resized-y6h5r.thumbnail.jpgThere’s been plenty of news and journalistic investigation on the torture enablers George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez, David Addington, and a host of other Bush Administration figures. The CIA, too, has come in for its share of investigation and scrutiny. But while the Senate Armed Services Committee conducted a months-long investigation and published last April a 200+ page report on Department of Defense abuse of prisoners, including torture, very little public scrutiny of culpable military officials has occurred.

The spotlight has mainly fallen on the activities of former SERE psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who together spearheaded the implementation of a prisoner "exploitation plan" that became known later as "enhanced interrogation techniques," and included a number of torture techniques, including isolation, sleep deprivation, stress positions, sensory deprivation and overload, forced nudity, waterboarding, and much more.

Recently, there was a spike of interest in the command responsibility Obama nominee for top military commander, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, might hold for the use of torture by Special Operations forces under his command in Iraq. But at the Senate Armed Services hearing for his nomination the other day, according to Spencer Ackerman, only Senator Levin even queried him on the subject, and no senator appeared opposed to his nomination.

But I want to look at the actions of two generals mentioned in the SASC report, "Inquiry on the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody." Both of them are singled out for actions related to the approval of torture under their commands. Both had command responsibility for these actions, and one of them, Air Force Special Operations Brigadier General Lyle Koenig, was specifically singled out for obloquy (although not by name). The other senior officer, Brigadier General Thomas Moore, was the Director of Operations and Plans (J3) for Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).

Both officers dropped out of sight after 2004, or, that is, an extensive web search on their activities turned up practically nothing. It was on September 24, 2004 that JFCOM finally withdrew official approval for use of SERE-like interrogation techniques, at least by SERE personnel (or rather, through SERE’s parent agency, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, or JPRA). Earlier, BG Koenig and BG Moore had played crucial roles in the implementation of SERE torture, giving approval to the use of SERE techniques in interrogations.

The Role of Brigadier General Moore in the Origins of the SERE Torture Program

Sometime in late 2001, former SERE psychologist and contractor wannabe, James Mitchell, had received a copy of a purported Al Qaeda manual, which included instructions on how to withstand interrogation. According to an anonymous source who claims some knowledge of the individuals involved, and who has been credible on other matters pertaining to JPRA, Mitchell obtained the document from his superiors inside JPRA’s Personnel Recovery Academy (PRA). The manual initially surfaced in Great Britain, and may have made its way to JPRA via the CIA.

According to the SASC report, when SERE psychologist Bruce Jessen sent his draft interrogation plan, packaged as a "Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training," to his superior, Colonel John "Randy" Moulton in February 2002, Moulton passed it on up the chain of command at JFCOM for approval and dissemination. Jessen was then selling PRA instructors as executing an "’exploitation oriented’ approach. . . better than anyone." Moulton was enthusiastic. When, later, in August 2002, JPRA tops held a meeting to discuss "future JPRA support to [deleted word] actions to obtain actionable intelligence from Detained Unlawful Combatants," PRA was copied in on the email discussion.

Meanwhile, BG Moore was finessing the transfer of JPRA/SERE "expertise" to SOUTHCOM, the military command responsible for the new prison at Guanatanamo. Moore told the Operations Chief at SOUTHCOM that "JPRA was ‘prepared to support [SOUTHCOM] in any potential collaboration.’" Presumably, it was Moore who had gotten Jessen’s draft plan from Moulton. In any case, by even as early as mid-February 2002, Jessen’s paper and Moulton’s favorable recommendations were making the rounds from Moore’s JFCOM to Joint Staff and various Combatant Commands, "including those with responsibility for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay." Things were moving fast.

(For those who like timelines, the spread of SERE’s torture program to various sectors of the military preceded the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, and was roughly contemporaneous with the Cheney-ordered waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi. For those prone to speculate, the appearance of the Al Qaeda Resistance Manual in the hands of James Mitchell and the capture of al-Libi in mid-December 2001 seems awfully coincidental.)

Sometime in February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency asked JFCOM if they could get a "crash course" on interrogation for the next team headed out to SOUTHCOM (Guantanamo). The request went to BG Moore, who approved it. Jessen and another JPRA instructor were tasked with the seminar.

The presentation on detainee "exploitation" described phases of exploitation and included instruction on initial capture and handling, conducting interrogations, and long term exploitation… The exploitation presentation also included slides on "isolation and degradation," "sensory deprivation," "physiological pressures," and "psychological pressures… At SERE school, each of these terms has special meaning.

Another four months passed, and in July 2002, DoD’s General Counsel office approached JPRA for information on SERE techniques, and in particular, waterboarding. Marcy Wheeler has done a superlative job in dissecting that particular episode, showing how this request was intricately tied up in the construction of the second Bybee memo,which would supposedly legitimate the "enhanced interrogation" torture techniques built out of the reverse-engineered SERE courses, and other assorted torture programs, such as the CIA’s old KUBARK interrogation protocol. Before JPRA Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Daniel Baumgartner, felt comfortable giving General Counsel Jim Haynes the information he requested, he first asked permission from Col. Moulton and Brigadier General Moore. Permission was granted. JFCOM had blessed the attempt by DoD to assist the Office of Legal Counsel attorneys in their illegitimate attempt to legally baptize the torture program.

A Special Operations General Submarines Pro-Geneva Intervention

BG Moore left his position as Director of Plans for JFCOM in August 2003, but not before he played a small but significant role in an event that also introduces us to our other general. That summer, the commander of a Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force in Iraq called up Col. Moulton at JPRA and asked for assistance on interrogations. The SMU was actually a Special Operations unit, famously known as Task Force 121, though it goes by other names as well (Task Force 6-26). A 2006 New York Times article describes the horrors of this TF’s torture interrogations in their "Black Room" at Camp Nama.

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL." The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.

The commander at Camp Nama and of TF 121 was Brigadier General Lyle Koenig. His name is never mentioned in the SASC report, but Senator Levin managed to get Col. Moulton to reveal the name during testimony before the SASC on September 25, 2008. Because of the classified nature of much of Special Operations activity, the anonymity, and therefore, the freedom from accountability or notoriety of these individuals is usually guaranteed. But not today, not here. (Koenig likely reported to his superior, Lt. Gen. McChrystal.)

On August 27, the request for JPRA/SERE support for Task Force 121 went to JFCOM’s Operations Directorate (J3), whose director was BG Moore. Once again, the request was granted, and within a matter of days, JPRA sent off a team of two instructors and one JPRA contractor to the Black Room prison at Camp Nama. Interestingly, the contractor, Lenny Miller, was requested by name by the Special Operations team. It seems likely someone in TF 121 knew him personally, and Miller was possibly ex-SO.

When the JPRA team got there, dissention arose when an experienced interrogator and reserve officer, Lt. Col. Steven Kleinman, saw what was going on and tried to shut down the torture interrogations. This is a story I’ve told before. Suffice it to say that Kleinman was met with hostility by Special Forces personnel on site, and near-mutiny by his JPRA associates, who participated in abusive interrogations (torture sessions) even though Kleinman had forbid them to do so. Kleinman got on the phone with superiors back at JPRA (Col. Moulton), and with the commander at Nama (or whatever Special Forces site it was actually at — it’s just assumed it was Nama), BG Koenig.

According to Kleinman’s testimony, Koenig heard Kleinman’s assertions that the techniques being used violated the Geneva Conventions, and this, apparently, on more than one occasion. But somehow, nothing was ever done about it. The torture continued, and a manual of SERE-like techniques was written up for TF 121 use, a project in which Kleinman refused to participate (although he did recommend another JPRA associate for the job). Kleinman told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

And when I went back to the task force commander with concerns—but, I’ll tell you, Mr. Chairman, there was—it falls into a void. I would brief the task force commander very clearly, and he very clearly agreed with my assessment of it, but there was no orders ever issued—when I’d go over to the interrogation center, they never got—their senior interrogator, not—never got any guidance about that—

When the SASC got around to issuing its executive summary on its investigation, they wrote (emphasis added):

JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton’s authorization of SERE instructors, who had no experience in detainee interrogations, to actively participate in Task Force interrogations using SERE resistance training techniques was a serious failure in judgment. The Special Mission Unit Task Force commander’s failure to order that SERE resistance training techniques not be used in detainee interrogations was a serious failure in leadership that led to the abuse of detainees in Task Force custody. Iraq is a Geneva Convention theater and techniques used in SERE school are inconsistent with the obligations of U.S. personnel under the Geneva Conventions…. Combatant Command requests for JPRA "offensive" interrogation support and U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) authorization of that support led to JPRA operating outside the agency’s charter and beyond its expertise.

The Aftermath

In the end, the Colonel takes the heat (and rightly so), but those higher up the chain of command are protected by anonymity and wag-of-the-finger censure. On a more suspicious note, as I mentioned before, both Moore and Koenig drop off the map after 2004. After an assiduous search, I discovered that Moore assumed command of the 116th Air Control Wing in March 2007.

Koenig, on the other hand, disappears from our story entirely. Unlike Thomas Moore, Koenig is Special Ops, so he could be on a classified mission somewhere. One website, which I won’t link to because of unconfirmed salacious material, claims he retired after a sex scandal, and that the Air Force has scrubbed his story from its historical files.

Whatever fortune pursued these two, I present them here as exemplary examples of how the military tops have gotten off scot-free over the torture scandal. Their names unknown. No cameras chasing them down, or interviews showing up on YouTube. The Pentagon is like a giant club, and if you have a high-status membership, it appears that you are immune from even the worst crimes, and the mainstream press has shown a tremendous aversion to doing much to track this aspect of the story down. Even Congress, mandated with oversight, and hamstrung by Executive Branch obstructionism, when it has managed to reveal part of the truth, manages to sweep the accountability of senior Pentagon officials under the rug of benign fulmination.

The entire secret world of military and intelligence operations, especially special forces operations, should be open to complete societal re-examination. It was precisely out of such a secretive world, in combination with a shadowy bizarro world of complementary contracting companies, that the EIT/SERE/torture program arose. It may have been ordered forth by Cheney and Bush, but the soldiers who stood ready to implement those commands continue on in their posts — dissembling, unrepentant, unknown– ready for the next go-round.