

It was approximately only ten years ago when another DoD experiment scandal became big news. Project Shad was a DoD experiment that exposed at least 4,000 Navy men to various chemical agents and decontaminant chemicals, "including Bacillus globigii (BG), Coxiella burnetii [which causes Q fever], Pasteurella tularensis [which causes tularemia or 'rabbit fever'], Zinc Cadmium Sulfide, Beta-propriolactone, Sarin, VX, Escherichia Coli (EC), Serratia Marcescens (SM), Sodium Hydroxide, Peracetic acid, Potassium hydroxide, Sodium hypochlorite, ‘tracer amounts’ of radioactivity and asbestos, [and] Methylacetoacetate." So outrageous were these experiments, denied by the government for 35 years, that there were Congressional hearings (PDF) in 2002, and major news reports by CBS Evening News. Today, the story has dropped off the radar, though thanks to some Congressional pressure, and the activism of some of the Shad victims, veterans and the government can get more information on Shad and its land-based twin experiment, Project 112, at this Veterans Administration webpage.

The government use of drugs and other experimental torture techniques during the Bush administration has led to a number of studies and reports. Most recently, the DoD Inspector General concluded an investigation on the drugging of detainees, or so-called "unprivileged enemy combatants" in DoD custody. But the results of the review remain classified, and the fact the report was even ever concluded was kept from public knowledge for many months. In 2008, now-Vice President Joesph Biden had been one of three senators asking for an investigation into the drugging charges. Biden’s office at the White House refused to reply to questions for comment on the report’s existence or what have been revealed by the investigation.

Finally, we have the ongoing question of human experimentation by the CIA as part of the construction of and operations concerning their "enhanced interrogation" torture program. Earlier this year, Physicians for Human Rights released a peer-reviewed white paper detailing some of the CIA actions. As the following press release by PHR explains, there is a direct line of scientific malfeasance and unethical behavior that runs from the Guatemala experiments of the 1940s to the CIA and DoD illegal experimentation of our era. In an excellent article on the topic by one of the PHR report authors, psychologists Stephen Soldz, explains:

Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was notified by letter of these abuses, abuses that violate the same research ethics principles — informed consent and minimization of harm — that were violated by the Guatemalan STD research. But, rather than express her outrage at this “reprehensible research,” Secretary Sebelius maintained her silence, as did every government official, other than a CIA press spokesman who denied our claims without presenting the slightest bit of evidence. Secretary Sebelius’ department referred an official complaint regarding unethical CIA research to the very same CIA that had already publicly denied the charges. So far, no government agency has committed to investigating these CIA abuses, which occurred far more recently than the Guatemalan horrors.

The letter denying the complaint and referring it back to the CIA was signed by Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Public Health Service, the same agency that conducted the Guatemala experiments decades ago (and conveniently never published the results).

What follows is a press release from Physicians for Human Rights (courtesy Stephen Soldz’s website):

Physicians for Human Rights Decries Obama Administration’s Double Standard on Illegal Human Experimentation; 1946 Guatemala Case and Alleged CIA Experimentation on Black Site Detainees Both Deserve Equal Justice

Cambridge, MA–In the wake of revelations about America’s experimentation on unwilling human subjects in Guatemala in 1946, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls on President Obama to equally investigate credible evidence of illegal human subject research on detainees in CIA custody during the Bush administration.

“What was done to 700 Guatemalans 64 years ago without their consent is appalling,” said Physicians for Human Rights CEO Frank Donaghue. “But President Obama’s apologies for the Guatemala case ring hollow when the White House refuses to investigate similar crimes that allegedly occurred in the past decade. The credible evidence of illegal human experiments by the CIA on black site detainees deserves equal attention and justice.”

PHR’s June 2010 report, Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, was the first peer-reviewed analysis of evidence indicating that the Bush administration allegedly conducted illegal human research and experimentation on prisoners in US custody. The research was apparently used to insulate interrogators from potential prosecution and to standardize the use of torture.

“The conduct of health professionals in both cases—Guatemala and the CIA black sites—makes a mockery of bedrock principles of medical ethics and the law,” stated Scott Allen, MD, lead medical author of the PHR report. “Human subject research protections mean nothing if they don’t apply to all people all of the time—regardless of politics.”

CIA physicians and psychologists collected and analyzed data on the physical and psychological impact of the “enhanced” interrogation tactics, analysis which became the basis of Department of Justice memos justifying the torture program. This alleged program of illegal human subject experimentation violates medical ethics, federal law, and international research standards, including the Nuremberg Code and the Common Rule. These practices could, in some cases, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“While the proposed federal commission on the abuses in Guatemala is welcome, the American people must also learn the truth about what was done in our name over the past decade to detainees in CIA custody,” said Nathaniel Raymond, Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture and lead author of the PHR report. “The Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services must investigate these credible allegations of human experimentation on detainees by the CIA with the same mandate as the Guatemala case.”

PHR calls on President Obama, working with Congress, to appoint a federal commission to investigate what American physicians and psychologists did to people subjected to torture in US custody. John Durham, the Department of Justice prosecutor tasked with investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes as well as interrogations that went beyond what was authorized by the Department of Justice memos, should also be given a clear mandate to probe allegations of illegal research at the black sites, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

What’s Up with Transparency? Government Hid Report on Drugging of Detainees for Months

3:47 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

A story by Jason Leopold and me, currently up at Truthout, reports that a Department of Defense Office of Inspector General investigation into allegations of drugging of detainees, completed almost exactly a year ago, was nevertheless hidden from public knowledge for months. Its results remain hidden, labeled classified. This is especially strange as this document was publicly requested by no less than now-Vice President (then Senator) Joe Biden, along with Senators Carl Levin and Chuck Hagel, after a couple of articles in 2008 — one by Jeff Stein and one by Joby Warrick at the Washington Post — blew the whistle on dozens of reports of alleged drugging of detainees.

The finished report, entitled "Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees," had been published on September 23, 2009. It was recently posted as finished at the OIG’s website (see 09-INTEL-13). I know that when I was looking for the progress of the report as recently as last February, for an article I was writing at the time, the investigation was still listed as "in progress." It also went under another title: "Possible Use of Mind Altering Substances by DoD Personnel during Interrogations of Detainees and/or Prisoners Captured during the War on Terror" (Project No. D2007-DINT01-0092.005). That listing has since expired.

Today I asked Vice President Biden’s office for comment, and am awaiting reply. But on the face of it, no one seems to want to talk about this report. Human rights workers and attorneys who were familiar with the fact of the investigation were quite surprised when I informed them the report had been finished twelve months ago! Multiple FOIA requests have now been made, but I don’t hold out much hope for getting answers to the basic questions around the many charges of drugging of detainees. This administration’s claims about greater transparency seem quite thin, especially when it means investigating their "war on terror" and detainee prison system.

As the Truthout article reports:

More recent accounts of drugging by detainees include charges by Abdul Aziz Naji, who was forcibly repatriated to Algeria from Guantanamo July 2010. Naji told an Algerian newspaper that detainees at Guantanamo were forced "to take some medicines for three months to drive them crazy, loosing [sic] memory and committing suicide." According to an important exposé by Scott Horton at Harpers last winter, at least one of the three Guantanamo prisoners that DoD claimed committed suicide in 2006 had needle marks on both of his arms. According to Horton, the Obama administration has refused to open an investigation into these mysterious deaths, which allegedly took place at a previously unreported black site at Guantanamo, known informally as Camp No.

What could drugs have been used for? It’s fairly well accepted and documented that the CIA (at least) used drugs for sedation of prisoners during rendition. Drugs could also be used to enforce compliance in prison, or to "soften up" prisoners for interrogation. Of course, the never-ending search for a "truth drug" may be in play here, as well as sinister kinds of experiments, akin to the MKULTRA or Edgewood Arsenal drug experiments of old. The U.S. veterans who were used as guinea pigs by the Army at Edgewood have been fighting a lawsuit for damages against the government for some time, with some recent successes in moving the case forward. See this website for more details and links to the filings.

And the drugs used? Jose Padilla’s chief federal defender asserted in a 2007 legal motion that Padilla was "was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations." Hank Albarelli suggested what some of them could be in an article (which I also co-authored) last June:

Recent reports concerning the CIA and Army have both organizations experimenting on a selected basis with a new mind altering drug whose effects are described as "incredibly mind altering yet at the same time allowing subjects to adhere to a sufficient sense of sanity thus allowing better opportunity for truth inducing techniques…" The drug, described by one former intelligence official as "ETX," is said to last for "about 48-hours."

We can’t really know what’s being given. Probably because doping up prisoners is supposed to be illegal, they are keeping whatever came up in the Inspector General’s investigation secret. Use of drugs on prisoners is a war crime — even though the Army Field Manual allows giving drugs for interrogations as long as they don’t cause "permanent" or "lasting" harm or damage. An older ban against "chemically induced psychosis" was dropped when the new AFM was adopted in September 2006. Given the AFM usage, it would appear that drugs could be used abusively, as torture, and still not meet the "legal" criteria of same. No wonder a Senate Armed Service Committee staff person told their press person "that the OIG investigation ‘did not substantiate allegations’ that mind altering drugs ‘were used for interrogation purposes’ on detainees." That would leave use of hallucinogenic drugs to disorient prisoners and produce compliance prior to interrogations to be considered legal.

So the Obama administration doesn’t want pot to be legalized, but they’re okay with giving mind-altering drugs to prisoners (on some level), and keep top-secret any information about government investigations into abuses. What a damaged and insane society we live in!

Only protests from an outraged citizenry will change such criminal actions — done in your name, by the way — to make the world safe for democracy U.S. corporate profits.