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Japanese WWII Torture Document Eerily Reminiscent of US Torture Program

9:44 am in Torture by Jeff Kaye

The following is taken from a 63 year old book published in the early days of the Cold War. Titled Materials on the Trial of Former Serviceman of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1950), the book contains trial summaries and testimony from the Khabarovsk war crimes trial in December 1949.

Derided as just another Stalinist show trial at the time, historians have since confirmed the evidence regarding the crimes prosecuted, including deadly biological experiments on prisoners by special units of the Japanese Imperial Army, the most famous of which was Unit 731.

page from Soviet war crimes trial book

photo from war crimes book with Japanese text of torture instuctions

The selection below is one of the exhibits contained in the book, collected in a section labeled “Documentary Evidence.” The book itself has been out of print for decades, and is generally unavailable, except via some few libraries and antiquarian bookstores.

The selection included here is on the Japanese Army use of torture. The reader will notice that the Japanese Army demonstrated many of the same techniques and concerns the U.S. showed when it was implementing its own torture program under the CIA and the Department of Defense.

The Japanese torture program included, as described here, use of stress positions, physical attack, and a form of waterboarding. The interrogators were instructed to be aware of possible false information by prisoners in order to get “relief from suffering.” They appeared to also be concerned in the truthfulness of information obtained, and the possibility of deception.

Moreover, the Japanese were quite worried about others knowing about the torture. While they do not outright call for the murder of prisoners, one is left to guess at what “measures must be taken” so that prisoners did not talk of the torture “afterwards.”

The material from the Khabarovsk trial is consistent with that published in a report by the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers on “Japanese Methods of Prisoner of War Interrogation” (June 1, 1946). Techniques described there include: beatings of various sorts (derided, though, as “the most clumsy method”); threats of “murder, torture, starving, deprivation of sleep, solitary confinement, etc.”; psychological threats; water torture, which sometimes resulted in fatalities; attaching a prisoner’s thumbs to a “motor car which proceeds to pull him around in a circle until he falls exhausted,” and other tortures. Some Japanese soldiers and officers were prosecuted for war crimes after the war for such inhumane and criminal conduct.

What Made the Khabarovsk Trial Special

What makes the selection from the Khabarovsk trial unique is the degree to which the document discusses the importance of hiding the torture, and how to deal with deception. Interestingly, there is no discussion of producing false confessions.

It is noteworthy, too, to understand that thousands of prisoners who were sent to Unit 731 had also been, or were interrogated and/or tortured, at the site where biological experiments on them were done. All the prisoners were killed after the experiments were completed. The results of the experiments were operationalized in biological warfare campaigns by the Japanese in China that killed, recent estimates claim, perhaps as many as half a million people.

In future stories, I will discuss at much greater length aspects of this material that has gone unreported for years. The reasons for such a lack of historical writing is not lack of interest, but the fact that what materials the Japanese did not destroy were kept classified by the Americans for decades as part of an amnesty deal made with the leaders of the Japanese biological warfare program. The deal included a transfer of data on the fatal human experiments to the U.S. Army and intelligence services. Both the Department of Defense and (most likely) the CIA were involved in the decision to give amnesty to the Unit 731 et al. criminals.

For more information on the deal made between the U.S. and the Japanese described here see Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army Secret of Secrets, 1989, Hodder and Stoughton, London; Sheldon H. Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-1945, and the American Cover-up, rev. ed. 2002, Routledge, New York; and Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague Upon Humanity: the Secret Genocide of Axis Japan’s Germ Warfare, 2004, Harper, New York.

The Khabarovsk selection reprinted below appears on pages 235-237 of Materials. I have tried my best to reproduce the material as it is in the book. What is italic or bold here is italic or bold in the book. Extra spacing between letters is as in the printed material. Case has been preserved. Paragraph breaks are by extra lines, while in the book they are by indent.

Book Excerpt

File No. 48. Pages 90, 112, 113, 124, 125, 126. “Operation Officer’s Guide (Part I).” From the files of the Mutankiang J.M.M.

Translated from the Japanese
S t r i c t l y  C o n f i d e n t i a l

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Torture & the Art of the Gratuitous Lie: Dissecting Rumsfeld & Thiessen’s Wild Whoppers

1:56 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

As if we already didn’t know the media is full of lies and stupidity, two new examples have surfaced in recent days, with former administration officials and their media mouthpieces vying for who can pronounce the most incredible lies about the torture policies of the U.S. government. What’s even more amazing is that one ostensibly progressive website and its members have taken at least one of these lies as good coin, a lie so blatant that it only takes a moment’s reflection to realize it’s total BS.

First, though, precedence should be given to the op-ed by Donald Rumsfeld in last Thursday’s Washington Post. Titled “How WikiLeaks vindicated Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy,” the former Secretary of Defense — who was the Bush administration official who authorized aggressive torture techniques based on SERE torture resistance training for use in DoD interrogations, a fact the Washington Post forgot to mention in its brief bio on Rumsfeld — manages to dredge up every falsehood and canard spewed out by the government to justify the torture they used, from Al Qaeda’s purported threats to unleash a “nuclear hellstorm” if Bin Laden was captured, to the supposed “dirty” bomb plot (dreamed up from “confessions” made under torture by Binyam Mohamed, who had looked at a joke website on nuclear bombs online, and was originally a charge against Jose Padilla, later dropped because it would have been laughed out of even Bush’s courts).

But the oddest lie, gratuitously thrown in, concerns Rumsfeld’s claims about what the Wikileaks documents allegedly reveal about the purported “suicides” of three Guantanamo prisoners in June 2006. Readers might remember the Scott Horton article in Harper’s Magazine back in January 2010, “The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.” (Horton’s article produced an upset of sorts at the National Magazine Awards last week, winning the “Reporting” award, beating out Michael Hasting’s Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and Jane Mayer’s New Yorker exposé on the Koch brothers. — Congrats, Scott!)

While Horton’s article laid out compelling evidence of a cover-up over the possible killings of these three detainees, one of whom had already been cleared for release and return to Saudi Arabia only weeks prior to his death, Rumsfeld claims that the recent Wikileaks release of Guantanamo documents (Detainee Assessment Briefs, or DABs) provide evidence backing the government’s contention the three prisoners committed simultaneous suicide.

The documents should also disprove some myths that have dogged Guantanamo and the reputations of those who honorably serve there. The classified record, for example, confirms that three detainees who died in 2006 were suicides — not, as some have irresponsibly alleged, victims of brutal interrogations.

Yet nowhere in the Wikileaks documents, and nowhere in the DABs for Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, or Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani — the three men who died — is there any evidence or claim that their deaths were suicides. Nowhere in these documents is there even a discussion of these suicides, so it is very odd that Rumsfeld, who was sued by the parents of two of the deceased prisoners, should even bring up this story. In Horton’s article, it’s noted that Rumsfeld might have put the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in charge of a secret interrogation black site at Guantanamo, called unofficially Camp No by some Gitmo personnel, where the three men were seen taken by guards on duty that night. Rumsfeld has never spoken out on the “suicides” before. I wonder what he’s trying to preempt.

For a thorough demolition of Rumsfeld’s lies, readers may wish to peruse former Col. Larry Wilkerson’s declaration under oath “that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all knew — and didn’t care — that ‘the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent.’”

Marc Thiessen’s Theater of the Absurd

Even more gratuitous, and a lie easily disprovable on its face, is the recent assertion, as reported by the overly-creduous Josh Gerstein at Politico, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “figured out” how to outlast his 183 waterboardings by CIA torturers (bold emphasis added).

“He figured out the limits,” Marc Theissen, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said during a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. KSM “actually mocked his interrogators by holding out his arm and counting off the seconds with his hand. He knew exactly how far we could go and when the terrorists know how far you can go it’s very very hard to break them.”

Aside from the ridiculous, if not scandalous assertions about the efficacy of torture — a crime considered “jus cogens,” a crime against humanity, and a war crime outlawed by U.S. treaties — the idea of KSM “holding out his arm to count off the seconds with his hand” would be amazing… if it weren’t that his arms and legs were strapped down to a gurney!

Such a blatant lie should have been caught by Gerstein, or by the naive diarist that posted the story over at Daily Kos, winning a spot on the “recommended” list, even though the diarist and many of the commenters there took Theissen’s mendacious fiction to be fact.  It wouldn’t take more than a few minutes on Google to find this description from the 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo by Jay Bybee and John Yoo (bold emphasis added): “In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner.

Additionally, one could go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and read the CIA’s own guidelines from its Office of Medical Services (OMS) (PDF). Except for the manner in which breathing was obstructed in the prisoner (as discussed in the CIA IG report on the torture program – PDF), the CIA’s waterboarding followed the SERE model, in which, OMS noted (bold emphasis added), “the subject is immobilized on his back, and his forehead and eyes covered with a cloth.”

The idea that frustrated CIA torturers were repeatedly waterboarding KSM as he stubbornly held up his arm and hand to count off the seconds of torture is ridiculously absurd, not least because it was physically impossible. What the CIA medical personnel did have to report about the waterboarding showed that some resistance was, in their opinion, possible: “While SERE trainers believe that trainees are unable to maintain psychological resistance to the waterboard, our experience was otherwise. Some subjects [KSM?] unquestionably can withstand a large number of applications, with no immediately discernable [sic] cumulative impact beyond their strong aversion to the experience.”

Now, the CIA is no more believable than their mouthpiece, Marc Theissen, but it’s notable that even for the unnamed detainee or detainees who supposedly could “withstand a large number of applications,” the torture produced a “strong aversion.” What the words “withstand” or “aversion” even mean when issuing from the offices of the CIA, I’m not even sure anymore. But it certainly is far different than the picture of an obstreperous KSM that Thiessen provides in order to show that Al Qaeda had learned how to “resist” even a technique as powerful as the waterboard. That this says nothing about the legality or logic of using such torture is an example of how an implicit and dangerous lie is hidden within the blatant outer husk of an absurd lie, i.e., that U.S. torture was not harmful.

As for waterboarding, the fact that SERE training had largely banned waterboarding as too dangerous for their trainees, and the fact that government lawyers hid that fact in the memos they wrote to approve Bush’s “enhanced interrogation program,” was revealed in a series of exclusive articles I wrote here at Firedoglake last year (see here and here).

News and Analysis You Can Count On — Become a FDL Member Today

No matter what news source you like, you’re not going to find truth-telling and analysis on issues like torture as often as you will at Firedoglake. FDL has initiated a membership program to help put this great site on a firmer financial basis, free from corporate influence or subservience to the mainstream media. If you’re reading this, you already know that in-depth reporting and analysis by Marcy Wheeler, Jane Hamsher, David Dayen, Jon Walker, and many others is an everyday occurrence here. And then there are the movie discussions, the Book Salon every weekend, with important and relevant authors interacting with our readers, webinars for FDL members, and more.

When you can be an FDL member for as little as $5 or $10 per month, you’re doing yourself a favor by signing up right now. It will be the best few dollars you’ll have spent recently, and you’ll become part of a thriving and growing online community.

SF Chronicle Columnist Slimes Waterboarding Victim in Bid to Stop Berkeley Resolution on Guantanamo Detainees

12:40 pm in Afghanistan, Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

How thoughtlessly do the apologists for America’s gulag at Guantanamo defame those who have been seriously tortured!

San Francisco Chronicle/SF Gate columnist Debra Saunders has written a hit piece against activists in Berkeley who are seeking to pass a City Council resolution to resettle cleared Guantanamo detainees within the city limits of this college town for the University of California, the home of the Free Speech Movement, People’s Park, and also known for other antiwar and progressive causes over the years. A vote on the resolution before the Berkeley City Council is scheduled for Tuesday night, February 15.

Last December, the City of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission passed a recommendation asking the Berkeley City Council to adopt the resolution, officially called “Resolution to Assist in the Safe Resettlement of Cleared Guantanamo Detainees.” A full copy of the resolution is available here. Sponsors include No More Guantanamos; Code Pink Women for Peace, Golden Gate Chapter;  Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture (UC Law School); Ecumenical Peace Institute; Legislative Committee, Tenants Assn., Strawberry Creek Lodge (senior citizens); and others.

The Water Torture of Djamel Ameziane

It’s no surprise to discover that Saunders’ column was picked up by a number of conservative outlets, especially as it retails the lie that the detainees are dangerous, or likely to “return” to terrorism if released. Besides uncritically accepting Department of Defense figures, she lies about what they actually say, and then tries to impugn the stories of the two Guantanamo detainees mentioned by the Berkeley commission, one of whom, Algerian Berber Djamel Ameziane, has the distinction of being the only Guantanamo prisoner to have suffered a form of waterboarding.

Petitioned by lawyers from Center for Constitutional Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, intervened on Ameziane’s case in 2008 with the U.S. State Department to ask for guarantees of humane treatment for Ameziane.

From the petition before the Inter-American Commission, p. 24 (PDF):

In another violent incident, guards entered his cell and forced him to the floor, kneeing him in the back and ribs and slamming his head against the floor, turning it left and right. The bashing dislocated Mr. Ameziane’s jaw, from which he still suffers. In the same episode, guards sprayed cayenne pepper all over his body and then hosed him down with water to accentuate the effect of the pepper spray and make his skin burn. They then held his head back and placed a water hose between his nose and mouth, running it for several minutes over his face and suffocating him, an operation they repeated several times. Mr. Ameziane writes, “I had the impression that my head was sinking in water. I still have psychological injuries, up to this day. Simply thinking of it gives me the chills.”

Ameziane left discrimination against his Berber ancestry and his Muslim faith, and the chaos of civil war in Algeria in the early 1990s, as a young man in his 20s to work in Vienna, where — yes, Debra Saunders — he was the highest-paid chef  at the well-known Italian restaurant Al Caminetto Trattoria. But Ameziane ultimately lost his work permit, due to anti-immigrant hysteria in Austria, and then went to Canada, where he spent five years waiting upon his claim for political asylum. Only after it was denied did Ameziane leave for Afghanistan in 2000, believing that the only place for him after all might be an Islamic country that ruled with Sharia law. After 9/11 and the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, he was arrested in a mosque and later turned over to the Americans, probably for bounty money.

Saunders quotes Thomas Joscelyn, right-wing columnist and senior fellow for the neo-conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, as writing that Ameziane must have been a jihadist, because he was caught in a lodging supposedly owned by Abu Zubaydah, and that “to ‘gain admittance to a Taliban guesthouse, recruits need a certified Taliban or al Qaeda member to vouch for their commitment’ to jihad.” Except, Zubaydah was never a member of the Taliban or al Qaeda, and the guesthouse was not associated with them either. But what do such little facts matter to these conservative hirelings for the torturers?

In fact, not only were the others captured at this “safe house” later released or cleared by the Americans, but two different Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearings for Ameziane found that “while in Afghanistan, the detainee did not receive any military or terrorist training and did not see any fighting.” Nor was any evidence of any terrorist or military activities ever produced.  ”Has Ameziane been cleared by U.S. authorities? Not that I can find,” writes Saunders. Perhaps she never read the Reuters headline: Obama team clears 75 at Guantanamo for release. Nor is she likely aware that the Anglican Diocese of Montreal has said they would sponsor his settlement in Canada.

Russian Prisoner Already Welcomed by Massachusetts Towns

Saunders also attacks the other Guantanamo detainee mentioned by the Berkeley commission as a possible candidate for resettlement, Ravil Mingazov, a former Russian ballet dancer, who was conscripted into the Russian army and performed for two years in the Army’s ballet troupe. A convert to Islam, he found himself subjected to discrimination in Russia, had his house ransacked by the KGB (according to a report by Andy Worthington), and like Ameziane and many others left for what they thought of as an Islamic refuge in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Mingazov has already been sponsored for settlement in resolutions similar to that up for vote in Berkeley, specifically in the Massachusetts towns of Amherst and Leverett. The Guantanamo prisoner, the last Russian to be held in the U.S. torture prison in Cuba, was granted his habeas corpus petition last Spring. In his opinion (PDF), Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. noted that the only real “evidence” supplied by the government was Minagzov’s stay overnight at Issa House, owned by Abu Zubaydah. But the government could not prove that the house was associated with al Qaeda, Kennedy wrote. Nor could the government prove for the purposes of even a habeas hearing that Mingazov had ever been at a training or terrorist camp, or involved with the Taliban or al Qeada. He was a classic case of the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Court simply will not conclude that a one-night stay at Abu Zubaydah’s house, where Mingazov was unable to communicate with most if not all other occupants, from which he was sent away shortly after his arrival, and which goes in no way to show that Mingazov was part of Al Qaeda’s command structure, meets the standard for lawful detention.

Mingazov was tortured under U.S. confinement at Bagram, where he “‘endured harsh conditions and suffered physical … abuse,’ in particular being “severely beaten, slammed into the ground, hung by [his] arms for extended periods of time, and deprived of food and sleep.’” But, according to Saunders, Mingazov has not been “cleared” for release, despite Judge Kennedy’s decision.

It is eerie how much both of these cases rely on supposed links to “high-value” prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who the Bush Administration pushed early on as an al Qaeda mastermind, author of the “Manchester” resistance manual, leader of his own terrorist forces, etc., and who was famously tortured in CIA prisons, waterboarded an admitted 83 times. These claims about Zubaydah’s significance, which were quietly dropped in recent years, have been revived in recent months in some court rulings and even in the Center for Public Integrity’s Pearl Project report (see pg. 54).

Statistics and Damned Lies

Perhaps the most egregious lie Saunders spreads was born from the fertile minds of the right, spinning the 2010 “Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” put out by the Director of National Intelligence last year. Saunders says the report confirms that “the Director of National Intelligence reported in December that 25 percent of released Gitmo detainees have been confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorism.” Actually, the report says that “the Intelligence Community assesses that 81 (13.5 percent) are confirmed and 69 (11.5 percent) are suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer.”

Saunders leaves out the part about “insurgent activities,” because to the right-wing, anyone who would oppose with arms the United States, even if the U.S. invaded their country, must be a terrorist. In this, they are assisted by the current administration, who continues to view the “war on terror” with the same point of view of their Bush/Cheney predecessors.

Not only does Saunders not mention that the confirmed number of even this dubious figure is actually 13 or 14 percent, but she hides the fact that the “suspected” figure is questionable itself, as it relies on “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” (emphasis added). In a press release following the Pentagon’s latest release on “recidivism” figures for former Guantanamo detainees, Center for Constitutional Rights commented, the government “persists in using the language of ‘re-engagement’ to describe individuals, despite the fact that the majority of them should never have been detained in the first place and were known early on by the government to be innocent. It is not possible to return to the battlefield if you were never there in the first place.” Furthermore, “the latest report only summarizes its figures without actually naming any alleged recidivists or including any information that would enable meaningful scrutiny.”

Saunders also quotes Joscelyn as saying that the prisoners who have received transfers or releases from Guantanamo are hardly cleared of terrorist stigma. “They didn’t find any innocent goat herders,” Joscelyn said. But this totally contradicts statements by former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, who wrote in a guest post at The Washington Note in March 2009 about “the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there.” Wilkerson said that “several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.” The reason they didn’t, Wilkerson concluded, was because they feared looking bad, and endangering the “war on terror” campaign.

Saunders concludes her article, with the strange assertion that “in a new act of fiction, Berzerkeley plays make-believe by pretending that two Gitmo detainees should be dating your cousin.” While presumably a response to a quote by Berkeley Peace and Justice commissioner Rita Maran earlier in the article, the use of this turn of phrase, so similar to historically racist forms of expression, to the effect that one would not want one of your relatives to date one of those people (Irish, Italians, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, etc.), is not coincidental. The fear-mongering against the Guantanamo detainees has always carried a racist edge to it.

The resolution up before the Berkeley City Council to advocate resettlement of two cleared Guantanamo prisoners is agenda item 18 on the Council’s agenda Tuesday night. The resolution also asks Congress to reverse its position and agree to the release of cleared detainees into the United States. It also predicates any resettlement in Berkeley upon a rescission of the Congressional ban on domestic detainee resettlement.

Update, 2/16/11: According to news accounts, the Berkeley City Council rejected the resolution to resettle detainees from Guantanamo. There were four votes “for,” one “against,” and four abstentions. The resolution needed five votes to pass. Unfortunately, the fate of this resolution speaks volumes about the political situation in the United States today.

AP: CIA Gave $5 Million to Mitchell-Jessen Defense

7:46 am in Torture, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Five million dollars for legal defense; what next, a medal for videotaped waterboarding? (graphic: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr)

Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo at Associated Press report this morning on the CIA’s largesse in helping fund the legal defense for their former SERE psychologists contractors-cum-torturers, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but reading about it turns one’s stomach.

The secret agreement means taxpayers are paying to defend the men in a federal investigation over an interrogation tactic the U.S. now says is torture. The deal is even more generous than the protections the agency typically provides its own officers, giving the two men access to more money to finance their defense.

The two psychologists were the proprietors of Mitchell-Jessen and Associates, who sold their expertise in waterboarding and other psychological and physical forms of torture, formerly applied in teaching U.S. military personnel how to withstand torture, for the torture of Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abd al-Nashiri, and possibly others. The article describes how the contractors anxiously importuned their superiors to destroy the videotapes of their torture. After the CIA complied, and the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation with the accompanying scandal, the kabuki over the atrocities played out, paid for entirely from scarce taxpayer dollars, ending with a decision by feckless special prosecutor John Durham, not to prosecute anyone, whether for torture, destruction of evidence, obstruction of justice, or anything.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Waterboarding Too Dangerous, Internal DoD Memo Reveals

5:16 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Originally posted at Truthout

In recent weeks, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has been on a public relations campaign defending the efficacy of waterboarding, going so far as to say that the torture technique sanctioned by the Bush administration is not only safe, but is in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

On Tuesday, in an interview with "Fox News," John Yoo, the former Justice Department attorney who was the principal author of legal memoranda that cleared the way for CIA interrogators to waterboard "war on terror" detainees and subject them to other brutal torture techniques, asserted that waterboarding was harmless.

In his defense of the practice, Yoo cited the thousands of US servicemen who have undergone SERE training and said, "we don’t think it amounts to torture because we would not be doing it to our own soldiers otherwise."

However, a previously unreleased internal Department of Defense (DoD) memo, summarizing a review of the Navy SERE program in late February – early March 2007, reveals that there was fierce criticism within the DoD of the Navy SERE school in North Island, San Diego, for being the only SERE facility to still use waterboarding in its training program.

The memo, obtained by Truthout, stated that the use of waterboarding left students "psychologically defeated" and impaired in the ability to develop "psychological hardiness."

The attempt to remove waterboarding from Naval survival school training goes back to at least 2005, which was also the period when then-Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney Steven Bradbury was fashioning a series of legal opinions that approved waterboarding as an "enhanced interrogation" technique. Bradbury cited the use of waterboarding on numerous SERE students over the years, supposedly without reported serious injury or prolonged mental harm, as relevant in approving it as not meeting the legal criteria for torture.

The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency memo from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is marked "For Official Use Only," and addressed to the headquarters of the departments of the Navy and the Marine Corps, and copied to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs. US Air Force Col. Brendan G. Clare signed it.

SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and SERE schools exist across the military services, but the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) is considered the "Executive Agency" for all the SERE schools. The aim of SERE "Code of Conduct" training is to prepare US military personnel for possible capture and torture by an enemy that does not follow Geneva conventions guidelines.

The Clare memo stated, in part:

3. Area of Concern: The JPRA official stance is that the water board should not be used as a physical pressure during Level C SERE training. This position is based on factors that have the potential to affect not only students but also the whole DoD SERE program. The way the water board is most often employed, it leaves students psychologically defeated with no ability to resist under pressure. Once a student is taught that they can be beaten, and there is no way to resist, it is difficult to develop psychological hardiness. None of the other schools use the water board that leaves the San Diego school as a standout.

In an attachment to Colonel Clare’s memo, "Observations and Recommendations," JPRA indicates that the waterboard technique as used in the SERE schools is "inconsistent" with the JPRA philosophy that its training and procedures be "safe, effective" and provides "a positive learning experience."

The water board has always been the most extreme pressure that required intense supervision and oversight because of the inherent risks associated with its employment…. Forcing answers under the extreme duress of the water board does not teach resistance or resilience, but teaches that you can be beaten. When a student’s ability to develop psychological resiliency is compromised… it may create unintended consequences regarding their perception of survivability during a real world SERE event. Based on these concerns and the risks associated with using the water board, we strongly recommend that you discontinue using it [underlined in the original].

According to a "Talking Paper" attached to the memo, JPRA addressed its concerns regarding waterboarding with the commander of the San Diego SERE program going back to 2005. The paper indicated that waterboarding continues at the California SERE School because it is "an emotional issue with former Navy POWs." The talking paper, dated October 11, 2007, was incisive regarding criticism of the North Island program. Colonel Clare indicated that three of the six SERE schools had been visited by Congressional staffers, and that "It’s only a matter of time before Navy SERE School (W) is visited and the Navy has to explain and justify the continued use of this instructional method and JFCOM/JPRA is asked, why it was allowed to continue."

Furthermore, the paper indicated that JPRA felt it had "exhausted all efforts" at lower levels of bureaucracy, and indicated the issue should be brought to the attention of officers at the JFCOM [Joint Forces Command] Flag level, with an eye to preventing "an embarrassing situation" for the military, and "discretely prevent a risky and documented ineffective training technique." As of October 2007, there were no DoD restrictions on physical pressures applied during SERE training, including the waterboard.

Colonel Clare indicated that he specifically brought his concerns to Air Force Gen. Lance L. Smith, Commander, JFCOM, in December 2006, but was told that lacking anything in writing, "I should ‘stay in my lane.’" (General Smith left JFCOM in November 2007 and is now retired.)

The Navy SERE school in Brunswick, Maine, discontinued the use of waterboarding in its training curriculum after a SERE psychologist found via "empirical medical data … elevated levels of cortisol in the brain stem caused by stress levels incurred during water boarding." Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands as part of the body’s fight-or-flight mechanisms. Excess cortisol can lead to chronic stress, impaired cognitive abilities, thyroid problems, suppressed immune functioning, high blood pressure, and other health problems.

The OPR Report and the PREAL Manual

A great deal has been written about the purported safety of waterboarding. Recently, former Vice President Dick Cheney has advocated its continued use, and told ABC "This Week" that he was "a big supporter of waterboarding."

The issue came to prominence again when the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report was released February 19. The report capped a four-and-a-half-year-long investigation into misconduct by Justice Department attorneys in the writing of memos and other written materials used to justify the use of harsh interrogation techniques ordered by the White House and the CIA.

In each of the released three drafts of the OPR report, there is a short section, introduced without comment, on a May 7, 2002, SERE "Pre-Academic Laboratory (PREAL) Operating Instructions" manual. We do not know when or how the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) obtained this manual, but it’s possible that it was supplied by the same means that other JPRA/SERE material was delivered to OLC.

The August 2002 torture memos drafted by Yoo and former OLC attorney Jay Bybee, as well as memos written in 2005 by former OLC acting head Bradbury, had relied in part on assurances from the SERE program and personnel that the waterboard technique was not physically harmful, was used upon SERE students, albeit at a lesser degree of application, and was, therefore, with medical monitoring, safe to use.

The PREAL document had noted, as OPR pointed out, that SERE training was different from "real-world conditions." Under the SERE techniques, the SERE trainee could "develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness’" during training.

The interrogator must recognize when a student is overly frustrated and doing a poor job resisting. At this point the interrogator must temporarily back off, and will coordinate with and ensure that the student is monitored by a controller or coordinator. (Pages 40-41 of the OPR Final Report.)

Despite the warnings that, even at SERE training school level, the dangers of waterboarding (and other SERE techniques) required monitoring, with the implication that the dangers were even worse in "real-world conditions," neither the OPR report, nor the memorandum written by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who reviewed the final OPR report, indicated that SERE itself had decided the dangers were too great to include waterboarding in its training. It is not known when waterboarding was ceased at the bulk of the SERE schools, but it appears that it had been discontinued for the reasons described above at all but the North Island SERE school by the time Bradbury was writing his OLC opinions, which like the Yoo/Bybee memos approved the use of waterboarding.

"Learned Helplessness"

According to a related SERE document, dated September 26, 2007, written by SERE Human Factors Chief Gary Percival Ph.D., "Waterboarding consists of immobilizing an individual and pouring water over their face to simulate drowning." It elicits a gag reflex in the victim, "making the subject believe his or her death is imminent." The document noted that when waterboarding is "poorly executed," it "can cause extreme pain and damage," including broken bones from pulling against restraints. As a result, and in line with risks associated with other SERE techniques, at SERE school both medical and psychological monitoring is considered vital to protect students from injury. Dr. Percival indicated that JPRA did not support use of waterboarding in SERE training, as it "does not teach resilience or resistance," and "risks promoting learned helplessness."

As the SERE techniques were "reverse-engineered" by SERE psychologists and CIA contractors, John Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, and possibly others, for use by the CIA in early 2002 (or late 2001), the requirements for the presence of both medical and psychological personnel at the interrogation site was written into the torture protocols. Besides possible physical damage or even death, the presence of psychologists, in particular, was meant to provide monitoring capacity to prevent the acquisition of a state of "learned helplessness" in the prisoner.

A 2001 document written for the Human Factors Directorate of JPRA, "Scientific Implications for Code of Conduct Training Across the Captivity Spectrum," co-written by Dr. Percival and Dr. J. Bruce Jessen, described learned helplessness:

When students feel they are faced with unsolvable problems, their performance and retention are significantly reduced. Training models that induce learned helplessness are worse than no training at all.

According to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, learned helplessness (LH) is "A laboratory model of depression in which exposure to a series of unforeseen adverse situations gives rise to a sense of helplessness or an inability to cope with or devise ways to escape such situations, even when escape is possible."

The original experiments on LH, performed by former psychologist and former American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman, in the mid-1960s, and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology with Steven Maier as "Failure to Escape Traumatic Shock," exposed dogs to a situation where they were faced with inescapable electrical shocks. Within a short period of times, the dogs could not be induced to escape the situation, even when provided with a previously taught escape route. Drs. Seligman and Maier theorized that the dogs had "learned" their condition was helpless. The experimental model was extended to a human model for the induction of clinical depression and other psychological conditions.

According to New York Times reporter Scott Shane, James Mitchell was an admirer of Dr. Seligman’s writings on LH, and told him so at a meeting at Dr. Seligman’s home in December 2001, where "a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered … to brainstorm about Muslim extremism." CIA psychologist Kirk M Hubbard accompanied Dr. Mitchell.

According to the OPR report, in late July 2002, OLC attorneys received a psychological assessment of Abu Zubaydah "and a report from CIA psychologists asserting that the use of harsh interrogation techniques in SERE training had resulted in no adverse long-term effects" (p. 62). In the CIA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," (EITs) released last year, the proposal to use SERE-like techniques on Zubaydah, and other prisoners, originated in the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center and the Office of Technical Services (OTS). The report stated:

CIA’s OTS obtained data on the use of the proposed EITs and their potential long-term psychological effects on detainees. OTS input was based in part on information solicited from a number of psychologists and knowledgeable academics in the area of psychopathology….

OTS also solicited input from DoD/JPRA regarding techniques used in its SERE training and any subsequent psychological effects on students.

Moreover, the CIA OIG report remarked that the subsequent Yoo/Bybee memos of August 1, 2002 were "based, in substantial part, on OTS analysis and the experience and expertise of non-Agency personnel and academics concerning whether long-term psychological effects would result from use of the proposed techniques."

It is not known if Dr. Hubbard, or Drs. Jessen or Mitchell, or even psychologist Dr. R. Scott Shumate, who accompanied Mitchell to the Thailand interrogation of Zubaydah in April 2002, were among those in the CIA who guaranteed "no adverse long-term effects" for the torture techniques proposed. Dr. Shumate was the chief operational psychologist for the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center at the time, and is reported to have left the Zubaydah interrogation in protest over the use of SERE techniques.

Dr. Seligman denied that he had any connection with the implementation of the CIA’s torture program. In a recent article, he described his association with the SERE program:

I gave a three-hour lecture sponsored by SERE (the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape branch of the American armed forces) at the San Diego Naval Base in May 2002. I was invited to speak about how American troops and American personnel could use what is known about learned helplessness to resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors. This is just what I spoke about.

I was told then that since I was (and am) a civilian with no security clearance that they could not detail American methods of interrogation with me. I was also told then that their methods did not use "violence" or "brutality." James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were present in the audience of between 50 and 100 others at my speech, and that was, to the best of my knowledge, the sum total of my "assisting the CIA."

The San Diego base is the site where the controversial continuation of waterboarding students in SERE training continues. Dr. Seligman did not describe under what circumstances he was told he could not be given details about the US interrogation program or even why the subject came up.

Dr. Seligman now says he is "grieved and horrified" over the use of the learned helplessness theories in the construction of the CIA’s torture protocols. Yet, when I wrote to Dr. Seligman in August 2007 to ask, "what is your position on the use of your research by others, and on psychologists involved in military/CIA interrogations under the current administration?," Dr. Seligman replied: "The only ‘position’ I am comfortable staking out is ‘Good science always runs the risk of immoral application. It goes with the territory of discovery.’"

The Margolis Memo, SERE and the Waterboard

In a memo to the attorney general vacating the decision of the OPR report to charge OLC torture memo authors Yoo and Bybee with "professional misconduct" and refer them for bar discipline, Margolis supplied his own analysis of the use of the SERE material. He described SERE training as "relevant to the threshold question of whether everyone subjected to the waterboard suffers severe physical pain or suffering." Furthermore, Margolis stated that Yoo and Bybee relied on the psychological assessment of Zubaydah in order to assess if Zubaydah "would suffer severe mental pain or suffering as a result of the waterboard."

Margolis felt the Yoo/Bybee memo relied too much on the SERE experience, and not enough on the monitoring of Zubaydah or others by CIA medical personnel and psychologists, or on the CIA’s psychological assessment of Zubaydah. But the evidence of the recently revealed 2007 JPRA memo on waterboarding shows that the SERE schools themselves had serious doubts that waterboarding could be made safe, even under controlled conditions. This doubt had led them to campaign vigorously within the Pentagon bureaucracy to end the use of the waterboard at the remaining SERE school where it was used.

There is no indication in his memo that Margolis was aware of this situation, nor made an attempt of his own to investigate the facts behind the CIA or OLC assertions regarding waterboarding and its use by SERE.

As for the Zubaydah psychological evaluation, it is clear the evaluation was written specifically to get permission for waterboarding, and not to undertake a serious psychological evaluation of the prisoner. The report is amateurishly and hastily written, and is mostly a compilation of claims about Zubaydah that have since been refuted or even dropped by the government, e.g. that Zubaydah was a top al-Qaeda official, that he wrote the al-Qaeda resistance manual etc.

While Margolis could say that both Yoo and Bybee were not competent to judge the validity of the psychological evaluation of Zubaydah, and that they relied on the statements of the CIA psychologists in the case, nevertheless, it is notable that the psychological evaluation was only produced after Yoo had indicated in a July 13, 2002, letter to CIA acting General Counsel John Rizzo that consultation with "experts" would constitute the "due diligence" necessary to contest a charge of "specific intent" in a torture case. A psychological evaluation could be considered such a consultation with experts. Yoo also cited as examples of such "due diligence" surveys of professional literature and "evidence gained from past experience."