New Questions About Conflict-of-Interest Throw Doubt on APA’s “Independent Review” of CIA Links

CIA denies records responsive to request on APA-CIA-RAND meeting

A report by psychologists and human rights workers released at the end of April charged officials of the American Psychological Association with collaborating with Bush administration officials, including members of the CIA, in furthering the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” torture program. The report, titled “All the President’s Psychologists,” drew upon emails from a deceased RAND Corporation researcher, Scott Gerwehr, who evidently worked in some capacity with the CIA.

“The APA’s complicity in the CIA torture program, by allowing psychologists to administer and calibrate permitted harm, undermines the fundamental ethical standards of the profession,” the report, which was published by The New York Times, said.

APA countered these charges, which also were raised by New York Times journalist James Risen last year, by engaging “David Hoffman of the law firm Sidley Austin to conduct an independent review of whether there is any factual support for the assertion that APA engaged in activity that would constitute collusion with the Bush administration to promote, support or facilitate the use of ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques by the United States in the war on terror,” according to a statement by the psychologist organization last November.

But this “independent review” into links between APA and the CIA torture program was compromised, according to my own research, by links between its leader, David H. Hoffman, and former members of the CIA, including former director George Tenet, who headed the Agency at the time it constructed and implemented its post-9/11 torture program.

This article will demonstrate that Hoffman and his law firm also have professional links to a former chairman of the think-tank RAND Corporation, Newton Minow. RAND played a key role in the controversies surrounding APA and torture, as discussed below. It is the contention of this article that together with the revelations concerning Hoffman’s ties to former CIA figures, including Tenet, and now links to a key RAND figure, that the potential for conflicts-of-interest can not be ignored.

RAND’s History

According to RAND’s website, its organization is nonprofit and “nonpartisan…. independent of political and commercial pressures.” The Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch website reports that “one-half of RAND’s research involves national security issues.” RAND reports that roughly five percent of its work is classified. Besides national security issues, RAND has long produced analyses concerning health care, education, and other topics.

RAND was active in the counter-terror/counterinsurgency prosecution of the Vietnam War. They offered expertise to CIA advisers working on the interrogation-torture-assassination program known as Project Phoenix. Such collaboration is mentioned in a 2009 RAND history of Phoenix. This study has nothing to say of Phoenix’s history of torture, and barely even mentions the use of interrogation, while trying to refute charges of assassination by Phoenix teams. According to RAND’s analysis, “decisionmakers would be wise to consider how Phoenix-style approaches might serve to pry open Taliban and Al-Qaeda black boxes.” [pg. 24])

Douglas Valentine in his book, The Phoenix Project, describes how top CIA Phoenix official, Robert “Blowtorch” Komer, left the Agency to work for RAND in 1970.

Perhaps most famously, RAND Corporation was the source of the famous Pentagon Papers, as RAND analysts, including Daniel Ellsberg, had been involved in collecting the papers that made up the famous secret history of U.S. policy in Vietnam. Interestingly, it was Minow, as then-appointed chair of RAND’s Board of Trustees who led the damage control effort there after the Ellsberg leak.

Most recently, RAND has been active in consulting on counterinsurgency tactics in the post-9/11 “war on terror.”

The Role of RAND Corporation in CIA’s Torture Scandal

While charges of APA collaboration with both CIA and the Department of Defense on interrogation policies, including use of torture, go back some years now, the issue took on greater urgency after New York Times journalist James Risen revealed details of such collaboration in his book Pay Any Price.

Risen’s new information was based on a collection of emails he obtained that belonged to a deceased RAND Corporation researcher, Scott Gerwehr. The emails proved Gerwehr worked closely with CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard. Hubbard was the head of CIA’s Operational Assessment Division, and from 2005-09 was a contractor with Mitchell-Jessen and Associates, a company linked by Senate investigators to use of torture.

A key instance of the alleged collaboration between APA and CIA was the joint sponsorship of a group of workshops on “The Science of Deception,” held at RAND’s Arlington, Virginia offices on July 17-18, 2003. As I reported back in May 2007, one of the workshops included “scenarios” for discussion that included “pharmacological agents… known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior, and the use of “sensory overloads” to “overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors.”

Journalist Katherine Eban reported much the same about the workshop later that year in a seminal article for Vanity Fair, which exposed the fact CIA psychologists James Bruce Mitchell and Jessen had been present at the event.

The APA-CIA-RAND joint workshops were organized by RAND’s Gerwehr, CIA’s Hubbard, and APA’s then “senior scientist” Susan Brandon, and APA’s Director of Science Policy, Geoff Mumford. In 2010, I reported that APA’s online linkage to the offensive “scenarios” had been scrubbed from APA’s website.

Someone doesn’t want the full story on this event to be known. As recently as November 2011, in a FOIA response to this author, the CIA claimed it could find no records pertaining to the 2003 APA-CIA-RAND meeting or workshops. (See PDF of response.) Risen and his collaborators on the Gerwehr-APA story also have failed to release all the information they have in their possession regarding the same event.

Similarly, in response to a FOIA I filed, the FBI could find no responsive documents regarding documents supposedly turned over to it by one of the authors of the “President’s Psychologists” report,  Nathaniel Raymond. Raymond told me via email, “I directed the FBI and Durham in fall of 2010 during an in person meeting at DoJ HQ to where and how to obtain the [Gerwehr] emails. Durham and the FBI independently obtained the emails in the spring of 2011 based on the information I provided in 2010…. Any requests for access to the additional 600+ emails used in our analysis should be directed to [James Risen].” At the FBI’s request, on May 6, 2015 I provided more information to assist the FBI in their records search. The FOIA request is still active.

Campaign Contributions

The critics who have opposed APA, or at least those who wrote the “President’s Psychologists” report, which highlighted charges of APA complicity with intelligence agencies in the furtherance of the CIA’s torture program, have publicly ignored charges that the APA-initiated “independent investigation” had serious conflict-of-interest problems due to Hoffman’s relationships with Tenet and also Tenet’s CIA Special Counsel from 1998-2000, Kenneth J. Levit.

(The use of “investigation” rather than “review” is a preference of APA’s critics, and has been taken up by most of the press. It is my contention that the “review” barely, if at all, deserves the nomenclature of an “investigation.” The word “investigate” or “investigation” never appears in the APA’s “Board of Directors Resolution Regarding Independent Review.” Hoffman himself, however, has used the term, as will be seen below.)

The “President’s Psychologists” report never mentions or raises any questions about the obscure association between Hoffman and Tenet and Levit, nor do they seem to have investigated any such associations on their own.

The mainstream press fares no better. Articles that mention the Hoffman “investigation,” including by James Risen at the New York Times and Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!, fail to mention Hoffman’s link to CIA figures. One exception to this coverage was James Bradshaw at the National Psychologist who noted Hoffman’s uncovered links to key CIA personnel.

In an email exchange with this author last December, David Hoffman refused to elaborate on the nature or his relationship with both Tenet and Levit in recent years. His known professional relationship goes back to Hoffmann’s work in Sen. David Boren’s office in the early 1990s, when Boren was chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Tenet was the SSCI’s Staff Director. Levit also worked in Boren’s office at that time.

Recently I discovered that Levit gave over $1,700 to Hoffman’s abortive Senate campaign in 2010, a fact Hoffman had not revealed. I’ve asked Hoffman whether he knew about Levit’s contributions, but as of press time he has not responded on that issue. I will update this post with Hoffman’s response if or when I receive it. Meanwhile, Hoffman’s response to other issues raised here is discussed below.

Meanwhile, discussion of the role of RAND Corporation in the whole scandal is either muted or totally ignored. In The Intercept’s October 2014 story about the APA controversy, Gerwehr’s employment by RAND is never mentioned. He is only referred to as a “behavioral science researcher.” Gerwehr’s work on counterterrorism and urban combat is never mentioned. The author of the story, Cora Currier, also never mentions the 2003 joint APA-CIA-RAND workshop described above, even though it is a key part of the narrative of the entire scandal, as reported by Risen, Eban, and others.

Minow’s Links to RAND, Donald Rumsfeld, and David Hoffman

The most intriguing new information regarding the APA-CIA scandal concerns the fact that one of a handful of senior counsels in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin where David Hoffman works is Newton Minow. According to Sidley Austin’s website, Minow was “a partner with the firm from 1965-1991.” For much of that time, and beyond, he was also a member of the Board of Trustees for RAND Corporation, and was Chair of the Board in the early 1970s.

Minow is not only the former chairman of RAND Corporation, he is an incredibly well-linked member of the political establishment, going back to the Kennedy Administration. In more recent years, he has been a political consultant to President Barack Obama. (Obama had been an intern for Sidley Austin in Chicago, recruited by Minow’s daughter, Martha, who is currently dean of Harvard Law School.)

Minow’s resume is by Establishment standards quite distinguished. He is a former chairman of the FCC and of the Carnegie Foundation. He is a former Vice Chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, and is still listed as a member of its Board of Directors.

Minow’s plea for more U.S. funding for international broadcasting efforts like those of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Radio Marti, and his vilification of Al Jazeera as Osama bin Laden’s “favored news outlet” made it into the pages of Congressional Record.

Perhaps most telling in Minow’s resume is the sponsorship of a scholarship in his name at the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California, which RAND bills as “the largest public policy analysis Ph.D. program in the United States.” The Newton M. Minow Scholarship was initially funded with a $150,000 grant from Donald Rumsfeld, a noted torture figure himself.

Minow’s linkage to RAND does not end there. As recently as 2003, he was on the Board of Advisors for RAND’s Public Safety and Justice division. He is one of a small number of individuals in RAND’s “Legacy Circle,” having contributed an estate gift to RAND. According to RAND’s 2006 Annual Report, Minow has donated something between $100,000 and $249,999 to RAND over the years.

Hoffman’s known public linkage to Minow is sparse, but worth noting. He serves with Minow on the advisory board for the Chicago chapter of the American Constitutional Society. (To be fair, H. Candace Gorman, a noted attorney for Guantanamo detainees, is also on the ACS advisory board.)

Hoffman also served as a co-author for an amicus brief for which he represented Minow, and others, as Amici Curiae. The brief was published in January 2015.

According to an article in The New York Times, in 2002, Minow was one of a number of “outside experts” the Bush Administration consulted with on its implementation of military commissions. The Times described Minow as a “longtime friend of Mr. Rumsfeld.”

Rumsfeld led the Department of Defense at a time it was implementing torture at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan. He personally approved “use of ‘stress positions,’ the removal of clothing, the use of dogs, and isolation and sensory deprivation” on detainees. Many forms of torture were countenanced under Rumsfeld, including water torture. Numerous lawsuits have been filed to hold the former Bush administration figure accountable.

In a request for comment from APA, Public Communications Executive Director Rhea Farberman did not respond to a direct question about foreknowledge regarding any link between Hoffman and Minow. In an email, she said only, “APA has complete confidence that Mr. Hoffman is conducting his review in a thorough and fully independent manner.”

But as we shall see, soon after accepting APA’s charge as “independent” reviewer, Hoffman was discussing the project with Newton Minow.

Hoffman Responds

I asked David Hoffman to further explain his contacts with Minow. He replied via email.

As you may know, Newt Minow was FCC Chairman under JFK and gave the famous “TV as a vast wasteland” speech in 1961. At 89 years old, he remains a prominent civic and community figure in Chicago. I had heard of Newt Minow but had not met him before I joined Sidley in 2011. I speak with him from time to time, but not frequently, and do not socialize with him.

As regards possible contact with Minow on the amicus brief noted above, Hoffman explained that Minow “was one of the former governments [sic] officials and public interest groups who were the listed amici in the matter,” and Minow did not work on the brief.

Even more specifically, Hoffman explained, “Mr. Minow is not working on the APA matter, and I have never worked on a matter with him.”

Still, soon after Hoffman took the job to head the APA-initiated review into the charges of collusion with the CIA, raised by James Risen and others, Hoffman did discuss the matter with his firm’s senior counsel:

Shortly after the public announcement by APA in November 2014 that I had been engaged to conduct an independent investigation in this matter, I saw Mr. Minow and told him about this new engagement. At the time, I did not know that he had been affiliated with the Rand Corp. I have not had any contact with Mr. Minow about the matter since then.

Hoffman added, “In response to your inquiry, I looked up when Mr. Minow was chairman of Rand, and I see that it was 44 years ago (1970-71). I do not believe that Mr. Minow’s past affiliation with Rand creates a conflict of interest for us in this matter.”

Indeed, Minow was Chair of the Board of Trustees at RAND at the time the Pentagon Papers were released by former RAND researcher Daniel Ellsberg. A RAND history of the period describes the Pentagon Papers leak as sending RAND management into “a tailspin.” The government took away RAND’s security clearance, and it was Minow who led the campaign to get it back, and make the necessary changes to policy and personnel to restore the think-tank back to the government’s good graces.

But Minow’s contribution to RAND did not end there. As noted above, he served on RAND advisory boards until the 2000s. While he was Chair of RAND’s Board of Trustees as far back as the early 1970s, Minow was a member of the Board almost continuously from 1965-1997. As recently as 2007, he was an “advisory trustee” to the organization.

I also asked Hoffman that, given Minow’s close relationship with Donald Rumsfeld, Hoffman had any contact with George W. Bush’s former Secretary of Defense. Hoffman stated flatly, “I have never met or spoken with Donald Rumsfeld.”

In a follow-up email, I asked Hoffman to elaborate more on the substance of his conversation with Minow about the APA review. Hoffman has not replied.

Minow is not the only person with links to RAND working in the Chicago Sidley Austin office. Another partner in the firm, Anne E. Rea, serves on the RAND Institute for Civil Justice Board of Overseers. In 2014, Rea gifted RAND with something between $25,000 and $49,999. (The same year Minow is listed as donating between $1,000 and $4,999.)

Hoffman said this about Rea, “I know Anne Rea, as she is a partner in Sidley’s Chicago office. We have never worked on a matter together; we have not spoken about the APA matter; and I did not know about any work she has done for the Rand Corp.”

Authors of “President’s Psychologists” report respond

I asked the authors of the report “All the President’s Psychologists” — who told me they did not know about Hoffman’s links to Minow until I told them — to respond to this revelation. Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner and Nathaniel Raymond sent me an email on May 27:

“We and others have pressed for ‘internal review,’ an independent investigation of APA since our Open Letter in Response to the American Psychological Association Board in 2009 signed by 13 organizations,” Soldz and his colleagues wrote. “Our call was always for the investigatory organization to be selected by independent human rights organizations precisely to avoid the types of potential conflicts of interest you raise. Thus, we were initially concerned when the APA Board itself selected Mr. Hoffman to investigate potential complicity by key staff and elected officials including possible complicity by past and current Board members.”

The email noted that “questions have only escalated” about the investigation when APA Board of Representatives revealed their plan to delay the report’s public release for months of alleged “internal review.” Soldz et al. have alleged such delay violates “the clear precedent that investigations of unethical or criminal behavior by organizations are immediately made public.”

The authors of the critical report told me, “once Mr. Hoffman was selected, we chose to work with his team and have shared whatever information, documents, and opinions they requested…. Our experience with Mr. Hoffman and his team has given us every reason to believe that they are pursuing leads without limitation or constraint…. The proof of their independence will be in the honesty and comprehensiveness of their report.”

Soldz and his co-authors state, “We intend to assess the true independence of the Hoffman team’s work through observing how he accounts for the evidence already in the public domain, including the data we released in our April 30, 2015 report.”

But accounting for “evidence already in the public domain” seems a weak demonstration of investigatory zeal and honesty, much less comprehensiveness. Such accounting has little to do with an investigation qua investigation, but seems to be more about validating previously held beliefs or findings. Such an investigation isn’t expected to dig deeper or make new findings.

Indeed, it seems tendentious to call it an investigation at all, if that is all that is expected from it. The APA has termed only an “internal review of whether there is any factual support” for charges of collusion on torture during the Bush years. Such a “review,” for instance, would not touch on current APA support for psychologists at U.S. detention sites like Guantanamo where Appendix M interrogations take place. Last November, the United Nations stated that some Appendix M techniques created psychosis in prisoners and others amounted to “ill-treatment.”

The APA has been silent about this, even though there is an APA-member initiated referendum that passed some years ago stating APA should tell psychologists not to work at sites that have human rights violations, as determined by organizations such as the United Nations.

Meanwhile, supporters of the “President’s Psychologists” report have launched a petition campaign after news leaked out that the APA was going to take its time in making any release of Hoffman’s findings public.

Such supporters would do as much or more good by asking the authors of “President’s Psychologists” to release the full list of attendees at the 2003 APA-RAND-CIA workshops, which I am under the impression they hold.

[Correction: Stephen Soldz has written to remind me that a list of those attendees was given by him and the co-authors of the President’s Psychologists report to The Intercept. It was disclosed in a link published within an April 2015 article by Cora Currier. The full list and accompanying documentation has been posted online at DocumentCloud. Sadly, Currier never analyzed the document in depth. But most immediately what springs up as important is the presence at these meetings (which included Mitchell, Jessen, and other CIA personnel) of the chief of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Stephen Band, among other FBI personnel. What that means is that the collaboration on interrogation matters was much wider among governmental agencies than previously disclosed.]

In the spirit of complete transparency, the full text of the responses to my inquiries, sent via email by Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Nathaniel Raymond, and David Hoffman, are available at this link.

For a Fair, Just Inquiry

Those who are repelled by the actions of APA and other professional organizations and institutions in regards to the U.S. torture scandal likely will have to look beyond this “independent review” by APA’s contractor. The entire affair is reminiscent of the controversy over the UK torture inquiry that was headed by Sir Peter Gibson.

That inquiry, following on revelations about UK collaboration with the U.S. rendition program and the torture of prisoners like Binyam Mohamed, was announced by the British government. But British human rights groups refused to support this blatant attempt at a whitewash or limited hangout of UK involvement in torture, not least because the man picked to lead the investigation, Peter Gibson, had deep ties himself to the intelligence world. The lack of transparency over procedures was another problem. In 2012, the British government scrapped the investigation, citing conflicts with other investigations.

British human rights groups at the time made clear just what is needed in an inquiry of this sort. They noted that “to comply with basic human rights standards, it is essential that an inquiry, among other things” should be both “independent” and “subject to public scrutiny.”

Amnesty International and eight other UK NGOs wrote: “The persons responsible for and carrying out the inquiry must be fully independent of any institution, agency or person who may be the subject of, or are otherwise involved in, the inquiry.”

As far as I know, Hoffman’s links to the intelligence world are much less dramatic than Gibson’s, and reasonable people may disagree about the degree of conflict of interest involved in his “review” or “investigation.”

Yet, while in the case of the Gibson inquiry, Amnesty and the others were writing about a governmental investigation, the same need for independence and transparency is true for any inquiry, including into the relationships of APA with intelligence or military-linked agencies. It is not any claim upon Mr. Hoffman’s own integrity to say that his links, and that of the firm where he works, to former CIA and RAND officials, not to mention the fact APA chose its own “investigator,” in this instance present conflicts of interest that place into doubt the integrity of his “review,” no matter what results it may claim, or when it is released.

Some of Former CIA Detainee Majid Khan’s Memories of Torture Are Declassified

majidkhanThe Center for Constitutional Rights has released new details about the torture of Majid Khan, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who was captured by the United States in March 2003. Khan was held in secret detention at CIA black sites until 2006 when he was transferred to Guantanamo.

According to declassified notes, his doctors were some of his “worst torturers.” Khan pleaded for a physician to help him. The physician responded by sending Khan back to an interrogation room to be hung from a metal bar, where he remained for 24 hours.

Khan had already experienced this torture. He was interrogated afterward and emasculated by guards as they “forced” him “to write his own ‘confession’ while being filmed naked if he wanted some rest.” Afterward, he was “numb” and unable to move for several days.

In May and July 2003, Khan was waterboarded.

“Guards and interrogators brought him into a bathroom with a tub,” according to CCR. “The tub was filled with water and ice.”

“Shackled and hooded, they placed Khan feet-first into the freezing water and ice. They lowered his entire body into the water and held him down, face-up in the water. An interrogator forced Khan’s head under the water until he thought he would drown.”

An interrogator then pulled Khan’s head out of the water and demanded he answer his questions. He forced his head back into the ice bath. Khan also had water and ice poured on his mouth and nose when his head was not being held under water.

Guards repeatedly beat and threatened to beat Khan with tools. In one instance, a hammer was pulled out and shown to Khan. The guard threatened to bash Khan’s head in with the hammer. Sometimes the men who threatened him smelled of alcohol.

Khan was sexually assaulted and had his “private parts” touched while he was hanging naked from the ceiling. He was subject to rectal feeding, which was included in the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA torture.

While at a black site, Khan was hung by his hands “from a wooden beam for three days.” He was “naked and shackled” and given water but not food. This torture also sought to destroy his masculinity. (more…)

Over Easy: Texas War Veteran Dies in Custody Saying “I Can’t Breathe” 20 Times

On July 13, 2012, Sgt. James Brown, an active duty Fort Bliss soldier, self-reported to the El Paso County jail to serve a 48-hour sentence for a DUI. Brown, who had served two tours of combat duty in Iraq, wrote on a jail form that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. According to a news report, Brown contacted his mother after he checked in to the jail, and explained that the jail now wanted him to stay for a week, and that he had decided that he “just wanted to pay the court fine and get out of here.” His mother sent the money for the fine, but James Brown never returned home. He was 26 years old.

The autopsy report said that Brown died of natural causes related to “sickle cell crisis.” Local news station KFOX14 fought “all the way to the attorney general” to obtain the video showing what happened in the jail in the moments before Brown’s death.

At some point, Brown experiences an episode of bleeding, although it is unclear where on his body he is bleeding. A staff team wearing riot gear storm the cell, restrain and shackle Brown, and perform a forced cell extraction- but Brown is not fighting. He pleads repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.” The staff carries Brown to the ‘infirmary,’ and even though Brown is audibly short of breath and his condition is obviously deteriorating, no ambulance is called. Instead of summoning help, the guards place a spit hood over his head. James Brown’s family attorney B.J. Crow described to KFOX:

B.J. Crow: “When a 26-year-old active military person checks into jail for a court-imposed sentence on a Friday, and he leaves Sunday, you know, in a casket, something went horribly wrong there. … He was bleeding out the ears, the nose, the mouth. His kidneys shut down. His blood pressure dropped to a very dangerous level. And his liver shut down.”

In the end, James Brown dies naked in a cell, not blinking or responding.

The family is suing for wrongful death.

James Brown, who survived two tours of duty as a combat soldier, was murdered. The autopsy report may also be suspect- because he would likely be alive today but for the torture at the hands of jail guards, his death was more accurately a homicide. The jail fought hard to keep the video secret. There are various versions of ‘sickle cell crisis,’ a condition that requires immediate medical attention. Brown needed to be in an ICU, not a torture chamber. I believe that the staff should be indicted, because they are dangerous.

Government Seeks ‘Emergency Stay’ of Decision Ordering Release of Thousands of Torture Photos

The United States government requested an “emergency stay” of a federal court decision, which ordered thousands of photographs of detainee abuse and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan to be released.

In March, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court of the Southern District of New York was no longer willing to tolerate the government’s secrecy arguments or the government’s refusal to individually review each photo and explain why each photo would pose a national security risk if made public.

The judge immediately issued a temporary stay and gave the government 60 days to file an appeal.

With that 60-day period about to elapse, the government abruptly announced it would appeal on May 15 and filed a motion requesting a stay.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has pursued the release of records related to detainee treatment and “the death of prisoners in United States custody and abroad after September 11, 2001,” since October 2003, objected in a letter to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals [PDF].

“The government simply does not explain why it could not have made its decision long before the eve of the expiration of the stay granted by the district court,” the ACLU declares. “Its last minute decision to do so is abusive of both the court and counsel and should not be rewarded by the routine grant of this kind of motion which the government expressly seeks.”

Back in August, when Hellerstein ruled that the Secretary of Defense’s certification for keeping the photos secret was “inadequate,” the government was instructed to individually review the photographs and inform the court of why each photograph could not be released. Government attorneys rebuffed his request.

In October and February, the court reminded the government that the Secretary of Defense had to certify each picture “in terms of its likelihood or not to endanger American lives.” It explained again afterward that the government could not certify a mass of photographs as a risk to national security. The government never complied, which led to the judge’s decision in March.

The Protected National Security Documents Act (PNSDA) was passed in October 2009 to amend the Freedom of Information Act. It was the prime measure supported by President Barack Obama to ensure torture photographs remained secret.

The law established that “photographs could be made exempt from disclosure for a three-year certification by the Secretary of Defense to the effect that publication would endanger American lives.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked President Barack Obama not to release photographs of detainees abuse, for “fear of the consequences.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates filed a certification to prevent the release of photographs and the court upheld that certification.

Three years later, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta renewed the certification, even though US troops had withdrawn and the war in Iraq had been declared over. (Military operations against ISIS were not ongoing at the time.)

The ACLU points out in the letter to the judge, “PNSDA did not strip courts of the power to review the basis for the secretary’s suppression of otherwise public documents.” The Secretary of Defense “must provided some basis to believe that he reviewed each photograph and evaluated its individual risk in advance of certification.”

Only a “sample of photographs” were ever reviewed by the government for this lawsuit, and the ACLU argues an “emergency stay” should not be granted because the government is not likely to succeed in its appeal.

The government maintains in its motion that an “emergency stay” will cause minimal harm to the ACLU. On the other hand, no stay will mean the photographs are released and the “status quo” is destroyed. It will harm the ability of the government to appeal.

“The absence of a stay will cause the disclosure of records that the Secretary of Defense has certified to be exempt from disclosure under the PNSDA, a statute that was enacted by Congress in order to protect U.S. citizens, members of the US Armed Services, and US government employees from harm while overseas,” the government argues. (more…)

CIA Investigation Minimizes Use of Drugs on Rendition & Black Site Detainees

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The CIA has released documents regarding a 2008 Inspector General (IG) investigation into the use of “mind-altering” drugs to enhance or facilitate interrogations undertaken as part of their rendition, “black site” detention, and interrogation-torture (RDI) program. Not surprisingly, a brief investigation found, according to a January 29, 2009 newly declassified letter sent from the CIA IG to Senator Dianne Feinstein, then-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), that CIA had not used any drugs on detainees for the purpose of interrogations.

The documents were released to Jason Leopold at VICE News, who posted a comprehensive article examining them earlier today. Leopold and I have previously written on the subject of drugging prisoners, and examined an earlier Department of Defense IG report on the subject a few years ago, as well as the use of mefloquine at Guantanamo, about which more below.

The CIA Inspector General, John L. Helgerson, referred Feinstein to a statement by the Director of CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS), to the effect that “no ‘mind-altering’ drugs were administered to facilitate interrogations and debriefings because no medications of any kind were used for that purpose.”

But as we shall see, there were many claims by prisoners of drugging during CIA renditions, and later by affiliated “liaison” government officials. Other prisoners claimed they were drugged during the time they were held by CIA itself at their black site prisons. None of those charges were addressed by Helgerson in his investigation, unless they were part of a 5-page section of the new CIA document release that was totally whited out by the CIA FOIA officials.

No CIA detainees were evidently ever interviewed as part of the IG investigation.

Helgerson said that he queried IG investigators working on another investigation of abuse claims by 16 high-value detainees then held at Guantanamo. The alleged abuse concerned treatment by CIA before the detainees were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006. Helgerson said the investigators had no knowledge of “the use of ‘mind-altering’ drugs as a part of the interrogation regimen.” Nothing is known about this IG investigation on detainee complaints.

Helgerson, who is now retired, did refer in his letter to Feinstein to the May 2004 CIA IG report that examined “isolated allegations of mistreatment or abuse of detainees, though he never specifically states that there were no claims of drugging in that “comprehensive review.”

Helgerson said that the CIA IG had investigated “a variety of specific unrelated detainee abuse allegations” since the 2004 report.

MKULTRA, KUBARK, and Phoenix

The issue of CIA drugging of prisoners has historical resonance since CIA engaged in a decades-long program of experimentation on the use of “truth serums” and other drugs, including LSD, for use in interrogations. Known under various acronyms, including Bluebird, MKDELTA and MKSEARCH, the program was best known in popular accounts as MKULTRA. The CIA’s KUBARK interrogation manual from the early 1960s drew specifically upon MKULTRA research when it advocated use of “narcosis” or the use of drugs for interrogations.

The latest version of the KUBARK manual (PDF), released to me last year after a Mandatory Declassification Request, showed a much heavier emphasis on the use of foreign “liaison” agencies for detention of CIA prisoners than had been previously revealed.

The CIA’s 1983 Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual also describes such liaison relationships in some depth, in addition to a discussion of using drugs during interrogation. According to National Security Archive, “The manual was used in numerous Latin American countries as an instructional tool by CIA and Green Beret trainers between 1983 and 1987 and became the subject of executive session Senate Intelligence Committee hearings in 1988 because of human rights abuses committed by CIA-trained Honduran military units.”

This aspect of the CIA’s program both before and after 9/11 has probably had the least amount of emphasis in the press, for partly understandable reasons, as the actions of police or intelligence agencies in foreign countries is least penetrable or open to examination by government or human rights agency, not to mention journalists. (more…)

US Establishment Press Dismiss, Shrug Off Seymour Hersh’s Story on Killing of bin Laden

(update below)

Most distressing about investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s story on the lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden is the general reaction of the United States establishment press.

Hersh is an award-winning journalist best known for exposing the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War. It earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He also did stellar reporting on the abuse and torture of detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Yet, most establishment press seem to be shrugging at Hersh’s latest 10,000-word feature story published by the London Review of Books or they are snidely dismissing it altogether.

Is it because most in the US press wholly accept the narrative put forward by the Obama administration around the raid that killed bin Laden? Is it because they have moved on and no longer find it worthy to investigate what really happened? Is it because they do not want to believe what Hersh is alleging because it amounts to a major international espionage conspiracy if it all happens to be true?

Christopher Frizzelle of The Stranger already went to the trouble to list off each allegation against the Obama administration that is made in Hersh’s story. So, courtesy of Frizzelle:

• Pakistani officials knew about the raid and even helped the US pull it off.

• There never was a firefight, neither in the yard outside the house nor once the Seals got inside.

• The story of the courier whom the reportedly CIA traced, leading them to bin Laden, was a fabrication.

• The story of the courier dying in the firefight was a cover-up “because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him,” a retired senior intelligence official told Hersh.

• The way the CIA actually found out where bin Laden was is that a “Pakistani walk-in” who wanted the $25 million reward came in and told the CIA about it.

• Osama bin Laden was not armed, contrary to reports that he had a machine gun and was killed in a firefight, and he was not killed with just one or two bullets but “obliterated.”

• “Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen,” that same retired senior intelligence official said.

• “Despite all the talk” about what the Seals collected on site, the retired official said there were “no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks.”

• The story about bin Laden’s sea burial may be a fabrication.

• The retired official told Hersh that bin Laden’s “remains, including his head… were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains—or so the Seals claimed.”

• Obama was going to wait a week until after bin Laden’s death to announce it, and he was going to tell the American people that bin Laden had been killed by a drone, but after the Seals had to blow up their malfunctioning helicopter onsite, attracting attention locally, everything changed.

• The story about the vaccination program carried out locally in an attempt to get bin Laden’s DNA—a story that “led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying”—wasn’t true.

• Retired official again: “It’s a great hoax.”

What are Hersh’s sources for these claims against the Obama administration?

Hersh relies on a “major US source” who is not named in the story. The person is described as a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” He also sources his claims to two additional unnamed US sources, “who had access to corroborating information” and have been “longtime consults to the Special Operations Command.”

He writes that he received information from “inside Pakistan” that indicates “senior ISI and military leadership” were upset with Obama’s decision to immediately go public with the news that bin Laden was killed. He also quotes Asad Durrani, who was the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, in the 1990s.

One of the key criticisms of Hersh’s story is that it relies on anonymous sources. However, should this criticism be allowed to invalidate the claims put forward by Hersh? (more…)