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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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Government’s Psychological Evaluation of Manssor Arbabsiar Fails to Impress

2:31 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

Manssor Arbabsiar

Gregory B. Saathoff M.D. is the latest mental health professional to weigh in on the Manssor Arbabsiar case. Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel has been dissecting aspects of Saathoff’s narrative of events surrounding Arbabsiar’s interrogation and confession (see here, here, and here).

I want to look more closely at the claims Saathoff makes in an October 3 “Forensic Psychiatric Evaluation” on Arbabsiar’s mental status, symptoms and diagnosis. The evaluation was dated the same day as a government memorandum arguing against a defense motion to dismiss or suppress evidence drawn from Arbabsiar’s interrogation. The reason for such dismissal or suppression? The defense presented expert opinion that Arbabsiar had been in a manic episode during the period of his interrogation, having a previously undiagnosed case of Bipolar Disorder. As a result, he was not in his right mind when he waived presentment (presentation before a judicial official) and his Miranda rights.

For those who have forgotten, Arbabsiar is Iranian-born, but a U.S. naturalized citizen, a Texas used car salesman with a cousin in the Iranian Quds force. According to U.S. prosecutors, in 2011, Arbabsiar contacted a confidential DEA informant in Mexico, and, believing he was talking to someone in a Mexican drug cartel, arranged the assassination of Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. But the assassination and other alleged terrorist plots, of course, never took place, and Arbabsiar was detained in Mexico, flown to the U.S. and interrogated by the FBI at (it turns out) an undisclosed military base from September 29 to October 10, 2011.

Here’s Saathoff quoting FBI Special Agent Shalabi about what the latter called Arbabsiar’s “erratic” behavior during his “confession” in the early morning hours of October 3:

FBI SA Shalabi recalled in a September 7, 2012 interview that after having observed Mr. Arbabsiar sleeping soundly, Mr. Arbabsiar awakened at 3 am and expressed concerns about jail. “The first thing out of his mouth was “What is jail like in the United States? How harsh are the conditions? What should I expect?” After going into the bathroom [where elsewhere we learn he "washed his shirt in the bathroom sink" - JK], Mr. Arbabsiar came back out into the living area, and FBI SA Shalabi recalled Mr. Arbabsiar’s statements and behavior:

“You know what I did?” And I said “no”. Then on his own accord, without me asking, (I decided to keep my mouth shut) he told me he was in big trouble. Had gotten involved in big politics. Wife had a lot of financial demands. Son’s pregnant girlfriend added more to the stress. So he told me that he decided to go to Iran to solicit more help for [his] family… He said that his cousin was a “big general”, [who] was “senior” with decision-making powers. [He was] Approached by cousin to then give money to kill the Saudi Ambassador. As he was telling me this, he reflected back on the whole situation. As he told me the story, [as] he said that, he looked upset and [said that he] had been used by his cousin. Then he went back to smoking [elsewhere Arbabsiar is described as smoking four packs a day - JK], tossed and turned, and then fell asleep.

For the U.S. it was a propaganda coup, for it claimed that someone in the Iranian government was planning or instigating a terrorist attack in the U.S. against a foreign diplomat. The hawks in the U.S. government squawked loudly and long.

No one ever seems to notice that the only foreign diplomat ever actually assassinated in the U.S. was former Chilean ambassador to the U.S., Orlando Letelier, murdered in Washington D.C. in 1973 by order of the government of Augusto Pinochet. The hit man was Michael Townley, an agent for Chile’s intelligence directorate (DINA) who also worked for the CIA. In 2000, it was revealed that the mastermind of the terrorist attack, which also killed Letelier’s assistant, Ronnie Moffett, was Chilean intelligence chief Manuel Contreras, and he, too, was a paid asset of the CIA.

In the case against Arbabsiar, the evidence seems sketchy. Wheeler points out that Saathoff’s report explains the DEA informant Arbabsiar is supposed to have contacted “had a younger sister with whom he had a sexual relationship in 1992, while he was married to his third wife”! What a coincidence, one might say.

But particularly damaging to the government are the questions surrounding the veracity of his confession, which was attacked by top mental health experts brought in by the defense, who stated Arbabsiar, who had waived his rights within hours of capture (while possibly jonesing terribly for a cigarette), suffered from bipolar disorder and was not able to make a reasoned decision about his rights or actions.

Bipolar Disorder with “Impaired Cognitive Functioning”

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Obama Interrogation Official Linked to U.S. Mind Control Research

2:42 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

A new article at Truthout, by H.P. Albarelli and Jeffrey Kaye, describes how the CIA’s Artichoke Project* was the contemporaneous and operational side of the MK-ULTRA mind control research program. It was not superceded by MK-ULTRA in the 1950s, as often supposed. Even more, Artichoke-derived methods of using drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation and overload, behavioral modification techniques and other methods of mind control have resurfaced as a primary component of U.S. interrogation practice.

The Truthout article includes some amazing revelations, including the largest description to date of the roles of then-Ford administration officials Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in working hand-in-glove with the CIA to suppress information on Artichoke from surfacing.

The article also references the November 2006 release of an “Instruction” from the Secretary of the Navy (3900.39D) regarding its “Human Research Protection Program.” While this memo specifically prohibits the use of research upon prisoners, including so-called “unlawful enemy combatants,” waivers of informed consent for research, or suspension of the protections enumerated in the memo can be made by the Secretary of the Navy under conditions of “operational contingency or during times of national emergency.” It is likely the latter rests upon the legislative language within the September 18, 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, where terrorist acts are said to “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

The waivers allowed for normal human research testing gains further piquancy when one considers the kinds of research referenced in the Secretary of the Navy’s memo. Section 7(a)(2)(a) describes the Undersecretary of the Navy as the “approval authority” for research done upon prisoners, as well as “Severe or unusual intrusions, either physical or psychological, on human subjects (such as consciousness-altering drugs or mind-control techniques)” [emphasis added].

This referencing of “mind-control techniques” in a document specifically discussing human subjects protections by then Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter, is not an anomaly, but a rare instance in which the actual activities of the government in this area are openly revealed. Some of these activities can be documented via publicly available materials. This article describes how some of the individuals involved in U.S. government mind control and torture activities can be tracked and identified.

APA, CIA: “How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses…?”

Another instance in which the curtain was pulled back on mind control research by the U.S. government involved the online description by the American Psychological Association (APA) of a CIA and Rand Corporation workshop which it co-sponsored in July 2003 at Rand’s Arlington, Virginia headquarters. The event was attended by approximately 40 research psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, as well as “representatives from the CIA, FBI and Department of Defense with interests in intelligence operations.”

One of these workshops, ostensibly on detection of deception, specifically described how participants should consider “sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors,” including the use of “pharmacological agents. “How might we,” the workshop asked, “overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?”

The man in charge of “recruiting the operational expertise” for the workshop was Kirk Hubbard, Chief of the Research & Analysis Branch, Operational Assessment Division of the CIA. It appears likely that Hubbard was responsible for the presence at the workshop of SERE psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were instrumental in the construction of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” torture program. Hubbard was also reported (by Scott Shane of the New York Times) to have brought James Mitchell to an informal meeting “of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers… to brainstorm about Muslim extremism” at the home of former APA president Martin Seligman in November 2001.

Sometime in the past six months, the APA eliminated all references to the webpage described above, even going so far as to eliminate linked references to it on other webpages on its site. While the webpage that described the workshops has been scrubbed, mirrored images of the site remain available at well-known web archive sites, as I described in a recent article on this attempt to rewrite or hide APA’s offensive history. In one sense, this attempt to hide its history is not surprising, because the kind of activities discussed in these workshops are exactly like those that involved CIA and military mind control torture programs going back fifty years or more, and evidently still operational today.

The Role of Government Psychologist Susan Brandon

In a recent article, Scott Horton at Harper’s picked up on the unique link between the APA/CIA workshop and the recent revelations about torture at a hitherto unknown black site prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. That link was an individual, Susan Brandon.

Referenced by Horton as working for the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA), Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC), a recent publication identified Brandon more fully as Chief for Research in the DCHC’s Behavioral Science Program. As Horton notes, a recent column by Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic described the DCHC as providing “intelligence operatives and interrogators….. [performing] interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade.” Interrogations at the Afghan black site reportedly have included use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, brutality, isolation, relying on the guidelines of the Army Field Manual, including its Appendix M. Many human rights groups have criticized Appendix M as including techniques tantamount to torture and/or cruel, inhumane and degrading and illegal by domestic and international law.

Back in 2003, according to an APA news article, Brandon “jointly conceived” the APA/CIA workshops with Rand Associate Policy Analyst, Scott Gerwehr. (Mr. Gerwehr reportedly died a few years ago.) At the time, psychologist Susan Brandon was the Program Officer for Affect and Biobehavioral Regulation at the National Institute of Mental Health, and worked on the APA/CIA program while also serving as “Senior Scientist” at the APA.

In the early 2000s, Dr. Brandon served as Behavioral and Social Science Principal at the Mitre Corporation, a company highly linked to U.S. Air Defense. Subsequent to her stint as APA’s Senior Scientist, she went on to work in for the Bush administration as Assistant Director of Social, Behavioral, and Educational Sciences for the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. In addition, she became an instrumental member of the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBES) Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committees on Science and Homeland and National Security.

Subsequently, as described in an important article by Stephen Soldz that extends many of the points in this essay, Brandon joined the Defense Department’s Counterintelligence Field Activity group (CIFA), which was later disbanded and reformed as part of the DCHC. Soldz also reminds us that Brandon was “one of the silent observers at the [APA] PENS [Psychological Ethics and National Security] taskforce described by dissident taskforce member Jean Maria Arrigo as exerting pressure on members to adopt a likely pre-approved policy in favor of participation in Guantánamo, CIA, and other interrogations. According to a 2005 article by Geoff Mumford, APA’s Director of Science Policy, Dr. Brandon “helped steer much of the association’s scientific outreach relevant to counter-terrorism after 9/11.”

One example of such outreach would include the June 11, 2002 meeting between Brandon, and other top APA officials with “two senior staff members in the National Security Council’s (NSC’s) Office of Combating Terrorism” (OCT). Since Vice Admiral William McRaven was head of OCT at that time, perhaps Brandon’s acquaintance with the world of Special Operations dates to that time, as McRaven was to become Commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

JSOC is the other Defense Department component, besides DIA, that has been linked currently with the management of the black site prisons run by the Obama administration, subsequent to President Obama’s apparent closure of the CIA black sites. One reputable source has informed me that there are eight such black site prisons in Afghanistan alone. A recent report by the BBC corroborated earlier reports by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The article by Ambinder further elaborated upon this story.

Why is the Obama Administration Still Involved in Torture?

It is not known if Dr. Brandon has been involved in any of the reported abuses of prisoners coming out of Bagram’s Tor prison, or elsewhere. Yet one would think the Obama administration and the Pentagon has a lot to explain in utilizing as their behavioral chief of research for an agency involved in intelligence operations, including interrogation. But then, why is the Obama administration involved in torture or operating secret prisons at all? President Obama has manifestly broken his promise to the American people to end torture and close all secret prisons. Nor has Congress done their due diligence in investigating these matters. Only when the American people fully understand the extent to which these activities have occupied the government and their various collaborators, like the APA, will society be able to take the necessary steps to end these abuses, and hold those accountable for what amount to crimes against humanity.

As for psychologists, Dr. Soldz rightly notes, “Psychology as a profession is at a crossroads.” The same holds true for other professions involved with this abusive and criminal history, including the activities of anthropologists in the military’s Human Terrain System teams in Afghanistan, researchers in numerous academic departments across the country, and the many reports of doctors and other medical personnel involved in the monitoring of torture activities for the CIA and Defense Department. The use of torture has suborned U.S. civil society as a whole in activities that are dark and evil, and the society as a whole must make a tremendous effort if it is to extirpate such evil from its midst.

*For an early document referring to Artichoke’s history, see CIA, Memorandum for the Record, Subject: Project ARTICHOKE, January 31, 1975. While this MOR downplays Artichoke’s history, it represents the degree to which the CIA was willing to reveal such operations. The Truthout article discusses Operation Dormouse, where then Ford administration officials Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld worked with the CIA to limit revelations about Artichoke and other CIA torture and assassination operations.