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New Document Details Arguments About Torture at a JSOC Prison

12:06 am in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye


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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Farewell “American Torture”

5:54 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

After three-and-a-half years, author Michael Otterman is closing shop over at his "American Torture" blog. The site was named after his book of the same title. Mike worked with contributors Andy Worthington, Raj Purohit, Tom Moran, and Fatima Kola to produce a first-rate site dedicated to the subject of exposing the U.S. torture program. At one point, Mike reached out to me, and I became one of the contributors as well (initially in my web persona as Valtin).

The book, American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, is a fantastic piece of journalistic investigation, and an essential source-book on the evolution of the U.S. torture program. Much of what I have written about over the years first found its expression in Michael Otterman’s incredible history of U.S. torture experimentation and implementation. The book describes how the CIA and Department of Defense research into interrogations found its way to Vietnam, and how "advisers" working with the U.S. counterinsurgency assassination and torture program, Operation Phoenix, went on to use write manuals for use in Latin American torture training programs. He also gives a detailed description of the SERE program.

I first discovered the research on SERE trainees by Charles Morgan and associates in American Torture, and later discovered that Morgan himself was a CIA behavioral scientist, making a contemporary link between the CIA and the SERE program during the time SERE techniques were being "reverse-engineered" into the Bush/Cheney torture program.

While his website isn’t accepting or posting new submissions, Mike isn’t dropping off the radar. Along with Richard Hil and Paul Wilson, he just published another amazing work of political journalism. In his new book, Erasing Iraq: the Human Costs of Carnage, Otterman again traces the history of U.S. intervention in Iraq, from the early support for Saddam Hussein, through the Iran-Iraq War, the 1990 Gulf War, the Clinton-era period of murderous sanctions, and the recent devastation wreaked by the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation. The destruction of Iraqi society, with its millions of displaced, its looting of historical treasures, its chaos and war upon a previously largely secular culture, is shown to be a kind of sociocide.

From Mike’s brand-new website:

For nearly two decades, the US and its allies have prosecuted war and aggression in Iraq. Erasing Iraq shows in unparalleled detail the devastating human cost.

Western governments and the mainstream media continue to ignore or play down the human costs of the war on Iraqi citizens This has allowed them to present their role as the benign guardians of Iraqi interests. The authors deconstruct this narrative by presenting a portrait of the total carnage in Iraq today as told by Iraqis and other witnesses who experienced it firsthand.

Featuring in-depth interviews with Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and from Western countries, Erasing Iraq is a comprehensive and moving account of the Iraqi people’s tragedy.

Erasing Iraq will begin its formal launch in the United States next week, July 22, 7 pm at Revolution Books, 146 W. 26th Street, NYC.

As a last broadside over at American Torture, Mike shows his passion for the anti-torture cause, and notes that the torture he was fighting against still continues. I wish him luck with his important new book, and hope he continues to use his researching skills and his eloquent voice in the cause of fighting against the barbarism of torture that threatens to brutalize this society, and destroy what culture of democracy and equality that was once its inheritance.

From Looking Backwards – The Final Post:

George W. Bush did not invent torture.

After more than three years since the release of American Torture it’s the one phrase that has come to my mind, again and again.

Yes — the Bush Administration promoted torture. They expanded its use. Former officials — and Bush himself — still defend torture. But they did not invent it, or introduce it into US foreign policy.

The KUBARK manual and John Marks’s classic, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, first punctured this myth for me. In American Torture, I used these sources — and many others — to plot US use of torture from SERE schools to secret CIA prisons. My message was simple: Torture is counterproductive. It is inhumane. And it is not new in the American experience.

The more people knew these things, I thought, the more torture would lose its appeal. But torture persists within the legal black hole at Bagram. Guantanamo remains open and indefinite detention—even for the guiltless—continues. Torture photos are blocked. Accountability thwarted. And torture is still codified. Obama has continued the policies of his predecessor. Change has not come….

The continuum of US cruelty is deep — stretching though Vietnam, Latin America and beyond. It should be followed to the root. Surviving torturers and members of previous Administrations responsible for torture should be sought along side Bush Administration officials in any Truth Commission or War Crimes Tribunal….

We owe victims of torture one thing above all else: justice. We should seek out all perpetrators of torture. We must expose them for who they are, and for what they’ve done. There is no statute of limitations on inhumanity.

Thanks, Mike, for all your hard work. I owe you a lot. We all owe you. Much success with your ongoing work to expose injustice and crime, and to bring recognition to the victims of war and imperial hubris.