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AP Repeats Fable: “CIA never had been in the interrogation and detention business”

5:29 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

In an otherwise interesting article summarizing much of what is wrong with the non-accountability policies of the U.S. state when it comes to punishing its torturers, Associated Press reporters Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo repeat in passing an old canard about the CIA’s previous activities in regards to interrogation.

The CIA had never been in the interrogation and detention business, so agency lawyers, President George W. Bush’s White House and the Justice Department were writing the rules as they went.

While the comment may have been made in passing, and Goldman and Apuzzo mindlessly accepted a piece of history they were told, the significance of the statement is of more than passing interest, as it provides the framework for understanding the entire episode of torture and detention in the Bush II years, not to mention what is happening now under President Obama, at least in regards to the CIA. The article doesn’t mention that key Pentagon officials, not least Donald Rumsfeld, who has a self-serving and well-publicized biography just published, and many generals, admirals, and other officers, as well as officials of the Defense Intelligence Agency and JSOC, have also escaped punishment for their actions in the Defense Department torture and detention scandal.

As the article points out, a number of key CIA officials in the Obama administration were themselves key actors in the rendition and torture program of the CIA. Marcy Wheeler has nicely summarized Goldman and Apuzzo’s list. But the intrepid AP reporters — they spend a couple of paragraphs explaining why they took the supposedly courageous step of mentioning the first names of CIA agents (pseudonyms anyway, at least in one case that I know of) — are off the mark in believing this non-accountability is something new. The promotions and the rewards are standard operating procedure for a government that has used the CIA as a praetorian guard and shock troops for U.S. control abroad.

Not in the Interrogation Business? How About KUBARK?

There have been a number of excellent histories of CIA research into and operational use of torture. One of the most recent was Professor Alfred McCoy’s A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. Another excellent resource is H.P. Albarelli’s long investigation into the CIA killing of DoD Special Operations Division researcher Frank Olson, published last year. (Albarelli also was the fascinating subject of an FDL Book Salon last year, too.)

These authors, and there are plenty of others as well, detail the decades-long research project into coercive interrogation and torture that was undertaken by the CIA and the Defense Department, going back to the immediate post-World War II period. The research undertaken in such programs as Project Bluebird, Project Artichoke, MKULTRA, MKSEARCH, MKCHICKWIT and others, utilized both CIA and academic contract researchers to study the effects of drugs like mescaline and LSD, sensory deprivation, isolation (such as inflicted upon alleged Wikileaks leaker Bradley Manning), stress positions, dietary and environmental manipulation, and numerous psychological and physical stressors on prisoners under their control.

The research was well-advanced by the early 1960s, when the CIA produced their secret manual of “Counterintelligence Interrogation.” Known as by its CIA in-house acronym KUBARK, one section of the manual is specifically dedicated to a discussion of “coercive counterintelligence interrogation of resistant sources.” CIA noted that “detention in a controlled environment and perhaps for a lengthy period is frequently essential to a successful counterintelligence interrogation of a recalcitrant source,” and mentions techniques such as “bodily harm”, “deprivation of sensory stimuli,” hypnosis, use of threats and fear, as well as situations where “medical, chemical, or electrical methods or materials are to be used to induce acquiescence.”

Even the use of photography in the torture of prisoners was discussed in the KUBARK manual, which noted “The interrogation room affords ideal conditions for photographing the interrogatee without his knowledge by concealing a camera behind a picture or elsewhere.”

The KUBARK methods were later used, along with Army manuals compiled from the U.S. military’s Vietnam experience — part of a still quite secretive “Project X” — into a “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual” distributed by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to military and intelligence organizations in five Latin American countries (Peru, Columbia, Ecudaor, El Salvador, and Guatemala) in the 1980s. The Project X material had been stored at the Army intelligence center at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.

The torture techniques were also taught, even as late as 1991, to military and intelligence officers from throughout Latin America at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. For reference, see the DoD 1992 report on the Exploitation manuals delivered to then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (PDF).

In 2002, SOUTHCOM became the military command responsible for oversight of the detention and torture policies at the new Guantanamo detention facilities. The provenance of the Guantanamo techniques from within the CIA can be clearly established, although military research and experimentation also played a significant role. The use of military torture survival schools (known today as SERE school) as laboratories for studying such techniques can be documented back to the 1950s.

CIA Detention Centers Predate the “War on Terror”

The CIA has had extensive experience in running detention centers, and was well-known for assisting and helping staff foreign military and intelligence services’ interrogation and detention centers. No full history of this activity is available, but there are plenty of references sprinkled about. An article by investigative journalist Douglas Valentine report quotes John Patrick Muldoon, “the first director of the CIA’s PIC [Province Intelligence Committee] Program in Vietnam,” that “[t]here was a joint KCIA-CIA interrogation center in Yon Don Tho, outside Seoul.”

The PIC program itself revolved around detention centers set up by the CIA in the hundreds across South Vietnam. The PICs became an integral part of the U.S. Phoenix Program, which tortured and murdered tens of thousands of people during its reign of terror in Vietnam.

In December 1970, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces captured a high North Vietnamese security officer, Nguyen Tai. According to the story as it is related on the CIA’s own website, Tai was tortured by the South Vietnamese, and resistant to this brutal treatment, he was taken into custody by the CIA, where he was held in CIA control for a number of years. His chief interrogator was “Peter Kapusta, a veteran CIA Soviet/Eastern Europe counterintelligence specialist with close ties to the famed and mysterious chief of CIA counter-intelligence, James Jesus Angleton.”

In early 1972, Tai was informed he was being taken to another location to be interrogated by the Americans. After being blindfolded, he was transported by car to an unknown location and placed in a completely sealed cell that was painted all in white, lit by bright lights 24 hours a day, and cooled by a powerful air-conditioner (Tai hated air conditioning, believing, like many Vietnamese, that cool breezes could be poisonous). Kept in total isolation, Tai lived in this cell, designed to keep him confused and disoriented, for three years without learning where he was.

The CIA has been involved in vetting and help establish entire intelligence establishments, from the Korean CIA to the former SAVAK of the Shah, to innumerable Latin American agencies. As John Marks has documented, the CIA even sent its psychologists to vet the operatives for use in these establishments.

On a smaller scale, the CIA has run a series of so-called “safe houses” that included small detention facilities. The recent reports concerning secret CIA prisons in Poland and Lithuania appear to describe facilities that are not much more than slightly elaborated or enlarged safe houses. For instance, the description of the New York and San Francisco “safe houses” used in the CIA’s MKULTRA experiment, Operation Midnight Climax, are highly suggestive of the kinds of regimes set up by the CIA in Thailand, Poland and elsewhere, complete with two-way mirrors, recording and bugging equipment, drugging facilities, etc.

Some researchers have charged the CIA with the use of “terminal experiments” at its various detention facilities, though this is hard to document (even if the discussion did reach the pre-9/11 pages of the New York Times).

It is very hard, if not impossible, to square the myth of CIA incompetence and inexperience with interrogation and running detention centers with the historical record. Goldman and Apuzzo are only repeating the establishment line concerning the CIA scandal, albeit, perhaps with good intentions, and with the aim of bringing some accountability to bear upon the process. But they and other reformers will be forever confused and stymied by the policies by high government officials protecting these torturers. In this, we see that responsibility for torture goes to the highest levels of the U.S. political establishment.

Assassination in Court, U.S. Argues to Make Legal What It’s Always Done

9:45 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

What an incredible era we live in!

Today in federal court, government attorney Douglas Letter argued against a lawsuit brought by both the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) that the U.S. executive power had the right to kill an American citizen abroad, without review by the judiciary. In his argument to drop the suit, brought on behalf of the father of “radical” Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Aulaqi [Awlaki], Letter claimed, ““If we use lethal force we do so consistent with the law.”

According to the Christian Science Monitor story on today’s proceedings:

The lawsuit does not seek to prevent the government from carrying out targeted killings. Instead, the ACLU is asking Judge Bates to examine the government’s criteria for placing Awlaki on the alleged kill list.

To justify lethal action, the ACLU suit says, the government must be able to demonstrate that the targeted killing is necessary to prevent a direct and imminent threat to public safety. In addition, the suit says, the government must be able to show there are no non-lethal options available to neutralize a threat from Awlaki.

According to a joint press release by ACLU and CCR:

“If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, who presented arguments in the case. “It’s the government’s responsibility to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, but the courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution.”

Chickens and Coincidences

It seems strongly coincidental that on the day of the hearing, a new Awlaki video should appear on the scene, courtesy of the dubious SITE Institute, remembered for their unveiling of another timely video, the 2007 Osama bin Laden 9/11 statement, which featured a robotic, unmoving bin Laden, which even MSNBC questioned as faked. Then there was that Gainsville, Georgia chicken farm, whose lawsuit against SITE is still pending, accused by SITE of funneling money to terrorists. SITE’s founder Rita Katz delivered one of the more memorable of all “war on terror” quotes when she told 60 Minutes, “”Chicken is one of the things that no one can really track down.”

Now SITE is back, with a new name (from SITE Institute to SITE Intelligence Group), with a new fire-snorting Awlaki video, just in time for the government’s arguments to dismiss the suit that would challenge the government’s right to kill the U.S.-born cleric, supposedly hiding out in Yemen, a leader of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninula (AQAP). The New York Times led the way with a blog story by Robert Mackey this morning, “Kill Americans, Says Yemeni-American Cleric.” The story followed the news last week that You Tube had removed all of al-Awlaki’s videos from its site. Mackey references SITE and their new Awlaki video, while blandly noting that Monday was the day “a federal judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by civil libertarians who claim that the Obama administration does not have the right to order the targeted assassination of Mr. Awlaki and other suspected militants.” Gee, what a coincidence the headline for that same Monday article quotes the same Mr. Awlaki as inciting the killing of Americans. As is often the case, the rest of the U.S. press stood up and saluted as the Times sent the story up the proverbial flagpole.

“How popular will Anwar al-Awlaki’s latest video be?” asks the Christian Science Monitor. CNN weighed in, too: “U.S.-born cleric rails against Yemen, Iran, United States.” Paula Kruger at Australia’s ABC was not to be outdone, however, with a headline clanging in its clarion call of danger: “US-born cleric calls for death of all Americans.”

ANWAR AL-AWLAKI (translation): Do not seek any permission when it comes to the killing of the Americans. Fighting the devil doesn’t need a religious edict, deliberation, prayer or guidance. They are the party of the devil and fighting them is the personal duty of our times.

We reach that moment when it is either us or them. We are two opposites that will never meet. They want something that cannot happen unless they wipe us out. This is a decisive battle. This is a battle of Moses and pharaoh; this is a battle of righteousness and falsehood.

“We reach that moment when it is either us or them.” Well, if it was your head being hunted by the CIA or the Pentagon’s JSOC Special Forces assassination squads, you might see the world that way, too. In fact, the blurriness of right and wrong is only made worse by the U.S. assertion that it can kill whomever it wants to, irregardless of constitutional niceties, if only it can claim the right is somehow lodged in the 9/11-inspired Authorization for Use of Military Force. Congress has rubber-stamped the AUMF for years now, and President Obama dutifully pressed it upon a Democratic Party-controlled House and Senate… well, once controlled, as Democratic Party lassitude in the wake of the worst economic recession, if not depression, in sixty years saw their short lived ascendancy in both houses of Congress come crashing down around their well-deserving heads.

Mackey at the Times makes sure we don’t forget that Awlaki is associated with AQAP, which smuggled — no doubt in Mackey’s mind — those bomb packages on freight cargo jets last month. And he notes that a Yemeni judge has issued an order for Awlaki’s capture. But, in the tradition of open-mindedness so bally-hooed around the Times, he gives the final word to legal pundit Jonathan Turley, who noted last August:

If a President can unilaterally kill a U.S. citizens on his own authority, our court system (and indeed our constitutional rights) become entirely discretionary. The position of the Administration contains no substantial limitations on such authority other than its own promise to make such decisions with care.

Bathed in Blood

“War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight, The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade,” wrote the Romantic English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley almost 200 years ago now. But one can only look back to an interesting story in the London Times to gain another kind of perspective on the current events surrounding the obscene U.S. argument for assassinating its own citizens without due process, of running hit teams and killing or death lists.

In 1976, journalist Peter Watson was at a NATO conference in Oslo, when a U.S. Navy psychologist, Dr. Thomas Narut, from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Naples told Watson and New Jersey psychologist Dr. Alfred Zitani, that the Navy sought men to train as assassins in overseas embassies. The following is from the London Sunday Times, “The soldiers who become killers,” September 8, 1974, but reproduced from a conspiracy site, as the original, and most references to it, plentiful even when I first read about it some years ago, are limited now to a few dozen conspiracy sites. The story is also told at some length in Watson’s book (out of print), War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, published by Basic Books in 1978.

[Narut's] naval work involved establishing how to induce servicemen who ma[y] not be naturally inclined to kill, to do so under certain conditions. When pressed afterwards as to what was meant by “combat readiness units,” he explained this included men for commando-type operations and – so he said – for insertion into U.S. embassies under cover, ready to kill in those countries should the need arise. Dr. Narut used the word “hitmen” and “assassin” of these men.

The method, according to Dr. Narut, was to show films specially designed to show people being killed and injured in violent ways. By being acclimated through these films, the men eventually became able to dissociate any feelings
from such a situation. Dr. Narut also added that U.S. Naval psychologists specially selected men for these commando tasks, from submarine crews, paratroops, and some were convicted murderers from military prisons. Asked whether he was suggesting that murderers were being released from prisons to become assassins, he replied: “It’s happened more than once.”

The story goes into various mind-control methods by which the training was done. The Pentagon denied the story, and also wouldn’t allow Watson access to interview personnel at the U.S. Naval Neuropsychiatric Center in San Diego, where the training was supposedly done. The whole tale might seem fantastic, unless one remembered that the U.S.-sponsored Phoenix Program in Vietnam was responsible for the assassination of 20,000 or more people in the 1960s. The U.S. also supplied assassination lists to the Indonesian government during the bloody 1965 coup that slaughtered half a million people.

“For the first time, U.S. officials acknowledge that in 1965 they systematically compiled comprehensive lists of Communist operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres. As many as 5,000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those who had been killed or captured, according to the U.S. officials,” Kathy Kadane wrote for South Carolina’s Herald-Journal on May 19, 1990. [Kadane's article also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on May 20, 1990, the Washington Post on May 21, 1990, and the Boston Globe on May 23, 1990.]

The Indonesian mass murder program was based in part on experiences gleaned by the CIA in the Philippines. “US military advisers of the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) and the CIA station in Manila designed and led the bloody suppression of the nationalist Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan,” notes Roland G. Simbulan (Covert Operations and the CIA’s Hidden History in the Philippines).

The history of the United States and assassination, post-World War II, and particularly from the 1960s on, has been a sorry tale of botched public attempts (as of Castro), and a bloodbath dealt by U.S. proxy death squads, and if we can believe the Watson story, by deep cover U.S. assassins themselves. In 1976, in the wake of the many revelations about U.S. government crimes, including assassinations, President Gerald Ford issued a presidential directive (EO 11905) banning assassinations, a directive whose basic premises lie in shreds after ten years of Bush/Obama rule.

It would be remiss not to note in this context the blood bath that is U.S. history on the subject, not to bring up Phoenix, and all the rest of it. Recent revelations in the Iraq logs Wikileaks cache of documents suggests that the U.S. helped form torture squads, and perhaps death squads in Iraq. In any case, they certainly turned thousands of prisoners over to Iraqi forces they knew from hundreds of observations were torturing prisoners, often to death. This deliberate war crime, a direct violation of the Convention Against Torture treaty, was conducted under both the Bush and Obama administrations. But where in our society is the outrage? The society cannot seems to pick itself up out of the muck of triviality and standard party politics and cable TV scandal-mongering.

So forgive me if I don’t jump on the bandwagon to talk about Bush and his approval of waterboarding claims. Is he smug? Of course he’s smug, because Americans have been ignoring news about torture and assassinations on behalf of the ruling elite for decades now. I don’t know what it will take to turn such a historical situation around. Looking at the young and those vulnerable to such confusions as massive societal hypocrisy can allow, one can understand why some have turned even to radical Islam. But I can’t recommend it. I’d like to see the young take up the banner that was once Percy Shelley’s: free love, hatred of tyrannies, including — if not especially — the tyranny of one’s own state, and equality of all sexes, peoples, religious practice (including atheism), and add to it the wisdom of a century’s struggle for economic justice and against the exploiters of mankind.

But for now, all forward-seeking and progressive individuals should be backing the CCR/ACLU lawsuit, because if the U.S. gets its way, tomorrow it may not be the unsavory Awlaki, it may be you or me. And anyone who was forced to study history a semester or two knows that to be true.

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.