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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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ICRC Confirms Existence of Second Secret Prison at Bagram, BBC Reports Torture

8:42 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Hilary Anderson at BBC has been following the Bagram prison story closely. Today, she reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has confirmed the existence of a second prison site at Bagram. The presence of a second site has long been suspected, a prison the Afghans call Tor Prison, or the "Black" Prison.

The US military says the main prison, now called the Detention Facility in Parwan, is the only detention facility on the base.

However, it has said it will look into the abuse allegations made to the BBC.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that since August 2009 US authorities have been notifying it of names of detained people in a separate structure at Bagram.

Obama Tortures, Too

Last month, BBC reported on conditions at the main Parwan facility. The scenes as described were right out of the iconography of Guantanamo. Prisoners in handcuffs and leg shackles, "moved around in wheelchairs" with blackout goggles and headphones "to block out all sound." This was the treatment for a prison population that even the U.S. military admits is far and away not made up of serious terrorists. Meanwhile, the number held at Bagram has swelled to approximately 800 prisoners.

But we don’t know how many are in the other, "the Black Hole." We don’t know because the U.S. still insists that no second prison exists. Prisoners held at Tor, according to investigations by BBC, are tossed into cold concrete cells, where the light is kept on 24 hours. Noise machines fill their cells with constant sound, and prisoners are sleep deprived as a matter of policy, with each cell monitored by a camera, so the authorities will know when someone is falling asleep and come to wake them.

Prisoners are beaten and abused. According to BBC’s article last month, one prisoner was "made to dance to music by American soldiers every time he wanted to use the toilet."

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times reported late last year on conditions at the black-site prison, believed to be run by U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Each of these reports noted that prisoners were subjected to abuse. One prisoner, a 42-year-old farmer named Hamidullah told the New York Times about his stay in the Tor prison, June through October 2009:

I can’t remember the number of days I spent there because it’s hard to tell days from nights in the black jail, but I think every day they came twice to ask questions.

They took me to their own room to ask the questions. They beat up other people in the black jail, but not me. But the problem was that they didn’t let me sleep. There was shouting noise so you couldn’t sleep….

The black jail was the most dangerous and fearful place. It is a place where everybody is afraid. In the black jail, they can do anything to detainees.

Together with the BBC investigation and the ICRC confirmation, we can see that the military is lying through their teeth when they claim there is no second Bagram facility, or that no abuse takes place at Bagram. (For more on Bagram and the issue of indefinite detention, see this recent diary by Jim White.)

The presence of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, brutality, isolation and the like at the U.S. prison complex has not been a matter of protest among U.S. progressives, many of whom still support the administration of President Barack Obama. Many liberals have been in denial over the poor record of President Obama on the issue of torture and detention policies. The President began his administration with a big series of presidential orders that supposedly ended the Bush administration’s policy of torturing prisoners, and shut down the CIA’s black site prisons.

But as we know now, not all the black site prisons were shut down. Nor was the torture ended. Whether it’s beatings and forced-feedings at Guantanamo, or the kinds of torture described at Bagram, it’s obvious that torture has not been rooted out of U.S. military-intelligence operations. In fact, by way of the Obama administration’s recent approval of the Bush-era Army Field Manual on interrogations, with its infamous Appendix M, which allows for much of the kind of torture practiced at Bagram, the White House has institutionalized a level of torture that was introduced by the previous administration, but which has been studied and devised over the last fifty or sixty years.

Furthermore, in a June 2009 Air Force document reported on last July, it was noted that the personnel responsible for some of the torture program deriving from the SERE schools were still allowed "psychological oversight of battlefield interrogation and detention." Are SERE psychologists involved in the Special Operations at torture at Tor and Parwan? Given the close relationship between SERE’s parent group, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, and JSOC, I think there’s a high possibility of just such involvement.

A question hangs heavily over the U.S. political scene: how long will denial exist among liberals and progressives over the persistence of an aggressive military policy and the concomitant crimes against humanity that come with it? How long will the supporters of Barack Obama maintain their studied indifference to the crimes against humanity done in their name? The shine is off this new president, and underneath it all we can discern the same old game of lies covering for crimes. Enough is enough.

What We Can Learn from the Torture Scene in Shakespeare’s King Lear

12:11 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Perhaps the most famous torture scene in world literature takes place at the end of Act III of King Lear. In this scene, Lear’s ungrateful daughter, Regan, and her ambitious, power-hungry husband, the Duke of Cornwall, have discovered that the Earl of Gloucester, himself betrayed by his own bastard son, has proven loyal to the deposed king, Lear.

Having captured him, Cornwall and Regan torture Gloucester, supposedly to gain information. But as Shakespeare makes clear at the very beginning, the torture is not in the main about gaining information, but about exerting control, and serves as a release for Cornwall and Regan’s "wrath" and sadism.

Take note, as have generations of playgoers and critics, of the role of one of the play’s "bit players," the First Servant, who becomes the moral center of the scene, and recognizes, as the great powers do not, the horror of torture and its absolute prohibition among civilized persons.

CORNWALL
Go seek the traitor Gloucester,
Pinion him like a thief, bring him before us.

Exeunt other Servants

Though well we may not pass upon his life
Without the form of justice, yet our power
Shall do a courtesy to our wrath, which men
May blame, but not control. Who’s there? the traitor?

Enter GLOUCESTER, brought in by two or three

REGAN
Ingrateful fox! ’tis he.

CORNWALL
Bind fast his corky arms.

GLOUCESTER
What mean your graces? Good my friends, consider
You are my guests: do me no foul play, friends.

CORNWALL
Bind him, I say.

Servants bind him

REGAN
Hard, hard. O filthy traitor!

GLOUCESTER
Unmerciful lady as you are, I’m none.

CORNWALL
To this chair bind him. Villain, thou shalt find–

REGAN plucks his beard

GLOUCESTER
By the kind gods, ’tis most ignobly done
To pluck me by the beard.

REGAN
So white, and such a traitor!

GLOUCESTER
Naughty lady,
These hairs, which thou dost ravish from my chin,
Will quicken, and accuse thee: I am your host:
With robbers’ hands my hospitable favours
You should not ruffle thus. What will you do?

CORNWALL
Come, sir, what letters had you late from France?

REGAN
Be simple answerer, for we know the truth.

CORNWALL
And what confederacy have you with the traitors
Late footed in the kingdom?

REGAN
To whose hands have you sent the lunatic king? Speak.

GLOUCESTER
I have a letter guessingly set down,
Which came from one that’s of a neutral heart,
And not from one opposed.

CORNWALL
Cunning.

REGAN
And false.

CORNWALL
Where hast thou sent the king?

GLOUCESTER
To Dover.

REGAN
Wherefore to Dover? Wast thou not charged at peril–

CORNWALL
Wherefore to Dover? Let him first answer that.

GLOUCESTER
I am tied to the stake, and I must stand the course.

REGAN
Wherefore to Dover, sir?

GLOUCESTER
Because I would not see thy cruel nails
Pluck out his poor old eyes; nor thy fierce sister
In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs.
The sea, with such a storm as his bare head
In hell-black night endured, would have buoy’d up,
And quench’d the stelled fires:
Yet, poor old heart, he holp the heavens to rain.
If wolves had at thy gate howl’d that stern time,
Thou shouldst have said ‘Good porter, turn the key,’
All cruels else subscribed: but I shall see
The winged vengeance overtake such children.

CORNWALL
See’t shalt thou never. Fellows, hold the chair.
Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot.

GLOUCESTER
He that will think to live till he be old,
Give me some help! O cruel! O you gods!

REGAN
One side will mock another; the other too.

CORNWALL
If you see vengeance,–

FIRST SERVANT
Hold your hand, my lord:
I have served you ever since I was a child;
But better service have I never done you
Than now to bid you hold.

REGAN
How now, you dog!

FIRST SERVANT
If you did wear a beard upon your chin,
I’d shake it on this quarrel. What do you mean?

CORNWALL
My villain!

They draw and fight

FIRST SERVANT
Nay, then, come on, and take the chance of anger.

REGAN
Give me thy sword. A peasant stand up thus!

Takes a sword, and runs at him behind

FIRST SERVANT
O, I am slain! My lord, you have one eye left
To see some mischief on him. O!

Dies

CORNWALL
Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now?

GLOUCESTER
All dark and comfortless. Where’s my son Edmund?
Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of nature,
To quit this horrid act.

REGAN
Out, treacherous villain!
Thou call’st on him that hates thee: it was he
That made the overture of thy treasons to us;
Who is too good to pity thee.

GLOUCESTER
O my follies! then Edgar was abused.
Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him!

REGAN
Go thrust him out at gates, and let him smell
His way to Dover.

Exit one with GLOUCESTER

How is’t, my lord? how look you?

CORNWALL
I have received a hurt: follow me, lady.
Turn out that eyeless villain; throw this slave
Upon the dunghill. Regan, I bleed apace:
Untimely comes this hurt: give me your arm.

Exit CORNWALL, led by REGAN

Cornwall dies off stage, between Acts III and IV, setting the stage for the dispute between Lear’s daughters, Goneril and Regan, over the villain, Gloucester’s son Edmund, and ultimately to the deaths of both daughters, and indirectly, to that of Edmund as well. Shakespeare, in probably his bleakest play, of evil rampant in the world, appears to be saying that taking responsibility and action for oneself and ones world, and standing up to evil, even by those otherwise humble and of minimal power, can have profound effects upon the course of events.

While I do not advocate running swords through the government’s torture plotters and policy makers, it is incumbent on all of us to take a stand against this poison that destroys the state and civil society. Tell your friends and family how much you abhor torture. Do not turn away from criticism of this administration’s stance of no accountability for torture, and cozening CIA and Department of Defense policies, such as the use of psychological torture techniques such as isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation, in the Army Field Manual, or the continuing operation of secret "black" prison sites by Joint Special Forces Command.

The ensconced power of the torturers in the military, intelligence agencies, and even to some extent in the Department of Justice (consider David Margolis’s recent rescue of torture advocates John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, and Steven Bradbury) means accountability will NOT take place, UNLESS there is a major upsurge of pressure from the ranks of society itself, from the average citizen, the church, synagogue or mosque worshipper, the union member and the guild practitioner, from doctors and nurses, auto workers and construction workers, from all the "First Servants" of this world who are not content to be bit players to the major actors, drenched in torture, murder, and malfeasance.

What can one do? Write letters, join anti-torture and civil liberties organizations like ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, or the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, or send them money. Write your congressman and senator, write to President Obama. But most of all, do what you can to raise the level of disgust with these policies. Educate yourself and others. We must purge this evil from our society, and it begins with you.

Also posted at Invictus