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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

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New York Times Decides Guantanamo Detainee Committed Suicide

8:24 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold continues to do superb reporting on the mysterious death last September of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif. Monday, Leopold posted breaking news that a government autopsy report on Latif, not yet officially released, concludes that the 36-year-old prisoner died of suicide.

Guantanamo protesters in prisoner outfits with 'CLOSE GUANTANAMO' Banner

Despite years of pressure (& a presidential promise) Guantanamo remains open.

Leopold sourced the revelation to Yemeni government officials and “a US military investigator close to the case.” The Department of Defense has not yet officially stated any cause of death for Latif, who was discovered inert in his cell at Guantanamo’s Camp 5 on September 8.

Leopold wrote that a “spokesman for United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Joint Task Force-Guantanamo’s (JTF-GTMO) higher command” told Truthout that DoD would “issue a statement as soon as [Yemen] accepts [Latif's] remains.” Just two days after Latif’s death, a Guantanamo spokesman told Associated Press, “There is no apparent cause [of death], natural or self-inflicted.”

But none of this stopped the New York Times from stating in an editorial Sunday calling for Guantanamo’s closure that Latif had in fact committed suicide. Coming out of nowhere, such a statement was, frankly, bizarre.

Here’s what the Times wrote, some 12 hours before Leopold even posted his story at Truthout, and with no published source anywhere definitively reporting Latif’s cause of death as suicide (bold emphasis added):

In September, a member of this stranded group, a Yemeni citizen named Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court. It was the kind of price a nation pays when it creates prisons like Guantánamo, beyond the reach of law and decency, a tragic reminder of the stain on American justice.

Narratives R Us

There is a lot wrong about the claims in the NYT op-ed, as much as I might agree with the overall thrust of the editorial about shutting down Guantanamo. The Times editors may have thought the latest death of a prisoner at Guantanamo highlighted the crime of keeping Guantanamo open. And they are right about that, but their conclusion — their narrative of Latif’s death — closes off inquiry into what actually occurred, and in doing that they are not acting as a watchdog upon possible government abuse.

First of all, there is no affirmative statement by the government that Latif’s cause of death was suicide. In fact, as Leopold points out in his article, all the earlier statements from DoD led one to believe that suicide was not a cause of death. The only recent article to claim otherwise was by Leopold, and it was not published until many hours after the NYT made their claim.

Secondarily, not only does the New York Times supposedly know how Latif died, they also imply they know why he killed himself, i.e., he “killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court.”

Well, yes, he did die after the appellate court ruling — nearly eleven months afterward, as the ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia came in October 2011. A subsequent appeal by Latif’s attorneys to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected last June, also approximately three months before Latif died.

Since no one reads articles very carefully, and it is enough to spread a particular narrative in mainstream media sources to manufacture a version of Truth, the NYT does its readers a disservice by producing a bogus narrative of the death of Adnan Latif. According to the Times, Latif killed himself, and it was likely because his court case was overturned.

To be fair to the Times, there were stories in the press that speculated upon just such a scenario, as the Reprieve spokesperson in this Alternet article from last September appeared to do. In addition, the Swiss chapter of Amnesty International wrote about the Latif death on November 1, and indicated that the Guantanamo prisoner had died of suicide. (“Le suicide du détenu yéménite Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif en septembre 2012 nous rappelle la cruauté de ce régime de détention qui permet une détention illimitée et illégale.”).

But statements by human rights groups are not the same as statements by the editorial board of the New York Times. One wonders what led them to assert that Latif had died from suicide, when no public source, indeed no story in their own paper had reported the same, until Truthout published Leopold’s story nearly 12 hours later.

“Questions Remain”

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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.

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.

Truthout Exclusive: David Hicks Speaks Out on Torture, Medical Experimentation at Guantanamo

5:12 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold has posted an incredible interview with David Hicks, formerly Detainee 002 at Guantanamo. In April 2007, Hicks, an Australian, was released from Guantanamo and sent back to serve nine months in jail in Australia, having been forced to plead guilty to “providing material support to terrorism.” This is his first interview, and Truthout has posted it along with an article by Leopold with more background on Hicks, which includes interviews with some of the guards who watched him.

By his own admission, Hicks’ account had a “profound impact” on Jason Leopold “emotionally.” I think it comes through, as it’s a wrenching, if vital read. The interview is a look into the soul of a man deeply damaged by torture. He also endured the suffering of medical experimentation, which he finds very difficult to talk about.

The following excerpt touches upon the kinds of horrific experiments David Hicks endured:

TO: You have written eloquently of your terrible experience with what you say was medical experimentation, calling it the worst and darkest of your experiences there. Have you talked with any other detainees about whether they had similar experiences? How do you think about it now?

DH: When I was injected in the back of the neck I was being held in isolation, so I was unable to discuss what had happened with other detainees. A year passed before I was eventually able to see and communicate with fellow detainees, and I am unable to remember today if I discussed that particular personal experience with them. We did discuss medical experimentation in general however. A detainee with UK citizenship described being injected daily, resulting in one of his testicles becoming swollen and racked with pain. Along with these daily injections he was subjected to mind games by interrogators, medical personnel, and guards whom worked as a team. Under these conditions they were able to extract written false confessions from him. How I experienced the injection at the base of my neck is described in detail in my book. In a nutshell, I felt my soul had been violated. That is just one experience I had with medication. There were many pills and injections, plus constant blood tests over the years. Everybody regardless of their citizenship should acknowledge that medical experimentation, whether on human beings or animals, is unacceptable. As with animals, we were held as prisoners when these procedures were forced upon us against our will. And as with animals, we were voiceless.

Hicks also describes how medical professionals and psychologists were involved in his torture, how guards were told to observe him and other detainees, watching everything they did, and writing down notes every 15 minutes, night and day. He told Jason Leopold, “The interrogation rooms of Camp Delta had an entire wall as a one way observation glass. Behind these walls sat teams of so-called experts: Intelligence officers, behavioral scientists, psychologists; people who made conclusions upon which they decided what techniques were to be employed.”

Hicks’ testimony corroborates what I noted in an article in April 2009, which examined a top secret” paper (undated) entitled “The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, March 2001 – January 2003,” which noted that CIA “interrogation materials” consisted of “videotapes, logbook, notebook, and psychologist’s notes.” There’s no reason to believe the same protocols weren’t observed by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo or other military prisons, like Bagram.

At that time, I wrote:

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

There has been very little outrage in this country, outside of a small but dedicated group of individuals — journalists, lawyers, bloggers, community activists — the bulk of U.S. civil society has out of either fear or political obeisance to the Obama administration’s insistence there will be no accountability, no so-called “looking backward,” failed to successfully push for investigations or prosecution of top figures for their crimes. We know why the government has this position: because it is heavily compromised at top and middle level in the torture and illegal experimentation itself.

As a bonus, Truthout is posting an excerpt from David Hicks’ book, Guantanamo: My Journey, published in Australia late last year. Due to the cowardice of the publishing industry in this country, or possibly unreported pressures from the government, the book is not available in the United States.

But luckily, we have this important interview with Hicks himself. I hope it gets wide distribution. Americans must known what has been done in their name.

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.

Torture-linked Shrink’s Army Program Labels Some Soldiers “Spiritually Unfit”

4:25 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold has posted a new article at Truthout, describing how an “experimental, Army mental-health, fitness initiative” called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) is drawing criticism from civil rights groups and rank-and-file soldiers by testing military personnel for “spiritual fitness.”

CSF appears to be the brainchild of Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum and Dr. Martin Seligman, the psychologist who developed the theories of “learned helplessness” and “learned optimism.” Jane Mayer, Scott Shane, and others have connected Seligman to talks at San Diego’s SERE school in May 2002, where he discussed, in Seligman’s own words, “how American troops and American personnel could use what is known about learned helplessness and related findings to resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors.” Notorious SERE/CIA interrogator-psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were present at the Seligman talk. Former Air Force Colonel Steve Kleinman told Jane Mayer that he knew Mitchell for years, and “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.”

According to Jason Leopold, five months prior to the May 2002 SERE lecture:

… Seligman hosted a meeting at his house that was attended by Mitchell, along with the CIA’s then-Director of Behavioral Science Research, Kirk Hubbard, and an Israeli intelligence agent. Seligman has claimed he was totally unaware his theory on Learned Helplessness was being used against detainees after 9/11 and denied ever engaging in discussions about the Bush administration’s torture program with Mitchell, Jessen, or any other government official.

But Seligman’s SERE days appear to be behind him, and he has repackaged himself as “Dr. Happy.” His new “learned optimism” theories, supposedly sold in program format (for millions of dollars) to the Army as a way to reduce PTSD and suicide rates, are instead packaging conformist and religious ideologies in the name of resiliency “fitness” for the Army.

CSF examines “spiritual fitness” with questions like “I am a spiritual person, my life has lasting meaning, I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.” One soldier tested last month told Truthout that he was labeled “spiritually unfit” because he answered the “not like me at all” box. As a result, the Army has told him he “may lack a sense of meaning or purpose in his life.” Presumably, like other soldiers with low spirituality scores, he’ll have to attend remedial courses and “be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to ‘train’ soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality.”

According to the Truthout article, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has sent letters to the Army demanding it “immediately cease and desist administering the ‘spiritual’ portion of the CSF test.

The fact the Army is enforcing religious ideology upon soldiers is already outrageous enough, but the piquant irony by which the primary theorist of the program is also one of the primary theorists behind the use of certain techniques to break down and torture people, and whose theories were used by DoD/CIA psychologists to devise a diabolical torture program, well… one’s head could spin for days processing the internal contradictions. But that’s America today, a torturing country that uses huckster psychology to promote ersatz spirituality in soldiers sent to invade foreign countries for the purpose of selling arms and controlling oil and gas supplies.

What’s next? Will atheism be pronounced a new form of “material support to terrorism”? Will Elmer Gantry replace Robert Gates as next Secretary of Defense? Gates has been President Obama’s Secretary of Defense nearly as long now as he served as same in the administration of George W. Bush.

Truly, nothing can be considered strange anymore.

2002 DoD Directive Changed Rules to Allow Experiments on Detainees

8:43 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

A new article at Truthout describes how Paul Wolfowitz issued a military directive in March 2002 that loosened rules against human experimentation and protections for subjects of such research that had been in place since the early 1970s. According to sources within the Department of Defense, the Wolfowitz Directive, "Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research" (PDF), was used to support a top-secret Special Access Program at Guantanamo funded through the Defense Department’s black budget involving “deception detection”, interrogation, and other research upon detainees.

Jason Leopold and I researched this article for seven months, including "interviews with more than 15 current and former Pentagon and intelligence officials, ethical scholars and Army officers stationed at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility," and to summarize it here would be difficult. As is the case with such a long investigation, there’s much of value that didn’t make it into the final story, but is worth pursuing in order to fill in the outlines laid down in the original article. One such addition involves a closer look at the 2004 review of DoD-wide research programs with an eye to compliance with Federal regulations and DoD directives.

According to the Truthout report:

In January 2004, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) initiated a DoD-wide review of human subjects protection policies. A Navy slide presentation at DoD Training Day (PDF) on Nov. 14, 2006, hinted strongly at the serious issues behind the entire review.

The Navy presentation framed the problem in the light of the history of U.S. governmental "non-compliance" with human subjects research protections, including "U.S. Government Mind Control Experiments – LSD, MKULTRA, MKDELTA (1950-1970s)"; a 90-day national “stand down” in 2003 for all human subject research and development activities "ordered in response to the death of subjects," as well as use of "unqualified researchers."

The Training Day presentation said the review found the Navy "not in full compliance with Federal policies on human subjects protection." Furthermore, DDR&E found the Navy had "no single point of accountability for human subject protections."

The review was ordered in late January 2004, only a few months after the Supreme court had agreed to hear the case later known as Rasul v Rumsfeld, which would decide that the Guantanamo detainees did have the right to challenge their detention. When finally begun, the DoD-wide review would come over two years after the Wolfowitz directive had indicated such procedures should be in place. As a result, none of the required assurances by the different Defense Department components regarding their human subjects protection policies had been filed with DDR&E. In effect, there was little or no oversight over DoD research policies at exactly the time when both DoD and CIA were engaged in an experimental torture program, or using detainee prisoners as human guinea pigs for the study of the effects of torture and harsh detention.

Whatever the specific reasons that prompted the review, the situation had apparently been serious enough that the Defense Research and Engineering agency within DoD threatened to stop all Defense Department research by the end of 2004 if the requisite assurances of adherence to ethical guidelines were not submitted to it by the end of that year. As it was, most of the DoD components asked for extensions of time, which were granted, and ethical assurances were not filed until 2005, or 2006 in some instances.

When asked about the over two-year delay in implementing the oversights demanded by the Wolfowitz directive, the Department of Defense refused comment.

Retired Maj. General Ronald Sega was the director of Defense Research and Engineering from August 2001 through August 2005, the key compliance officer during the early years of the Wolfowitz Directive. During his stint as director, Sega also served as the Reserve Assistant to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, which appears to have been a possible conflict of interest, as the Joint Chiefs were implicated in the approval of the new interrogation program. In addition, the SERE program is operationally under JCS control. During these same years, personnel from the SERE program — most famously James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, but not limited to them — were involved in the reverse-engineering of SERE methods of resisting interrogation for use by the CIA and DoD in torturing detainees in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and secret "black site" prisons around the world.

Sega, now a professor at Colorado State University, did not return a request made through his office for comment.

2006 Navy Training Day Describes Part of the Problem

The 2006 Navy Training Day presentation went into a great deal of detail regarding Department of the Navy (DoN) "Adverse Events and Incidents of Non-Compliance." Besides those noted in the Truthout article, the DoN noted a a 90-day national “stand down” in 2003 at the Department of Veterans Affairs "for all human subject research and development activities to focus attention on a proactive review to ensure the protection of human subjects and the ethical conduct of research. The ‘stand down’ was ordered in response to the death of subjects; invasive research conducted without IRB review and approval; unqualified researchers conducting research; and failure of the IRB to meet minimal standards."

The presentation described some of the approximately 30 year history of human radiation experiments by DoD, the Department of Energy (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission), and other government agencies, in conjunction with several universities and hospitals from the 1940s-1970s. The scandal erupted in the 1990s, and President Clinton appointed a commission to investigate and make recommendations. Their full report can be viewed online.) According to DoN, the government investigation found "that government agencies, including the military services, kept critical information secret from subjects; failed to obtain informed consent; and presented interventions considered controversial at the time as if they were ‘standard practices,’ some of which caused injury to subjects."

The DoN Training Day Presentation was not done. They also referenced the history of Projects SHAD, Copper Head, Flower Drum, Shady Grove, Autumn Gold, among others undertaken from 1963-1970. According to the Navy: "More than 5,800 Naval personnel aboard Navy ships exposed to nerve agents and biological simulant aerosol spray released by aircraft to test protective clothing, gas masks, and ship vulnerability to penetration." But, as in some other portions of the Training Day presentation, DoN downplayed or lied about the seriousness of the experimental abuses. While some of the tests used simulant aerosol sprays, the Shady Grove experiment in particular, by the government’s own admission elsewhere (PDF), "actual agents were used in addition to simulants."

As I wrote about Project Shad in an article recently that otherwise described the recent revelations of U.S. Public Health Service experiments deliberately inoculating Guatemalan prisoners and asylum inmates in the 1940s with syphilis:

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 research violations were not limited to what might seem to some as ancient history. The DoN report describes a 2003 research project at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The researchers at the Orthopedic Surgery Department injected 48 subjects with contrast dye, even though they had not submitted the experiment to any review, nor was it approved by any Command Institutional Review Board (IRB). According to DoN, the study was "not properly supervised by a physician; poorly designed… [with] inadequate informed consent procedures. They do not mention what harm, if any, was done.

The deeper one looks into these matters, the darker and more disturbing the revelations. The number of different regulations that supposedly are there to protect individuals from dangerous experimentation, or vulnerable potential subjects, such as prisoners, are poorly enforced, or subject to bureaucratic and economic stressors that cripple effective oversight. The rules are themselves a tangle of legalese and a veritable maze of confusing regulations. Even the experts are at odds over what they say and how they should work. And then there are the ongoing admissions, as in this 2006 Navy directive (3900.39D – PDF)  implementing still current regulations concerning research on "Severe or unusual intrusions, either physical or psychological, on human subjects (such as consciousness-altering drugs or mind-control techniques)." (On a side note, when the DoN Training Day presentation described the new Navy directive 3900.39D, they explained how the Undersecretary of the Navy would be responsible for the research surrounding "severe or unusual intrusions," but left the part about drugs and mind-control out of their description.)

The Truthout article describes how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others, from DoD and its entities, such as Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and its SERE division, to DIA, JSOC, and the CIA, walked through this confusing mass of regulations, rewrote them, massaged the fine print, and used these supposed protections as a legal cover for the institution of torture and the propagation of unethical and illegal human experimentation.

The story is only half written. There is much still to be learned, and without effective, public, and wide-ranging investigations, this will all be left to happen again, if it is not still happening. None of the changes in human subject protections implemented by the Bush administration have been undone. As pointed out by Physicians for Human Rights in their recent "white paper" on CIA experiments in torture, changes to the War Crimes Act as part of the Military Commissions Act gutted the WCA of the protections connected to the Geneva Conventions,  including protections on biological experimentation.

The readers of this article, and others like it, will write the next half of the story. Without strong public pressure upon the government, and agitation in the press, real, effective oversight and change will not take place.

CIA Second Taping System Reported in Zubaydah Interrogation

11:20 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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