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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* Revealing that Obama never rescinded all the torture memos.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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DHS says FBI “possibly funded” Terrorist Group

11:40 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

J. Edgar Hoover

It was most surprising to come across the following entry at the website for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses for Terrorism (known by the acronym START), which is run by the Department of Homeland Security out of the University of Maryland. According to DHS, START is one of their “centers of excellence,” an academic center sponsored by the DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate.

The webpage concerns the “Terrorist Organization Profile” for the Secret Army Organization, a right-wing terrorist group in the early 1970s, a group START writes was “possibly funded by the FBI.”

According to START, “The Secret Army Organization (SAO), a right-wing militant group based in San Diego, was active from 1969 to 1972. They targeted individuals and groups who spoke out against the Vietnam War, especially those who organized public demonstrations and distributed anti-war literature.”

Indeed, if we could turn the clock back to June 1975, we would read an article in the New York Times, “A.C.L.U. Says F.B.I. Funded ‘Army’ to Terrorize Antiwar Protesters.”

According to the Times, the ACLU compiled a 5,000 page report on the SAO, a group of former Minutemen and other right-wingers and violent home-grown fascists, for the benefit of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “alleging the Federal Bureau of Intelligence recruited a band of right-wing terrorists and supplied them with money and weapons to attack young antiwar demonstrators.”

But that’s not all, the SAO engaged in bombing and attempted assassination, and guess whose house the weapons turned up in? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s let the DHS’s “Center of Excellence” inform us of this important episode in our history, which came, by the way, after the FBI claimed they had stopped their Cointelpro program of disruption of the Left.

Assassination Attempt, FBI Agent Hides the Weapon

From START’s SAO webpage:

The report also stated that the SAO planned to kidnap and murder protestors of the 1972 Republican National Convention, which was to be held in San Diego before being relocated to Miami Beach. An assassination attempt of Dr. Peter Bohmer, professor at San Diego State University, and Paula Tharp, reporter for the San Diego Street Journal, brought about the arrests of several SAO members who later acknowledge an FBI connection. During the investigation, the gun used in the assassination attempt was found in the home of FBI agent Steven Christiansen, who was subsequently identified as a SAO contact. In 1973, Godfrey, testifying as an FBI informant, claimed he received up to $20,000 in weapons and a $250 per month income from the FBI to recruit new SAO members and provide information to agents. He also testified to the criminal acts of several SAO operatives, including fellow leader Jerry Lynn Davis. Official statements from the FBI claimed no involvement with the SAO, and no agents were prosecuted.

The story of the SAO is a forgotten piece of contemporary history that is directly relevant to a number of current issues, including the prosecution of the bogus “war on terror,” and the FBI’s role in it; the debates about government participation in and legalization of assassination of its own citizens; and government surveillance of and attacks upon dissent in this country.

It also could be considered a prime example of the historical amnesia that plagues our times, an amnesia hastened by disinterest by the major media, cheered on by government agencies none too interested in accountability for government overreach or even criminality.

Links to the President

According to the Ann Arbor Sun at the time, the ACLU tagged the SAO as “an interagency apparatus organized ‘at the direction of Richard M. Nixon.’”

Reportedly the link to Nixon came via Watergate burglar White House “plumbers” operative Donald Segretti, who affidavits claimed had given funds and military hardware to SAO to disrupt the 1972 GOP convention in San Diego. (The convention was subsequently moved to Miami Beach.)

But it was the FBI who seems to have been operationally in charge.

From the Sun: “SAO operative Jerry Lynn Davis, who once participated in the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion, revealed that [admitted FBI informant Howard Barry] Godfrey had regularly supplied the SAO with money and weapons on behalf of the FBI.”

A newspaper office was attacked. A car firebombed. Informants infiltrated, while meetings were monitored. There were plans to poison the punch at antiwar meetings. A theater was bombed. Bulletins were published on “how to make booby traps, how to use ammonium nitrate in high explosives,” And then, there was the assassination plot, or rather plots, as the SAO bungled one assassination attempt after another to kill a left-wing professor at San Diego State.

How It Went Down, and the Cover-up

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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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New Document Shows FBI Interrogation Advice Draws on CIA Torture Manuals

11:23 am in Torture by Jeff Kaye

Federal Bureau of Investigation Seal

A 2010 FBI interrogation “primer” (PDF), apparently a fifth version of earlier FBI manuals dealing with “Cross-cultural, Rapport-based” “intelligence-oriented interrogations in overseas environments,” repeatedly draws upon advice from two CIA torture manuals, the 1963 KUBARK Counter-intelligence Manual and the 1983 Human Exploitation Resource Manual.

According to the National Security Archive, the KUBARK manual “includes a detailed section on ‘The Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources,’ with concrete assessments on employing ‘Threats and Fear,’ ‘Pain,’ and ‘Debility.’ “ Even so, the manual is on the FBI’s “Recommended Reading” list for agents conducting overseas interrogations.

The 1983 Human Exploitation manual, which has been connected with atrocities by Latin American governments, drew upon both KUBARK and U.S. Army Intelligence manuals, describing the interrogator as someone “‘able to manipulate the subject’s environment… to create unpleasant or intolerable situations, to disrupt patterns of time, space, and sensory perception.’”

The FBI document quotes the 1983 manual twice. While not referenced by name in the body of the document, the source is noted in the footnotes. One such quote from the 1983 torture document describes “the principle of generating pressure inside the source without the application of outside force.”

“This is accomplished by manipulating [the prisoner] psychologically until his resistance is sapped and his urge to yield is fortified,” the Human Exploitation Resource manual states, and FBI agents are so advised. The quote is in bold in the FBI instructions and reproduced as such here.

Meanwhile, the KUBARK manual is repeatedly mentioned in the body of the FBI work. “There are two purposes of screening according to the KUBARK Manual,” the “primer” states. According to the FBI, the “wise Interrogator” will follow “KUBARK Manual guidance.”

According to an ACLU blog posting, the FBI document was “written by an FBI Section Chief within the counterterrorism division.”

The rehabilitation of the KUBARK document began with an essay by U.S. interrogation consultant Colonel (ret.) Steven Kleinman. The essay was published in an Intelligence Science Board (ISB) December 2006 monograph, Educing Information. Kleinman noted KUBARK’s “disturbing legacy,” but added he felt the manual contained “the potential for lessons learned that could be derived from a highly controversial document.”

The FBI “rapport-based” manual repeatedly references another ISB document. Written in 2009, Intelligence Interviewing: Teaching Papers and Case Studies, includes in its two case studies a long discussion of a case of years-long isolation of a very senior North Vietnamese military official. While the interrogator in charge, Frank Snepp, said the treatment of this official ultimately disillusioned him about what the U.S. was trying to achieve in Vietnam, the ISB authors found Snepp had been successful in establishing “some operational accord” with the prisoner.

In his essay, Kleinman seriously played down the nature of the CIA’s manual, which had drawn upon years of MKULTRA research into use of drugs, sensory deprivation and the induction of fear and debility in interrogation subjects.

“Although criticized for its discussion of coercion, the KUBARK manual does not portray coercive methods as a necessary — or even viable — means of effectively educing information,” Kleinman wrote.

But in fact the CIA manual devotes fully a fifth of its instructions to coercive interrogation techniques, or torture, including isolation, “deprivation of sensory stimuli,” induction of physical weakness, use of “fear and threats,” hypnosis, and “narcosis”, i.e., use of drugs (including use of drugs as a placebo to fool prisoners).

Kleinman is the Director for Strategic Research for The Soufan Group, an organization named after ex-FBI agent Ali Soufan, and includes ex-FBI interrogators on its list of experts. It would seem that unwittingly Kleinman’s focus on what was of use to the legal interrogator in the KUBARK manual did not stop some FBI officials from allowing certain forms of coercive interrogation, i.e., reliance on use of isolation and manipulation of human emotional needs to get information and confessions. At times this is taken to extremes that amount to torture.

Kleinman himself is on the record as opposing all coercive interrogation methods. The 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee investigation into detainee abuse described then-Col. Kleinman’s efforts to stop torture occurring at a JSOC interrogation facility in Iraq. The criticism of his KUBARK essay is not meant to imply that he supports in any way the kinds of coercive techniques described therein.

[Update, 8/6/12: Furthermore, it is worth noting, and after hearing critique regarding the first version of this article from Mr. Kleinman himself, that in his essay on the CIA manual, Kleinman specifically says "long-term isolation" causes "profound emotional, psychological, and physical discomfort, and that such abuse would therefore fail to measure up to the standards for the treatment of prisoners as set forth in international accords and U.S. Federal statutes" (p. 138)]

FBI Uses Isolation to Achieve “Rapport”

The FBI manual also argues for the use of isolation to achieve rapport by leveraging the isolation or solitary confinement of a detainee.  Kevin Gosztola highlighted this aspect of the FBI “primer” in an August 2 article at Firedoglake’s The Dissenter blog.

What both Gosztola and the ACLU miss in their otherwise important commentary about the coercive isolation technique (even the CIA’s KUBARK manual recognizes isolation is a coercive technique, i.e., torture) is how the FBI intends to leverage the effects of isolation to achieve effects under their “rapport” paradigm. This psychological aspect of the use of isolation has not been generally publicized.

“The need for affiliation is one of the advantages the Interrogator has if a subject has been isolated from fellow detainees, “ the FBI “primer” states.

In this matter, the FBI is following in the footsteps of the CITF doctrine it followed in DoD interrogations under an October 2003 directive that stated, “The use of isolation facilities will not be employed as an interrogation tactic; however, on a case-by-case basis it can be used as an incentive.” Perversely, the use of isolation under this directive was supposed to be “approved” by the detainee.

The KUBARK manual describes the anxieties, emotional discomfort and psychological regression that follow from enforced isolation, and how the interrogator exploits this situation (italics added for emphasis):

“As the interrogator becomes linked in the subject’s mind with the reward of lessened anxiety, human contact, and meaningful activity, and thus with providing relief for growing discomfort, the questioner assumes a benevolent role….

“At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father figure. The result, normally, is a strengthening of the subject’s tendencies toward compliance.”

The Appendix M Torture Virus Spreads to FBI Doctrine

Writing in an August 2 letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller, ACLU Director Laura Murphy and Legislative Counsel Devon Chaffee make the important connection between FBI policy on using isolation and current Department of Defense interrogation policy.

As official interrogation doctrine of the Obama administration, Army Field Manual FM 2-22.3 (AFM), Human Intelligence Collector Operations made use of isolation part of their “Separation” technique, as described in its Appendix M.

Murphy and Chaffee write:

“By recommending that FBI agents ask the U.S. military to isolate detainees in its custody, the FBI primer appears to be encouraging the application of Appendix M of the Army’s interrogation manual—a controversial, restricted appendix that allows detainee isolation only in certain circumstances not involving prisoners of war. The FBI primer states that in a Department of Defense facility ‘a formal request from the FBI must be made to isolate the detainee’ and that this request ‘must be approved by the first O-6 in the chain of command.’ Appendix M of the military’s interrogation manual (which requires O-7 level approval) permits the use of isolation—as well as the placement of goggles, blindfolds, and earmuffs on the detainee—to ‘foster a feeling of futility.’ Experienced interrogators and human rights groups, however, have called for Appendix M to be revoked, questioning the technique’s effectiveness and highlighting the risk that its use will lead to serious human rights abuses.”

The abusive techniques of Appendix M, which also includes sleep deprivation and allowed environmental manipulations, along with the AFM’s allowance for use of fear techniques and even use of drugs, were approved in a 2006 Office of Legal Counsel memorandum for the files (PDF) by torture memo author Steven Bradbury.

Although President Obama, with the advice of Attorney General Eric Holder, revoked the 2002, 2005 and a few other OLC Bush-era torture memos, the administration never revoked the memo on Appendix M.

Use of isolation was something the FBI adopted early on, and its use was in evidence even in the early days at Guantanamo, where FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan was in charge of the interrogation of Mohamed Al Qahtani. While Al Qahtani’s interrogation was later the subject of an escalation of use of torture techniques by the military, which was itself a matter of some protest within DoD and FBI circles, while the FBI was in charge, Soufan had Al Qahtani placed in harsh isolation.

Soufan went so far as to remove Al Qahtani from the usual cellblock and built a special cell for him alone, meant to duplicate the hard isolation conditions Jose Padilla had been placed into in a Charleston, South Carolina Navy brig. When Soufan, NCIS Chief Psychologist Mark Gelles, and others protested use of other techniques of physical and psychological torture on Al Qahtani, their alternate proposal was to put the already near-psychotic and ailing prisoner in months more intense isolation.

The use of isolation to break prisoners has a long history. When two former prisoners in the USSR gulags, writing under the pen names F. Beck and W. Godin, published their account of Soviet torture in 1951 in a book entitled Russian Purge and the Extraction of Confession, they described the use of isolation at the start of their detention by the Stalin secret police:

“When a man was arrested he was completely isolated from the outside world….

“Each prisoner was carefully isolated from fellow prisoners who knew him. Consultation with defense counsel was unheard of, and in the overwhelming majority of cases no defense of any kind was permitted.” (pp. 40-41)

American sociologist Albert Biderman studied the effects of coercive interrogation on prisoners. His famous “chart of coercion” was taught to interrogators at Guantanamo. With its emphasis on isolation to deprive the prisoner of all social report and the will to resist, it could be a blueprint for modern FBI interrogation, minus Biderman’s emphasis on induction of debility.

For instance, Biderman’s chart describes demonstrating interrogator “omnipotence” and the use of threats and degradation of the prisoner. The FBI manual explicitly allows AFM “techniques” that play exactly on this, including “Emotional Fear Up,” “Emotional Pride and Ego Down,” “Emotional Futility,” and “The All Seeing Eye or We Know All.”

Changes in Procedures for Law Enforcement Interviews Overseas

Unremarked by the ACLU or other commentators is the FBI manual’s Annex B, “Conducting Custodial Law Enforcement Interviews Overseas.” The first FBI concern is evidence tainted by torture (though they don’t use the word “torture” anywhere in the document, at least in its redacted form).

The FBI counterterrorism Section Chief notes, drily, “Given the extensive media coverage of interrogation activities at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram and other facilities the threshold is particularly high for establishing that any statement you obtained overseas was not coerced in some way.”

Three sentences in the document are then redacted, and the text continues, “The assumption of the court may be that you used prior knowledge of the subject’s statements to obtain a statement which you are asserting is admissible even if you did not confront the subject with information he previously provided. Always keep in mind that you may one day be on the stand swearing that you had no knowledge of the subjects previous statements during intelligence interviews.” [Bold emphasis in original]

A second concern is the videotaping of interrogations. Recognizing that DoD routinely videotapes all interrogations, the FBI manual infers that the government may destroy or has destroyed such interrogation recordings.

“This creates a tremendous suppression hearing issue,” the FBI notes, “because the defense will become aware that the U.S Government (USG) taped the interview but the tape cannot be provided to the defense if a copy was not retained. The obvious accusation will be that the tape was destroyed to hide the fact that the confession was coerced. Seek out information on the videotaping policy for any facility you work in and document it.”

A third concern is the reading of rights to a subject held by a DoD or a foreign power, while emphasizing that the FBI agent has “no control” over such detainees and how they are held. While it requires the agents to document the subject’s condition, the manual does not forbid agents from interrogating subjects held in tortuous or cruel, degrading or inhuman conditions. In fact, the FBI manual’s section about “Recommended practices” regarding agents in such situations is entirely redacted.

A further distortion of normal FBI functioning concerns the advice of rights given to interrogation subjects held by DoD or another state.  The FBI uses a “modified advice of rights” form in such cases, which begins with standard wording regarding the right to remain silent, to have an attorney present.

The “modified” rights form continues:

“If you cannot afford lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.

“Our ability to provide you with counsel at this time, however, may be limited by the decisions of local authorities or the availability of an American or qualified attorney.”

The “modified” form concludes the same as the FBI standard form, informing the individual that even if they talk without an attorney present, they “have the right to stop answering at any time.”

The modification of procedure is necessary because, as the FBI manual states, “there is no way that a detainee in DOD or foreign custody will be allowed access to an American defense attorney…”

Conclusion

The FBI is often contrasted with the military and the CIA in regards to its use of abusive procedures during interrogation. While eschewing “enhanced interrogation” techniques that amount to torture, such as waterboarding, close confinement, and stress positions, the FBI relies instead on psychological manipulations of “rapport” building procedures, while using the harsh pressure of isolation and sensory deprivation to break down the prisoner psychologically.

Isolation itself is a form of sensory deprivation, and is described as such in the KUBARK manual.

This form of psychological torture is added to standard police techniques, and in particular a form of interrogation procedure known as the Reid Technique. The FBI manual references several times the 1963 work on this technique, Criminal interrogation and confessions.

A 2009 study of this kind of interrogation technique in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology found “innocent people are sometimes induced to confess to crimes they did not commit as a function of certain dispositional vulnerabilities or the use of overly persuasive interrogation tactics.”

These are exactly the tactics the FBI uses, though they are then supercharged via use of isolation of a prisoner, which, as the FBI itself notes, “advantages” the interrogator by playing off the human need for “affiliation” or communication with others. Modern psychological and neuroscience investigators understand that this “need” is hard-wired in the brain, and deprivation of such social stimulation is a direct attack on the nervous system of the individual.

The failure to hold anyone accountable for the use of torture by U.S. officials, including accountability for those who planned and sanctioned such torture, meant that forms of torture were institutionalized in U.S. policy documents, such as the Army Field Manual.

The declassification of this FBI interrogation manual has allowed us to understand that such institutionalization has extended as well to the Department of Justice and the FBI.

[This article has been altered to reflect feedback from Col. Steven Kleinman received after the story was first published.]

Cross-posted at Invictus

Psychologizing Bruce Ivins: Who are the Amerithrax Behavioral Analysis Experts?

8:12 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

The investigation by the “Amerithrax Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel” on “the mental health issues” of accused anthrax mailer Dr. Bruce Ivins purports to have been undertaken with “no predispositions regarding Dr. Ivin’s guilt or innocence.” Yet the report (PDF here of the released partial redacted version) says the Panel’s review of sealed psychiatric records “does support the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) determination that he was responsible.

In a separate article by Marcy Wheeler earlier today, she points out that the report totally accepts the allegation that the anthrax spores originated from flask RMR-1029, and that therefore Ivins had “the motivation and the means” to carry out the attack. Of course, as Wheeler notes, the National Academy of Sciences recently said that there is insufficient scientific evidence to back up DOJ’s conclusion regarding this. (Jim White also wrote about the NAS report when it first came out.) Wheeler’s article also points out other inconsistencies and illogical aspects of the Panel’s report.

I wish to concentrate a bit more on the idea this panel had no “predispositions.” Unfortunately, just as the released summary leaves out over 250 pages of the report, including its case narrative and “behavioral analysis and interpretation”, that unreleased portion also leaves out the biographies included about the Panel’s members. As a result, the lack of presented evidence makes it extremely difficult to comment about the conclusions noted in the Executive Summary regarding Ivins’ supposed penchant for “revenge”, his purported tendencies towards exploitation and manipulation (as they allege), his being “skilled in deceit”, his “obsessions,” his “strange and traumatic childhood,” and “his desperate need for personal validation,” among other post hoc conclusions made by the Panel’s authors.

While the lack of evidence makes it difficult to swallow what sounds like character assassination, we do at least have the list of panel members by which to examine the neutral disinterest the forensic psychiatric examination should demand of those who are investigating the background of Dr. Ivins. Instead, what a brief review of the panel’s bona fides reveals is an overwhelming stacking of this “expert” panel by doctors and others who are deeply beholden to government interests, and in particular to security agencies, including those involved in bioterrorism security. For such individuals, it is difficult to see that they would buck the position of the FBI and DOJ that Ivins was guilty.

Who are the Behavioral Experts?

As an article at the Los Angeles Times points out, without further elaborating, they weren’t all behavioral experts:

The behavioral panel was formed in late 2009 at the suggestion of Saathoff, people familiar with the matter said. Saathoff appointed the remaining panelists: five other psychiatrists, two officials from the American Red Cross and a physician-toxicologist.

The addition of the Red Cross members is curious, especially since Ivins is accused of joining the Red Cross at the time of the anthrax mailings to gain self-importance as an anthrax expert, and to appear “as a prophet and as a defender of the nation” to a woman he was reportedly obsessed with. Indeed, the report has a nine-page appendix dedicated to Ivins and the Red Cross, which has not been published publicly.(continued)
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Washington Post Rehabilitates Abu Zubaydah Torturer

9:32 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Two (FBI) Interrogators

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

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

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

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

[One short paragraph redacted]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5:58 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

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

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

According to Kiriakou (Marcy’s transcription):

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

Well, were they letters or not, John?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Man Who Was Almost There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICE Uses Threats of Deportation to Produce Terrorism “Intel”

5:53 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

It’s bad enough we know that the government tortured Abu Zubaydah, Binyam Mohamed, and countless others in an attempt to produce false confessions, faked intel about Iraq, and in general hype up a "terrorism" threat that would justify the billions bilked from the U.S. treasury for the bogus "war on terror."

But now apparently the campaign to find terrorist boogie-men has come home with a vengeance. Just ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) informants Emilio and Analia Maya of Saugerties, New York. According to a fascinating Associated Press report by Helen O’Neill, on November 17, 2009, Emilio was surrounded by nine ICE officers in flak jackets with guns.

"We are deactivating you"

"We are deactivating you," the officers told their former Argentinian immmigrant informer. The prisoner, who recognized agents who some years earlier had recruited him, was taken to jail over 100 milies away, and held over two weeks without charges.

Emilio and his sister Analia had made a deal with ICE back in March 2005. They could get S visas, "often known… as the ‘snitch visa’… because [it's] given to aliens who assist US law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes and terrorist activities."

But as O’Neill reports, quoting New York immigration lawyer Claudia Slovinsky, ICE and parent agency the Department of Homeland Security never actually award anyone the S visa. Instead, "they use the most vulnerable people to do dangerous work, make them all sorts of promises and then just abandon them."

The AP story relates how the Mayas got involved with ICE, the dangerous missions they went on, the undercover work. When the brother and sister tried to back out of the informant game, they were told they had to continue or they would be deported. In fact, it turned out later that a deportation order for Emilio had been shuttling around ICE since December 2005, while for years they used him as an informant.

The Coerced Production of "Intelligence" on Terrorism

But the most interesting part of the story concerns what happened after Emilio and Analia had been working for ICE for some three years (emphases added):

In 2008, they say, the agents began demanding information on terrorism and guns – information the Mayas simply couldn’t provide. The brother and sister continued offering tips about local activities, but they were no longer sent on undercover jobs….

At a meeting in the Price Chopper parking lot [in May 2009], Emilio says, agents bluntly told him that unless he delivered information on weapons and terrorism, his work permit would not be renewed and he would be deported.

What seems clear is that the government, failing to get the easily controlled Mayas to drum up some kind of terrorist plot in order to feed the agency’s need promote itself and get a larger slice of the anti-terrorism funds sloshing around Washington, D.C., put the strong-arm on these immigrants, and when they couldn’t get them to produce, has prepared to deport them.

It doesn’t matter if a Congressman or a Senator intervened, as they did in this case. ICE and DHS apparently have little to fear from congressional inquiry. They are in a bureaucratic war to justify their existence, and in DC, it’s still, in the Obama years, all about terrorism.

Take a look at ICE’s own website, where it touts itself as "A Federal Leader in Combating Terrorism."

As the second largest federal contributor to the nationwide network of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plays a critical role in protecting the country against the threat of terrorism. With agents assigned to counter-terrorism investigations across the United States and around the world, ICE lends its expertise in enforcing immigration and customs laws to the over 100 JTTFs to investigate, detect, interdict, prosecute and remove terrorists and to dismantle terrorist organizations.

What are the JTTFs?

Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) are small cells of highly trained, locally based, passionately committed investigators, analysts, linguists, SWAT experts, and other specialists from dozens of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It is a multi-agency effort led by the Justice Department and FBI designed to combine the resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement.

The picture is clear: ICE wants its seat at the table with the other 40 or so agencies now associated with the national JTTFs. It’s like a big assembly line feeding raw intel to the FBI and Department of Justice, and what matters is that you keep producing. The quality of the intelligence, as evidenced by the attempt to squeeze "terrorism" "tips" out of the hapless and unconnected Mayas, is evidently not so important. What is important is that everyone get paid and the gravy train keep rolling.

"We’re Going to Change Your Brain"

The saddest thing in the O’Neill story is to read about the impotence members of Congress have when soliciting the protection of their constituents with agencies from the executive branch.

But the scariest thing is to reflect upon similarities between the ICE/Mayas case and the torture of prisoners in the "black sites", rendition hellholes, Guantanamo and Bagram. Rather than the use of blackmail and extortion to coerce informants to produce bogus reports about terrorism, the U.S. abroad has resorted to outright torture.

The torture of prisoners like Binyam Mohamed — much in the news lately with the revelations by UK judges that Mohamed was subjected to CIA "enhanced interrogation technique"-style torture as early as March 2002 — was not about, or at least not solely about, the collection of information. It was about the manufacture of information, including false confessions and fingering others for prosecution or further torture. In an interview a few years back with Binyam Mohamed’s attorney, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve:

Binyam explained that, between the savage beatings and the razor cuts to his penis, his torturers “would tell me what to say.” He added that even towards the end of his time in Morocco, they were still “training me what to say,” and one of them told him, “We’re going to change your brain.”

This emphasis on brainwashing — for that is the popular terminology for such an assault on the psyche of a prisoner — is a key component of the kind of psychological torture that was researched by both the United Kingdom and the United States in the years following World War II. It highlighted the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, fear, stress positions, manipulation of the environment, of food, the use of humiliation and both sensory deprivation and sensory overload upon the prisoner. The idea was to overwhelm the nervous system and make a human being collapse without a blow being made, without scars, without evidence usable in court.

In an article at Truthout by H.P. Albarelli and Jeff Kaye, the connections between the old CIA mind control and torture research programs and those of today are documented. The conclusion is that radical change is needed if these crimes are not to consume our nation:

The allegations of drugging by Mohamed and other prisoners are redolent of the use of hallucinogenic and other powerful mind altering drugs by the U.S. in its Artichoke, MK-ULTRA and other programs….

The CIA has been accused of involvement in continuing interrogation experimentation upon prisoners. The recent release of the previously censored summary of Mohamed’s treatment in Pakistan notes that "The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed." As Stephen Soldz notes in an article on the British court revelations, "Why were these effects being ‘carefully observed’ unless to determine their effectiveness in order to see whether they should be inflicted used upon others?"…. The role of doctors, psychologists, and other medical professionals in the CIA/DoD torture program has been condemned by a number of individuals in their respective fields, and by organizations such as Center for Constitutional Rights and Physicians for Human Rights….

This country needs a clear and definite accounting of its past and present use of torture. Like a universal acid, torture breaks down the sinews of its victims, and in the process, the links between people and their government are transformed into the naked exercise of pure sadistic power of rulers over the ruled. The very purpose of civilization is atomized in the process. We need a full, open and thorough public investigation into the entire history of the torture program, with full power to subpoena, and to refer those who shall be held accountable for prosecution under the due process of law.

David Margolis: Hatchet Man for Holder/Obama on OPR Torture Memos Report

12:49 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman have scooped the press with a Newsweek article claiming to know the verdict of the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility report on the investigations into misconduct and unprofessional behavior by the Bush administration attorneys involved drafting the memos allowing the use of coercive interrogation techniques on prisoners. These techniques were largely derived from reverse-engineering torture inoculation procedures from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE programs.

According to Isikoff and Klaidman, the original verdict of the report was changed after the report was reviewed by the attorneys accused, and then reassessed by long-time DoJ honcho, David Margolis. The Newsweek article explains (emphasis added):

Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources….The shift is significant: the original finding would have triggered a referral to state bar associations for potential disciplinary action—which, in Bybee’s case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry.

In an initial assessment by bmaz at Emptywheel, for whom I owe the H/T for the Newsweek article:

Margolis is nearly 70 years old and has a long career at DOJ and is fairly well though of. Margolis was tasked by Jim Comey to shepherd Pat Fitzgerald’s Libby investigation. In short, the man has some bona fides.

But the involvement of Margolis in defanging the OPR report, and thereby assuring that governmental agencies or bar associations will hold John Yoo, Jay Bybee and other Bush-era attorneys accountable for paving the way for legalistic torture, is perhaps not an incidental fact.

Dubious David

The role of Margolis, and the man himself, deserve a closer look. It does not take long to see that 40+ year DoJ veteran David Margolis has some skeletons in his closet, and that his track record is not unblemished.

In a July 2000 letter to the New York Review of Books by by E.L. Doctorow, Peter Matthiessen, William Styron, Rose Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, singled out Margolis as "point man" on a DoJ "vendetta" against Cointelpro victim Leonard Peltier.

Three months ago, in March, I had a phone call from a lawyer who has never been involved in the Peltier case but was aware of my longtime concern. A friend in the Justice Department had just mentioned to him that the FBI was intensifying its anti-Peltier vendetta within the department, with Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis as the point man.

More recently, a 2008 Los Angeles Times story indicated that Margolis had changed DoJ policy and decided to withhold summaries of OPR investigations. The article noted that " the resolution of most matters investigated by the OPR remains closely guarded, even in cases where courts have found evidence of serious prosecutorial misconduct."

The LA Times continued:

Publishing the summaries "reassures the public that [the Department of Justice] takes its self-regulatory responsibilities seriously and puts prosecutors on notice that they face public embarrassment if they are caught engaging in wrongdoing," said Bruce Green, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at Fordham Law School in New York.

Associate Deputy Atty. Gen. David Margolis said it was his decision to excuse the OPR from preparing summaries of cases that might be released to the public. He said the decision reflected a lack of resources, as well as concern about balancing public interests with the privacy rights of individual attorneys facing accusations.

Margolis Covers-up Earlier Interrogation Scandal?

More speculatively, and intriguing, given the claims involved, is Margolis’s involvement in the investigation of a forgotten FBI sting operation against NASA contractors in the early 1990s. Operation Lightning Strike was, according to a Washington Post article at the time, a "20-month Justice Department sting operation focusing on NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston… [resulting] in criminal fraud and bribery charges against nine men and one contractor."

Later, in 1996, a defense committee was formed to support the "NASA-13". The committee, in a petition to the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform and Oversight Committee claimed that the men caught up in the Operation Lightning Strike, some of whom were victims of "’frame-ups’ and torture, to obtain prosecutions." David Margolis was mentioned as admitting that an OPR investigation into the case was begun in 1994 to look into "investigative and prosecutive misconduct." However, no results from that report were ever made public. The involvement of Margolis in this case deserves further scrutiny, given it involved serious allegations about coercive interrogations and torture.

A defense committee press release was more specific about the abuses conducted by the FBI:

In a report submitted to Congress today, a team of defense attorneys representing the so-called "NASA-13," requested the US. House of Representatives Government Reform and Oversight Committee to hold hearings and appoint a Special Prosecutor, not affiliated with the U.S. government, to investigate the "NASA-13" cases in the light of scientific research competed by a team of NASA industry experts, defense attorneys and behavioral scientists. This report furnishes evidence that at least one of the NASA/IG Federal agents who conducted the NASA sting operation in Houston from 1991 to 1994 was in fact a highly qualified military intelligence interrogator, who with the FBI, employed a highly dangerous form of "psycho-technology" known in the behavioral science community as "Coercive Persuasion" or "CP", a form of mind control.

The phenomenon of "CP" was first observed in the post-traumatic reactions of Korean War military and civilian POWs. Many of these prisoners had confessed to non-existent crimes and cooperated with the enemy after having been subjected to what was then called "brainwashing."

Given that these claims are coming from a pre-9/11 era, they cannot be said to be derivative of recent news reports and scandals. I am not convinced about what actually went on in this case, but it is notable that the defense committee procured a letter from well-known psychologist, and former government Margaret Thaler Singer backing the claims of the defendants:

I have reviewed the Lightning Strike Victims Questionnaires and summary provided by the NASA-13 Defense Committee, and I concur with the committee’s assessment that there is substantial data in these highly consistent statements to confirm that a program of Coercive Influence was employed in the Interrogations of the Lightning Strike Suspects . The questionnaires uniformly reveal a systematic application of psychological techniques, in an organized programmatic way, within a constructed and managed environment, which was aimed at the participants sense of self and sense of reality, producing extreme anxiety and emotional distress….

Such programs can and regularly do produce psychiatric casualties. Practitioners of these programs attempt to hold the subject at the point of maximum stress, without inducing psychosis. My experience over the past four decades and in observing over 3,000 cases since participating in the evaluation of released Korean POW’s, unfortunately reveals that practitioners of these nefarious methods frequently exceed the limits with devastating results.

According to the defense committee, Department of Defense interrogators played key roles in the interrogations of the defendants, as aspect of the case that has also never been explained.

Now this may all be a lot of smoke, but when one adds in the latest role played by Mr. Margolis in spiking the initial results of misconduct on behalf of Yoo, Bybee, Addington, et al. (if we can believe the Newsweek leak), his appearance in this role does not seem so remarkable. Margolis appears to have a long history of involvement in government frame-up and/or obfuscation of internal misconduct by the FBI or Justice Department prosecutors.

Will we see the intrepid U.S. press look more deeply into this? One could wish this were true. Every once in a while the mainstream press shows what it’s capable of, as with the exposure of torture at Bagram under Obama’s administration, or with Scott Horton’s Harper’s revelations on the 2003 killings of three Guantanamo prisoners, covered-up as supposed "suicides".

But the OPR report is shaping up to be one gigantic cover-up, assuming we ever get to see much of it, after the government censors get done with it.

The country is thick with torture and crime, and unable to free itself from thralldom to its governmental enablers. Let’s see how easily Holder, Obama, and Margolis get away with their cover-up of Yoo, Bybee, Gonzales, and Addington’s lies and alibis. Meanwhile, torture continues as official policy of the Obama administration in the guise of an appendix to the Army Field Manual. But outside of Emptywheel, some former interrogators, and a few others, no one seems to care.

And so it goes.