“You are completely destroyed”: Testimony on Torture from Shaker Aamer’s Medical Report at Guantanamo

Shakar Aamer

On April 7, 2014, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still held at Guantanamo, and his attorneys filed a habeas petition (PDF) asking for his release due to chronic health problems that can not be treated at Guantanamo. The worst of these problems apparently stems from PTSD from the torture Shaker has endured since he was captured by the Northern Alliance, then turned over to the Americans on Christmas Eve, 2001.

The details of his torture at Bagram, Kandahar and Guantanamo are described in lengthy quotations from a February 2, 2014 medical psychiatric report by Dr. Emily Keram, a forensic psychiatrist who has evaluated a number of Guantanamo detainees at the request of the U.S. courts, the Military Commissions, and various habeas attorneys. The report is appended to the habeas filing.

What follows here is a long section from her report (PDF), where Dr. Keram quotes Shaker’s narrative about his experiences under torture after his capture. From my experience, it is one of the most remarkable and disturbing documents to have come out of Guantanamo, as Shaker Aamer is an intelligent, sensitive man who speaks English. He has left us a record of his torture that cries out to be read.

I reproduce portions of Shaker’s testimony here in the hopes of mobilizing support for freeing him from Guantanamo (he has been “cleared for release” for years now). I also hope this helps mobilize support for freeing or transferring all the detainees/prisoners to humane incarceration with the certainty of quick adjudication of their cases. Those detainees who are not guilty of anything should be released, and at this point — read the following and you will understand fully — given the surety of medical treatment as long as they need it.

Both the habeas filing and the medical report were linked in a story by long-time Guantanamo expert and passionate advocate for an end to torture and indefinite detention, Andy Worthington. His article, “Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo,” is posted at the Close Guantanamo website.

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From Shaker Aamer’s Medical Report (verbatim):

Mr. Aamer and I reviewed his conditions of confinement at Bagram Airfield. He reported severe maltreatment by guards, interrogators, and medical personnel working in concert, by means of humiliation, sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, manipulation of food and water, stress positions, threats of sexual assault against his young daughter, and beatings.

“The nakedness made me feel animal-like. I was not a human being anymore. I meant nothing to them. I lost my dignity, my pride, being a man. I had to take off my underwear and hand it to them. You lose your humanity. You are an animal. You know if you don’t do it, they will do it by force and it will be a lot worse. I respected and believed they would give me a fair chance because they were Americans. I was happy that I was with Americans because of their human rights.

I had sleep deprivation for 11 days. That made me crazy. They poured cold water over me. They kept me standing for 20 hours a day. I had to hold my hands and arms out. If I dozed off they would bang on the concrete with an axe. The sleep deprivation caused hallucinations. It started with noise. Then I heard old music from my childhood. I wondered, ‘Where did they get those tapes?’ I heard people talking. I started looking for who was talking. There was no one there. No one else heard them. Finally I heard music from my childhood that I knew they never could have found. I talked to the doctor about it. He said I was going crazy. He told me, ‘You should talk to the interrogators so then you can relax.’

They withheld food, except for frozen MRE’s. They would give you a bottle of frozen water. You didn’t want to drink because it would make you have to pee. The guards won’t take you to pee so I peed where I was sitting. I didn’t have a bowel movement for 25 days. My stomach became like a stone. I didn’t see a doctor initially because the interrogators were happy because I was telling them everything, whatever they wanted. [Interrogators controlled access to medical personnel] Then the doctor gave me a laxative. They took me to a hole. Female and male guards were watching. A guard pulled down my coveralls and told me to shit. It was very hard. I had to push hard. The female and male guards were joking. A female said, ‘Look, he’s having a baby.’ I passed what felt like stones. The guards gave me a tissue from an MRE to wipe myself. It was bloody. I felt so humiliated.

All of the statements I made at Bagram were during the sleep deprivation. I would have said anything. I told them, ‘I will tell you I am bin Laden if you want me to tell you I am bin Laden.’”

Mr. Aamer described the effects of maltreatment on his mental state.

“It’s a process of losing your mind. First it’s knowing you are not in control of yourself anymore. Someone else is in control of you. So you fool yourself and think, ‘Well, he’s only controlling me physically, but not mentally.’ They’re not in your head. But then you realize you’re wrong and they control your mind.

Then it’s welcome to the microwave. It’s easy to crack an egg from the outside. It’s hard to blow up the egg from the inside. They let you recover so you think you’re strong again. And then they break you again. And you thought you were strong again. And you don’t know your thoughts anymore. Like the microwave, they boil you from the inside to the outside until you explode.

After the microwave, the eggshell may be intact because the heat penetrated to the inside. The shell looks strong. But if you crack the egg, inside you will see charcoal.

So I would go to the interrogators thinking, ‘How can I lower the level of torture? What can I say to please him? I am going to be so easy with him today, I will please him.’”….

“It makes me scared to talk about it. I’ve been keeping it all inside. I’m scared because they are listening to us now and they’re learning; I’m teaching them how to interrogate. And now they will write a whole new book on interrogation with what they have learned….

“It’s a terrible procedure. The interrogator starts to talk with you about things that are small and well known. You agree. But he is driving you to a cliff. The more you drive with him on his interrogation, he starts throwing out fish bait, so little by little they show you that they are interested in knowing who you are. They do this by saying, ‘Shaker Aamer, we know you; we know who you are. We know you are nobody. We know you are a small fish rubbing shoulders with the big fish.’

My goal is, ‘How can I minimize the torture? I just want to sleep.’ I never had a goal more than that. It was never my goal to get out of the facility and be freed. My goal was just to lessen the torture. The problem is, not all the small fish know the big fish; but you want to lessen the torture.

So, their interest in you makes you trust them. You start to tell them the truth; you build the truth by telling the story in chronological order. You build the building one story at a time. Until I separated from my wife and go [sic] to hide in the mountains and wait for the man to take me through the mountains. The interrogators asked me the name of the mountains, the name of the man who would guide me. I didn’t know. And that’s when the interrogators went crazy.

The interrogators threw chairs. They put me in a grey disc with my legs spread. They banged the chairs. And you are just trying to avoid any hit. They shook me. They threw me on the ground. They banged my head into the wall.

I was telling them the truth. Their interest made me trust them. It made me hope the torture will decrease. But when I couldn’t tell them what they want [sic] to hear they made me stand for hours, they scream at me, they bang into me. You aren’t even thinking beyond how to protect yourself and not attack them so that you don’t get a bullet in your head. They do that until you are shivering, until they have broken you, until your mind is completely empty. You feel like you’re not real anymore. Like it’s a dream.

And now the worst part comes. They treat you with kindness. It destroys you completely. Your thinking is paralyzed. Your feeling is paralyzed. And the interrogator says, ‘I am trying to help you.’ You don’t know what to love and what to hate because it’s all happening at the same time. You don’t know anything anymore. You can’t tell apart good and bad, kind and evil. You lose the sense of the meaning of kindness.

You ask yourself, ‘Are they really trying to hurt me or are they trying to help me?’ You can’t tell anymore. They bang your head on the wall and then they give you a hot meal. One interrogator talked about what he would do to my five-year-old daughter in details that destroyed me. He said ‘They are going to screw her. She will be screaming, ‘Daddy! Daddy’’ You are completely disorganized. You are completely destroyed.

It happened many times. You learn they don’t really want to hear what the truth is. The truth only results in the same; more torture. So you begin to follow their story; they ask you questions, they give you descriptions and you agree. What was the color of the car? Did the driver look like this? Was the driver from al Qaeda? I answered, ‘How should I know.’ They said, ‘Well, a taxi driver wouldn’t drive to this compound would he, so he must be al Qaeda. The taxi driver takes you to the Arab guesthouse so the taxi driver is al Qaeda and the Arab guesthouse is al Qaeda.’

The interrogators give you the details, but they don’t want you to agree. They say have you seen a fat guy? A guy with a turban? This guy? That guy? Guess what? Those guys are al Qaeda. And then you feel like that you are al Qaeda. Then the interrogators tell you that al Qaeda recruited you without you knowing it; they were behind funding your travel.

Then they ask you to sign a statement. When I say no, the whole thing starts again. In the end, I offered to my interrogator to sign that I am al Qaeda, everything the interrogator wanted me to sign, if the interrogator would agree not to interrogate and torture me anymore. And the interrogator said, ‘I can’t tell you that we won’t interrogate you anymore.’

No matter what you said, they still wanted more. So they kept torturing me no matter what. The degree of the torture would change. Maybe they would let me sit for a brief period of time and then it would get worse again.

For the first 25 days at Bagram it was constant severe torture. For the last week they left me alone with the other detainees in a room with a heater. We all had frostbite. The interrogators only asked what we knew about certain people, but they weren’t pushing me for specific information. I didn’t see the sun except twice while I was at Bagram. And then there was ‘The Big Goodbye Party’ when you leave for Kandahar. I was beaten, shackled, and hooded. The guards laughed and cursed me. I was roped together with other detainees. Then the plane didn’t come. The next day they gave us another ‘Goodbye Party.’ We weren’t allowed to use the toilet. The plane came. I was fearful, thinking, ‘If this is happening right now, what is coming next? Maybe they’re getting ready to shoot me? Maybe it will be something worse than this.’”

Mr. Aamer experienced severe maltreatment at Kandahar Airfield with identical effects on his physical and mental state.

“I was shipped to Kandahar. The airplane was freezing cold. Someone took my socks from me. And then the ‘Welcome Party.’ They told the soldiers they could do anything they wanted with the detainees. We landed. They put us face first on cold concrete. We were shivering. They hit me with gun butts, kicked me with boots, and stomped on my back. There was a 17-year-old detainee. They put a gun up his rectum. He was screaming, ‘I’m no woman! I’m no woman!’ I yelled at the guards to stop in English. Then, because I spoke English the soldiers said, ‘He’s a traitor. He speaks perfect English.’ They beat me even harder. A black female soldier stopped them, saying, ‘You’ve had your fun.’

At about 0600, after 20 minutes of not being beaten, they put me in a cage with a blanket. They put me on my face and unshackled me. Then they ran out. They gave me bread. At about 0730 or 0800 they yelled at me to get up. They put my head on the ground, hooded and shackled me and took me to the interrogators tent. I was kept awake for 10 days.

The torture in Kandahar was more physical than in Bagram. They shook me, threw me on the floor, made me hold my arms out, hit my hands. There was no blanket, just lying on the ground. There was a nice thick blanket lying on the floor, but if I reached for it they would start beating me.

Two interrogators named John and Tony and a guy named Sallie or Sal took turns for three to six hours at a time or two to three hours at a time. There was also an Egyptian. They were with me almost all the time. At least I had my own place in Bagram; I was in a cage and the guards were on the outside. That was a comfort to me. But at Kandahar there was nothing between me and the guards. They were in the tent. If I closed my eyes, the guard would say to open them.

The interrogations at Kandahar had the same process as at Bagram in terms of the interrogators being both cruel and kind. The worst was Sal. He was so kind. He sat me outside the tent with the guards and heated up my food. The guards were starting [sic?] at me. I felt humiliated. Sal talked to me as if I were a human being. Then Sal would say he was going to screw my five-year-old daughter; he was going to do this and that to my daughter sexually; how my daughter would scream and scream. I thought about attacking Sal and getting killed. But I wouldn’t do anything aggressive. Force is the weapon of the coward.

This went on for 10 days. It was constant interrogation and torture. I told them the exact same truth that I had told the interrogators in Bagram, plus they had more true information about me. I also told the interrogators things that weren’t true in order to decrease the intensity of the torture I was suffering.

In those ten days, I only went to the toilet once. I had sleep deprivation. The ICRC came to see me in Bagram one time. Then they came to Kandahar to see me. They took me to a cage with other detainees. The judge from the ICRC saw me there, a Swiss judge. He gave me a card with my number on it.

After 10 days they sent the Egyptian guy who told me I was going to Guantanamo. They put me in a cage for four days and pretty much left me alone. A British agent came to see me, a young officer with a red beret. I wouldn’t talk with him because he said he couldn’t do anything to help me. The Americans only asked me questions those last four days at Kandahar like the last days at Bagram. They didn’t press me to lie about anything.

After four days they gave me the ‘Goodbye Party’ at Kandahar and a far worse ‘Welcome Party’ at Guantanamo.”

The maltreatment and its physical and mental effects continued at Guantanamo.

“The interrogations at Guantanamo have twists. There’s a ‘frequent flyer program’ where they move you every two hours. The guards shout at you in the same block. They switch the water off. They spray Pine Sol in my clothes.

It’s the same process psychologically; I can’t tell cruelty and kindness apart. I told the interrogators everything to decrease the torture severity. Another thing that was at Guantanamo that was not at Bagram was the circles within circles. The guards were connected with medical, were connected with the people who gave supplies like linens, were connected with the administration like the NCO’s, were connected with the Navy or the Army, were connected with the CIA, were connected with the FBI, were connected with the Republicans and the Democrats. All of these people want to squeeze my neck at the center of all of the circles. You tell them what they want to hear to decrease the severity of the torture.

For example, an internist came to see me. I asked for a blanket because I have arthritis and the cold air conditioning makes it worse. The doctor said the arthritis is in my record and agreed that it was cold. The doctor said, ‘I will ask permission from the Joint Detention Group (JDG) for a blanket for you.’ And the doctor says he’s independent.

The worst thing about torture is that you don’t know how to think, what to do, how to feel. You know you have your mind, but you don’t now how to react, which is horrible because you feel vulnerable. It’s terrible. We believed that the people here; the CIA, the interrogators, use ‘djinn.’ [spirits] The evil djinn. Some of the things that happened, you can’t explain. Some people with think that it was drugs or something, but 95% of us believe we got possessed by djinn.”

Photo of Shakar Aamer via Wikimedia Commons

Newly Revealed Portions of CIA Torture Manual: Doctoring Tapes, Foreign Detentions & Interrogating ‘Defectors”

The CIA’s 1963 set of instructions on counterintelligence interrogation, known as the KUBARK manual, was first declassified in 1997.
Describing interrogation techniques and approaches used during the Cold War, an old 1960s CIA counterintelligence interrogation manual advised covertly photographing the interrogation subject and also audio taping his interrogations.

A tape player could free an interrogator from note taking, the CIA’s experts wrote, while also providing a live record of an interrogation that could replayed later. The manual’s author noted that for some of those interrogated, “the shock of hearing their own voices unexpectedly is unnerving.”

Portions of the manual, originally declassified over 16 years ago, have remained censored until now. In March 2014, the CIA released a new version [PDF] of the manual, which contains new revelations that extend our knowledge of CIA interrogation activities.

For example, in the case of audio taping interrogations, the newly declassified version of the manual adds that the CIA believed the doctoring of such tapes to be “effective.”

“Tapes can also be edited and spliced, with effective results, if the tampering can be hidden,” the CIA manual explained in a section previously redacted. The CIA further elaborated on the effects of having a tape “edited to make it sound like a confession.”

While controversy remains pitched over the release of a portion of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” torture program, the CIA’s release of material – including portions that speak to the agency’s years-long use of foreign intelligence services for detention and interrogation – was quietly released with little fanfare. Meanwhile, leaks to news media and analysis by commentators demonstrate that the CIA lied to Congress about aspects of its post-9/11 rendition, detention and interrogation (torture) program.

What has not been emphasized much until now is that the post-9/11 program in regards to torture, rendition and detention, both at “black sites” and by foreign intelligence services working with the CIA, is the continuation of a CIA practice going back decades.

KUBARK as a Model for Interrogation and Torture

The CIA’s 1963 set of instructions on counterintelligence interrogation, known as the KUBARK manual, was first declassified in 1997. (KUBARK was the CIA’s own code name for itself.) Recently, since that initial declassification, I obtained an update of the CIA’s infamous document, obtained on March 12, 2013 via Mandatory Declassification Request. The document was obtained by using the FOIA-activist website Muckrock.com, and the document and all materials regarding its production, including my initial request, is posted at their site. Click here to download the document (or on the thumbnail below).

The updated version of the KUBARK manual still contains numerous redactions, even 51 years after the document’s origination. But it also includes brand-new information about the CIA’s use of torture, including never before revealed discussions of the CIA’s early use of foreign intelligence services for both interrogation and detention, including the use of such foreign services as cover for CIA interrogations. The new unredacted material includes the revelation that KUBARK techniques were used at “defector reception” or interrogation centers during the Cold War.

The Baltimore Sun, which originally had gained the manual via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it first made in May 1994, linked the KUBARK manual to later torture and interrogation techniques utilized in a 1983 set of manuals used in Central America to train Honduran and other Central American interrogators.

The product of years of experimentation and field experience, the KUBARK manual written in 1963 utilized a set of torture and other interrogation techniques that included use of solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, fear, stress positions, electric shock, sleep deprivation, drugs, and other methods to induce compliance and the “exploitation” of the prisoner or subject interrogated.

After the Abu Ghraib scandal, when the kinds of abusive interrogation and detention techniques used on U.S. “war on terror” detainees were vividly visualized for U.S. and world audiences, the similarities between what the U.S. was doing and the early instructions in the KUBARK manual became front-page news in the mainstream U.S. press.

The similarity of the KUBARK techniques to certain abusive techniques used by other government agencies, such as the FBI, has been noted. But it is the connection with the CIA’s own Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program that resonates the most in the context of a major government dispute over the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA program.

The Intelligence Committee has voted to release the Executive Summary of the report, but the most of the 6,000 page report will not be released. Meanwhile, the CIA itself has been asked (or demanded, perhaps) to be centrally involved in classification decisions made in the release of the Executive Summary. As we can see, it’s taken 51 years and we still don’t have all the information in the CIA’s 1963 interrogation manual.

A recent article by Jason Leopold at Aljazeera America suggested that the Senate report will show that CIA “enhanced interrogation” techniques “either went beyond what was authorized by the Justice Department or were applied before they had been authorized.” Those techniques included, among other forms of torture, physical slapping, sleep deprivation, isolation, confinement of a prisoner in small box, stress positions, and waterboarding.

Early Evidence of Black Sites and Rendition

Among the most prominent portions of the KUBARK manual that were not originally declassified and held secret until now, labeled KUBARK II here to forego confusion with the 1997 declassified version, concern CIA’s interrogations conducted “with or through liaison.” Such liaison included “foreign” or “host” services, including those interrogations that “involved illegality.”

Newly Revealed Portions of CIA Torture Manual: Doctoring Tapes, Foreign Detentions & Interrogating ‘Defectors”

The CIA’s 1963 set of instructions on counterintelligence interrogation, known as the KUBARK manual, was first declassified in 1997.

Describing interrogation techniques and approaches used during the Cold War, an old 1960s CIA counterintelligence interrogation manual advised covertly photographing the interrogation subject and also audio taping his interrogations.

A tape player could free an interrogator from note taking, the CIA’s experts wrote, while also providing a live record of an interrogation that could replayed later. The manual’s author noted that for some of those interrogated, “the shock of hearing their own voices unexpectedly is unnerving.”

Portions of the manual, originally declassified over 16 years ago, have remained censored until now. In March 2014, the CIA released a new version [PDF] of the manual, which contains new revelations that extend our knowledge of CIA interrogation activities.

For example, in the case of audio taping interrogations, the newly declassified version of the manual adds that the CIA believed the doctoring of such tapes to be “effective.”

“Tapes can also be edited and spliced, with effective results, if the tampering can be hidden,” the CIA manual explained in a section previously redacted. The CIA further elaborated on the effects of having a tape “edited to make it sound like a confession.”

While controversy remains pitched over the release of a portion of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” torture program, the CIA’s release of material – including portions that speak to the agency’s years-long use of foreign intelligence services for detention and interrogation – was quietly released with little fanfare. Meanwhile, leaks to news media and analysis by commentators demonstrate that the CIA lied to Congress about aspects of its post-9/11 rendition, detention and interrogation (torture) program.

What has not been emphasized much until now is that the post-9/11 program in regards to torture, rendition and detention, both at “black sites” and by foreign intelligence services working with the CIA, is the continuation of a CIA practice going back decades.

KUBARK as a Model for Interrogation and Torture

The CIA’s 1963 set of instructions on counterintelligence interrogation, known as the KUBARK manual, was first declassified in 1997. (KUBARK was the CIA’s own code name for itself.) Recently, since that initial declassification, I obtained an update of the CIA’s infamous document, obtained on March 12, 2013 via Mandatory Declassification Request. The document was obtained by using the FOIA-activist website Muckrock.com, and the document and all materials regarding its production, including my initial request, is posted at their site. Click here to download the document (or on the thumbnail below).


The updated version of the KUBARK manual still contains numerous redactions, even 51 years after the document’s origination. But it also includes brand-new information about the CIA’s use of torture, including never before revealed discussions of the CIA’s early use of foreign intelligence services for both interrogation and detention, including the use of such foreign services as cover for CIA interrogations. The new unredacted material includes the revelation that KUBARK techniques were used at “defector reception” or interrogation centers during the Cold War.

The Baltimore Sun, which originally had gained the manual via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it first made in May 1994, linked the KUBARK manual to later torture and interrogation techniques utilized in a 1983 set of manuals used in Central America to train Honduran and other Central American interrogators.

The product of years of experimentation and field experience, the KUBARK manual written in 1963 utilized a set of torture and other interrogation techniques that included use of solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, fear, stress positions, electric shock, sleep deprivation, drugs, and other methods to induce compliance and the “exploitation” of the prisoner or subject interrogated.

After the Abu Ghraib scandal, when the kinds of abusive interrogation and detention techniques used on U.S. “war on terror” detainees were vividly visualized for U.S. and world audiences, the similarities between what the U.S. was doing and the early instructions in the KUBARK manual became front-page news in the mainstream U.S. press.

The similarity of the KUBARK techniques to certain abusive techniques used by other government agencies, such as the FBI, has been noted. But it is the connection with the CIA’s own Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program that resonates the most in the context of a major government dispute over the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA program.

The Intelligence Committee has voted to release the Executive Summary of the report, but the most of the 6,000 page report will not be released. Meanwhile, the CIA itself has been asked (or demanded, perhaps) to be centrally involved in classification decisions made in the release of the Executive Summary. As we can see, it’s taken 51 years and we still don’t have all the information in the CIA’s 1963 interrogation manual.

A recent article by Jason Leopold at Aljazeera America suggested that the Senate report will show that CIA “enhanced interrogation” techniques “either went beyond what was authorized by the Justice Department or were applied before they had been authorized.” Those techniques included, among other forms of torture, physical slapping, sleep deprivation, isolation, confinement of a prisoner in small box, stress positions, and waterboarding.

Early Evidence of Black Sites and Rendition

Among the most prominent portions of the KUBARK manual that were not originally declassified and held secret until now, labeled KUBARK II here to forego confusion with the 1997 declassified version, concern CIA’s interrogations conducted “with or through liaison.” Such liaison included “foreign” or “host” services, including those interrogations that “involved illegality.”

While there is no portion of the document that specifically uses the term “rendition,” there is a lot of discussion about having to use foreign intelligence services as liaison on interrogation, and on the limited amount of detention time the CIA had when holding prisoners in other countries. (It is widely known that post-9/11, the CIA held prisoners at secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Romania, and Lithuania, while rendition to torture sent kidnapped detainees to foreign intelligence prisons in Syria, Morocco, Egypt and other countries.

CIA ex-Deputy Counsel John Rizzo recently admitted that the CIA rendition program was a practice of long standing. “Renditions were not a product of the post-9/11 era…” Rizzo recently told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, “… renditions, in and of themselves, are actually a fairly well-established fact in American and world, actually, intelligence organizations.” (more…)

More Charges of Forced Drugging at Guantanamo

On February 21, attorneys for six former Guantanamo prisoners took their civil case against Donald Rumsfeld and a number of U.S. military officials to federal appeals court. Rumsfeld and the others are being sued “for the torture, religious abuse and other mistreatment of plaintiffs,” according to a press release from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

Unremarked in the otherwise thin press coverage of this case was the fact that four of the six former prisoners charge the U.S. with forced drugging, via pills or injections. In one case, a special riot squad known as the “Extreme Reaction Force” entered the cell of one of the prisoners to restrain him and force medications upon him.

The former prisoners were from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Algeria. According to an Agence France-Presse account published at The Raw Story the day of the hearing, “the judges will make their ruling in several weeks, but one of them, Judge David Tatel, said military and civilian officials at the Pentagon had failed in their duty.

“‘Their job is to protect the detainees from abuse, they failed to do so,’ he said.”

A year ago, the case had been dismissed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, despite the fact that three of the plaintiffs were held prisoner at Guantanamo and subjected to torture and other cruel treatment even after a Pentagon-initiated review process had found them not to be “enemy combatants.”

According to CCR’s press release, the current appeal is based in part on the fact that immunity doctrines used to shield “the actions of government officials who abused Guantánamo detainees” were based on the fact these prisoners “were suspected of being enemy combatants.” The fact that the U.S. military tortured men who were not under the category of “enemy combatant” may undermine the government’s immunity argument, or perhaps allow for a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

Drugging led to Inspector General investigation

The forced use of drugs at Guantanamo and other U.S. military sites is not a minor issue, for such use of drugs is both medically unethical and illegal according to both domestic and international law. Back in Spring 2008, the controversy over reports of such forced drugging was a front-page story in the American press, leading three U.S. senators — two of whom, Joseph Biden and Chuck Hagel, are now the Vice-President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense, respectively — to task the inspector generals (IG) of both the CIA and the Department of Defense to investigate the issue.

While the CIA report is still classified, DoD released a redacted copy of their IG report to me, and Jason Leopold and I published a thorough review of that report at Truthout in July 2012. Leopold and I found that the government admitted to interrogating prisoners while they were being medicated. The government maintained such prisoners were not specifically drugged for interrogation, but for other reasons. Indeed, the military admitted to forcibly drugging prisoners who they wished to be “chemically restrained.”

In a follow-up story at Truthout in September 2012, I noted various ways in which the DoD IG report was a cover-up regarding the extent of the drugging of the prisoners.

“But while the IG report was spurred by a June 2008 Washington Post article reporting a number of former detainees’ complaints of drugging and a subsequent letter to the IG from three US senators,” I wrote, “the IG report never interviewed any of the detainees mentioned in the Post story.

“The IG interviewed only three detainees, all of whom were still held at Guantanamo. ‘We did not attempt to interview detainees who had been repatriated,’ the IG stated, which would include any of the detainees who had previously made public statements to the press that they had been forcibly drugged.”

Indeed, many former detainees have charged Guantanamo officials with forced drugging. For instance, a military prosecutor admitted to former detainee David Hicks’s attorney that prison authorities put drugs in Hicks’s food, as they “periodically sedated [Hicks] for non-therapeutic reasons.”

In another example, after he was forcibly repatriated to Algeria from his cell at Guantanamo, Abdul Aziz Naji, who was sentenced to prison in Algeria after his release from U.S. custody, told an Algerian newspaper that some prisoners at Guantanamo were forced “to take some medicines for three months to drive them crazy, loosing [sic] memory and committing suicide.”

New charges about “unspecified pills and injections”

Four of the six men suing Rumsfeld and the others in the CCR case charge that they were forcibly drugged at Guantanamo.

According to court documents, Yuksel Celikgogus, a 39 year old Turkish citizen, “was repeatedly forced to take unspecified pills and injections. Mr. Celikgogus asked what type of medicine he was receiving, but the guards would neither let him refuse the medication nor tell him what they were giving him.”

Twenty-six year old Turkish citizen Ibrahim Sen “was forcibly given unspecified pills and injections. The guards would neither let him resist the medication nor respond to his inquiries as to its substance.”

Nuri Mert, who is a 35 year old Turkish citizen, released, like Ceilikgogus and Sen to Turkey some years ago, suffered physical attack when he tried to resist the forced drugging.

According to the court document, “Throughout his detention at Guantánamo, Mr. Mert was forcibly given unspecified pills and injections. The guards would neither let him resist the medication nor respond to his inquiries as to its substance. In multiple instances, when Mr. Mert refused the medication, he was forcibly medicated by an Extreme Reaction Force (“ERF”) team. As is typical in such instances, a group of soldiers in riot gear burst into his cell, threw him to the ground and restrained him, carried him out of the cell, and forced him to either take pills or an injection. During his time in Camp Delta, Mr. Mert became extremely ill; he experienced severe stomach and chest pains and regular vomiting. When Mr. Mert wanted medical care, he was often deprived of such care despite frequent requests.”

Zakirjan Hasam was the fourth of the former detainees who claimed he was “forcibly medicated with pills and injections repeatedly while in Guantánamo.” Hasam is an Uzbek refugee who transferred to Albania in 2006. Along with Abu Muhammad, the other Uzbek in the case, he currently lives in a refugee camp in Tirana.

All the former detainees are said to suffer terribly from their torture at the hands of the American armed forces. According to Shayana Kadidal, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, “These men’s lives were irreparably damaged at Guantánamo. The U.S. government acknowledges they were wrongly imprisoned for years yet refuses to compensate them and help them rebuild their lives.”

Besides Rumsfeld, the other defendants in the suit include former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and General Peter Pace, former commanders of Joint Task Force-GTMO Major General Michael Dunlavey, Major General Geoffrey Miller and Brigadier General Jay Hood, as well as the former director of the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo, Esteban Rodriguez, among many others.

Besides forced drugging with “unknown substances,” the former prisoners’ suit describes a panoply of tortuous treatment, including “beatings, short-shackling, sleep deprivation… subjection to extremes of cold or heat and light and dark, hooding, stress positions, isolation, forced shaving, forced nakedness, forced sexual contact and intimidation with vicious dogs and threats, many in concert with each other.”

Drugs and the Army Field Manual

While some of these “techniques” have now been banned by the military — such as hooding — others continue in use as official parts of the Army Field Manual, whose interrogation procedures have been propounded by President Obama’s January 22, 2009 executive order on “lawful interrogations.” These include sleep deprivation, manipulation of temperatures, isolation, and other so-called interrogation “approaches” and “techniques.”

While it is not commonly known, the Army Field Manual does allow use of drugs on detainees, so long as they do not “induce lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.” This makes military use of drugs on prisoners even more permissive than John Yoo’s allowance to the CIA in his famous 2002 memos. Yoo had told the CIA it could not use on prisoners “mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.” While Yoo’s stricture had a lot of room for possible abuse, the current version of the Army Field Manual allows almost any kind of drug to be used, lacking proof of “lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.”

This is all a far cry from how the military once considered the issue of drugging prisoners. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service [CRS], earlier military doctrine “prohibited the use of any drugs on prisoners unless required for medical purposes.” The CRS report describes a 1961 opinion by the Army’s Judge Advocate General which stated, “’the suggested use of a chemical “truth serum” during the questioning of prisoners of war would be in violation of the obligations of the United States under the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.’ From this opinion it seems clear that any attempt to extract information from an unwilling prisoner of war by the use of chemicals, drugs, physiological or psychological devices, which impair or deprive the prisoner of his free will without being in his interest, such as a bonafide medical treatment, will be deemed a violation of Articles 13 and 17 of the [Geneva] Convention.” [p. CRS-14]

Moreover, according to CRS, the 1987 version of the Army Field Manual on interrogation “suggested that the use of any drugs for interrogation purposes amounted to mental coercion.”

How far we have come since those days can be traced by how the U.S. treats the drugging of prisoners today. The full story of how the U.S. used drugs on prisoners at Guantanamo, if in fact such use is still not happening, remains to be uncovered. The military’s IG investigation was a whitewash. Meanwhile both Congress and the mainstream press have appeared to wash their hands of the matter. But the suffering of the prisoners remains, and their testimony may not be left lingering in limbo forever. Sooner or later these crimes will have their day in a court of law or other duly constituted tribunal.

Group Condemns APA’s Ethics Decision on Former Guantanamo Psychologist

Case closed.
Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) released a copy of a letter they sent to the Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association (APA). The letter sharply criticizes APA for sitting seven years on an ethics complaint made against Dr. John Leso, who was a military psychologist at Guantanamo and an early member of that prison’s Behavioral Science Consultant Team (BSCT). Rather than a dust-up between psychology groups, the issue goes right to the heart of the US’s ability to conduct coercive interrogations and torture with the input of behavioral specialists.

On December 31, 2013, the APA sent a letter to psychologist and complainant Trudy Bond, who in 2007 had filed a complaint against Leso for his reported participation in torture at Guantanamo, that APA was not going to hold make formal charges against Leso. They said they were closing the case.

A week ago, Spencer Ackerman at The Guardian broke the story on the APA’s decision, which caused a great deal of consternation among psychologists who have been working against torture, and who support Bond and others who have made ethics or legal complaints against Leso and other psychologists involved in torture. (Full disclosure: I’m one of those psychologists supporting Trudy, and a member of PsySR.)

Ackerman described Leso’s role in the most famous of his nefarious deeds, his participation in the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani:

Leso was identified as “MAJ L” in a leaked log, published by Time magazine in 2005, of Qahtani’s marathon interrogation in November 2002. With Leso recorded as present for at least some of the session, Qahtani was forcibly hydrated through intravenous drips and prevented from using the bathroom until he urinated on himself, subjected to loud music, and repeatedly kept awake while being “told he can go to sleep when he tells the truth”.

At one point, Qahtani was instructed to bark like a dog.

“Dog tricks continued and detainee stated he should be treated like a man,” the log records. “Detainee was told he would have to learn who to defend and who to attack.”

During an interrogation on 27 November 2002, the log records a direct intervention by Leso: “Control puts detainee in swivel chair at MAJ L’s suggestion to keep him awake and stop him from fixing his eyes on one spot in booth.”

For more on Leso, see the information posted at The Center for Justice and Accountability.

In a key section of their letter, PsySR’s steering committee tells APA: “Evidence clearly exists that Dr. Leso and other psychologists have utterly failed to ensure that detention and interrogation operations at Guantánamo and elsewhere were kept ‘safe, legal, ethical, and effective.’ By closing this case in the manner you have chosen, it is only reasonable for members and the broader public to assume that APA will never sanction any psychologist participating in government-sanctioned abuses. No statements from APA’s PR office will change this perception.”

Indeed, APA has been the biggest backer of psychologist participation in interrogations. APA’s former Chief Scientist, for instance, Susan Brandon, is Chief of Research for the Obama Administration’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, and was last seen involved in murky ways in the interrogation of purported Iranian assassin-would be, Mansour Arbabsiar.

Group Condemns APA’s Ethics Decision on Former Guantanamo Psychologist

Case closed.
Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) released a copy of a letter they sent to the Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association (APA). The letter sharply criticizes APA for sitting seven years on an ethics complaint made against Dr. John Leso, who was a military psychologist at Guantanamo and an early member of that prison’s Behavioral Science Consultant Team (BSCT). Rather than a dust-up between psychology groups, the issue goes right to the heart of the US’s ability to conduct coercive interrogations and torture with the input of behavioral specialists.

On December 31, 2013, the APA sent a letter to psychologist and complainant Trudy Bond, who in 2007 had filed a complaint against Leso for his reported participation in torture at Guantanamo, that APA was not going to hold make formal charges against Leso. They said they were closing the case.

A week ago, Spencer Ackerman at The Guardian broke the story on the APA’s decision, which caused a great deal of consternation among psychologists who have been working against torture, and who support Bond and others who have made ethics or legal complaints against Leso and other psychologists involved in torture. (Full disclosure: I’m one of those psychologists supporting Trudy, and a member of PsySR.)

Ackerman described Leso’s role in the most famous of his nefarious deeds, his participation in the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani:

Leso was identified as “MAJ L” in a leaked log, published by Time magazine in 2005, of Qahtani’s marathon interrogation in November 2002. With Leso recorded as present for at least some of the session, Qahtani was forcibly hydrated through intravenous drips and prevented from using the bathroom until he urinated on himself, subjected to loud music, and repeatedly kept awake while being “told he can go to sleep when he tells the truth”.

At one point, Qahtani was instructed to bark like a dog.

“Dog tricks continued and detainee stated he should be treated like a man,” the log records. “Detainee was told he would have to learn who to defend and who to attack.”

During an interrogation on 27 November 2002, the log records a direct intervention by Leso: “Control puts detainee in swivel chair at MAJ L’s suggestion to keep him awake and stop him from fixing his eyes on one spot in booth.”

For more on Leso, see the information posted at The Center for Justice and Accountability.

In a key section of their letter, PsySR’s steering committee tells APA: “Evidence clearly exists that Dr. Leso and other psychologists have utterly failed to ensure that detention and interrogation operations at Guantánamo and elsewhere were kept ‘safe, legal, ethical, and effective.’ By closing this case in the manner you have chosen, it is only reasonable for members and the broader public to assume that APA will never sanction any psychologist participating in government-sanctioned abuses. No statements from APA’s PR office will change this perception.”

Indeed, APA has been the biggest backer of psychologist participation in interrogations. APA’s former Chief Scientist, for instance, Susan Brandon, is Chief of Research for the Obama Administration’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, and was last seen involved in murky ways in the interrogation of purported Iranian assassin-would be, Mansour Arbabsiar.

APA claims that it is against torture and has issued numerous statements against psychologist participation in torture. While I believe APA membership is certainly anti-torture — a member-initiated referendum passed calling for APA to support removal of psychologists from sites of human rights violations — APA’s leadership has moved over and over to sabotage any real anti-torture actions. The referendum has never been actualized in action. APA has never called for the closing of Guantanamo. Their anti-torture resolutions are eviscerated by legalistic and/or bureaucratic maneuvers.

In this, it must be said, they follow the plan constructed by their government mentors, who chopped down the significance of the U.S. signing of the UN Convention Against Torture by encumbering it with “reservations” and “understandings” that greatly reduced the power of the treaty to in fact exercise state power to rein in torture.

Below is the full text of PsySR’s letter. Readers should feel free to copy and share.

January 29, 2014

Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD
Director, Ethics Office
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242

Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD
Director of Adjudication/Deputy Director, Ethics Office
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242

Dear Drs. Behnke and Childress-Beatty:

As representatives of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), we write to express our deep concern and dismay over the recent decision by the Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association to dismiss the Complaint against Dr. John Leso, a former military psychologist at Guantántamo Bay Naval Base. According to your 31 December 2013 letter to complainant Dr. Trudy Bond (a PsySR member), your office does not dispute that Dr. Leso was instrumental in devising and administering the Guantánamo “enhanced interrogation” protocol in 2002. Declassified government documents and independent reports have revealed that this protocol included, but was not limited to, weeks or months of solitary confinement; sleep deprivation; sexual humiliation; exposure to extreme cold; prolonged removal of sheets, blankets, wash cloths and religious items; 20-hour interrogations, and painful stress positions.

The Ethics Office took almost seven years to review one of the most egregious examples of unethical behavior in the history of American psychology. Due to unusual circumstances (leaks and release by Congress of classified documents) more information is available about Dr. Leso’s participation in government-sanctioned torture and abuse than may ever be the case for any other APA member. Dr. Leso co-wrote the plan for and is documented as directly participating in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani. This interrogation was described as meeting the legal definition of “torture” by Susan Crawford, the Bush administration convener of the Guantánamo military commissions.

In the end, your office apparently decided that Dr. Leso’s months of involvement with the torture program were wholly mitigated because he did not volunteer to lead the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) that formulated the protocol; he was an early-career psychologist; and he reportedly expressed unease with the assignment and a preference for “rapport-building” methods. In reaching its decision the Ethics Office has set a stunning and disturbing precedent. Your office has now provided another layer of protection to psychologists who participate in the debilitating isolation of prisoners, the psychological abuses still permitted by Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, the brutal force-feeding of Guantánamo hunger-strikers, or other ethical violations. As well, this logic suggests that psychologists who engage in insurance fraud or sexual relations with their patients can evade censure if they are relatively inexperienced and express discomfort in advance of or concurrent with their actions.

For years APA has insisted that it would sanction any member for whom credible evidence existed of participation in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, yet no psychologist has ever been held accountable for involvement in our government’s post-9/11 torture program. Evidence clearly exists that Dr. Leso and other psychologists have utterly failed to ensure that detention and interrogation operations at Guantánamo and elsewhere were kept “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.” By closing this case in the manner you have chosen, it is only reasonable for members and the broader public to assume that APA will never sanction any psychologist participating in government-sanctioned abuses. No statements from APA’s PR office will change this perception.

At this point, your office must realize that the Leso decision is being widely discussed in the media and has become a matter of profound concern to many members of the profession. We therefore believe that it is important for the Ethics Office to provide greater clarity regarding two key issues: First, substantively, how does this landmark decision align with the specific principles and standards of the APA’s code of ethics, and with longstanding professional prohibitions against involvement in torture and abuse? Second, procedurally, how was the decision to close the case reached? While you state that the complaint was “carefully reviewed by multiple reviewers,” it is unclear who these reviewers were. Does this decision reflect an official vote of the entire Ethics Committee, or rather action taken by the Director of the Ethics Office, or some other group of reviewers, without the participation of the full committee? Confidentiality about these matters serves, in our perception, no constructive purpose and instead raises confusion and uncertainty about the priorities and procedures of the Ethics Office. We therefore request that this information be made public in order to begin to rebuild the moral authority of the profession.

We look forward to your timely reply. Thank you.

Sincerely,
The Steering Committee of Psychologists for Social Responsibility

cc: Members of the APA Ethics Committee
Members of the APA Board and Council of Representatives

More on the Press and the Question of Torture in the Army Field Manual

Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, U.S. Army, holds up a copy of the Army Field Manual, FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations as he briefs reporters on the details of the manual in the Pentagon on Sept. 6, 2006. The manual details guidelines for the interrogation of detainees in U.S. military custody.
This is second of two articles revisiting work I did on the “selling” of the Bush Administration’s rewrite of the Army Field Manual (AFM) on intelligence interrogations. As the first article showed, while beat reporters at the Pentagon knew something weird was going on with the introduction of the new AFM regulations, particularly around the use of sensory deprivation as outlined in the manual’s Appendix M, none of that information made it into the mainstream press accounts on the September 2006 introduction of the revised AFM.

In my second article from January 2009 (originally posted at Invictus), I looked at the how the foreign press interpreted the Pentagon’s introduction of the new interrogation manual. Similar to the domestic press, the foreign press quizzed Department of Defense and State Department officials about the way Guantanamo detainees and others held as “unlawful enemy combatants” were being treated according to the new regulations. They noticed that despite claims the AFM adhered to Geneva Conventions protections in regards to prisoners, “unlawful enemy combatants” were held to a different standard in Appendix M’s so-called “Separation” technique.

The Nation’s “Gold Standard” for Interrogation

Also highlighted in my 2009 article was the role of the alternative press. I specifically singled out at the time Salon.com and its torture “beat” writer, Mark Benjamin, for failing to report the truth about the Army Field Manual. In fact, to this day, Salon.com has never carried one article on Appendix M, or even a report on the many exposés in regards to the AFM and torture released by numerous human rights and legal groups.

Well, there was one mention. Glenn Greenwald, writing a 2010 article for Salon, used an extended quote from Scott Horton at Harpers magazine that mentioned “plenty of torture-lite techniques under Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.” Greenwald made no comment about Appendix M on his own, and the article itself was mainly about the otherwise important issue of indefinite detention.

But the one time Greenwald did write about the 2006 Army Field Manual, in December 2008, he got caught up in the juxtaposition of the AFM to the CIA’s waterboarding and so-called enhanced interrogation program, aligning himself with “those of us who insist that Democrats fulfill their commitment to compel the CIA’s compliance in all cases with the extant Army Field Manual.” Greenwald quoted favorably Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Dianne Feinstein, and wrote that the AFM “authorizes robust and effective interrogation techniques.”

While Greenwald is doing extremely important work on issues of government surveillance and civil liberties in general, and has shown bravery in doing so, he has failed for some reason to grasp the issues surrounding torture and the Army Field Manual.

It seems reasonable to assume that the liberal or progressive press failure to oppose torture — or rather, to see torture — in the Army Field Manual derives from reliance on or obedience to Democratic Party politicians. An example of the liberal Democrats stance on the AFM and torture was published at Salon.com in October 2007. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote an op-ed, “We must ban secretive U.S. torture.” In his column, Kennedy called the AFM “the ‘gold standard’ for responsible and effective interrogation techniques.”

Salon.com was not unique in touting the supposed benefits of the Army Field Manual, or in ignoring the criticisms made of its Appendix M, or aspects of the AFM that introduced abuse even outside the Appendix M category. The number of progressive bloggers who wrote about all this could be counted on one or two hands (Marcy Wheeler and bmaz at Emptywheel, Scott Horton, Andy Worthington, Spencer Ackerman, and Daphne Eviatar — if I left anyone out, I apologize.) Some notable anti-torture bloggers, like the Hillman Prize-winning Atlantic columnist Andrew Sullivan, simply have kept quiet and said very little or nothing about the entire issue, at least once the new AFM was put in place and sold as a big reform. [cont’d.]

More on the Press and the Question of Torture in the Army Field Manual

Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, U.S. Army, holds up a copy of the Army Field Manual, FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations as he briefs reporters on the details of the manual in the Pentagon on Sept. 6, 2006. The manual details guidelines for the interrogation of detainees in U.S. military custody.
This is second of two articles revisiting work I did on the “selling” of the Bush Administration’s rewrite of the Army Field Manual (AFM) on intelligence interrogations. As the first article showed, while beat reporters at the Pentagon knew something weird was going on with the introduction of the new AFM regulations, particularly around the use of sensory deprivation as outlined in the manual’s Appendix M, none of that information made it into the mainstream press accounts on the September 2006 introduction of the revised AFM.

In my second article from January 2009 (originally posted at Invictus), I looked at the how the foreign press interpreted the Pentagon’s introduction of the new interrogation manual. Similar to the domestic press, the foreign press quizzed Department of Defense and State Department officials about the way Guantanamo detainees and others held as “unlawful enemy combatants” were being treated according to the new regulations. They noticed that despite claims the AFM adhered to Geneva Conventions protections in regards to prisoners, “unlawful enemy combatants” were held to a different standard in Appendix M’s so-called “Separation” technique.

The Nation’s “Gold Standard” for Interrogation

Also highlighted in my 2009 article was the role of the alternative press. I specifically singled out at the time Salon.com and its torture “beat” writer, Mark Benjamin, for failing to report the truth about the Army Field Manual. In fact, to this day, Salon.com has never carried one article on Appendix M, or even a report on the many exposés in regards to the AFM and torture released by numerous human rights and legal groups.

Well, there was one mention. Glenn Greenwald, writing a 2010 article for Salon, used an extended quote from Scott Horton at Harpers magazine that mentioned “plenty of torture-lite techniques under Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.” Greenwald made no comment about Appendix M on his own, and the article itself was mainly about the otherwise important issue of indefinite detention.

But the one time Greenwald did write about the 2006 Army Field Manual, in December 2008, he got caught up in the juxtaposition of the AFM to the CIA’s waterboarding and so-called enhanced interrogation program, aligning himself with “those of us who insist that Democrats fulfill their commitment to compel the CIA’s compliance in all cases with the extant Army Field Manual.” Greenwald quoted favorably Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Dianne Feinstein, and wrote that the AFM “authorizes robust and effective interrogation techniques.”

While Greenwald is doing extremely important work on issues of government surveillance and civil liberties in general, and has shown bravery in doing so, he has failed for some reason to grasp the issues surrounding torture and the Army Field Manual.

It seems reasonable to assume that the liberal or progressive press failure to oppose torture — or rather, to see torture — in the Army Field Manual derives from reliance on or obedience to Democratic Party politicians. An example of the liberal Democrats stance on the AFM and torture was published at Salon.com in October 2007. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote an op-ed, “We must ban secretive U.S. torture.” In his column, Kennedy called the AFM “the ‘gold standard’ for responsible and effective interrogation techniques.”

Salon.com was not unique in touting the supposed benefits of the Army Field Manual, or in ignoring the criticisms made of its Appendix M, or aspects of the AFM that introduced abuse even outside the Appendix M category. The number of progressive bloggers who wrote about all this could be counted on one or two hands (Marcy Wheeler and bmaz at Emptywheel, Scott Horton, Andy Worthington, Spencer Ackerman, and Daphne Eviatar — if I left anyone out, I apologize.) Some notable anti-torture bloggers, like the Hillman Prize-winning Atlantic columnist Andrew Sullivan, simply have kept quiet and said very little or nothing about the entire issue, at least once the new AFM was put in place and sold as a big reform.

An End to Torture?

I believe many commentators, outraged by the brutal CIA program of “enhanced interrogation” torture, exemplified by the use of waterboarding, squeezing people into tiny boxes, slamming them against walls, etc., assumed that the AFM prohibition of waterboarding, hooding, nudity, etc., meant an end to torture itself. But torture is not just about brutality; it is about how to break down a human being.

Years of study about the latter by this nation’s intelligence and military researchers, assisted by top figures in medicine and behavioral science academia, led the CIA to adopt a torture program sometime between the mid-1950s and early 1960s that was based on “psychological” methods: using fear, feelings of helplessness or “futility”, and “touchless” techniques like solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and even use of drugs to break down and control prisoners. In doing this the CIA borrowed also from the military survival, resistance, evasion and escape, or SERE, programs that they were monitoring, and apparently still do monitor and do research on as late as this past decade.

Below is the updated version of the Jan. 2009 story that continued my documentation on the “selling” of the Army Field Manual. I have added notes (in brackets) where applicable to bring up to date, and more silently corrected grammar and syntax to allow for greater comprehension.

+++++++++++++++++

The Foreign Press, Salon.com, and the Army Field Manual

On September 7, 2006, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson and Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) Lt. Gen. John Kimmons showed up at a State Department foreign press briefing on the then-new DoD Directive 2310.10E (on its detainee program) and the also then brand-new Army Field Manual on interrogations. Only the day before, Kimmons and Stimson had held a news briefing for U.S. reporters at the Department of Defense on the same subjects, which I covered in a recent article at AlterNet. (See updated version of this article here.)

While few bloggers paid attention to this September 6 DoD briefing (except one noted reporter, as I’ll describe later), most likely that was because President Bush had one of his infrequent news conferences that same day, and this one was a blockbuster. Bush acknowledged the existence of a secret CIA prison network [which he also at the same time said he was closing]. He also announced he was ordering the transfer of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 13 other “high-value detainees” [from the CIA black sites] to Guantánamo Bay to be put on trial.

As the Guardian UK described it:

Mr Bush’s disclosure was intended to put pressure on the US Congress to support draft legislation put forward by the White House yesterday for a system of military tribunals for the Guantánamo detainees.

The US supreme court struck down the military tribunals established by the administration for the 450 inmates at Guantánamo last June, ruling that they had no basis in US law and violated the Geneva Convention [Hamdan v. Rumsfeld].

The pressure of the Bush administration to get a military commissions process in place — to replace the one thrown out as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — resulted later that year in Congressional passage of the Military Commissions Act [of 2006]. As described by the ACLU, this infamous legislation, passed with the support of the vast majority of the GOP and certain key Democrats, eliminated “the constitutional due process right of habeas corpus for detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere.” It also:

…[gave] any president the power to declare — on his or her own — who is an enemy combatant, decide who should be held indefinitely without being charged with a crime and define what is — and what is not — torture and abuse.

With so much going on at Bush’s news conference, who would notice the goings on at DoD, with the decidedly less glamorous Kimmons and Stimson? But one reporter did. In an article for Salon.com, journalist Mark Benjamin, who had been covering the torture beat for awhile, described the “mixed messages on torture” emanating from the White House and DoD.

While Bush was defending “tough interrogation tactics” and “black site” secret prisons, the DoD spokesmen were lauding the new Army Field Manual as “designed to fit squarely within the protections of the Geneva Conventions.” [In his article,] Benjamin quoted Kimmons approvingly, describing the AFM as “humane” and in accord with the views of “conventional senior generals.”

Yet Benjamin failed to notice, or report, that the bulk of the Q&A session with reporters at that news conference concentrated on serious questions about whether the Army Field Manual allowed abuse itself, particularly in its Appendix M, which describes an omnibus “technique” called “Separation.” Appendix M allows the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and various forms of sensory deprivation on prisoners, mostly to be used with other AFM “approaches,” like “Fear Up,” “Ego Down,” and “Futility.”

The reporters grilled Kimmons and Stimson on the AFM and its use of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. But you wouldn’t know that from Benjamin, the alternative and progressive [press] reporter, whose coverage of the event was as obtuse as that of the mainstream press. (See here or here for the full story of that news conference.)

The Foreign Press Have Their Say

The same day Salon.com was publishing Benjamin’s article, and the mainstream press was assessing Bush’s news conference, Stimson and Kimmons traipsed over to the State Department to give their briefing to the foreign press on 2310.10E and the Army Field Manual. Also in attendance were Brigadier General Thomas L. Hemingway, Legal Adviser to the Appointing Authority, Office of Military Commissions, and Sandra Hodgkinson, State Department Deputy Director, Office of War Crimes Issues.

[Not long after this press conference, Hodgkinson, a former JAG attorney, moved to DoD where she served from 2007-2009 as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs. Today she is Vice President, Chief of Staff for U.S. defense contractor, DRS Technologies, “a leading supplier of integrated products, services and support to military forces, intelligence agencies and prime contractors worldwide.”]

During the State Dept. news conference, Reymer Luever, from the German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung, tried to nail down Lt. Gen. Kimmons on the use of the “Separation” technique and the applicability of Geneva Common Article Three. As we will see, skepticism from the press was met with double-talk, and a misrepresentation of the situation of “unlawful enemy combatants” and Geneva protections (bold emphasis added):

QUESTION: Thank you very much General Kimmons. You mentioned the 19 interrogation techniques and the 19[th] interrogation technique [S]eparation. You mentioned that this isn’t covered by — or is an exception from the Geneva Convention. Are there other exceptions from the Convention, the new manual?

LTG KIMMONS: Well, I take issue with you that it’s an exception from the Convention. It’s the wording in the Geneva — the third Geneva Convention that causes us to place separation as a restricted technique and not to employ against prisoners of war or lawful combatants. It is the wording and the requirements of Geneva and the definition within Geneva of what is a lawful enemy combatant, what is a prisoner of war. And clearly al-Qaida and the Taliban and the people we are dealing with now in large portions, you know, of the battlefield do not fit the standard established in Geneva for prison of war or other types of lawful enemy combatants. And therefore, according to Geneva, those type of enemy combatants are not — are just like spies and saboteurs in the older days. And traditionally are not entitled to the same protections under Geneva.

“Like spies and saboteurs”? Where did Kimmons come up with that? The reference is to the Fourth Geneva Convention on “Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,” [which allows for some reduction in rights for captured suspected spies and saboteurs, which is we’ll examine more below.]  Of course, no one from DoD wants to refer to the Fourth Geneva Convention, because they would have to admit that such prisoners had rights even beyond those in Common Article 3, which protect against violence, “cruel treatment and torture.” For instance, there’s Article 31:

No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.

Now, Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions does not explicitly forbid coercion. Also, Kimmons is correct that the POW Geneva convention has a higher standard for POWs, forbidding all forms of coercion upon them. Unfortunately, the GCs don’t define what is meant by “coercion.” But the CIA’s 1963 Kubark interrogation manual does.

The Purpose of Coercive Interrogations

Jennifer Elsen, in an an essay on the “Lawfulness of Interrogation Techniques Under the Geneva Conventions,” in The Treatment of Prisoners (ed. R.D. McPhee, 2006, Nova Science Publishers), pointed out that the CIA distinguished between coercive and non-coercive interrogations. Coercive interrogations were those “designed to induce regression,” producing a loss of general cognitive capacities, including the ability to deal with complex situations, or the ability to “cope with repeated frustrations.” The tools of the coercive interrogator include the induction of fatigue, pain, sleep loss, anxiety, fear, and the “deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement or similar methods.”

[As we can see, “coercive” interrogation is really torture, and the forms of that kind of torture are for the most part those which are allowed for use in the Army Field Manual. It’s not an accident that Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, the Constitution Project, Human Rights First, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, and others have called for either the withdrawal of Appendix M or a rewrite of the Army Field Manual, or both.]

According to the Civilian Geneva Convention protocols, its protections include all civilians “taking no active part in hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause.” [emphasis added] During the press conference, Kimmons noted the exception for “spies and saboteurs,” equating the latter with the captured detainees. But those captured in their “war on terror” in Afghanistan and elsewhere were not spies and saboteurs. Yet, even if they were, according to the Geneva Conventions, they have only “forfeited rights of communication.” One cannot lock them up and throw away the key.

The Civilian Geneva Convention protocol continues, discussing the plight of “spies and saboteurs”:

In each case, such persons shall nevertheless be treated with humanity, and in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention. They shall also be granted the full rights and privileges of a protected person under the present Convention at the earliest date consistent with the security of the State or Occupying Power, as the case may be.

“Full rights and privileges of a protected person”… that doesn’t sound like one could be subject to coercive interrogation or torture, or spurious military commissions, does it?

Kimmons Down the Rabbit Hole on Geneva

Let’s go back to the briefing, and pick up just where we left off. Kimmons, asked if there exceptions to Geneva in the AFM, said that unlawful enemy combatants were “not entitled to the same protections under Geneva” as prisoners of war. But in his very next sentence, he continued, in an entirely different, and confusing vein:

As a matter of law here in the United States, we are going to provide the same single standard for humane treatment to all categories of detainees, both lawful and unlawful combatants.

That same legal requirement does not require us to afford additional privileges above and beyond that standard to unlawful combatants. And that’s why separation is placed — separated to it.

I’m sorry, could you repeat the second part of your question.

QUESTION: My question was are there other — what I have called exceptions from the Convention in the field manual?

LTG KIMMONS: No. In accordance, as a matter of law, only those interrogation approach techniques that are listed in — authorized by the Army Field Manual, this field manual, can be employed on any class of category of detainee across the Department of Defense.

The last statement makes no sense when compared with Kimmons remarks during his opening statement, remarks to which Mr. Luever alluded in his question above. [They don’t even make sense grammatically!] For in his earlier statement, Lt. Gen. Kimmons stated (bold emphasis added):

Separation meets the standard for humane treatment, but the Geneva Conventions, specifically the third Geneva Convention, affords prisoners of war, lawful enemy combatants, additional protections above and beyond the single humane standard to which they’re entitled. It entitles them to pay, entitles them to send and receive mail and packages, and it also protects them from separation from other prisoners of war with whom they were captured without their expressed consent.

Unlawful combatants are not entitled to those additional protections and privileges above the humane standard. So Geneva — the common third — Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to all categories of detainees’ [there may be missing text in the transcript here] [S]eparation, however, is only authorized for use on a by-exception basis with unlawful enemy combatants.

Threading the eye of the needle, DoD means to say one thing one moment and another thing the next. What’s clear is that they believe Separation is not a group of techniques that can be used on regular POWs, only “unlawful enemy combatants.” But the privileges enumerated by the third Geneva Convention — Kimmons lists pay, getting mail and packages — does not include in its text, as Kimmons maintains, the right not to experience “separation,” i.e., solitary confinement, sleep and perceptual deprivation, etc.

This can all get quite confusing, but seems to boil down to this. The Pentagon, and perhaps their CIA mentors, want to slice and dice the Geneva Conventions at their will, in order to manifest the core program of coercive interrogation, as laid down by the CIA’s KUBARK manual. DoD has done this by slyly implementing that core program into the Army Field Manual and Appendix M. Because of the Abu Ghraib scandal, they want to hide or forbid all types of treatment that became notorious due to press exposure, and that includes the revelations around waterboarding. But the induction of regression, using a paradigm the CIA referred to as DDD (Dependency, Debility, Dread), is still at the core of the coercive techniques they intend to rescue for their use.

And because of the ignorance or indifference, or in some cases, collusion, of the press and politicians, it appears that they will get their way.

Postscript, January 2014

George Hunsinger, who is the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, wrote about the misrepresentation of the Army Field Manual and its Appendix M in the popular press. “It is sad to see the mainstream media display so much confusion about a heinous crime like torture,” Hunsinger wrote.

“Torture is immoral under all circumstances.  It represents an extreme and shocking form of violating the human person.  Like slavery, genocide and rape, it is never justified.” (more…)

How the Press, the Pentagon, and Even Human Rights Groups Sold Us an Army Field Manual that (Still) Includes Torture (updated)

I’m marking the 12th anniversary of the abomination that is Guantanamo with a couple of repostings related to how the Bush administration, with the connivance of key members of the press and the human rights community, sold a continuation of torture as an end to torture.

Such a reposting seems necessary as the entire press, human rights groups, and blogging world continues to ignore the ongoing issue of torture via interrogations. While indefinite detention, forced cell extractions aka beatings, and the painful forced-feeding of hunger strikers still garners attention, and rightly so, the fact the U.S. continues to have an official policy of torture in its interrogation manual continues to be ignored, even though it is the most important issue about torture facing America today.

Eschewing the worst-looking forms of torture, like waterboarding, in 2006, at the same time that “high-value detainees” like Khalid Sheik Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah were transferred out of the CIA black sites and sent to Guantanamo, the U.S. put out a new Army Field Manual (AFM) with instructions on interrogations that claimed to be “humane.”

Origin of AFM Rewrite Out of Ashes of Abu Ghraib Scandal

Only recently have I found the possible origin of the new AFM’s drafting in the August 2005 recommendations of a Joint Chiefs of Staff panel subsequent to the military investigations into the Abu Ghraib scandal. (See pg. 315-16 of this document.)

Recommend a policy-level review and determination of the status and treatment of all detainees, when not classified as EPWs [Enemy Prisoners of War]. This review needs to particularly focus on the definition of humane treatment, military necessity, and proper employment of interrogation techniques. (e.g. boundaries or extremes)….

Recommend study of the DoD authorized interrogation techniques to establish a framework for evaluating their cumulative impact in relation to the obligation to treat detainees humanely.

The study of “authorized interrogation techniques” was tasked to the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone.

But a number of the new techniques that ultimately showed up in the newly written AFM were not humane at all. In fact, they amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhumane and degrading behavior. Over the years various human rights groups recognized this and came out publicly for changes to the AFM. (See here, and here, and here, and here, and here.)

The AFM made changes to its text that allowed wider latitude in use of drugs in interrogations, while eliminating prohibitions against sleep deprivation and stress positions that had been in the pre-2006 AFM. Even worse, a category of prisoners that were not considered subject to Geneva Convention POW protections was singled out for a special kind of interrogation “technique,” as described in the manual’s Appendix M.

Appendix M allowed for use of isolation for 30 days, and potentially indefinitely; sleep deprivation for up to 30 days, but potentially indefinitely; manipulation of environment and diet (so long as it wasn’t “extreme”); and forms of sensory deprivation, so long as every form of sensory input wasn’t affected.

There was very little interest in whether or not or how these new techniques were being used. In fact, no one had apparently even thought to ask the government until I did in January 2010 whether or not Appendix M had even been used. Not surprisingly, the Department of Defense confirmed it was using Appendix M interrogations at Guantanamo.

More surprising was my discovery, confirmed by a DoD spokesman, that the use of the Appendix M torture techniques was approved in a Bush-era Office of Legal Council memorandum, and left in place by the Obama administration despite claims that all such memos were withdrawn in January 2009. Even to this day, in a massive political failure, not one human rights group or legal organization has recognized this fact.

The Torture Never Stopped

Intense abusive interrogations continue. We know from a filing by Omar Khadr in his Canadian court case that prior to release from Guantanamo to Canadian authorities, and shortly after his plea deal with Military Commissions authorities in October 2010, Khadr was subjected to prolonged interrogation that likely was conducted, given the key presence of the use of isolation, to Appendix M parameters: “Following the Pre-Trial Agreement, the Americans transferred Omar to a maximum security detention facility restricted for prisoners convicted of offenses. Omar was thrown back into solitary confinement and continued to be subjected to months of prolonged interrogations consisting of a sequence of 9 hours of interrogation per day for 9 days at a time.”

With an even dozen years of crimes at Guantanamo — fully over 1/3 of them under the auspices of the Obama administration — I think it’s time to review just how consensus around torture takes place in actuality. As we shall see, it is a complex story, involving media manipulation, psychological effects such as denial, and subordination of human rights to party politics and an achingly slow platform of reformist change. I say “consensus” because silence about all this amounts to consensus.

The following was published at Alternet and my own blog, Invictus, in January 2009. (My first writing recognizing torture in the AFM goes back to the introduction of the new manual in September 2006, when I wrote under my pseudonym Valtin.) In a day or two, I will publish part two, which will look at how the foreign press saw through what DoD was doing, and how a major blogging news and opinion site helped cover that up.

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How the Press, the Pentagon, and Even Human Rights Groups Sold Us an Army Field Manual that (Still) Includes Torture

A January 17 [2009] New York Times editorial noted that Attorney General designate Eric Holder testified at his nomination hearings that when it came to overhauling the nation’s interrogation rules for both the military and the CIA, the Army Field Manual represented “a good start.” The editorial noted the vagueness of Holder’s statement. Left unsaid was the question, if the AFM is only a “good start,” what comes next?

The Times editorial writer never bothered to mention the fact that three years earlier, a different New York Times article (12/14/2005) introduced a new controversy regarding the rewrite of the Army Field Manual. The rewrite was inspired by a proposal by Senator John McCain to limit U.S. military and CIA interrogation methods to those in the Army Field Manual. (McCain would later allow an exception for the CIA.)

According to the Times article, a new set of classified procedures proposed for the manual “was pushing the limits on legal interrogation.” Anonymous military sources called the procedures “a back-door effort” to undermine McCain’s efforts at the time to change U.S. abusive interrogation techniques, and stop the torture.

A Forgotten Controversy

Over the next six months or so, a number of articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times described the course of the controversy. By mid-June 2006, the NYT was reporting that, under pressure from unnamed senior generals and members of Congress (including McCain, and Senators Warner and Graham), the Pentagon was rethinking its plan to have a classified annex to the AFM, which would include a different set of interrogation rules for “unlawful combatants,” like the detainees at Guantanamo. Included in the discussion about these classified procedures were, reportedly, members of the State Department and various human rights organizations.

According to an article in the L.A. Times, this latest fight over the classified procedures went back at least to mid-May 2006. The manual itself had been written at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, roughly a year earlier, and then sent to the Pentagon for further evalution. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s right-hand man, Stephen Cambone, was put in charge of its final draft. According the L.A. Times article, members of Congress were “keen to avoid a public fight with the Pentagon.” The announcement that the controversial and still unknown procedures might not be included in the manual was seen as a success by human rights groups.

Yet the proverbial chickens never hatched, and by early September 2006 the new Army Field Manual was finally released. The section on special interrogation procedures for “unlawful combatants” was included as a special appendix (Appendix M), and published in unclassified format. According to a L.A. Times story on September 8, Cambone was crowing that the new Army Field Manual instructions would give interrogators “what they need to do the job.” The article noted:

The new manual includes one restricted technique that will only be used on so-called unlawful combatants – such as Al Qaeda suspects – not traditional prisoners of war.

That technique, called “separation,” involves segregating a detainee from other prisoners. Military officials said separation was not the equivalent of solitary confinement and was consistent with Geneva Convention protections.

As for the proposed secrecy surrounding the new techniques, the Pentagon had decided it couldn’t keep them secret forever. Senator Warner was also on record as against any classified annex to the manual.

Not long ago, I wrote about what was included in Appendix M, which purports to introduce the single technique of “separation.” In fact, the Appendix M includes instructions regarding solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and, in combination with other procedures included in the Army Field Manual, amounted to a re-introduction of the psychological torture techniques practiced at Guantanamo, and taught by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE psychologists and other personnel at the Cuban base and elsewhere.

The rewrite of the Army Field Manual included other seemingly minor changes. It introduced dubious procedures, such as the “False Flag” technique, wherein interrogators could pretend they were from another country. It also redefined the meaning of “Fear Up,” a procedure meant to exploit a prisoner’s existing fears under imprisonment. Now, interrogators could create “new” fears. The AFM rewrite was a masterpiece of subterfuge and double talk, which could only have been issued from the offices of Rumsfeld and Cambone.

One would think this turnaround of the Pentagon’s position regarding a removal of these controversial procedures would have been a matter of some note. But there was no protest from Congress, no mention of the past controversy in the press, and only vague comments at first and then acceptance by human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Only Physicians for Human Rights protested the inclusion of the techniques listed in Appendix M. For the rest… silence.

[Author’s Note, 1/13/2014: By 2009, Amnesty International had clearly come out against Appendix M, as we can see at this posting. In 2010, Open Society Foundations, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch signed a letter to the Pentagon, along with other groups, asking for the removal of Appendix M. The letter stated, “we are concerned that Appendix M creates a legal precedent that may be used in the future by other governments to justify abusing captured U.S. personnel…. Appendix M can be interpreted to allow serious abuse, including months of abnormal sleep deprivation.]

DoD Rolls Out the New Model

On September 6, 2006, a news briefing was held by the Department of Defense, as part of the unveiling of the new Army Field Manual, in conjunction with the then-new Defense Department Directive for Detainee Programs (DoD Directive 2310.01E). Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson and Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) Lt. Gen. John Kimmons were the DoD presenters.

Much of the belief that the AFM provides an improvement over previous policies of the Department of Defense is likely due to a confusion between the two documents introduced that summer of 2006, the new Detainee Program Directive and the new Army Field Manual.

DoD Directive 2310.10E made a number of changes in regards to detainee operations and management. It made clear that “All persons subject to this Directive shall observe the requirements of the law of war, and shall apply, without regard to a detainee’s legal status, at a minimum the standards articulated in Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949…” The same type of language appears in the text of the Army Field Manual itself.

During the press briefing on September 6, and a different one the next day for the foreign press, reporters were not so easily fooled.

One unnamed reporter at the DoD briefing challenged Lt. Gen. Kimmons on the “single standard” issue:

Q General, why was the decision made to keep these categories — the separate categories of detainees? You have traditional prisoners of war and then the unlawful enemy combatants. Why not treat all detainees under U.S. military custody the exact same way?

Kimmons’s answer gives us insight into the kind of convoluted legal thinking that went into the Pentagon’s rationale for the acceptability of coercive interrogation — for some (emphasis added):

GEN. KIMMONS: Well, actually, the distinction is in Geneva through the Geneva Convention, which describes the criteria that prisoner — that lawful combatants, such as enemy prisoners of war — which attributes they possess — wearing a uniform, fighting for a government, bearing your arms openly and so on and so forth. And it’s all spelled out fairly precisely inside Geneva.

Geneva also makes clear that traditional, unlawful combatants such as in the — 50 years ago, we would have talked about spies and saboteurs, but also now applies to this new category of unlawful — or new type of unlawful combatant, terrorists, al Qaeda, Taliban.

They clearly don’t meet the criteria for prisoner of war status, lawful combatant status, and so they’re not entitled to the — therefore to the extra protections and privileges which Geneva affords.

But Kimmon’s clarification was not very helpful. In fact, if a prisoner is judged not a “lawful combatant”, then he or she immediately becomes covered by Geneva IV, the “Civilian Convention,” which protects anyone “who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever find themselves” held prisoner. According to the International Red Cross Commentary on the Geneva Conventions:

Every person in enemy hands must have some status under international law: he is either a prisoner of war and, as such, covered by the Third [POW] Convention, [or] a civilian covered by the Fourth Convention…. There is no intermediate status; nobody in enemy hands can fall outside the law.

Separation and Sensory Deprivation

One questioner took on the topic of the “Separation” technique. Wasn’t it the same as solitary confinement, and wasn’t solitary confinement “banned by Common Article 3 in the affront to human dignity, other provisions? “Are you confident,” a reporter asked, “that separation is permitted under Common Article 3?”

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs responded by denying that separation amounted to solitary confinement, even though the AFM describes the technique as, among other things “physical separation” “limited to 30 days of initial duration.” Extensions for such physical separation must be reviewed and approved the General Officer or Flag Officer who initially approved the original “separation.”

Kimmons’ reply was even more disingenuous:

We have always segregated enemy combatants on the battlefield at the point of capture and beyond, to keep them silent, segregate the officers from the enlisted, the men from the women, and so forth. That’s traditional; it goes back to World War II and beyond.

So, is “separation” a matter of segregating prisoners, or what? In the Army Field Manual itself, one gets that same kind of double talk. At first it is presented thus:

The purpose of separation is to deny the detainee the opportunity to communicate with other detainees in order to keep him from learning counter-resistance techniques or gathering new information to support a cover story; decreasing the detainee’s resistance to interrogation.

This description sounds a lot like segregation for security purposes, although there is that phrase “decreasing the detainee’s resistance.” A page or so later, however, we find the following (emphasis added):

The use of separation should not be confused with the detainee-handling techniques approved in Appendix D [Guide for Handling Detainees]. Specifically, the use of segregation during prisoner handling (Search, Silence, Segregate, Speed, Safeguard, and Tag [5 S’s and a T]) should not be confused with the use of separation as a restricted interrogation technique.

Furthermore, we learn that “separation” requires an interrogation plan, and medical and legal review, as well, of course, as “physical separation.” If this is not solitary confinement for the purposes of breaking a prisoner down for interrogation, then the English language has lost all purpose in explaining things.

Another line of questioning took on the AFM’s contention that it banned sensory deprivation. The entire exchange at the September 6 hearing is worth reproducing here. It represents, among other things, the most thorough line of inquiry I have seen by any reporter in quite some time. The following quote contains added emphases.

Q General, as an expert in interrogations, do you believe that sensory deprivation was abusive, or did it ever prove to be helpful in interrogation?

GEN. KIMMONS: Sensory deprivation is abusive and it’s prohibited in this Field Manual, and it’s absolutely counterproductive, in my understanding of what we have used productively. Sensory deprivation, just to be clear — and we define it in the Field Manual, but basically, it comes down to the almost complete deprivation of all sensory stimuli, light, noise, and so forth, and to the point where it can have an adverse mental, psychological effect on a — disorienting effect on a detainee.

Q So could there be deprivation of light alone for extended periods of time, as opposed to complete sensory deprivation?

GEN. KIMMONS: I think the total loss of an external stimulus, such as deprivation of light, would not fit what we have described here as — for example, if you’re hinting about separation, separation does not involve the darkness or lack of that type of sensory stimulation.

Q That wasn’t the question, though. Would sensory — would the deprivation of light alone be permitted under the current manual, as opposed — because you described sensory deprivation as total deprivation —

GEN. KIMMONS: That’s correction.

Q — of all senses. So deprivation of light alone for extended periods would be permitted?

GEN. KIMMONS: I don’t think the Field Manual explicitly addresses it.

It does not make it prohibited.And it would have to be weighed in the context of the overall environment. If it was at nighttime during sleep hours, then it would make personal sense to turn the lights off.

Q You know what I’m talking about. I’m trying to get at — because you said specifically total sensory deprivation — so deprivation of any one sense might be permitted. Like light, for example. They could be kept in the dark for extended periods of time beyond the usual nighttime hours.

This is really too specific and challenging for the DoD briefers, and they turn on their double-talk machine:

MR. STIMSON: Jim, questions like this are good questions to ask. And what’s important to remember is that interrogation plans are put together for a reason so that not just one person can decide what he or she wants to do and then run off and do it. They’re vetted. It’s laid out how they’re vetted. General Kimmons could go into that in exhaustive detail. Typically, there would be a JAG, as I understand it, General Kimmons —

GEN. KIMMONS: That’s correct.

MR. STIMSON: — that would have to review that. It goes up through various chains of command. And so, you know, types of questions like this would have to be asked and then vetted through that process.

Burying the Story

With all the hard questioning by the press, you’d think the issues would have been aired in the media in the days and weeks following the introduction of the Army Field Manual. As should be evident by now, that’s not what happened.

Here’s how the L.A. Times covered it (9/6/06), getting the story exactly backwards (emphasis added):

Bowing to critics of its tough interrogation policies, the Pentagon is issuing a new Army field manual that provides Geneva Convention protections for all detainees and eliminates a secret list of interrogation tactics.

The manual, set for release today, also reverses an earlier decision to maintain two interrogation standards – one for traditional prisoners of war and another for “unlawful combatants” captured during a conflict but not affiliated with a nation’s military force.

There is no mention of Appendix M or any controversy over techniques. Jumana Musa, an “advocacy director for Amnesty International, is quoted as noting, ““If the new field manual embraces the Geneva Convention, it is an important return to the rule of law.'”

The 9/7/06 article in the Washington Post was, if anything, even more laudatory of the new AFM:

Pentagon officials yesterday repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, specifically forbidding U.S. troops from using forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and waterboarding to elicit information from detainees captured in ongoing wars.

The Defense Department simultaneously embraced international humane treatment standards for all detainees in U.S. military custody, the first time there has been a uniform standard for both enemy prisoners of war and the so-called unlawful combatants linked to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

The article falsely claims the AFM bans manipulation of sleep patterns. Regarding any controversy, the article explains:

Three expanded techniques — good cop, bad cop; pretending to be an official from another country; and detention in a separate cell from others — are allowed but require approval from senior officers. Officials originally considered keeping those three techniques classified but decided to make them public for the sake of full transparency.

The Post article also briefly mentions the generally positive response of human rights groups:

“This is the Pentagon coming full circle,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “This is very strong guidance.”

As for the human rights organizations, Amnesty International later essentially signed off on the AFM. In an article from the Winter 2007 issue of Amnesty International Magazine, Jumana Musa, quoted in the L.A. Times article above, had this to say about the new AFM:

AIUSA also worked with U.S. representatives and senators to introduce legislation to create a single, transparent standard for interrogations and to limit the CIA to approved interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.

In a telephone interview for this article, Mr. Malinowski said he supported using the Army Field Manual as a replacement for the CIA “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and described the question of abuse in Appendix M as not entirely clear. The language in Appendix M was “ambiguous,” and open to criticism due to a “lack of clarity.” He maintained, however, that using the current Army Field Manual as a model was merely a beginning, and that a new overhaul of interrogation techniques was on the agenda.

A call made to Amnesty International’s press contact regarding this issue, and an e-mail sent to Jumana Musa, were both unreturned.

Conclusion

Two conclusions can be drawn from the above examination of the “selling” of the Army Field Manual to the American public in the late summer of 2006 and beyond. One is that reporters on the beat were very aware of the origins and implications of the issues surrounding Geneva and the AFM, and the controversies surrounding the use of isolation and other techniques under the rubric of “Separation.” The extremely muted or non-existent discussion in the mainstream press of these issues after the AFM was introduced means that a decision to suppress these issues was made at an editorial level, and were not the result of laziness or dilatory reporting on behalf of reporters.

Secondly, the role of some human rights organizations in promoting the new Army Field Manual — in particular, the actions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch — are curious, to say the least. Press reports and the interview with Malinowski show that inclusion of certain human rights organizations in the vetting of the AFM started at the very beginning. We may not be able to find out what went on in the editorial offices of the nation’s top newspapers, but we should know more about the discussions within the human rights organizations on how they advised, or were fooled, by talks with Bush administration and Pentagon personnel.

Meanwhile, other human rights organizations, such as the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights, have criticized the language and techniques described in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, and called for rescission of the offending text. In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in May 2007, Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR, and retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, MD, former Commanding General of the Southeast Regional U.S. Army Medical Command, wrote:

The new Army Field Manual on human intelligence gathering… explicitly prohibits several SERE-based techniques, yet Appendix M of the manual explicitly permits what amounts to isolation, along with sleep and sensory deprivation. The manual is silent on a number of other SERE-based methods, creating ambiguity and doubt over their place in interrogation doctrine….

PHR, therefore, respectfully urges you to take the following actions:

1. Fully implement the OIG’s recommendation to “preclude the use of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape physical and psychological coercion techniques” in all interrogations. (Id, pp. 29-30.) This includes rescission of Appendix M of the new Army Field Manual and specific prohibition, by name, of each of the known SERE-based methods and their equivalents.

It seems likely that the Army Field Manual, whether by executive order (most likely) or by legislation, will become the new “single standard” for U.S. interrogation. Press reports hint that the Obama administration may yet allow a loophole for CIA interrogators. I don’t know how that will sit with the many military lawyers and officers who have been instrumental in opposing Bush/Rumsfeld’s torture policies from the beginning. I’m thinking of people like Alberto Mora and Antonio Taguba, or the new nominee for DoD General Counsel, Jeh Charles Johnson, who apparently intends to seriously change the policies set by his predecessor, Jim Haynes.

[Author’s note, 1/12/2014: Johnson never did change the Army Field Manual/Appendix M policies. Last month, he was confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of Homeland Security.]

In any case, the full history and controversy behind torture and U.S. interrogation policy deserves a full airing. What happened, for instance, between June and September 2006, allowing for Pentagon acceptance of the Appendix M abusive procedures? When it comes to the implementation of a host of torture and cruel, inhumane interrogation techniques by the U.S. government, both an investigation and prosecutions are needed.

It will be a challenge for our society to bring out the full story, while also bringing to justice those individuals who broke both domestic law and international treaty. We will need both investigations and prosecutions in order to settle scores with the past, to understand where we stand now, and what we need to change to move forward.

My Year at FDL: A Review

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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