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My Year at FDL: A Review

7:33 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

I thought it might be interesting to summarize the work I’ve done at FDL this past year. My output shrank in relation to prior years, due to conflicts with work and the inevitable slowing of the aging process, but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to bring FDL readers.

Torture protestors in orange jumpsuits with covered heads

Another year of drawing attention to torture and human rights abuses on Firedoglake.

Since I have posted at both MyFDL and The Dissenter, as well as contributing to Firedoglake Book Salon, I thought a personal post such as this might fit in best here.

While the following is not a complete listing of all my work here this year, it highlights those articles that involved original research or analysis.

In no particular order, the work I thought important included (first, at The Dissenter):

* Writing in-depth analysis of the frame-up of Ahmed Abu Ali, whose confession under torture was allowed in court, and how that was allowed to happen by cherry-picking the testimony of psychological experts

* Revealing that Obama never rescinded all the torture memos. One of these, written by Stephen Bradbury, was a spurious defense of the newly written Army Field Manual for interrogation and its “Appendix M” that allowed for psychological forms of torture.

* Provided a full examination of the Army report on the controversial death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Latif. The only other comprehensive look at the Army’s report was by Jason Leopold at Al-Jazeera. (I wrote a separate article as well on Col. Bogdan at Guantanamo and his onerous search policy, which led to the detainees’ wide-spread hunger strike, and whose origins had to do with Latif’s death.)

* When US was pushing for military intervention in Syria because of a chemical weapon attack in that country’s civil war, I noted the US was not trustworthy, as they had a history of the US covering up large-scale biological and chemical warfare, a history that has a decades-long cover-up that is still only partially understood (see this recent blog post at my personal site). (This article was a good adjunct to the Foreign Policy article on how the US helped Iraq’s Saddam Hussein gas Iran.)

* Revealed a hitherto unremarked CIA/Psychological Strategy Board document that showed the U.S. was lying about claims it wanted independent investigations into the charges by China, North Korea and the USSR that the U.S. had used biological weapons during the Korean War. Moreover, the document hinted at other hidden U.S. war crimes, including possible use of chemical weapons in Korea as well. I can say that I’ve gotten a number of emails and engaged in discussions with multiple historians privately since release of this article, which seriously challenged not only U.S. histories written on the period, but again, like the other article mentioned one paragraph above, draws grave questions about the credibility of what the U.S. government says about WMD threats — I’ll have more to write about this very soon.

* My Dissenter article was the only press or blog report on the findings of a Georgetown professor that placed well-known and influential psychologist Martin Seligman into even greater contact with Mitchell and Jessen, who allegedly helped form the CIA’s torture program, than had been previously known.

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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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Could Durham’s CIA “Investigation” Lead to Understanding Migration of Torture Techniques?

10:31 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

photo: takomabibelot via Flickr

With the news that John Durham has decided to finally open criminal, and not just “preliminary,” investigations into the deaths of two prisoners held by the CIA (apparently Manadel al-Jamadi and Gul Rahman) the CIA can now “exhale,” as Spencer Ackerman describes it. The CIA’s sigh of release is related to the fact that of at least 101 cases of CIA abuse only two might be prosecuted. Spencer quotes outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta:

 

“On this, my last day as Director, I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us,” Panetta wrote to the CIA staff on Thursday. “We are now finally about to close this chapter of our Agency’s history.”

Ackerman also quoted the new CIA director, General David Petraeus: “During his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Petraeus issued a public plea to take the ‘rear view mirrors off the bus’ and drop any inquiries into CIA torture. He also suggested that the CIA might return to abusive interrogations in “special cases” of imminent danger…”

Petraeus was approved for his new CIA position on a unanimous Senate vote. No one in Congress bothered to ask about his affiliation with former “Salvador option” specialist James Steele, or his activities in relation to the training of Iraq security forces, at the same time as U.S. forces were given a “fragmentary order” (FRAGO 242) which told U.S. forces not to interfere with the torture of prisoners they were handing over to these same Iraqi security forces. FRAGO 242 was a direct contravention of U.S. treaty obligations under the Convention Against Torture not to turn prisoners over to forces that would likely torture them.

But this is America, and it appears most of the reporting class, both mainstream and of the more alternative, “blogging” sort, have taken to heart the no-accountability plea of the Obama administration, and never bothered to ask why Petraeus was given such a free ride re questions about torture and other abuse under his command noted above, or his association with the operations of terror groups like the Wolf Brigade. (I plan to write more about this later.)

Comparing the 2002 OLC Memos with Later CIA Iterations of its “Techniques”

But not everyone is letting things slide. Marcy Wheeler is taking a closer look at the new information that we can glean from the Durham investigations. One thing she notes, which she has covered before, is how the techniques used on Rahman were never approved by the Yoo/Bybee memos. The water dousing and exposure to extreme cold were techniques noted in a 2004 letter written by the CIA General Counsel to the OLC’s Jack Goldsmith, a follow-up request concerning the CIA’s “Legal Principles Applicable to CIA Detention and Interrogation of Al-Qa’ida Personnel,” otherwise known as the Bullet Points memo, and the earlier OLC memos . But did someone vet some of these techniques, at another time and place, for a different agency… at DoD perhaps?

I think it’s worth noting that the Bullet points memo cited 17 techniques (it’s really 16, though) the CIA relied upon, and it would be worth comparing those techniques in general with the ten approved torture techniques in the 2002 Yoo/Bybee memo.

Yoo/Bybee, 2002:
1. Attention grasp
2. Walling
3. Facial hold
4. Facial slap (insult slap)
5. cramped confinement
6. wall standing
7. stress positions
8. sleep deprivation
9. insects placed in a confinement box (really, the use of phobias)
10. the waterboard

– I’d note, as I have before, that some of these techniques were really omnibus in nature, particularly “sleep deprivation”, which included within its definition (from the Bradbury 2005 memo, which avers, however, to how “sleep deprivation” was already being used), “sleep deprivation, forced sleep deficit was combined, as we can see, with shackling, forced positions and forced standing, humiliation, manipulation of diet, sensory overload, and possibly other torture procedures.” (quote is from my article)

Now, let’s look at the Bullet Point document (4/28/2003), written (PDF) it appears by John Yoo and Jennifer Koester, with duplicated items from August 2002 asterisked; all others are “new” and presumably unapproved (though more on that in a moment).

1. Isolation
2. Sleep deprivation*
3. “reduced caloric intake (so long as the amount is calculated to maintain the general health of the detainee)”
4. deprivation of reading material
5. “loud music or white noise (at a decibel level calculated to avoid damage to the detainee’s hearing)”
6. the attention grasp*
7. walling*
8. the facial hold*
9. the facial slap (insult slap)*
10. the abdominal slap
11. cramped confinement*
12. wall standing*
13. stress positions*
14. sleep deprivation [this is a duplication in the list of #2, but is listed twice in the bullet point list, so is included here]
15. the use of diapers
16. the use of harmless insects* [though changed from the more precise use of insects in a confinement box from Yoo/Bybee 2002]
17. the waterboard*

On March 2, 2004, as Marcy Wheeler has noted, “CIA General Counsel Scott Muller [wrote] to Jack Goldsmith asking for reaffirmation of several legal documents, including [the] Legal Principles document, released with redactions”. (PDF to Muller’s letter)

Muller added some new techniques to the Bullet Points document, including pouring, flicking, or tossing of water (“water PFT) and “water dousing” (using water from a bucket or water hose). “Both water PFT and water dousing are used as part of the SERE training provided to US military personnel,” Muller wrote, noting later in his letter, “there are virtually no health or safety concerns with water PFT as part of an approved interrogation plan.”

Muller explains, too, that “[a] medical officer is present to monitor the detainee’s physical condition during the water dousing session(s), including any indications of hypothermia. Upon completion of the water dousing session(s), the detainee is moved to another room, monitored as needed by a medical officer to guard against hypothermia, and steps are taken to ensure the detainee is capable of generating necessary body heat and maintain normal body functions.”

These explanations about safeguards, written over a year after Rahman’s death, appear to be a cover for Rahman’s death, as evidently there were no safeguards used there. Or perhaps, Rahman was an experimental case, much as Zubaydah was when it came to other torture techniques (“walling” and waterboarding, for instance).

Gul Rahman died of hypothermia (and likely other torture) on November 20, 2002, shackled after a session of water dousing in a cold room in the CIA’s infamous Salt Pit prison. Was there a medical monitor present? We have reason to believe that CIA doctors were at all the black sites, so what were they doing on November 20, 2002?

CIA and DoD Techniques Compared

As we have seen, by April 2004, the number of CIA known techniques have escalated to 18 (or 19, given the replication of “sleep deprivation” in the original list, which is, as I will suggest below, a typo, as most likely the second mention of sleep deprivation is really meant to be “sleep adjustment”).

Finally, I think it’s worth looking at the techniques approved for DoD by Rumsfeld on April 16, 2003, after the infamous “Working Group” review. I’m not going to list them all. They were divided into categories of severity. One of the techniques that led to the Working Group review was “Exposure to cold weather or water (with appropriate medical monitoring”) in Jerald Phifer’s October 11, 2002 memo to the Commander of Guantanamo’s Joint Task Force 170 .

The DoD techniques, approved around the same time as the CIA’s Bullet Point list, included (the list below is not definitive, but meant to compare/contrast with those above):

1.  “Incentive/Removal of Incentive: Providing a reward or removing a privilege. ‘above and beyond those that are required by the Geneva Convention, from detainees. [Sounds very much like "deprivation of reading material" in the Bullet Point document, though could be more related to sensory deprivation]
2. “Fear Up Harsh: Significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee.”
3. “Pride and Ego Down: Attacking or insulting the ego of a detainee, not beyond the limits that would apply to a POW.”
4. “Futility: Invoking the feeling of futility of a detainee.”
5. “Mutt and Jeff: A team consisting of a friendly and harsh interrogator. The harsh interrogator might employ the Pride and Ego Down technique. [Caution: Other nations that believe that POW protections apply to detainees may view this technique as inconsistent with Geneva IIt, Article 13...]”
6. “Dietary manipulation: Changing the diet of a detainee; no intended deprivation of food or water; no adverse medical or cultural effect and without intent to deprive subject of food or water…” [bold emphasis added]
7. Environmental manipulation, including “adjusting temperature”
8. Sleep Adjustment, refers to shifting hours of sleep, i.e., playing around with circadian rhythms, “NOT sleep deprivation” [this may account for the confusion in the Bullet Points document, which appears to draw on approvals made for DoD, whatever the nature of those approvals).
9. False Flag
10. Isolation [which includes a host of caveats, including possible violations of Geneva III, Articles 13, 14, 34 and 126]

Savvy readers will remember that this was a ratcheting down of earlier DoD-approved techniques (Dec. 2002), that also included deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, stress positions, inducing stress by manipulation of detainee’s fears (IPCRESS for those who remember that book/movie), 20 hr. interrogations, and hooding, among others.

It appears, from a pursuit of how the torture techniques migrated, that there was a good deal of synergy going on between DoD, CIA, and likely Special Forces. I’d point out that in the Muller letter to Goldsmith, there are some redactions, one of them concerns a redacted technique, one that is associated with SERE.

Like other approved interrogation techniques, [approximately sixteen character spaces redacted] is used as part of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training provided to US personnel.

The implication is that some other SERE technique was approved and the technique is being ported over from DoD. I believe the redacted technique could be “exposure to cold”, which would fit the redacted area, and speaks to a technique otherwise unremarked in the Bullet Points document, but which was obviously used by CIA, as it was by DoD (under the rubric “environmental manipulation”).

It’s additionally worth noting there were psychologists and psychiatrists around who moved between all these agencies. Some techniques were apparently never written down or approved, but certainly used, particularly those that played on sexual humiliation or other cultural or religious sensitivities and vulnerabilities.

Factoring in the Experiments Angle

It would be a mistake to think that the documents will provide a full story of what occurred. This is especially true when it comes to considering what kinds of experimentation were actually being conducted on the detainees. Jason Leopold and I have written about the unprecedented use of the antimalarial mefloquine on all incoming detainees (see here, here, and here).

Another possible experiment may have surrounded the use of dietary manipulation, and the Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research’s study on The Guantanamo Diet noted, “The detainees’ weight varies so wildly that many have been obese briefly and underweight and malnourished at other times…. Professor Denbeaux concluded, “The most compelling question is how can the detainees’ weight swing from obese to under nourished when the medical staff is in complete control of all food intake.”

I’m looking into the latter issue, but will note that dietary manipulation, which shows up in the Bullet Point document as “reduced caloric intake”, as well as DoD docs,  is allowed so far as I can perceive in the current Army Field Manual (FM 2-22.3). The latter states “Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care” is “prohibited,” but I think, as in the caveat on dietary manipulation above, re the detainee’s “general health” that there is a lot of room for leeway, i.e., what is considered “necessary”? Note the use of the word “intended” as regards “dietary manipulation” in the April 2003 list of DoD “techniques.”

The list of AFM prohibited techniques is followed immediately by the following statement: “While using legitimate interrogation techniques, certain applications of approaches and techniques may approach the line between permissible actions and prohibited actions. It may often be difficult to determine where permissible actions end and prohibited actions begin.”

No kidding.

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.

Means and Ends: Newly Published Notes of Bruce Jessen Reveal Real Purpose of Bush’s Torture Program

2:06 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

As part of a new investigative story, Truthout has published documents written by the former psychologist for SERE, and later CIA contract interrogator for the Bush torture program, Bruce Jessen. Before going to work for the CIA with his former SERE partner, psychologist James Mitchell, Jessen authored a 2002 “draft exploitation plan” for military use, based on his experiences as a SERE instructor. The newly-discovered documents, provided to Truthout by former SERE Air Force Captain Michael Kearns, were written back in 1989 when Jessen was transferred from his clinical role elsewhere in SERE to help staff a new survival training course for Special Mission Units undertaking dangerous assignments for Special Operations forces abroad.

Jason Leopold and I co-authored the new story, which includes a video interview with Captain Kearns, who helped hire Jessen back in 1989 for his new SERE role helping put together the class titled SV-91. The documents include notes for a portion of that class, known as “Psychological Aspects of Detention.” The other document is a paper by Jessen, “Psychological Advances in Training to Survive Captivity, Interrogation and Torture,” which was prepared for a symposium at that time: “Advances in Clinical Psychological Support of National Security Affairs, Operational Problems in the Behavioral Sciences Course.”

Jessen’s notes, in particular, demonstrate that this course material, which was “reverse-engineered” to provide a blueprint for the interrogation and detention policies of the Bush administration — some of which remain in use today — emphasized not just the ways to coercively interrogate an individual for intelligence purposes, but to “exploit” the detainee for a number of uses. As Jessen wrote (and those following the Bradley Manning torture case will find this quite chilling, I suspect):

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

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

What is “Exploitation”?

If one were to search for the term “exploitation” in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse, published with numerous redactions in late 2009 (PDF), you would find numerous mentions of the term. While at times the word “exploitation” appears to be used as a synonym for the “breaking down” of prisoners, it doesn’t usually explain for what purpose. Indeed, many have noted that such “breaking down” is antithetical to the production of information from an interrogation suspect. Jessen says as much in his notes. But there are other reasons to break someone down.

For instance, the SASC report notes that “The ‘Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training’ presentation described methods used by al Qaeda to resist interrogation and exploitation…” (p. 39 of the PDF). “The presentation on detainee “exploitation” described phases of exploitation and included instruction on initial capture and handling, conducting interrogations, and long-term exploitation.” “Another slide describing captor motives states: establish absolute control, induce dependence to meet needs, elicit compliance, shape cooperation…. techniques designed to achieve these goals include isolation or solitary confinement, induced physical weakness and exhaustion, degradation, conditioning, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, disruption of sleep and biorhythms, and manipulation of diet” (p. 40 of the PDF). When intelligence is the aim of the “exploitation process”, it is specifically called “intelligence exploitation” in the report.

One of the primary reasons exploitation is used on prisoners is to produce false confessions. Indeed, it was the torture of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi that was used to provide the false intelligence about Saddam Hussein seeking nuclear materials that was to provide a major casus belli for the United States for their war with Iraq.

Other examples of exploitation include the recruitment of prisoners as intelligence assets, i.e., as snitches and spies. Indeed, the Truthout article notes a number of cases of attempting just such recruitment of former Guantanamo detainees, while they were still incarcerated. Another long-standing example of such exploitation is the use of prisoners in show trials, which have been used in a number of countries as a means of squashing dissent and offering a faux-legitimate function to governmental security forces. This was the case in the famous 1949 show trial of Cardinal Mindzenty of Hungary by the Stalinist government there.

It was also the case more recently in the military commissions show trial of former “child soldier” Omar Khadr, who was tortured, held in solitary for years, then forced to sign a confession and endure a military show trial which sentenced him to 40 years in prison (while a backroom deal supposedly has reduced that to 8 years and release from Guantanamo to Canada sometime next year).

Show Trials, False Confessions, Spying, Medical Experimentation

In a little remarked aspect of the Khadr case, his brother, Abdurahman, who was also held as a prisoner at Guantanamo while also working as a spy for the CIA, trying to get intelligence from prisoners there, testified under oath in 2004 that Omar had agreed to collaborate with the FBI, but was returned to onerous torture conditions after he changed his mind. We don’t know the kind of collaboration he was ready to provide, though it’s noteworthy that his brother had already been working for a few years as a CIA asset.

A. My brother Omar cooperated with the FBI and he was ready, they were being ready to release him and then he was in his cellblock and people saw that he was being ready to be released so they told him: “Oh, you told everything. You are going to hell. So if you don’t change you are going to go to hell.” So the next time he went to interrogation he denied everything so they took away everything from him and he is still there till now.

Q. Because he decided not to continue the collaboration?

A. Not to continue the cooperation.

Perhaps one of the most heart-rending accounts of a prisoner being broken and used for false confessions is in the autobiography of David Hicks. Hicks also discussed his torture in an interview recently with Jason Leopold at Truthout, describing his experience of solitary confinement, beatings, stress positions, being drugged, and having “every aspect of our lives” controlled by the Guantanamo authorities. In particular, he describes another aspect of exploitation of prisoners I haven’t mentioned thus far, medical experimentation, as he was constantly given different pills, injections, blood tests. His sense of being an experimental guinea pig has been echoed by a number of other former detainees, most recently the German-born ethnic Turk, Murat Kurnaz.

The following is from Mr. Hicks’ book, Guantanamo: My Journey. It could be used as a teaching text on the meaning of “exploitation,” and what the U.S. government implemented at Guantanamo. But we cannot forget that an innocent human being was the subject of this evil.

As time passed, the threat of ‘special treatment’ and psychological conditioning took its toll. The interrogators wore me down so that when they said, ‘So when you attended the al-Qaeda training camp…’ I would answer the question without denial or protest. I became too exhausted to argue. I allowed the interrogators to frame my words and say anything they wanted….

The interrogator’s associate, who had remained quiet until now, said they had a proposal for me: they would place me next to the various English-speaking detainees over a period of time, and I was to milk each one for information and report it back to the interrogators. If I agreed to do this, I would be allowed fifteen minutes with a lady from the Philippines. I instantly refused and requested to be sent back to my cage….

A goal of interrogation is to repeatedly break you and then put you back together until the parts can be manipulated. You become the interrogators’ creation…. The memory of what I have described depresses me deeply to this day. It does something to the soul; it felt like something had died inside me….

My end of the bargain was that I had to verbally repeat my story, agreeing with anything they added, even when they dictated my thoughts, beliefs and actions incorrectly. They also fed me things to say about other detainees as well. I did so obediently, even though I knew they were all lies. I struggled terribly with this and hated every minute of it, especially when they brought up other detainees. I searched desperately for the courage to resist and renege on the deal. I had no recourse. I had crumbled and was fully theirs.

Up until now, the primary narrative surrounding the torture scandal has been about the purported efficacy of using torture to produce intelligence in the “war on terror.” But the new Jessen material demonstrates that the program used as the basis for the “reverse-engineering” of the SERE torture techniques was a full-blown exploitation program, whose aims went far beyond the mere elicitation of information, but included the physical and psychological pressures to produce absolute compliance in prisoners for the purpose of false confessions, show trials, recruitment of spies, and medical experimentation.

As Capt. Kearns is quoted in the Truthout article, “The Jessen notes clearly state the totality of what was being reverse-engineered – not just ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but an entire program of exploitation of prisoners using torture as a central pillar.”

It will be up to the press and the blogosphere to make the full reality of the Bush-era torture program fully understood to the population at large, to weave the kinds of information provided here into the narrative of events. Only when the full extent of this program is revealed, can we begin to take steps to end such heinous activities, and bring to justice those who sought a number of nefarious ends through means almost too awful to recount.

Isolation: “The Ideal Way Of ‘Breaking Down’ A Prisoner”

7:04 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

The isolation and degradation of Bradley Manning by the Marine Corps penal authorities at the Quantico brig represents a significant acceleration of government torture policy, as it is meant, among other things, to further desensitize the U.S. population to the use of torture. Torture will be used on political dissidents in this country, that is clear now, and PFC Manning is the first, but there will be others.

How bad is isolation? Bad enough that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself felt it warranted a “caution” in his April 16, 2003 memo authorizing certain aggressive forms of interrogation, i.e., torture.

Caution: the use of isolation as an interrogation technique requires detailed implementation instructions, including specific guidelines regarding the length of isolation, medical and psychological review, and approvals for extension of the length of by the appropriate level in the chain of command. This technique is not known to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days. Those nations that believe that detainees are subject to POW protections may view use of this technique as inconsistent with the requirements of Geneva III, Article 13 which provides that POWs must be protected against acts of intimidation; Article 14 which provides that POWs are entitled to respect for their person; Article 34 which prohibits coercion and Article 126 which ensures access and basic standards of treatment. Although the provisions of Geneva are not applicable to the interrogation of unlawful combatants, consideration should be given to these views prior to application of this technique.

Rumsfeld — bureaucrat that he is — concentrates on the legal obstacles to the use of isolation. But the psychological components have been well studied for decades. The following is from a 1961 article on use of isolation for interrogations written by Lawrence Hinkle, then a psychiatrist at Cornell Medical Center, and a CIA consultant (link to quote can be found here, emphasis in quote is mine):
Read the rest of this entry →

NRC on Research on “War on Terror” Detainees: “A Contemporary Problem”?

10:13 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A National Research Council (NRC) 2008 report on a conference on Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies examined briefly what it characterized as a “contemporary problem,” the possibility of doing research on “war on terror” detainees, removed by the U.S. government from Geneva protections against experiments done on prisoners of war.

In a section of the report that looked at the “Cultural and Ethical Underpinnings of Social Neuroscience,” the report’s authors examined the “Ethical Implications” of these new technologies. The section explored the birth of the new field of bioethics, in response to the scandalous revelations of the Tuskegee experiments. The report noted that “On the whole, however, the system of protections for human research subjects is not well designed to capture instances of intentional wrongdoing,” providing “rather… guidance for well-motivated investigators who wish to be in compliance with regulatory requirements and practice standards.”

The report further described the history surrounding the importance of the rules that constitute the need for informed consent of research participants, and how the Nazi-era experiments led to the Nuremberg principle that “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” While claiming the current “formal procedures in place for the use of military personnel in medical experiments” are “stringent,” that doesn’t imply “that no abuses can occur, nor that convenient alternative frameworks (such as field testing) cannot be used to circumvent the research rules, but only that the official policies and procedures in the military are rigorous.”

But even with such supposedly “rigorous” policies, the report’s authors see a problem. They ominously ask whether “classified research can ever be ethically sound inasmuch as it lacks transparency, such as in the form of public accountability. For example, if a member of an ethics review board disagrees with a majority decision involving a classified human experiment, that member would be unable to engage in a public protest of that decision.”

At this point in the discussion, another interesting, and even more ominous question rises up before the NSC panel (emphasis added):

A contemporary problem is the status of detainees at military installations who are suspects in the war on terrorism. Presumably, the ethical standards that apply to all human research subjects should apply to them as well. But if they are not protected by the provisions of the Geneva protocols for prisoners of war, the question would be whether as potential research subjects they are nonetheless protected by other international conventions, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948). Those technical questions of international law are beyond the scope of this report.

Why should the question of research on detainees arise in this discussion at all?

Evidence of Military Research and Experimentation on Detainees

Jason Leopold and I have been investigating the possibility of research being conducted upon detainees at Guantanamo and other “war on terror” prisoners held by the Defense Department and the CIA. Back in September 2009, I published articles at Firedoglake, The Public Record, and Truthout that noted the research on “uncontrollable stress” conducted upon SERE survival school students subjected to mock torture predated the institution of the so-called “enhanced interrogation program of the CIA. The research was conducted by, among others, a CIA-linked psychiatrist, Dr. Charles A. Morgan III, who is affiliated with Yale University and the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Morgan has denied his CIA affiliation, but for documentary evidence, see this list of participants at this 2004 DoJ/FBI conference.

This research used methods that were similar to those later instituted under a plan developed by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, formerly employed by the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), parent organization to the SERE program, to use coercive forms of interrogation on the new “war on terror” detainees, who the White House and their attorneys at the Office of Legal Counsel  removed from the protection of Geneva Convention protocols. In a report on CIA experiments on torture, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) noted in an appendix the existence of the Morgan research, but failed to make public the CIA connections, even though they certainly were aware of them.

Originally, the PHR report was going to include a footnote on the existence of a new protocol on human experimentation protections in the military signed by Paul Wolfowitz in early 2002. While they chose not to follow up on this, Leopold and I conducted a seven-month long investigation into the March 2002 issuance of Department of Defense Directive 3216.02, “Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research.” We noted that “the Wolfowitz directive weakened protections that had been in place for decades by limiting the safeguards to ‘prisoners of war’.” Even more, it allowed for waivers of informed consent if the head of a DoD department thought it necessary. There had never been such loose rules on informed consent ever explicitly allowed in the history of military research, although no prominent ethicist had discussed this until we published our article. Prominent ethicist Alexander Capron was quoted in our story for calling these changes “controversial both because it involves a waiver of the normal requirements and because the grounds for that waiver are so open-ended.”

While retaining the blanket prohibition against experimenting on prisoners of war, Wolfowitz softened the language for other types of prisoners, using a version of rules about “vulnerable” classes of individuals taken from regulations meant for civilian research by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

By removing the detainees from Geneva protections, and taking away “prisoner of war” protections, Bush and the White House lawyers, among them Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, opened up the captured prisoners, many of them sold to the Americans for bounty reward, to possible experimentation.

DoD and HHS Acting Together on Experiments?

Buried in the Wolfowitz directive was a provision (4.4.1) that “actions authorizing or requiring any action by an official of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with respect to any requirements” of research on “vulnerable populations” like prisoners “shall be under the authority of the Director, Defense Research and Engineering.” The reason for HHS involvement was because research “supported or conducted by the Department of Defense that affects vulnerable classes of subjects” had to meet the protections of HHS’s Common Rule language that covers protection of human subjects.

When queried whether there had ever been any DoD research on any kind of prisoner, or the use of HHS personnel to monitor such research, a spokesperson for Defense Research and Engineering indicated that they had no comment.

In 2002, there was another assault on prisoner protections for research, when Bush’s Secretary of HHS asked for and received a year later a blanket waiver for all informed consent on prisoner experimentation for “epidemiological” reasons, including the taking of biological samples. In a future article, I will explore the repercussions of this new policy — also never discussed by any ethical panel, and certainly not by the NRC — on research upon prisoners, and more specifically the possibility of experiments done on the detainees at Guantanamo.

This further investigation may throw light upon the Guantanamo SOP wherein all detainees were subjected to a never-before-attempted use of mass administration of treatment doses of the controversial anti-malaria drug mefloquine (Lariam), as also reported in a special investigation by Jason Leopold and myself last December. The scandal was also the subject of an independent investigatory report published at the same time by Seton Hall University Law School’s Center for Policy and Research.

In a 2002 report on mefloquine adverse events, “Unexpected frequency, duration and spectrum of adverse events after therapeutic dose of mefloquine in healthy adults,” published in top medical journal Acta Tropica, it was noted that 73% of the participants suffered “severe (grade 3) vertigo…” which “required bed rest and specific medication for 1 to 4 days.” Nevertheless, DoD maintains that the use of mefloquine was for public health purposes, to prevent malaria from spreading in Cuba. But as our investigation showed, talking with military medical experts, and examining other military responses to malaria threat, including in Cuba, no such use of such mass treatment doses, with its attendant dangers, was ever used or even proposed. Nor did DoD medical officers at Guantanamo demand the same protocols be used on foreign workers from malarial areas brought into the camp at this same time to work on building Camp Delta and other facilities at the naval base. The workers were employed by Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton.

Was the mefloquine use part of an experimental protocol on the adverse side effects of the drug, a subject of much controversy within DoD at the time? Was it a method of softening up prisoners for interrogation? While calls for greater transparency go unheeded, further investigation by the press may bring answers to these explosive questions.

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

4:25 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truly, nothing can be considered strange anymore.

2002 DoD Directive Changed Rules to Allow Experiments on Detainees

8:43 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

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

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

According to the Truthout report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2006 Navy Training Day Describes Part of the Problem

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

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

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

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

Project Shad was a DoD experiment that exposed at least 4,000 Navy men to various chemical agents and decontaminant chemicals, "including Bacillus globigii (BG), Coxiella burnetii [which causes Q fever], Pasteurella tularensis [which causes tularemia or 'rabbit fever'], Zinc Cadmium Sulfide, Beta-propriolactone, Sarin, VX, Escherichia Coli (EC), Serratia Marcescens (SM), Sodium Hydroxide, Peracetic acid, Potassium hydroxide, Sodium hypochlorite, ‘tracer amounts’ of radioactivity and asbestos, [and] Methylacetoacetate." So outrageous were these experiments, denied by the government for 35 years, that there were Congressional hearings (PDF) in 2002, and major news reports by CBS Evening News. Today, the story has dropped off the radar, though thanks to some Congressional pressure, and the activism of some of the Shad victims, veterans and the government can get more information on Shad and its land-based twin experiment, Project 112, at this Veterans Administration webpage.

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

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

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

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

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

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.