The recent decision of the UK High Court to release a seven paragraph summary of the torture perpetrated by U.S. agents upon Binyam Mohammed in April and early May 2002 is welcome news. The summary, written by a British court, was derived from 42 classified CIA documents delivered to the British legal authorities as part of an investigation into the actions of MI5 in the torture and interrogation of Binyam Mohamed and other prisoners held by Pakistan. These documents purportedly describe the torture of Mohamed, and indicate the collusion of U.S., British, and Pakistani authorities in the torture.
The seven paragraph summary was enlightening on a number of points, though the information that Mohamed had been tortured in a fashion similar to Abu Zubaydah, was first reported in a book by Mohamed attorney Clive Stafford Smith in 2006. In Britain, outrage is focused upon the actions of British intelligence agency MI5, which, despite an effort by the government to censor a damning portion of the seven paragraphs, focused, according to the UK Guardian, on the charge “that MI5 had treated basic rights with contempt and had lied to the parliamentary watchdog which provides its only oversight.”
In the United States, John F. Burns at the New York Times noted:
What was starkly new, however, was the Foreign Office’s conclusion that the treatment Mr. Mohamed endured, had it been carried out under the authority of British officials, would have breached international treaties banning torture. It was the first time that Britain has been so blunt about its disapproval of the interrogation techniques approved by former President George W. Bush and curtailed last year by President Obama.
“Although it is not necessary for us to categorize the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities,” the document posted on the Foreign Office Web site said.
Burns failed to note that the summary paragraphs stated that Mohamed’s sleep deprivation had been “carefully observed” for its “effects.” The UK Guardian did not miss this point, noting:
It is also clear that the CIA, on whose behalf the Pakistanis were holding Mohamed, was monitoring the effects upon Mohamed.
The NYT story also buried the significance of the timeline in the torture case. As both blogger-investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler and blogger-psychologist-activist Stephen Soldz have pointed out in articles Wednesday, the use of CIA-style “enhanced interrogation” torture was directly “conducted by the United States authorities prior to 17 May 2002 as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer.” This puts the use of these techniques approximately ten weeks or more before the John Yoo-drafted Bybee memo on August 1, 2002, supposedly authorizing such abuse.
What about the 42 Classified CIA Documents?
Lost in all the hullabaloo around the struggle to release the seven paragraph summary of Binyam’s torture is the fact that there has long been a battle over the 42 classified CIA documents themselves. Originally only seven of the 42 documents, heavily redacted, were released to Binyam Mohamed’s attorneys. After a legal battle, they finally obtained the full set. The British High Court then took in October 2008 what Clare Algar at Reprieve called “the unusual step of inviting the press to make an application for the publication of details of Binyam’s mistreatment which had been removed from its original judgment at the request of the Government.”
The press made their application, and also asked for the secret documents themselves, i.e., not just the redacted summary. In response, British Foreign Secretary David Milbrand shocked everyone by claiming that the U.S. had threatened to cut intelligence-sharing ties with Great Britain if the summarized information or the documents themselves were released. Evidently, this threat on behalf of the U.S. continued over from the Bush to the Obama administration.
The case was then duly litigated, leading to the release on February 10 of the seven paragraph summary. But the 42 classified documents, with all the possible information they hold on the process of the interrogation, on its planning, on the personnel involved, on the collaboration with British authorities, and on any possible experimentation based on the monitoring of the torture, remain classified and unavailable.
It is important to remember that what the documents call “sleep deprivation,” was really a set of joined techniques. As I described it in an article last June, “sleep deprivation” included standing sleep deprivation, shackling in forced positions, nudity (save for a diaper!), a near-starvation diet, suspension, and, initially at least, up to 240 hours of continuous sleep deprivation. They weren’t monitoring only sleep deprivation, they were monitoring a full torture program!
Is it possible they were using newly developed telemetric devices developed under a research program funded by the Army’s Ft. Detrick, whose association with the CIA in the development of biological and chemical weapons, including for use in interrogations, goes back to the 1950s? Such a study was underway in 2002, studying how to measure the physiological effects of “uncontrollable stress” on subjects who underwent SERE torture as part of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program. The study was entitled The Warfighter’s Stress Response: Telemetric and Noninvasive Assessment. While formulated for use on predicting “military performance” and assessing selection procedures for personnel, this research — and this remains speculative — could have been used to assess an individual’s response to real-life, and not just simulated torture. One of the researchers is linked to the CIA and its Science and Technology directorate, and was also an “expert” on the Intelligence Science Board panel that produced the “Educing Information” document upon which the Obama administration is relying for a purported reform of interrogation policy.
While it was important to fight for the release of the court’s summary, the fight to release the documents in this case must not end here. The 42 classified CIA documents represent a keystone in the U.S. government’s contemporary torture program. It is my hope that the UK Guardian, the New York Times, and other press interests will not leave off their legal battle to receive these documents, and that the UK High Court itself will see that a full disclosure of this evidence is in the best interests of justice.
It’s just possible that the release of the seven paragraphs themselves could augur a release of the full set of CIA documents. The U.S. will do everything it can to avoid this possibility. On the other hand, the summary in and of itself can represent a limited hangout of the torture program information, tantalizing, but without crucial follow-up. American citizens must call for a full, independent, open investigation into the torture program here, with complete access to records and right to subpoena, and refer the necessary cases for prosecution under due process of law.
The media narrative surrounding the release of the latest revelations on the Binyam Mohamed case is being devised even as I write. It is crucial that the demand for the release of the full set of CIA documents be made a primary component of that narrative.