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New Document Details Arguments About Torture at a JSOC Prison

12:06 am in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Torture

Amnesty International projection "Torture is Wrong" outside of the Newseum during the screening of Zero Dark Thirty in Washington DC

Journalist Michael Otterman, author of the excellent book, American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, was kind enough to forward to me some months ago a document he obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. The document consists of the after-action reports made by Colonel Steven Kleinman and Terrence Russell, two of the three team members sent by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) to a top-secret special operations facility in Iraq in September 2003.

The reports, written shortly after both JPRA officials finished their assignment, present two starkly different accounts of what took place that late summer in the depths of a JSOC torture chamber. Even more remarkable, Col. Kleinman, who famously intervened to stop torture interrogations at the facility, had his own report submitted to Russell for comment. Indeed, Kleinman’s report as released contains interpolations by Russell, such that the documents become a kind of ersatz debate over torture by the JPRA team members, and at a distance, some of the Task Force members.

This extraordinary document is being posted here in full for the first time. Click here to download.

“Cleared Hot”

Kleinman told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which in 2008 was investigating detainee abuse in the military (large PDF), that he thought as Team Leader (and Intelligence Director at JPRA’s Personnel Recovery Academy) he was being sent to the Special Mission Unit Task Force interrogation facility to identify problems with their interrogation program.

Much to his surprise, he and his JPRA team were being asked to provide training in the kind of techniques originally used only for demonstration and “classroom” experience purposes in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE program. (JPRA has organizational supervisory control over SERE, though the constituent arms of the military services retain some independence in how they run their programs.)

But not far into his mission, JPRA’s Commander, Colonel Randy Moulton, told Kleinman and his team they were “‘cleared hot’ to employ the full range of JPRA methods to include specifically the following: Walling – Sleep Deprivation – Isolation – Physical Pressures (to include stress positions, facial and stomach slaps, and finger pokes to chest) – Space/Time Disorientation – White Noise”.

The story of the JPRA team visit and how it went bad, how Kleinman intervened when he saw a kneeling prisoner being repeatedly slapped, how he refused to write up a torture interrogation protocol for use at the TF facility — widely believed to be Task Force 20 (as reported by Jane Mayer in her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals) — has been told at this point a number of times.

But never has the degree of acrimony and conflict that went on between Kleinman and his other JPRA team members, and the back and forth with superiors and TF personnel been so carefully detailed.

Russell, who was a civilian manager for JPRA’s Research and Development division, was in particular open about why the team had been sent, and who they were helping. Kleinman, on the other hand, explained in his report at the outset that a nondisclosure agreement put “significant limitations on the details of our actions that can be reported herein.”

Russell was not so reticent. He’s quite clear the purpose of the TDY (temporary assignment) was “To provide support to on-going interrogation efforts being conducted by JSOC/TF-20 elements at their Battlefield Interrogation Facility (BIF)…. At the request of JSOC, a JPRA support team was formed to advice [sic] and assist in on-going interrogations against hostile elements operating against Coalition Forces in Iraq. The mission of the TF-20 interrogation element, J2-X, was to exploit captured enemy personnel and extract timely, actionable intelligence to support operations that would lead to the capture of ‘Black List’ and other high-value and terrorist personnel.”

According to Russell, “TF-20′s deputy commander and JPRA/CC [that is, Commander, who was Col. Randy Moulton] approved the support team to become fully engaged in interrogation operations and demonstrate our exploitation tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to the J2-X staff.”

“A lack of clear guidance”

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Why the U.S. Wants Military Commission Show Trials for 9/11 Suspects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Origins of the Military Commissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without Accountability, Whither America?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Despite Yoo/Bybee Denials, PTSD “Service Connected” to SERE Torture Techniques

12:47 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

In the August 2, 2002 memo to John Rizzo at the CIA, "Interrogation of an Al Qaeda Operative," written primarily by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee (PDF), a number of statements are made as regards the relative safety of the SERE training program for use on U.S. soldiers. As most readers must know by now, SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, and the program of the same name is used to teach pilots, Special Operations personnel, "code of conduct" behaviors and strategies should they ever be captured by an enemy force. The Resistance component provides an exposure experience, where trainees are subjected to mock torture with the idea that familiarity with possible torture techniques will harden them should they ever be presented with the real thing.

It was this mock torture component, as taught in SERE classes SV-83 and SV-91 (the latter class aimed specifically at teaching clandestine "Special Mission Units"), that was reverse-engineered by military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, and further fine-tuned by CIA officials, and constituted the torture that was used at CIA (and possibly JSOC) black site prisons under the rubric of "enhanced interrogation techniques." Subsequently, physicians and psychologists at the CIA’s Office of Medical Services were used to provide "opinions to the agency and [OLC] lawyers whether the techniques used would be expected to cause severe pain or suffering and thus constitute torture."

In a series of recent articles, I’ve pointed out Yoo, Bybee, and later Office of Legal Counsel attorney Stephen Bradbury, disregarded internal SERE documents related to the safety of waterboarding. Now we can add the suppression of complaints by SERE trainees of having contracted PTSD from participation in SERE training. This directly contradicts the Yoo/Bybee contention in the Aug. 2, 2002 memo to Rizzo, where they wrote, "Through your [i.e., CIA] consultation with various individuals responsible for such training, you have learned that these techniques have been used as elements of a course of conduct without any reported incident of prolonged mental harm."

Yet it shouldn’t have taken too long to know, and certainly JPRA officials should have been aware of complaints made by various enlisted personnel such that they had incurred PTSD as a result of their "service connection" to SERE training. One such complaint, made as far back as 1999, received approval of disability status for PTSD by the Veterans Administration in July 2003. The decision regarded an appeal of a 2000 decision against a veteran claiming PTSD. The serviceman, who had retired in 1996, was represented by the American Legion.

After review of the appeal, it was found that "The veteran has a current diagnosis of PTSD associated with experiences he suffered as part of his in-service SERE training."

The veteran’s December 1999 claim relates that he attended SERE training in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1992. During the training, he was subject to interrogations, stripping down, mockery, assault, and exposure to extreme weather conditions. The veteran’s February 2000 statement, as well as the January 2003 testimony at the Travel Board hearing, further describes physical assault and interrogations with emotional abuse he experienced during the SERE course. The Board finds the veteran’s hearing testimony to be credible and probative.

The decision has even more power when one considers that there was other evidence indicating that there were other sources of possible traumatic experience, e.g., childhood abuse. But the judge at the Board of Veteran’s Appeals found that the PTSD from SERE training was the actionable occurrence. Also, note that the veteran’s experience at SERE did not include the waterboard, as only the Navy SERE schools used the waterboard in their training, even as far back as 1992.

The military has a scandalous history of denying PTSD claims. In a 2007 article by Joshua Kors at The Nation, doctors admitted to feeling pressured to not diagnose PTSD, and instead, soldiers with PTSD were receiving diagnoses of personality disorders, or otherwise denied PTSD claims. Last month, the Obama administration loosened VA rules on determination of PTSD, which will not now rely so heavily on proving a specific event caused the condition.

Yoo himself apparently believed that PTSD constituted "prolonged mental harm" of the sort that is labeled torture. He said as much in his March 2003 OLC memo to William Haynes at the Department of Defense on the interrogation methods at DoD (PDF).

"…the development of a mental disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, which can last months or even years, or even chronic depression, which also can last for a considerable period of time if untreated, might satisfy the prolonged harm requirement.”

Yoo’s 2003 memo closely followed the reasoning of his earlier memos, though later, then-OLC head Jack Goldsmith told Haynes to disregard the Yoo memo in December 2003. It is not clear what DoD relied on for legal advice as regards their interrogation program after that point (for more, see this article by Marcy Wheeler).

Despite the SASC report into "detainee" abuse, released last year, much of the involvement by DoD actors and entities in the torture program remains highly obscure. Jason Leopold and I are working on a major investigative story to be published in the weeks ahead regarding the Bush torture program, and Department of Defense research and experimentation into interrogations and torture.

Waterboarding Too Dangerous, Internal DoD Memo Reveals

5:16 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Originally posted at Truthout

In recent weeks, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has been on a public relations campaign defending the efficacy of waterboarding, going so far as to say that the torture technique sanctioned by the Bush administration is not only safe, but is in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

On Tuesday, in an interview with "Fox News," John Yoo, the former Justice Department attorney who was the principal author of legal memoranda that cleared the way for CIA interrogators to waterboard "war on terror" detainees and subject them to other brutal torture techniques, asserted that waterboarding was harmless.

In his defense of the practice, Yoo cited the thousands of US servicemen who have undergone SERE training and said, "we don’t think it amounts to torture because we would not be doing it to our own soldiers otherwise."

However, a previously unreleased internal Department of Defense (DoD) memo, summarizing a review of the Navy SERE program in late February – early March 2007, reveals that there was fierce criticism within the DoD of the Navy SERE school in North Island, San Diego, for being the only SERE facility to still use waterboarding in its training program.

The memo, obtained by Truthout, stated that the use of waterboarding left students "psychologically defeated" and impaired in the ability to develop "psychological hardiness."

The attempt to remove waterboarding from Naval survival school training goes back to at least 2005, which was also the period when then-Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney Steven Bradbury was fashioning a series of legal opinions that approved waterboarding as an "enhanced interrogation" technique. Bradbury cited the use of waterboarding on numerous SERE students over the years, supposedly without reported serious injury or prolonged mental harm, as relevant in approving it as not meeting the legal criteria for torture.

The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency memo from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is marked "For Official Use Only," and addressed to the headquarters of the departments of the Navy and the Marine Corps, and copied to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs. US Air Force Col. Brendan G. Clare signed it.

SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and SERE schools exist across the military services, but the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) is considered the "Executive Agency" for all the SERE schools. The aim of SERE "Code of Conduct" training is to prepare US military personnel for possible capture and torture by an enemy that does not follow Geneva conventions guidelines.

The Clare memo stated, in part:

3. Area of Concern: The JPRA official stance is that the water board should not be used as a physical pressure during Level C SERE training. This position is based on factors that have the potential to affect not only students but also the whole DoD SERE program. The way the water board is most often employed, it leaves students psychologically defeated with no ability to resist under pressure. Once a student is taught that they can be beaten, and there is no way to resist, it is difficult to develop psychological hardiness. None of the other schools use the water board that leaves the San Diego school as a standout.

In an attachment to Colonel Clare’s memo, "Observations and Recommendations," JPRA indicates that the waterboard technique as used in the SERE schools is "inconsistent" with the JPRA philosophy that its training and procedures be "safe, effective" and provides "a positive learning experience."

The water board has always been the most extreme pressure that required intense supervision and oversight because of the inherent risks associated with its employment…. Forcing answers under the extreme duress of the water board does not teach resistance or resilience, but teaches that you can be beaten. When a student’s ability to develop psychological resiliency is compromised… it may create unintended consequences regarding their perception of survivability during a real world SERE event. Based on these concerns and the risks associated with using the water board, we strongly recommend that you discontinue using it [underlined in the original].

According to a "Talking Paper" attached to the memo, JPRA addressed its concerns regarding waterboarding with the commander of the San Diego SERE program going back to 2005. The paper indicated that waterboarding continues at the California SERE School because it is "an emotional issue with former Navy POWs." The talking paper, dated October 11, 2007, was incisive regarding criticism of the North Island program. Colonel Clare indicated that three of the six SERE schools had been visited by Congressional staffers, and that "It’s only a matter of time before Navy SERE School (W) is visited and the Navy has to explain and justify the continued use of this instructional method and JFCOM/JPRA is asked, why it was allowed to continue."

Furthermore, the paper indicated that JPRA felt it had "exhausted all efforts" at lower levels of bureaucracy, and indicated the issue should be brought to the attention of officers at the JFCOM [Joint Forces Command] Flag level, with an eye to preventing "an embarrassing situation" for the military, and "discretely prevent a risky and documented ineffective training technique." As of October 2007, there were no DoD restrictions on physical pressures applied during SERE training, including the waterboard.

Colonel Clare indicated that he specifically brought his concerns to Air Force Gen. Lance L. Smith, Commander, JFCOM, in December 2006, but was told that lacking anything in writing, "I should ‘stay in my lane.’" (General Smith left JFCOM in November 2007 and is now retired.)

The Navy SERE school in Brunswick, Maine, discontinued the use of waterboarding in its training curriculum after a SERE psychologist found via "empirical medical data … elevated levels of cortisol in the brain stem caused by stress levels incurred during water boarding." Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands as part of the body’s fight-or-flight mechanisms. Excess cortisol can lead to chronic stress, impaired cognitive abilities, thyroid problems, suppressed immune functioning, high blood pressure, and other health problems.

The OPR Report and the PREAL Manual

A great deal has been written about the purported safety of waterboarding. Recently, former Vice President Dick Cheney has advocated its continued use, and told ABC "This Week" that he was "a big supporter of waterboarding."

The issue came to prominence again when the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report was released February 19. The report capped a four-and-a-half-year-long investigation into misconduct by Justice Department attorneys in the writing of memos and other written materials used to justify the use of harsh interrogation techniques ordered by the White House and the CIA.

In each of the released three drafts of the OPR report, there is a short section, introduced without comment, on a May 7, 2002, SERE "Pre-Academic Laboratory (PREAL) Operating Instructions" manual. We do not know when or how the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) obtained this manual, but it’s possible that it was supplied by the same means that other JPRA/SERE material was delivered to OLC.

The August 2002 torture memos drafted by Yoo and former OLC attorney Jay Bybee, as well as memos written in 2005 by former OLC acting head Bradbury, had relied in part on assurances from the SERE program and personnel that the waterboard technique was not physically harmful, was used upon SERE students, albeit at a lesser degree of application, and was, therefore, with medical monitoring, safe to use.

The PREAL document had noted, as OPR pointed out, that SERE training was different from "real-world conditions." Under the SERE techniques, the SERE trainee could "develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness’" during training.

The interrogator must recognize when a student is overly frustrated and doing a poor job resisting. At this point the interrogator must temporarily back off, and will coordinate with and ensure that the student is monitored by a controller or coordinator. (Pages 40-41 of the OPR Final Report.)

Despite the warnings that, even at SERE training school level, the dangers of waterboarding (and other SERE techniques) required monitoring, with the implication that the dangers were even worse in "real-world conditions," neither the OPR report, nor the memorandum written by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who reviewed the final OPR report, indicated that SERE itself had decided the dangers were too great to include waterboarding in its training. It is not known when waterboarding was ceased at the bulk of the SERE schools, but it appears that it had been discontinued for the reasons described above at all but the North Island SERE school by the time Bradbury was writing his OLC opinions, which like the Yoo/Bybee memos approved the use of waterboarding.

"Learned Helplessness"

According to a related SERE document, dated September 26, 2007, written by SERE Human Factors Chief Gary Percival Ph.D., "Waterboarding consists of immobilizing an individual and pouring water over their face to simulate drowning." It elicits a gag reflex in the victim, "making the subject believe his or her death is imminent." The document noted that when waterboarding is "poorly executed," it "can cause extreme pain and damage," including broken bones from pulling against restraints. As a result, and in line with risks associated with other SERE techniques, at SERE school both medical and psychological monitoring is considered vital to protect students from injury. Dr. Percival indicated that JPRA did not support use of waterboarding in SERE training, as it "does not teach resilience or resistance," and "risks promoting learned helplessness."

As the SERE techniques were "reverse-engineered" by SERE psychologists and CIA contractors, John Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, and possibly others, for use by the CIA in early 2002 (or late 2001), the requirements for the presence of both medical and psychological personnel at the interrogation site was written into the torture protocols. Besides possible physical damage or even death, the presence of psychologists, in particular, was meant to provide monitoring capacity to prevent the acquisition of a state of "learned helplessness" in the prisoner.

A 2001 document written for the Human Factors Directorate of JPRA, "Scientific Implications for Code of Conduct Training Across the Captivity Spectrum," co-written by Dr. Percival and Dr. J. Bruce Jessen, described learned helplessness:

When students feel they are faced with unsolvable problems, their performance and retention are significantly reduced. Training models that induce learned helplessness are worse than no training at all.

According to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, learned helplessness (LH) is "A laboratory model of depression in which exposure to a series of unforeseen adverse situations gives rise to a sense of helplessness or an inability to cope with or devise ways to escape such situations, even when escape is possible."

The original experiments on LH, performed by former psychologist and former American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman, in the mid-1960s, and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology with Steven Maier as "Failure to Escape Traumatic Shock," exposed dogs to a situation where they were faced with inescapable electrical shocks. Within a short period of times, the dogs could not be induced to escape the situation, even when provided with a previously taught escape route. Drs. Seligman and Maier theorized that the dogs had "learned" their condition was helpless. The experimental model was extended to a human model for the induction of clinical depression and other psychological conditions.

According to New York Times reporter Scott Shane, James Mitchell was an admirer of Dr. Seligman’s writings on LH, and told him so at a meeting at Dr. Seligman’s home in December 2001, where "a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered … to brainstorm about Muslim extremism." CIA psychologist Kirk M Hubbard accompanied Dr. Mitchell.

According to the OPR report, in late July 2002, OLC attorneys received a psychological assessment of Abu Zubaydah "and a report from CIA psychologists asserting that the use of harsh interrogation techniques in SERE training had resulted in no adverse long-term effects" (p. 62). In the CIA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," (EITs) released last year, the proposal to use SERE-like techniques on Zubaydah, and other prisoners, originated in the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center and the Office of Technical Services (OTS). The report stated:

CIA’s OTS obtained data on the use of the proposed EITs and their potential long-term psychological effects on detainees. OTS input was based in part on information solicited from a number of psychologists and knowledgeable academics in the area of psychopathology….

OTS also solicited input from DoD/JPRA regarding techniques used in its SERE training and any subsequent psychological effects on students.

Moreover, the CIA OIG report remarked that the subsequent Yoo/Bybee memos of August 1, 2002 were "based, in substantial part, on OTS analysis and the experience and expertise of non-Agency personnel and academics concerning whether long-term psychological effects would result from use of the proposed techniques."

It is not known if Dr. Hubbard, or Drs. Jessen or Mitchell, or even psychologist Dr. R. Scott Shumate, who accompanied Mitchell to the Thailand interrogation of Zubaydah in April 2002, were among those in the CIA who guaranteed "no adverse long-term effects" for the torture techniques proposed. Dr. Shumate was the chief operational psychologist for the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center at the time, and is reported to have left the Zubaydah interrogation in protest over the use of SERE techniques.

Dr. Seligman denied that he had any connection with the implementation of the CIA’s torture program. In a recent article, he described his association with the SERE program:

I gave a three-hour lecture sponsored by SERE (the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape branch of the American armed forces) at the San Diego Naval Base in May 2002. I was invited to speak about how American troops and American personnel could use what is known about learned helplessness to resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors. This is just what I spoke about.

I was told then that since I was (and am) a civilian with no security clearance that they could not detail American methods of interrogation with me. I was also told then that their methods did not use "violence" or "brutality." James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were present in the audience of between 50 and 100 others at my speech, and that was, to the best of my knowledge, the sum total of my "assisting the CIA."

The San Diego base is the site where the controversial continuation of waterboarding students in SERE training continues. Dr. Seligman did not describe under what circumstances he was told he could not be given details about the US interrogation program or even why the subject came up.

Dr. Seligman now says he is "grieved and horrified" over the use of the learned helplessness theories in the construction of the CIA’s torture protocols. Yet, when I wrote to Dr. Seligman in August 2007 to ask, "what is your position on the use of your research by others, and on psychologists involved in military/CIA interrogations under the current administration?," Dr. Seligman replied: "The only ‘position’ I am comfortable staking out is ‘Good science always runs the risk of immoral application. It goes with the territory of discovery.’"

The Margolis Memo, SERE and the Waterboard

In a memo to the attorney general vacating the decision of the OPR report to charge OLC torture memo authors Yoo and Bybee with "professional misconduct" and refer them for bar discipline, Margolis supplied his own analysis of the use of the SERE material. He described SERE training as "relevant to the threshold question of whether everyone subjected to the waterboard suffers severe physical pain or suffering." Furthermore, Margolis stated that Yoo and Bybee relied on the psychological assessment of Zubaydah in order to assess if Zubaydah "would suffer severe mental pain or suffering as a result of the waterboard."

Margolis felt the Yoo/Bybee memo relied too much on the SERE experience, and not enough on the monitoring of Zubaydah or others by CIA medical personnel and psychologists, or on the CIA’s psychological assessment of Zubaydah. But the evidence of the recently revealed 2007 JPRA memo on waterboarding shows that the SERE schools themselves had serious doubts that waterboarding could be made safe, even under controlled conditions. This doubt had led them to campaign vigorously within the Pentagon bureaucracy to end the use of the waterboard at the remaining SERE school where it was used.

There is no indication in his memo that Margolis was aware of this situation, nor made an attempt of his own to investigate the facts behind the CIA or OLC assertions regarding waterboarding and its use by SERE.

As for the Zubaydah psychological evaluation, it is clear the evaluation was written specifically to get permission for waterboarding, and not to undertake a serious psychological evaluation of the prisoner. The report is amateurishly and hastily written, and is mostly a compilation of claims about Zubaydah that have since been refuted or even dropped by the government, e.g. that Zubaydah was a top al-Qaeda official, that he wrote the al-Qaeda resistance manual etc.

While Margolis could say that both Yoo and Bybee were not competent to judge the validity of the psychological evaluation of Zubaydah, and that they relied on the statements of the CIA psychologists in the case, nevertheless, it is notable that the psychological evaluation was only produced after Yoo had indicated in a July 13, 2002, letter to CIA acting General Counsel John Rizzo that consultation with "experts" would constitute the "due diligence" necessary to contest a charge of "specific intent" in a torture case. A psychological evaluation could be considered such a consultation with experts. Yoo also cited as examples of such "due diligence" surveys of professional literature and "evidence gained from past experience."