Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Stephen Webber, was published by The Raw Story, October 5, 2009
The United States government admitted on Monday that the torture of a Saudi man alleged to be part of the 9/11 plot was recorded on video, according to court documents procured by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The tapes, allegedly showing the torture of Mohammed al Qahtani, 31, have long been kept under wraps, but a discovery motion for video of his interrogations led the court to acknowledge their existence and order their release.
"The videotapes the government is required to produce will reveal the time period at the end of three months of intensive solitary confinement and isolation that immediately preceded the implementation of the 'First Special Interrogation Plan,' a regime of systematic torture techniques approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for use against Mr. al Qahtani," claimed a CCR media advisory.
Lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights have represented Qahtani since 2005. The accused 9/11 plotter has been a Guantanamo inmate since 2002.
According to Susan Crawford, convening authority at the Office of Military Commissions, "We tortured Qahtani."
Crawford's statements to The Washington Post in Jan. 2009 made her the first senior Bush administration official to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.
"His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution said Crawford.
She added that US military interrogators repeatedly subjected Qahtani to sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition."
"The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent," she said.
"This was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture.
"Military prosecutors said in November that they would seek to refile charges against Qahtani [...] based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques," noted The Washington Post. "But Crawford, who dismissed war crimes charges against him in May 2008, said in the interview that she would not allow the prosecution to go forward.
"After the intense scrutiny of the government’s torture and interrogation of Mr. al Qahtani, it is shocking that the government has hidden the existence of these tapes from the public for so many years," said CCR Attorney Gitanjali S. Gutierrez. "The government’s interrogation of him has been the topic of multiple military, Justice Department and congressional investigations. These tapes should have been acknowledged long ago."
"Mr. al Qahtani’s torture is already well-established, with a clear paper trail that leads all the way up the chain of command to the desk of Donald Rumsfeld," said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. "The revelation of these tapes indicates the government carefully documented horrific evidence of torture and abuse at Guantánamo. The only question that remains is whether the people ultimately responsible for it will be held accountable for breaking the law and breaking faith with our system of justice." The judge's order acknowledging the existence of the tapes and ordering their release may be read here (PDF link).
This ... white paper, published August 31, 2009, after the new release of the May 2004 CIA Inspector General's report, shows that the extent to which American doctors and psychologists violated human rights and betrayed the ethical standards of their professions by designing, implementing, and legitimizing a worldwide torture program is worse than previously known.
A team of PHR doctors authored the white paper, which details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees’ reaction to interrogation methods. Physicians for Human Rights is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA physicians and psychologists. (click here to read original report)
Introduction The version of the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report released on August 24, 2009 provides greater detail on the central role that health professionals played in the CIA’s torture program and reveals a level of ethical misconduct that had not previously come to light.
The report confirms that the CIA inflicted torture on detainees interrogated while in US custody as part of the agency’s counterterrorism activities and exposes additional interrogation techniques that had not yet been reported. It also demonstrates that health professionals were involved at every stage in the development, implementation and legitimization of this torture program.
The doctors and psychologists who laid the foundation upon which attorneys rationalized an illegal program of torture also actively participated in abusive and illegal interrogations, thus betraying the ethical standards of their professions by contributing to physical and mental suffering and anguish. The very premise of health professional involvement in abusive interrogations — that they have a role in safeguarding detainees — is an unconscionable affront to the profession of medicine.
The Inspector General’s report also reveals that medical professionals were directed to meticulously monitor the waterboarding of detainees to try to improve the technique’s effectiveness, essentially using the detainees as human subjects, a practice that approaches unlawful experimentation.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has prepared the following analysis of the Inspector General’s report, building on the 2007 report by PHR and Human Rights First (HRF), Leave No Marks, which assessed interrogation techniques reported up to that time, which have now been confirmed by the Inspector General’s report. This paper provides an introductory summary of techniques newly described in the Inspector General’s report and then offers a more detailed medical analysis of those techniques. The paper then reviews the various ways health professionals were complicit in enabling the torture regime. Summary of Newly Detailed Techniques
The Inspector General’s report describes several forms of abuse not previously reported that CIA interrogators and contractors implemented, and that from a medical and legal perspective constitute torture. These include:
Mock executions and threatening detainees by brandishing handguns and power drills;
Threatening the detainee with harm to his family members including sexual assault of female family members, and murder of detainee’s children; and
Physical abuse including the application of pressure to the arteries on the sides of a detainee’s neck resulting in near loss of consciousness, and tackling or hard takedowns.
These methods have significant harmful physical and mental health consequences.
The report provides new details about previously reported forms of abuse referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The harmful health consequences of these forms of torture and abuse have previously been described by PHR, including in the reports Break Them Down, Leave No Marks and Broken Laws, Broken Lives.” (1)
The Inspector General’s report clearly questions the efficacy, ethics and legality of these as well as the previously mentioned “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The report also confirms the theory of a “slippery slope” in interrogation settings, namely that torture by its very nature escalates in the severity and frequency of its use beyond the approved techniques.
Medical Analysis of the Interrogation Techniques Described in the Inspector General’s Report
The adverse physical and mental health effects of stripping (forced nudity), isolation, white noise or loud music, continuous light or darkness (sensory deprivation), temperature manipulation, stress positions, sleep deprivation, attention slap, abdominal slap, stress positions and waterboarding have been previously described in the Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First report Leave No Marks. The following medical analysis focuses on techniques not previously reviewed by PHR.
As with the techniques previously analyzed, it is important to understand two key points. First, while the techniques are evaluated individually, these techniques were designed to be used in combination in a way that enhanced pain and stress.
Second, to comprehend the severity of the effects of these techniques, it is essential to consider the context of their use. In terms of both long and short term psychological effect, there is no meaningful equivalence between waterboarding when used as part of survival training of service men who have volunteered and consented to the procedure and who know that they are in an environment where they trust the mock interrogator to protect their safety and may stop the procedure at any time, and waterboarding of a high value detainee in a black site where the detainee is in actual fear for his life and safety. As the Inspector General’s report indicates:
“One of the psychologist/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the [waterboarding] technique differed from that used in SERE training and explained that the Agency’s technique is different because it is ‘for real’ and is more poignant and convincing.” (2)
Analysis of New Approved Techniques Revealed in Inspector General’s Report
The additional approved techniques listed in the Inspector General’s report and not previously analyzed by PHR include shaving, hooding, restricted diet, prolonged diapering, “walling” and confinement boxes.
As with the previously reviewed techniques, while these techniques can have harmful physical as well as mental health effects, their chief objective is to produce psychological impact, and their chief risk is prolonged mental pain and suffering. 1. Forced shaving
Forced shaving of the head and beard was alleged by two of the fourteen detainees interviewed by the ICRC for its 2007 report.
Mr. Ramzi Bin-al-Shib alleged that, in his eighth place of detention, first his head was shaved and then some days later his beard was also shaved off. He was particularly distressed by the fact that the people who shaved him allegedly deliberately left some spots and spaces in order to make him look and feel particularly undignified and abused. (3)
In 2007, PHR physicians examined a former US detainee, who reported:
“When they finished hitting me... they shaved my hair. The only hair I had was in the middle. This was only to humiliate me.” (4)
Medical Analysis: Forced shaving obviously carries little risk of physical harm, and is chiefly designed to inflict psychological harm by means of humiliation, both personal and religious. Forced shaving was part of a campaign to sever the sense of self derived from religious belief, and was often accompanied by forced removal of religious articles.
In addition to the violation of cultural and religious taboos, forced shaving constitutes an intrusion into the personal space and bodily integrity of the person, infringing on autonomy and self-control. The combined effects of this type of treatment in combination with other techniques have been associated with long-lasting psychological injury such as posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. 2. Hooding
Detainees were blindfolded or hooded to instill in them a sense of fear, disorientation and dependency on their captors.
According to the February 2004 report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on treatment of detainees in Iraq:
Hooding [was] used to prevent people from seeing and to disorient them, and also to prevent them from breathing freely. One, or sometimes two bags, sometimes with an elastic blindfold over the eyes which, when slipped down, further impeded proper breathing. Hooding was sometimes used in conjunction with beatings thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would came. The practice of hooding also allowed the interrogators to remain anonymous and thus to act with impunity. Hooding could last for periods from a few hours to up to 2 to 4 consecutive days, during which hoods were lifted only for drinking, eating or going to the toilets.(5)
PHR reported in Broken Laws, Broken Lives that according to former detainees medically evaluated by PHR, hooding was used both during transportation and during interrogation.
Medical Analysis: When not used in transport, hooding is a form of sensory deprivation aimed at causing dislocation and confusion. Research shows that prolonged sensory deprivation can result in depression, depersonalization and psychosis. According to the ICRC report, hooding, and other observed sensory deprivation techniques resulted in
“signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behavior and suicidal tendencies.”(6)
3. dietary Manipulation
Detainees were deprived of solid food for periods ranging from days to months. Mr. Abu Zubaydah alleged that for a period of two to three weeks during his initial period of interrogation, he was kept sitting on a chair constantly and only provided with liquid Ensure (a nutrient formula) and water. Mr. Binal-Shib reported that he went three to four weeks without solid food, and was only provided with Ensure and water. In addition, six other high-value detainees reported being deprived of solid food for periods ranging from days to weeks. (7) Medical Analysis: While physical risks of a liquid diet are minimal as long as appropriate calories and nutrients are provided, the intent of dietary manipulation is to inflict psychological distress by infringing on the detainee’s sense of autonomy and self control and increasing discomfort and a sense of helplessness and dependency. While the risk of death or debilitation may be minimal, the effects on concentration and mood may be substantial. 4. Prolonged diapering
Detainees were placed in diapers and denied access to a toilet for prolonged periods of time. According to the ICRC Report, high value detainees in CIA custody were placed in diapers for prolonged periods for transport.
The detainee would be made to wear a diaper and dressed in a tracksuit... The journey times obviously varied considerably and ranged from one hour to over twenty-four to thirty hours. The detainee was not allowed to go to the toilet and if necessary was obliged to urinate or defecate in the diaper.(8)
he ICRC report states that one of the detainees, Mr. Bin Attash, was compelled to wear a diaper for a prolonged period:
[H]e commented that on several occasions the diaper was not replaced so he had to urinate and defecate on himself while shackled in the prolonged stress standing position. Indeed, in addition to Mr. Bin Attash, three other detainees specified that they had to defecate and urinate on themselves and remain standing in their own body fluids.(9)
Medical Analysis: Prolonged diapering especially when combined with leaving the subject in a diaper soiled with urine and feces can result in both physical and psychological harm. Prolonged exposure of the skin can result in skin infection, skin breakdown and ulceration and urinary tract infections. In addition, the placement of a normally continent adult in a diaper will likely lead to efforts by the adult to resist urination or defecation, which in turn will likely result in bowel cramping and bladder spasm.
Access to toilet is a universally recognized minimum standard for prisoners and detainees. In spite of the physical risks, the chief aim of this technique is to cause psychological stress through humiliation, induced dependency, loss of autonomy, and regression to an infantile state.(10) Like all such techniques, especially when combined with others of the ‘DDD’ type (debility-dependency-dread), these are cumulative and lead to short and long-term debilitation. At Guantánamo, the standard operating procedures included requiring the detainee to ask the interrogator for toilet paper, food, and religious articles. Here, the torturers go even further, returning the detainee to pre-toilet-training levels. When combined with a liquid diet, the experiences of regression, humiliation, and dependency are magnified. 5. Walling
Six of the fourteen high-value detainees interviewed by the ICRC reported being placed in a neck collar or roll and then slammed against a wall. According to the CIA guidelines, slamming against a wall could be used twenty or thirty times consecutively.
During the walling technique, the detainee is pulled forward and then quickly and firmly pushed into a flexible false wall so that his shoulder blades hit the wall. His head and neck are supported with a rolled towel to prevent whiplash. (11)
Although the guidelines require that the wall be a specially constructed flexible one, some detainees alleged that they were also slammed against concrete wall using the collar during transport.(12)
Mr. Bin Attash alleged that during interrogation in Afghanistan:
“on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room.” (13)
Medical Analysis: Walling results in blunt trauma and acceleration/deceleration type injuries. Blunt trauma can result in bruises and bleeding from ruptured blood vessels. Studies have observed persistence of musculoskeletal pain cause by blunt trauma even a decade after the trauma has occurred. In rare cases, repeated beating can cause damage to muscle tissue and muscle breakdown resulting in release of muscle enzymes resulting in a life-threatening condition called rhabdomyolisis. In addition, walling can expose the subject to risk of whiplash type injury to the neck and spine. (14)
Psychological stress, which is the primary aim of the procedure, is achieved by use of surprise, generating a startle response, an experience of shock, loss of control and helplessness. Also, rage is engendered which turns to further humiliation, insofar as the detainee cannot fight back. 6. Confinement in a Box
Confinement in a box is a rather extreme version of a stress position with the added potential for claustrophobia.
According to the ICRC report, Abu Zubaydah alleged that in Afghanistan in 2002 he was held in boxes designed to constrain his movement. Mr. Zubaydah stated:
“As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant that my wounds both in the leg and the stomach became very painful.” (15)
He went on to say that a cover was placed over the boxes while he was inside making it hot and difficult to breathe. Medical Analysis: Confinement in a box is an extreme example of stress positions, with the added effect of decreased access to fresh air, temperature changes, light deprivation and isolation. Stress positions have been associated with permanent joint and ligamentous injury, and both acute and prolonged musculoskeletal pain. In addition, use of stress positions following blunt trauma carries the risk of deep vein thrombosis (clotting) and associated and potentially fatal pulmonary emboli. This is not a theoretical risk, as at least two detainees in US Custody in Afghanistan died of pulmonary emboli due to use of stress positions in interrogation settings.(16)
Confinement in a box was devised as a direct appropriation of Martin Seligman’s research on “learned helplessness.” In fact, on at least two occasions, Seligman presented his learned helplessness research to CIA contract interrogators referred to in the Inspector General’s report. In Seligman’s experiment, dogs were confined to boxes in which they discovered that familiar mechanisms of control would no longer have an effect in avoiding pain.
Like their canine counterparts, humans subjected to similar confinement develop psychomotor and cognitive responses that would be clinically diagnosed as depression and, in certain cases, PTSD. Such symptoms include apathy, helplessness, hopelessness, foreshortened sense of future, and a (in this case justified) lack of belief in their ability to affect their future prospects. In Seligman’s experiments, these symptoms were severe and lasting, in that a change to an environment where the dogs could have an effect did not change the symptoms of learned helplessness. (From the DoD’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) Programs.) Unapproved and Improvised Techniques
The Inspector General’s Report contains numerous accounts of interrogation techniques that were not approved for use, including threats with a gun and power drill, threats of harm to loved ones, and choking and carotid artery pressure.
Threats of harm to the detainee or loved ones are reviewed in Leave No Marks. The risks of choking and carotid artery pressure should be self-evident. They include risk of choking death and stroke, as well as high risk of psychological trauma from a near-death experience. Near-death experiences are highly correlated with the risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder. Role of Health Professionals in Torture
Health professionals played central roles in developing, implementing and providing justification for torture.
Health professionals in the Office of Medical Services and psychologist contractors (17) engaged in designing and monitoring harmful interrogation techniques.(18) Such medical participation in torture is a clear violation of medical ethics. Furthermore, health professionals were complicit in selecting and then rationalizing these abusive methods whose safety and efficacy in eliciting accurate information have no valid basis in science. The severe physical and psychological pain and enduring harms associated with these techniques make it evident that they constitute torture and ill treatment. Monitoring of interrogation techniques by medical professionals to determine their effectiveness uses detainees as human subjects without their consent, and thus also approaches unlawful experimentation.(19)
According to CIA guidelines, health professionals including a psychologist and doctor were required to be present during the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.(20) The required presence of health professionals did not make these methods safer, and in fact only served to sanitize their use and enable the abuse to escalate, thereby placing health professionals in the untenable position of calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers as required by their ethical oath.
The report also documents the role of health professionals in participating in initial psychological and physical assessments of detainees in an intake process closely linked to the process of interrogation. By requirement, all interrogations were monitored in real-time by health professionals. Previous reports, including the ICRC report, document allegations that a medical device called a pulse oximeter (a device to measure oxygen saturation in a subject’s blood) was placed on the finger of a detainee to monitor the effectiveness of his respiration during waterboarding.(21) In this way, medical professionals were used to calibrate physical and mental pain and suffering.
Not only were health professionals involved in designing and monitoring the CIA interrogation program, they also played an indirect but essential role in the legal justifications for the program prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC was asked by the CIA whether certain techniques constituted torture under 18 USC §2340 by causing “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” Since the OLC lawyers had no direct experience of the techniques, they necessarily relied instead on the judgment of health professionals. Yet, in a striking example of bootstrapping, they turned for advice about the pain caused by the techniques to the very health professionals who were implementing them. (22)
In essence, the lawyers were asked if the techniques constituted torture and they replied to the CIA that they only did so if the CIA Office of Medical Services (OMS) informed them that the techniques reached the defined standard of pain. The OMS health professionals obligingly passed on through CIA channels their opinion that the pain was not in fact severe
In an egregious example of this circular process, one OLC memo concludes that waterboarding is not torture because “however frightening the experience may be, OMS personnel have informed us that the waterboard technique is not physically painful.” Scores of similar references to OMS medical judgments about pain and the safeguarding effects of medical monitoring appear throughout the memos. Although OMS did express some concern about some techniques, those objections were limited. Without the cooperation of health professionals in making these assessments, the OLC memos could not have reached the conclusions they did and could not have so easily justified torture.
The intent of the CIA interrogation program was to cause severe psychological distress.(23) Despite citation of unnamed experts who reportedly concluded that these techniques were unlikely to cause significant harm, the notion that these abusive techniques can be used safely has no basis in medical science and is not supported by an extensive peer-reviewed literature.(24) From a medical, scientific and common sense perspective the idea that such abusive and inhumane techniques can be safely deployed is unsupportable. The techniques authorized and deployed have long been documented to cause significant and long lasting psychological pain and suffering including posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and major depression.(25) In fact, a recent study demonstrates that abusive techniques employed during captivity which emphasized psychological torture over physical injury, such as psychological manipulation, forms of deprivation, humiliation and stress positions, cause as much mental pain and traumatic stress as does torture designed to inflict physical injury. (26)
The use of these abusive methods violates international human rights standards. The likely illegality of the program was known to the agency and debated within the agency. Those advocating for the use of abusive techniques such as waterboarding should have known that the US had prosecuted these same techniques as torture. Health professionals who were involved in its justification, design and implementation should have known that professional ethics prohibit health professionals from complicity in such harmful acts against prisoners or detainees. It is precisely to avoid such complicity that health professionals have recourse to professional codes of ethics, as well as international standards of medical conduct. Familiarity with these codes – not to mention basic human decency – should preclude such conduct, making clear to health professionals and government institutions both its essentially unethical nature and illegal status under international law.
Not only should interrogators be subject to an investigation of alleged criminal conduct. Health professionals who were involved in this program should be the subject to independent investigation for both criminal and unprofessional conduct. Professionals who have violated professional ethics or the law must be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and professional society membership, where appropriate. Conclusion
The newly released version of the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report on Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities reveals the use of a number of previously undescribed techniques including:
Confinement in a box
These techniques used alone or in combination may meet the definition of torture under US and international law. Legality aside, they are associated with high risk of physical and psychological harm, including harm that is enduring, in those subjected to these techniques. They also represent clear violations of well-established medical ethics governing the behavior of health professionals.
The report also confirms use of previously reported techniques, covered in the PHR and Human Rights First report Leave No Marks, such as isolation, forced nudity, stress positions, temperature manipulation, waterboarding, and other techniques which were used in ways that violated the torture statute and international law.
The Inspector General’s report confirms much of what had been reported about the essential role played by health professionals in designing, deploying, monitoring and legitimizing the program of torture, but also raises disturbing new questions which require further investigation. The possibility that health professionals monitored techniques to assess and improve their effectiveness, constituting possible unethical human experimentation, urgently needs to be thoroughly investigated.
PHR has long called for full investigation and remedies including accountability for war crimes, and reparation such as compensation, medical care and psycho-social services. PHR also calls for health professionals who have violated ethical standards or the law to be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and loss of professional society membership where appropriate.
1)Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact. 2008. Available at: http://brokenlives.info/?page_id=69 ; Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces. 2005. Available at: http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/report-2005may.html ; Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality 2007. Available at: http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/ report-2007-08-02.html. 2) Inspector General’s report p. 37
3) ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody. International Committee of the Red Cross. February 2007. Available at http://www.nybooks.com/icrc-report.pdf.
4. Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact. 2008. Available at: http://brokenlives.info/?page_id=69. The former detainee’s history was deemed credible by examining physicians. He suffers from symptoms consistent with posttraumatic stress disorder.
5. ICRC Report.
6. ICRC Report.
7. ICRC Report.
8. ICRC Report.
9. ICRC Report.
10. “The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist. Regression is basically a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioral level. As the subject regresses, his learned personality traits fall away in reverse chronological order...” (Human Resource Exploitation Manual, CIA, 1983)
11. CIA guidelines as reproduced in Inspector General’s report, p. 15
12. ICRC Report.
13. ICRC Report.
14. Leave No Marks
15. ICRC Report.
16. Allen S. Rich J. Bux R. Farbenblum B. Berns M. Rubenstein L. Deaths of Detainees in the Custody of US Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005. Medscape General Medicine: 2006;8(4):46.
17. From the DoD’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) Programs.
18. “Several months earlier, in late 2001, CIA had tasked an independent contractor psychologist, who had [redacted] experience in the US Air Forces’ Survival, Evasion, resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, to research and write a paper on Al-Qa’ida’s resistance to interrogation techniques. This psychologist collaborated with a Department of Defense (DoD) psychologist who had [redacted] SERE experience in the US Air Force and DoD to produce the paper “Recognizing and Developing Countermeasures to Al-Qa’ida’s Resistance to Interrogation Techniques: A Resistance Training Perspective.” Subsequently, the two psychologists developed a list of new and more aggressive EIT’s [enhanced interrogation techniques] that they recommended for use in interrogations.” Inspector General’s Report p. 13. “CIA’s OTS obtained data on the use of the proposed EIT’s and their potential long-term psychological effects on detainees. OTS input was based in part on information solicited from a number of psychologist and knowledgeable academics in the area of psychopathology” and “OTS also solicited input from DoD/Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) regarding techniques used in SERE training and any subsequent psychological effects on students.” Inspector General’s Report p. 14.
19. The Office of Medical Services guidelines for waterboarding state “A rigid guide to the medically approved use of the waterboard is not possible, as safety will depend on how the water is applied and the specific response each time it is used. The following general guidelines are based on very limited knowledge, drawn from very few subjects whose experience and response was quite varied.” They add “NOTE: In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented: how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”
20. “In 2004, when Daniel B. Levin, then the acting assistant attorney general in the counsel’s office, sent a letter to the CIA reauthorizing waterboarding, he dictated the terms: “no more than two sessions of two hours each, per day, with both a doctor and a psychologist in attendance.” Report Shows Tight CIA Control on Interrogations. Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane. New York Times, August 26, 2009. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/ us/26prison.html?_r=1&hpw
21. ICRC report. Note that the use of a pulse oximeter, and the requirement that an emergency tracheostomy kit be kept ready is even more evidence that the procedure is intentionally harmful, risky and potentially lethal.
22. In certain cases the very same JPRA psychologists who designed the torture and implemented the techniques, and, who, as private contractors, profited from the operation, also provided the research that justified the techniques: “You have informed us that your on-site psychologists, who have extensive experience with the use of the waterboard in Navy training, have not encountered any significant long-term mental health consequences from its use. Your on-site psychologists have also indicated that JPRA has likewise not reported any significant mental health consequences from the use of the waterboard.”
23. CIA Inspector General’s Report. Appendix F. “Captured terrorists turned over to the CIA for interrogation may be subjected to a wide range of legally sanctioned techniques, all of which are also used on US military personnel in SERE training programs. These are designed to psychologically ‘dislocate’ the detainee, maximize his feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, and reduce or eliminate his will to resist our efforts to obtain critical intelligence.” In addition, the sanction techniques include so-called “Standard measures” or those deemed to be without physical or substantial psychological pressure and so-called “Enhanced measures,” or those deemed to cause physical or psychological pressure beyond “Standard measures.” (p. 1). “In all instances, the goal of these techniques is psychological impact...” and are “designed to induce shock, surprise and/or humiliation.” (p. 2).
24. See Leave No Marks and Broken Laws, Broken Lives. Although these reports were published in 2007 and 2008 respectively, they summarized scientific literature that was well established in 2001. In a bizarre justification for the safety of the techniques, the OLC report states, “You have also reviewed the relevant literature and found no empirical data on the effect of these techniques with the exception of sleep-deprivation.” OLC August 1, 2002, p. 6. Yet, there is a large body of research on the effects of these and similar techniques, much of it supported by the CIA. See for example The Search for the Manchurian Candidate (c) 1979 by John Marks. Published by Times Books.
25. PHR and HRF previously reported on the harmful effects of many of these techniques in their report Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation and the Risk of Criminality.
26. BasogluM.etal.Torturevs.OtherCruel,InhumanorDegradingTreatment: Is the Distinction Real or Apparent? Archives Gen. Psychiatry 277 (2007).
This presss release, by Jonathan Hutson, was published by Physicians for Human Rights, August 31, 2009
Cambridge, MA — The extent to which American physicians and psychologists violated human rights and betrayed the ethical standards of their professions by designing, implementing, and legitimizing a worldwide torture program is greater than previously known, according to a report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
A team of PHR doctors authored the new white paper, Aiding Torture: Health Professionals' Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 Inspector General's Report. The report details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees' reaction to interrogation methods. PHR is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA physicians and psychologists.
"Medical doctors and psychologists colluded with the CIA to keep observational records about waterboarding, which approaches unethical and unlawful human experimentation," says PHR Medical Advisor and lead report author Scott Allen, MD. For example, "Interrogators would place a cloth over a detainee's face to block breathing and induce feelings of fear, helplessness, and a loss of control. A doctor would stand by to monitor and calibrate this physically and psychologically harmful act, which amounts to torture. It is profoundly unsettling to learn of the central role of health professionals in laying a foundation for US government lawyers to rationalize the CIA's illegal torture program."
The Inspector General's report documents some practices — previously unknown or unconfirmed — that were used to bring about excruciating pain, terror, humiliation, and shame for months on end. These practices included:
Brandishing guns and power drills;
Threats to sexually assault family members and murder children;
"Walling" — repeatedly slamming an unresponsive detainee's head against a cell wall; and
Confinement in a box.
"These unlawful, unethical, and ineffective interrogation tactics cause significant bodily and mental harm," said co-author and PHR Senior Medical Advisor Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD. "The CIA Inspector General's report confirms that torture escalates in severity and torturers frequently go beyond approved techniques."
"The required presence of health professionals did not make interrogation methods safer, but sanitized their use, escalated abuse, and placed doctors and psychologists in the untenable position of calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers. The fact that psychologists went beyond monitoring, and actually designed and implemented these abuses – while simultaneously serving as 'safety monitors' – reveals the ethical bankruptcy of the entire program," stated co-author Steven Reisner, PhD, PHR's Psychological Ethics Advisor.
"That health professionals who swear to oaths of healing so abused the sacred trust society places in us by instigating, legitimizing and participating in torture, is an abomination," states co-author Allen Keller, MD, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. "Health professionals who aided torture must be held accountable by professional associations, by state licensing boards, and by society. Accountability is essential to maintain trust in our professions and to end torture, which scars bodies and minds, leaving survivors to endure debilitating injuries, humiliating memories and haunting nightmares."
PHR has called for full investigation and remedies, including accountability for war crimes, and reparation, such as compensation, medical care and psycho-social services. PHR also calls for health professionals who have violated ethical standards or the law to be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and loss of professional society membership where appropriate.
To download PHR's Aiding Torture, visit http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2009-08-31.html.
Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere in its groundbreaking reports, Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken Laws, Broken Lives.
This editorial, by Ali Soufan, was published in the New York Times, September 6, 2009
PUBLIC bravado aside, the defenders of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques are fast running out of classified documents to hide behind. The three that were released recently by the C.I.A. — the 2004 report by the inspector general and two memos from 2004 and 2005 on intelligence gained from detainees — fail to show that the techniques stopped even a single imminent threat of terrorism.
The inspector general’s report distinguishes between intelligence gained from regular interrogation and from the harsher methods, which culminate in waterboarding. While the former produces useful intelligence, according to the report, the latter “is a more subjective process and not without concern.” And the information in the two memos reinforces this differentiation.
They show that substantial intelligence was gained from pocket litter (materials found on detainees when they were captured), from playing detainees against one another and from detainees freely giving up information that they assumed their questioners already knew. A computer seized in March 2003 from a Qaeda operative for example, listed names of Qaeda members and money they were to receive.
Soon after Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in 2003, according to the 2005 memo, he “elaborated on his plan to crash commercial airlines into Heathrow Airport.” The memo speculates that he may have assumed that Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a fellow member of Al Qaeda who had been captured in 2002, had already divulged the plan. The same motivation — the assumption that another detainee had already talked — is offered to explain why Mr. Mohammed provided details about the Hambali-Southeast Asia Qaeda network.
Mr. Mohammed must have likewise assumed that his interrogators already had the details about Al Qaeda’s organizational structure that he gave them. When I testified in the trial of Salim Hamdan, who had been Osama bin Laden’s personal driver, I provided many unclassified details about Al Qaeda’s structure and operations, none of which came from Mr. Mohammed.
Some of the information that is cited in the memos — the revelation that Mr. Mohammed had been the mastermind of 9/11, for example, and the uncovering of Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber — was gained from another terrorism suspect, Abu Zubaydah, by “informed interrogation,” conducted by an F.B.I. colleague and me. The arrest of Walid bin Attash, one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted messengers, which was also cited in the 2005 C.I.A. memo, was thanks to a quick-witted foreign law enforcement officer, and had nothing to do with harsh interrogation of anyone. The examples go on and on.
A third top suspected terrorist who was subjected to enhanced interrogation, in 2002, was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the man charged with plotting the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole. I was the lead agent on a team that worked with the Yemenis to thwart a series of plots by Mr. Nashiri’s operatives in the Arabian Peninsula — including planned attacks on Western embassies. In 2004, we helped prosecute 15 of these operatives in a Yemeni court. Not a single piece of evidence that helped us apprehend or convict them came from Mr. Nashiri.
It is surprising, as the eighth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, that none of Al Qaeda’s top leadership is in our custody. One damaging consequence of the harsh interrogation program was that the expert interrogators whose skills were deemed unnecessary to the new methods were forced out.
Mr. Mohammed knew the location of most, if not all, of the members of Al Qaeda’s leadership council, and possibly of every covert cell around the world. One can only imagine who else we could have captured, or what attacks we might have disrupted, if Mr. Mohammed had been questioned by the experts who knew the most about him.
A lack of knowledge perhaps explains why so many false claims have been made about the program’s alleged successes. Many officials in Washington reading the reports didn’t know enough about Al Qaeda to know what information was already known and whether the detainees were telling all they knew. The inspector general’s report states that many operatives thought their superiors were inaccurately judging that detainees were withholding information. Such assessments, the operatives said, were “not always supported by an objective evaluation” but were “too heavily based, instead, on presumptions.” I can personally testify to this.
Supporters of the enhanced interrogation techniques have jumped from claim to claim about their usefulness. They have asserted, for example, that harsh treatment led Mr. Mohammed to reveal the plot to attack the Library Tower in Los Angeles. But that plot was thwarted in 2002, and Mr. Mohammed was not arrested until 2003. Recently, interviews with unnamed sources led The Washington Post to report that harsh techniques turned Mr. Mohammed into an intelligence “asset.”
This latest claim will come as news to Mr. Mohammed’s prosecutors, to his fellow detainees (whom he instructed, at his arraignment, not to cooperate with the United States) and indeed to Mr. Mohammed himself. He told the International Committee of the Red Cross that “I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear.”
The inspector general’s report was written precisely because many of the C.I.A. operatives complained about what they were being ordered to do. The inspector general then conducted an internal audit of the entire program. In his report, he questions the effectiveness of the harsh techniques that were authorized. And he slams the use of “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques.” This is probably why the enhanced interrogation program was shelved in 2005.
Meanwhile, the professionals in the field are relieved that an ineffective, unreliable, unnecessary and destructive program — one that may have given Al Qaeda a second wind and damaged our country’s reputation — is finished.
This article, by Jason Leopold, was posted to TruthOut, May 22, 2009
Former Vice President Dick Cheney intervened in CIA Inspector General John Helgerson's investigation into the agency's use of torture against "high-value" detainees, but the watchdog was still able to prepare a report that concluded the interrogation program violated some provisions of the International Convention Against Torture.
The report, which the Obama administration may soon declassify, was completed in May 2004 and implicated CIA interrogators in at least three detainee deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq and referred eight criminal cases of alleged homicide, abuse and misconduct to the Justice Department for further investigation, reporter Jane Mayer wrote in her book, "The Dark Side," and in an investigative report published in The New Yorker in November 2005.
In "The Dark Side," Mayer described the report as being "as thick as two Manhattan phone books" and contained information, according to an unnamed source, "that was simply sickening."
"The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized," Mayer wrote. "The source said, 'You couldn't read the documents without wondering, "Why didn't someone say, 'Stop!'""
Mayer added that Cheney routinely "summoned" Inspector General Helgerson to meet with him privately about his investigation, launched in 2003, and soon thereafter the probe "was stopped in its tracks." Mayer characterized Cheney's interaction with Helgerson as highly unusual.
Cheney's "reaction to this first, carefully documented in-house study concluding that the CIA's secret program was most likely criminal was to summon the Inspector General to his office for a private chat," Mayer wrote. "The Inspector General is supposed to function as an independent overseer, free from political pressure, but Cheney summoned the CIA Inspector General more than once to his office."
"Cheney loomed over everything," the former CIA officer told Mayer. "The whole IG's office was completely politicized. They were working hand in glove with the White House."
But Mayer said Cheney's intervention in Helgerson's probe proved that as early as 2004 "the Vice President's office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [torture] Program." Helgerson has denied that he was pressured by Cheney.
In October 2007, former CIA Director Michael Hayden ordered an investigation into Helgerson's office, focusing on internal complaints that the inspector general was on "a crusade against those who have participated in [the] controversial detention program."
News reports have suggested that when Helgerson's report is declassified it will seriously undercut claims made by Cheney in numerous interviews that the systematic torture of "high-value" detainees produced valuable intelligence, thwarted pending terrorist plots against the United States and saved "hundreds of thousands of lives."
In addition to showing the inconclusive nature of the value of intelligence gleaned through torture, the report will likely show that Helgerson warned top CIA officials that the interrogation techniques administered to detainees "might violate some provisions of the International Convention Against Torture."
A November 9, 2005, report published in The New York Times said Helgerson's report "raised concern about whether the use of the [torture] techniques could expose agency officers to legal liability."
Sources quoted by The New York Times said "the report expressed skepticism about the Bush administration view that any ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment under the treaty does not apply to CIA interrogations because they take place overseas on people who are not citizens of the United States.
"The officials who described the report said it discussed particular techniques used by the CIA against particular prisoners, including about three dozen terror suspects being held by the agency in secret locations around the world."
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to gain access to Helgerson's report. Portions of the report have already been turned over to the organization, but they were heavily redacted.
Mayer also suggested that the CIA may have decided to destroy 92 interrogation videotapes in November 2005, after Sen. Jay Rockefeller began asking questions about the tapes referenced in the report. Helgerson had viewed the tapes at one of the CIA's "black site" prisons.
"Further rattling the CIA was a request in May 2005 from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, to see over a hundred documents referred to in the earlier Inspector General's report on detention inside the black prison sites," Mayer wrote in her book. "Among the items Rockefeller specifically sought was a legal analysis of the CIA's interrogation videotapes.
"Rockefeller wanted to know if the intelligence agency's top lawyer believed that the waterboarding of [alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu] Zubaydah and [alleged 9/11 mastermind] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as captured on the secret videotapes, was entirely legal. The CIA refused to provide the requested documents to Rockefeller. But the Democratic senator's mention of the videotapes undoubtedly sent a shiver through the Agency, as did a second request he made for these documents to [former CIA Director Porter] Goss in September 2005."
Helgerson's report has been highly sought after by members of Congress and civil liberties organizations for some time. Justice Department torture memos released last month contain several footnotes to the inspector general's report noting the watchdog's concerns about the fact that interrogators strayed from the legal limits set forth in the memos on how specific interrogation methods could be used.
For example, a footnote in a May 2005 Justice Department legal opinion says Helgerson found that, "in some cases," the "waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated ... and also that it was used in a different manner."
According to court papers in a contempt lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the CIA over the destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes, "at the conclusion of [Helgerson's] special review in May 2004, [CIA Office of Inspector General] notified DOJ and other relevant oversight authorities of the review's findings."
A month later, according to documents released last month by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Helgerson's report was made available to top lawmakers on the committee.
That same month, June 2004, then-CIA Director George Tenet asked the White House to explicitly sign off on the agency's torture program with a memo that authorized specific techniques, such as waterboarding. A similar request was also made by the agency at the start of Helgerson's probe in 2003, according to a report published in The Washington Post last October.
"The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency's use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects - documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public," the Post reported.
"The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed (and remain classified), were requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, according to four administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents. Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency's interrogation methods, senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing."
It's unknown whether Helgerson's report led Tenet to request the later memo from the White House.
According to the Post report, "the CIA's anxiety was partly fueled by the lack of explicit presidential authorization for the interrogation program" and "Tenet seemed ... interested in protecting his subordinates" from legal liability.
In July 2004, "the CIA briefed the [Senate Intelligence Committee's] Chairman and Vice Chairman on the facts and conclusions of the Inspector General special review," the Post report said.
In an interview with Harper's magazine last year, Mayer said Helgerson "investigated several alleged homicides involving CIA detainees" and forwarded several of those cases "to the Justice Department for further consideration and potential prosecution."
"Why have there been no charges filed? It's a question to which one would expect that Congress and the public would like some answers," Mayer said. "Sources suggested to me that ... it is highly uncomfortable for top Bush Justice officials to prosecute these cases because, inevitably, it means shining a light on what those same officials sanctioned."
In "The Dark Side," Mayer wrote that Helgerson was "looking into at least three deaths of CIA-held prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq."
One of those prisoners was Manadel al-Jamadi, who was captured by Navy SEALs outside Baghdad in November 2003.
"The CIA had identified him as a 'high-value' target, because he had allegedly supplied the explosives used in several atrocities perpetrated by insurgents, including the bombing of the Baghdad headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in October 2003," Mayer reported in The New Yorker.
"After being removed from his house, Jamadi was manhandled by several of the SEALs, who gave him a black eye and a cut on his face; he was then transferred to CIA custody, for interrogation at Abu Ghraib. According to witnesses, Jamadi was walking and speaking when he arrived at the prison. He was taken to a shower room for interrogation. Some forty-five minutes later, he was dead."
At the time of his death, Jamadi's head was covered with a plastic bag, he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe and according to forensic pathologists who have examined the case, he suffocated.
The CIA interrogator implicated in his death was Mark Swanner, who was never charged with a crime despite a recommendation by investigators working for Helgerson that the Justice Department launch a criminal investigation into the matter.
The Swanner/Jamadi case was forwarded in 2004 to then-Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, where the file remained. McNulty is under scrutiny by a special prosecutor investigating the role he and other Bush administration officials played in the firings of nine US attorneys in 2006.
Helgerson also "had serious questions about the agency's mistreatment of dozens more, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," Mayer wrote in her book, adding that there was a belief by some "insiders that [Helgerson's investigation] would end with criminal charges for abusive interrogations."
Pasadena City College, Building R room 122
1570 E. Colorado Blvd in Pasadena
All are welcome to attend this forum for veterans, military families, and experts to share their views and experiences concerning the military. We will address the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. We will also have a question and answer session.
Boots on the Ground-Marine Infantry (Iraq Veterans Against the War)
History's Relevance-Vietnam Veterans Against the War
A Daily Sacrifice-Military Families Speak Out
The Ultimate Sacrifice-Gold Star Families
Military Combat Strategy-Why the U.S. can't win an occupation
Guests should park in the designated student lot and follow the signs to building R room 122. Make sure to pay the $2 fee for parking and display it on your dashboard to avoid college citations. Please be prepared to register by showing identification and association to an organization (if any) the day of the event. All attendees should have proper registration to be allowed in by security personnel.
This is a peaceful and informative gathering. Attendees agree to abide to a strict Code of Conduct by registering and by presence. Violence, slander, or any other disruptive activity will not be tolerated and attendees displaying such behavior will be asked to leave.
Dinner and snacks will be provided and donations are highly encouraged and appreciated.
The event will also include informational resources from:
Military Families Speak Out
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Veterans for Peace
Orange County Recruitment Awareness Project
Addicted to War
Peace Action West
SoCal Oath Keepers
For more information or to volunteer to help out at the event, please email Wendy Barranco at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the media contact should contact Pat Alviso at email@example.com.
This article, by Mark Danner, accompnied his posting of the confidential ICRC report on the US Treatment of 14 high value detainees [reproduced below], to the New York Review of Books, April 30, 2009.
When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.... These are evil people. And we're not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.
If it hadn't been for what we did—with respect to the...enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees...—then we would have been attacked again. Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US....(Former Vice President Dick Cheney, February 4, 2009 (1))
1.When it comes to torture, it is not what we did but what we are doing. It is not what happened but what is happening and what will happen. In our politics, torture is not about whether or not our polity can "let the past be past"—whether or not we can "get beyond it and look forward." Torture, for Dick Cheney and for President Bush and a significant portion of the American people, is more than a repugnant series of "procedures" applied to a few hundred prisoners in American custody during the last half-dozen or so years—procedures that are described with chilling and patient particularity in this authoritative report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.(2)Torture is more than the specific techniques—the forced nudity, sleep deprivation, long-term standing, and suffocation by water," among others—that were applied to those fourteen "high-value detainees" and likely many more at the "black site" prisons secretly maintained by the CIA on three continents.
Torture, as the former vice-president's words suggest, is a critical issue in the present of our politics—and not only because of ongoing investigations by Senate committees, or because of calls for an independent inquiry by congressional leaders, or for a "truth commission" by a leading Senate Democrat, or because of demands for a criminal investigation by the ACLU and other human rights organizations, and now undertaken in Spain, the United Kingdom, and Poland..(3) For many in the United States, torture still stands as a marker of political commitment—of a willingness to "do anything to protect the American people," a manly readiness to know when to abstain from "coddling terrorists" and do what needs to be done. Torture's powerful symbolic role, like many ugly, shameful facts, is left unacknowledged and undiscussed. But that doesn't make it any less real. On the contrary.
Torture is at the heart of the deadly politics of national security. The former vice-president, as able and ruthless a politician as the country has yet produced, appears convinced of this. For if torture really was a necessary evil in what Mr. Cheney calls the "tough, mean, dirty, nasty business" of "keeping the country safe," then it follows that its abolition at the hands of the Obama administration will put the country once more at risk. It was Barack Obama, after all, who on his first full day as president issued a series of historic executive orders that closed the "black site" secret prisons and halted the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" that had been practiced there, and that provided that the offshore prison at Guantánamo would be closed within a year.
In moving instantly to do these things Obama identified himself as the "anti-torture president" no less than George W. Bush had become the "torture president"—as the former vice-president, a deeply unpopular politician who has seized the role of a kind of dark spokesman for the national id, was quick to point out. To a CNN interviewer who asked Mr. Cheney in March whether he believed that "by taking those steps...the president of the United States has made Americans less safe," Cheney replied:
I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that's a great success story.(4)
To which President Obama a few days later answered, "I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney." He went on:
I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests.... That attitude, that philosophy has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world.(5)
The President spoke of justice and reputation and the attitudes of Muslims toward Americans. And he spoke of "the facts"—which, he said of Mr. Cheney, "don't bear him out." It is clear that the President, a former professor of constitutional law and self-professed "optimistic guy" who, when asked whether those who have tortured should be punished, speaks of his preference for "looking forward" over "looking backward," appreciates the political importance of the "great success story" being shaped by Cheney and others out of the recent past, a "success story" that the new president, with his overly "legalistic" concern for the Constitution, is said to be wantonly and foolishly destroying.
Cheney's story is made not of facts but of the myths that replace them when facts remain secret: myths that are fueled by allusions to a dark world of secrets that cannot be revealed. At its heart is the recasting of President George W. Bush, under whose administration more Americans died in terrorist attacks than under all others combined, as the leader who "kept us safe," and who was able to do so only by recognizing that the US had to engage in "a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business." To keep the country safe "the gloves had to come off." What precisely were those "gloves" that had to be removed? Laws that forbid torture, that outlaw wiretapping and surveillance without permission of the courts, that limit the president's power to order secret operations and to wage war exactly as he sees fit.
The logic here works both ways: if "taking the gloves off" was a critical part of the "great success story" that has "kept the country safe," then those who put the gloves on—Democrats who, in the wake of the Watergate scandal during the mid-1970s, passed laws that, among other things, limited the president's freedom to order, with "deniability," the CIA to operate outside the law—must have left the country vulnerable. And if by passing those restrictive laws three decades ago Democrats had left the country defenseless before the September 11 terrorists, then putting the gloves back on, as President Barack Obama on assuming office immediately began to do, risks leaving the country vulnerable once more.
Thus another successful attack, if it comes, can be laid firmly at the door of the Obama administration and its Democratic, "legalistic" policies. Especially in the case of "the ultimate threat to the country," as the former vice-president put it two weeks after leaving office, of
a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind. That's the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against.
I think there's a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends [on] whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States....
If you release the hard-core Al Qaeda terrorists that are held at Guantánamo, I think they go back into the business of trying to kill more Americans and mount further mass-casualty attacks. If you turn them loose and they go kill more Americans, who's responsible for that?
Who indeed? Mr. Cheney's politics of torture looks, Janus-like, in two directions: back to the past, toward exculpation for what was done under the administration he served, and into the future, toward blame for what might come under the administration that followed.
Put forward at a time when Republicans have lost power and popularity—and by the man who is perhaps the least popular figure in American public life—these propositions seem audacious, outrageous, even reckless; yet the political logic is insidious and, in the aftermath of a future attack, might well prove compelling. We are returning here to old principles, the post–cold war national security politics that Karl Rove, scarcely four months after the September 11 attacks, set out bluntly before his colleagues at the Republican National Committee: "We can go to the country on this issue"—the "War on Terror," Rove said, because voters "trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and, thereby, protecting America." And in 2002 and 2004, just as Rove had predicted, Republicans gathered a rich harvest from this "politics of fear," establishing and adding to majorities in both houses of Congress and managing to reelect a president who had embroiled the country in a deeply unpopular war in Iraq.
Cheney's politics of fear—and the vice-president is unique only in his willingness to enunciate the matter so aggressively—is drawn from the past but built for the future, a possibly post-apocalyptic future, when Americans, gazing at the ruins left by another attack on their country, will wonder what could have been done but wasn't. It relies on a carefully constructed narrative of what was done during the last half-dozen years, of all the disasters that could have happened but did not, and why they did not, and it makes unflinching political use of the powers of secrecy. As the former vice-president confided to the CNN correspondent John King,
John, I've seen a report that was written based upon the intelligence that we collected then that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through these programs. It's still classified. I can't give you details of it without violating classification, but I can say there were a great many of them.
Attacks prevented, threats averted, lives saved—all secret and all ascribed to a willingness to do the "tough, mean, dirty, nasty" things that needed to be done. Things the present "anti-torture president" is just too "legalistic" to do. Barack Obama may well assert that "the facts don't bear him out," but as long as the "details of it" cannot be revealed "without violating classification," as long as secrecy can be wielded as the dark and potent weapon it remains, Cheney's politics of torture will remain a powerful if half-submerged counter-story, waiting for the next attack to spark it into vibrant life.
2."Key to what we did" in the "War on Terror," the former vice-president told CNN, "was to collect intelligence against the enemy. That's what...the enhanced interrogation program was all about." It was not about punishment or pain or degradation but rather about intelligence. The question was, how to gather vital intelligence most efficiently and yet do it—as the former vice-president insists it was done—"legally" and "in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles." These "techniques" would not be torture but rather "enhanced interrogation" or "extreme interrogation," or, in President George W. Bush's favored phrase, almost beautiful in its utter and perfect neutrality, "an alternative set of procedures." These "procedures" were "designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations." (6)
Working through the forty-three pages of the International Committee of the Red Cross's report, one finds a strikingly detailed account of horrors inflicted on fourteen "high-value detainees" over a period of weeks and months—horrors that Red Cross officials conclude, quite unequivocally, "constituted torture." It is hard not to reflect how officials concerned about protecting the country arrived at this particular "alternative set of procedures," and how they convinced themselves, with the help of attorneys in the White House and in the Department of Justice, that these "procedures" were legal. Thanks especially to pathbreaking reporting by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, to the historical work of Alfred W. McCoy, and now to a partially released report by the Senate Armed Services Committee and a series of leaked and declassified memos by the Bush Justice Department, we have a fairly extensive record of the intricate bureaucratic mechanics of how the program came to be. We can find its roots in various CIA studies of sensory deprivation and induced psychosis and "learned helplessness," some of them more than four decades old, and, in the case of the particular "alternative set of procedures," in the work of consultants and psychologists who had been involved in shaping and administering the SERE ("Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape") "counter-resistance" program developed by the US military.(7)
The effort began early in the days after the September 11 attacks. By December 2001, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report, the general counsel in the Department of Defense "had already solicited information on detainee 'exploitation' from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions." Two months later, on February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention in effect didn't apply to prisoners in the "War on Terror." This decision cleared the way for the adaptation of SERE techniques to interrogation of prisoners in the "War on Terror." As the authors of the Senate Armed Services Committee report explain:
During the resistance phase of SERE training, US military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures...designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is "based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years."
The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy's SERE school, it included waterboarding.(8)
An awareness of this history makes reading the International Committee of the Red Cross report a strange exercise in climbing back through the looking glass. For in interviewing the fourteen "high-value detainees," who had been imprisoned secretly in the "black sites" anywhere from "16 months to almost four and a half years," the Red Cross experts were listening to descriptions of techniques applied to them that had been originally designed to be illegal "under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Conventions." And then the Red Cross investigators, as members of the body designated by the Geneva Conventions to supervise treatment of prisoners of war and to judge that treatment's legality, were called on to pronounce whether or not the techniques conformed to the conventions in the first place. In this judgment, they are, not surprisingly, unequivocal:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment.
In view of the roots of the "alternative set of procedures," this stark judgment might be dismissed as the chronicle of a verdict foretold. Both "torture" and "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" are declared illegal under the Third Geneva Convention, to which the Supreme Court ruled in June 2006 that—President Bush's February 2002 memorandum notwithstanding—the United States in its treatment of all prisoners must adhere. They are also illegal under the Convention Against Torture of 1984, to which the United States is a signatory, and illegal under the War Crimes Act of 1996 (though the Military Commissions Act of 2006 makes an attempt to shield those who applied the "alternative set of procedures" from legal consequences under this law). What is more, as the report concludes,
The totality of the circumstances in which the fourteen were held effectively amounted to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and enforced disappearance, in contravention of international law.
It is a testament as much to the peculiarities of the American press—to its "stenographic function" and its institutional unwillingness to report as fact anything disputed, however implausibly, by a high official—that the former vice-president's insistence that these interrogations were undertaken "legally" and "in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles" continues to be reported without contradiction, and that President Bush's oft-repeated assertion that "the United States does not torture" is still respectfully quoted and, in many quarters, taken seriously. That they are so reported is a political fact, and a powerful one. It makes it possible to contend that, however adamant the arguments of the lawyers "on either side," the very fact of their disagreement makes the legality of these procedures a matter of partisan political allegiance, not of law.
In the long months of confinement, I often thought of how to transmit the pain that a tortured person undergoes. And always I concluded that it was impossible. (Jacobo Timerman. (9))
Whatever the tangled history of the techniques described in the ICRC report—whatever the sources in Communist China or Soviet Russia or wherever else they might be traced—what was done in the end was quite simple. In setting out after September 11 to "do whatever it takes" in the "tough, mean, dirty, nasty business" of protecting the country against "evil people," Bush administration officials were modern people treading a timeless road. However impressive the advanced degrees of the consultants they hired, the techniques of "enhanced interrogation" are in their essence ancient, for they play on emotions and physical realities that are basic and unchanging. Consider, for example, the "crude but effective" methods of the Soviet State Political Directorate (GPU):
They consisted usually of tying the victim in a strait-jacket to an iron bunk. The strait-jacket was his only clothing; he had no blanket, no food and was unable to go to the lavatory. With a gag in his mouth and a stopper in his rectum he would be given periodic beatings with rubber poles. (10)
Brutal stuff; hard to imagine Americans, however intent on "collecting intelligence against the enemy," engaging in such things. And yet as one looks again at those "crude but effective" procedures, one notices certain unchanging necessities. There is, for example, the basic need to keep the subject helpless and restrained, here accomplished with forced nudity and a straitjacket. In the "black sites," the same end was achieved by forced nudity and what the Red Cross terms, in its chapter of the same name, "prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles." One of the fourteen detainees, for example, tells the Red Cross investigators that
he was kept for four and a half months continuously handcuffed and seven months with the ankles continuously shackled while detained in Kabul in 2003/4. On two occasions, his shackles had to be cut off his ankles as the locking mechanism had ceased to function, allegedly due to rust.
This technique, like other of the "alternative set of procedures" detailed by the Red Cross, seems to have been consistently applied to many of the fourteen "high-value" detainees. Walid bin Attash told the Red Cross investigators that
he was kept permanently handcuffed and shackled throughout his first six months of detention. During the four months he was held in his third place of detention, when not kept in the prolonged stress standing position [with his hands shackled to the ceiling], his ankle shackles were allegedly kept attached by a one meter long chain to a pin fixed in the corner of the room where he was held.
As with the GPU set of procedures, prisoners were kept naked, deprived of blankets, mattresses, and other necessities, and deprived of food. As for "the stopper in the rectum," it was supplied by the GPU to deal with the practical if unpleasant problem of how to cope, in the case of a person who is naked and entirely under restraint and at the same time experiencing prolonged and extreme pain, with the inevitable consequences of his bodily functions. The Americans at the "black sites," who had also to face this unpleasant necessity, particularly when holding detainees in "stress positions," for example, forcing them for many days to stand naked with their hands shackled to a bolt in the ceiling and their ankles shackled to a bolt in the floor, developed their own equivalent:
While being held in this position some of the detainees were allowed to defecate in a bucket. A guard would come to release their hands from the bar or hook in the ceiling so that they could sit on the bucket. None of them, however, were allowed to clean themselves afterwards. Others were made to wear a garment that resembled a diaper. This was the case for Mr. Bin Attash in his fourth place of detention. However, he commented that on several occasions the diaper was not replaced so he had to urinate and defecate on himself while shackled in the prolonged stress standing position. Indeed, in addition to Mr. Bin Attash, three other detainees specified that they had to defecate and urinate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids.
One turns, finally, to those "periodic beatings with rubber poles" that the GPU administered. No rubber poles are to be found in the Red Cross report. Once again, though, as with the stopper in the rectum and the diapers, the rubber poles simply represent the GPU's practical solution to a problem shared by the CIA at the "black sites": How can one beat a detainee repeatedly without causing debilitating or permanent injury that might make him unfit for further interrogation? How, that is, to get the pain and its effect while minimizing the physical consequences?
Where the GPU responded by developing rubber poles, the CIA created its plastic collar, "an improvised thick collar or neck roll," as the Red Cross investigators describe it in Chapter 1.3.3 ("Beating by use of a collar"), that "was placed around their necks and used by their interrogators to slam them against the walls." Though six of the fourteen detainees report the use of the "thick plastic collar," which, according to Khaled Shaik Mohammed, would then be "held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall," it is plain that this particular technique was perfected through experimentation. Indeed, the plastic collar seems to have begun as a rather simple mechanism: an everyday towel that was looped around the neck, the ends gathered in the guard's fist. The collar appeared later and brought with it other innovations:
Mr. Abu Zubaydah commented that when the collar was first used on him in his third place of detention, he was slammed directly against a hard concrete wall. He was then placed in a tall box for several hours (see Section 1.3.5, Confinement in boxes). After he was taken out of the box he noticed that a sheet of plywood had been placed against the wall. The collar was then used to slam him against the plywood sheet. He thought that the plywood was in order to absorb some of the impact so as to avoid the risk of physical injury.
How to inflict pain without causing injury that might inhibit or prevent further interrogation? And how to do so in such a way that the pain inflicted might be said not to be akin to that "associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result"? This was of course the legal definition of torture concocted by White House and Justice Department lawyers (and codified in what has come to be known as the "Torture Memo," written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee on August 1, 2002). The challenging task set before these lawyers was to somehow "make legal" a set of techniques that had originated in a program developed expressly to prepare soldiers for techniques that were illegal, and thereby to offer officials and interrogators a "golden shield" that would suffice to convince them they would be protected from legal consequences.)
In answer to these questions, and with the benefit of experimentation, especially on Mr. Abu Zubaydah, one of the first of the alleged "big fish" al-Qaeda captives, the CIA seems to have arrived at a method that is codified by the International Committee of the Red Cross experts into twelve basic techniques, as follows:
Suffocation by water poured over a cloth placed over the nose and mouth...
Prolonged stress standing position, naked, held with the arms extended and chained above the head...
Beatings by use of a collar held around the detainees' neck and used to forcefully bang the head and body against the wall...
Beating and kicking, including slapping, punching, kicking to the body and face...
Confinement in a box to severely restrict movement...
Prolonged nudity...this enforced nudity lasted for periods ranging from several weeks to several months...
Sleep deprivation...through use of forced stress positions (standing or sitting), cold water and use of repetitive loud noises or music...
Exposure to cold temperature...especially via cold cells and interrogation rooms, and...use of cold water poured over the body or...held around the body by means of a plastic sheet to create an immersion bath with just the head out of water.
Prolonged shackling of hands and/or feet...
Threats of ill-treatment, to the detainee and/or his family...
Forced shaving of the head and beard...
Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food from 3 days to 1 month after arrest...
As the Red Cross writers tell us, "each specific method was in fact applied in combination with other methods, either simultaneously or in succession." A clear picture of this cumulative effect comes from the three long excerpts of interviews with detainees published as annexes at the end of the report, which I have quoted from and discussed at length in my earlier article.(11) To understand the effect one must remember what all experienced torturers know: dramatic results can be achieved with simple techniques. Forced standing, for example:
Ten of the fourteen alleged that they were subjected to prolonged stress standing positions, during which their wrists were shackled to a bar or hook in the ceiling above the head for periods ranging from two or three days continuously, and for up to two or three months intermittently.... For example, Mr. Khaled Shaik Mohammed alleged that, apart from the time when he was taken for interrogation, he was shackled in prolonged stress standing position for one month in his third place of detention.... Mr. Bin Attash for two weeks with two or three short breaks where he could lie down in Afghanistan and for several days in his fourth place of detention.... Mr. Hambali for four to five days, blindfolded with a type of sack over his head, while still detained in Thailand....
This prolonged forced standing is, again, an ancient technique, and a favorite, notably, of the Soviet intelligence services. It can be difficult, when gazing at the stark descriptions of these procedures, to understand their effect. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, when approving in December 2002 a series of interrogation techniques that included forced standing for up to four hours, famously scribbled in the lower margin, beneath his initials: "However, I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours? D.R." Secretary Rumsfeld, who no doubt was standing at his desk when he scrawled these words, professed to have difficulty comprehending the difference between working at a standing desk in one's office—signing documents, talking on the telephone, speaking to subordinates, drinking coffee—and standing naked in a very cold room with hands shackled to the ceiling for hours and days at a time.
One can gain a hint of the difference simply by rising and standing motionless with one's hands extended directly overhead and trying to maintain the position for, say, thirty minutes. Then imagine maintaining it for several hours, or days, or weeks. The physical effects, as described in a notorious study of Communist interrogation methods by two psychologists, are dramatic:
After 18 to 24 hours of continuous standing, there is an accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the legs. This dependent edema is produced by the extravasation of fluid from the blood vessels. The ankles and feet of the prisoner swell to twice their normal circumference. The edema may rise up the legs as high as the middle of the thighs. The skin becomes tense and intensely painful. Large blisters develop, which break and exude watery serum.... (12)
This medical observation is confirmed in the accounts of at least two of the detainees in the ICRC report, including that of Khaled Shaik Mohammed:
...I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor. Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrists resulting in open and bleeding wounds.... [Scars consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as both ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing. (13)
I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney.... The facts don't bear him out. (President Barack Obama, 60 Minutes, March 22, 2009)
One fact, seemingly incontrovertible, after the descriptions contained and the judgments made in the ICRC report, is that officials of the United States, in interrogating prisoners in the "War on Terror," have tortured and done so systematically. From many other sources, including the former president himself, we know that the decision to do so was taken at the highest level of the American government and carried out with the full knowledge and support of its most senior officials.
Once this is accepted as a fact, certain consequences might be expected to follow. First, that these policies, violating as they do domestic and international law, must be changed—which, as noted, President Obama began to accomplish on his first full day in office. Second, that they should be explicitly repudiated—a more complicated political process, which has, perhaps, begun, but only begun. Third, that those who ordered, designed, and applied them must be brought before the public in some societally sanctioned proceeding, made to explain what they did and how, and suffer some appropriate consequence.
And fourth, and crucially, that some judgment must be made, based on the most credible of information compiled and analyzed and weighed by the most credible of bodies, about what these policies actually accomplished: how they advanced the interests of the country, if indeed they did advance them, and how they hurt them. For at this point, President Obama's assertion that "the facts don't bear [Cheney] out" remains simply that: an assertion. To that assertion Mr. Cheney and others, including President Bush, respond and will continue to respond with claims of "specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through these programs"—about which, of course, they "can't give you details...without violating classification." And when public officials do cite specific cases—as President Bush himself did in describing the use of the "alternative set of procedures" on Abu Zubaydah, who, the President claimed, "was a senior terrorist leader" who "provided information that helped stop a terrorist attack being planned for inside the United States"—other officials, many of them also "in a position to know," leak differing versions to reporters which seem to demonstrate that the claims that were made are exaggerations and worse. (14)
Unfortunately, these contrary accounts, however convincing—and in the case of Abu Zubaydah they have been very convincing—generally come from unnamed officials and cannot serve as definitive proof, or as a sufficiently credible repudiation of what former officials, including the President of the United States, still assert. Far from ending the discussion about whether torture really was, as Cheney insists, "absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack," these ongoing battles between extravagant claims and undermining leaks will ensure that it persists.
It is because of the claim that torture protected the US that the many Americans who still nod their heads when they hear Dick Cheney's claims about the necessity for "tough, mean, dirty, nasty" tactics in the war on terror respond to its revelation not by instantly condemning it but instead by asking further questions. For example: Was it necessary? And: Did it work? To these questions the last president and vice-president, who "kept the country safe" for "seven-plus years," respond "yes," and "yes." And though as time passes the numbers of those insisting on asking those questions, and willing to accept those answers, no doubt falls, it remains significant, and would likely grow substantially after another successful attack.
This political fact partly explains why, when it comes to torture, we seem to be a society trapped in a familiar and never-ending drama. For though some of the details provided—and officially confirmed for the first time—in the ICRC report are new, and though the first-person accounts make chilling reading and have undoubted dramatic power, one can't help observing that the broader discussion of torture is by now in its essential outlines nearly five years old, and has become, in its predictably reenacted outrage and defiant denials from various parties, something like a shadow play. (15)
News of the "black sites" first appeared prominently in the press—on the front page of TheWashington Post —in December 2002. (16) A year and a half later, after the publication and broadcast of the Abu Ghraib photographs—the one moment in the last half-dozen years when the torture story, thanks to the lurid images, became "televisual"—a great wave of leaks swept into public view hundreds of pages of "secret" documents about torture and the Bush administration's decision-making regarding it. (17) There have been many important "revelations" since, but none of them has changed the essential fact: by no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it.
The reports on American torture now fill a shelf next to my desk, beginning with the Taguba Report in 2004, still perhaps the best of them, and then going on to include the ICRC report on Abu Ghraib, the Schlesinger Report, the Fay/Jones Report, the Church Report, the Schmidt Report, and now the Armed Services Committee Report, the full text of which will soon break into the news in all its glory, telling us in much more conclusive detail a story the major outlines of which we already know. More revelations will come from this, and more news, particularly about the mechanics by which prominent senior officials approved use of the "alternative set of procedures" and closely monitored their day-to-day application. We will continue in an endless round-robin of revelation, in which we tell ourselves we are learning something new though in fact, when it comes to the central problem of torture—what we as a society should do about it and whether we will in fact do anything—we are in the end simply repeating to ourselves things, however increasingly detailed and awful, that we already know.
Meantime a number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union in a powerful letter by its director, Anthony Romero, have called on Attorney General Eric Holder—who in his confirmation hearings said bluntly that "waterboarding is torture"—to appoint a special prosecutor to look into possible violations of the law under the Bush administration's interrogation program. As I write, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, has called for the establishment of a kind of "truth commission" that will gather information, in part by trading immunity from prosecution for former officials for their truthful testimony, about "how our detention policies and practices...have seriously eroded fundamental American principles of the rule of law." And the chair of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, and its ranking member, Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri, have announced their own investigation into "how the CIA created, operated, and maintained its detention and interrogation program" and—what is crucial—their intention to make "an evaluation of intelligence information gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques."
5.That is the central, unanswered question: What was gained? We know already a good deal about what was lost. On this subject President Obama in his 60 Minutes response was typically eloquent:
I mean, the fact of the matter is after all these years how many convictions actually came out of Guantánamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment. Which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against US interests all around the world.... The whole premise of Guantánamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that somehow the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists.... Are we going to just keep on going until the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that's really going to make us safer?
This is as clear and concise a summary of the damage wrought by torture as one is likely to get. Torture has undermined the United States' reputation for respecting and following the law and thus has crippled its political influence. By torturing, the United States has wounded itself and helped its enemies in what is in the end an inherently political war—a war, that is, in which the critical target to be conquered is the allegiances and attitudes of young Muslims. And by torturing prisoners, many of whom were implicated in committing great crimes against Americans, the United States has made it impossible to render justice on those criminals, instead sentencing them—and the country itself—to an endless limbo of injustice. That limbo stands as a kind of worldwide advertisement for the costs of the US reversion to torture, whose power President Obama has tried to reduce by announcing that he will close Guantánamo.
The question is how to set beside this damage to the country's interests—some of which can be measured by polling data in Muslim countries, by rises in recruitment to violent jihadist groups, and so on—against the claims that attacks have been averted. As is so often the case, the categories are not commensurable. Confronted with former Vice President Cheney's arguments, President Obama says "the facts don't bear him out," but the facts he points to appear to be facts about the political damage caused by torture, or about the difficulties it poses to the country in trying to prosecute prisoners. He appears not to be speaking about the same facts that the former administration officials do—facts that they claim prove that torture, in averting attacks and protecting the country, saved lives.
Investigating what kind of intelligence torture actually yielded is not a popular task: those who oppose torture do not like to admit that it might, in any way, have "worked"; those who support its use don't like to admit that it might not have. It is a regrettable but undeniable fact that torture's illegality, or the political harm it may do to the country's reputation, is not sufficient to discourage the willingness of many Americans to countenance it. However one might prefer that this be an argument about legality or morality, it is also an argument about national security and, in the end, about politics. However much one agrees with President Obama that Cheney's "notion" that "somehow...we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests," the fact is that many people continue to believe the contrary, and this group includes the former president and vice-president of the United States and many senior officials who served them.
There is a reason that the myth of the "ticking bomb" and the daring, ruthless US agent who will do anything to stop its detonation—anything including torture, a step that proves his commitment and his seriousness—is sacralized in popular culture, and not only in television dramas like 24 but in Dirty Harry and the other movies that are its ancestors. The story of the ticking bomb and the torturing hero who defuses it offers a calming message to combat pervasive anxiety and fear—that no matter what horrible threats loom, there are those who will make use of untrammeled government power to protect the country. It also appeals to uglier and equally powerful emotions: the desire for retribution, the urge to punish and to avenge, the felt need in the face of vulnerability to assert power. (18)
In this political calculus, liberals obsessed by "legalisms" are part of the problem, not part of the solution, and it is no accident that it is firmly in that camp that the former vice-president has been seeking to isolate the new president. Cheney's success in this endeavor will not be evident now—he is, after all, the most unpopular member of a deeply unpopular party—but the seeds he is so ostentatiously sowing could, if unchallenged by facts and given the right conditions, flourish dramatically in the future.
The only way to defuse the political volatility of torture and to remove it from the center of the "politics of fear" is to replace its lingering mystique, owed mostly to secrecy, with authoritative and convincing information about how it was really used and what it really achieved. That this has not yet happened is the reason why, despite the innumerable reports and studies and revelations that have given us a rich and vivid picture of the Bush administration's policies of torture, we as a society have barely advanced along this path. We have not so far managed, despite all the investigations, to produce a bipartisan, broadly credible, and politically decisive effort, and pronounce authoritatively on whether or not these activities accomplished anything at all in their stated and still asserted purpose: to protect the security interests of the country.
This cannot be accomplished through the press; for the same institutional limitations that lead journalists to keep repeating Bush and Cheney's insistence about the "legality" of torture make it impossible for the press alone, no matter how persuasive the leaks it brings to the public, to make a politically decisive judgment on the value of torture. What is lacking is not information or revelation but political credibility. What is needed is not more disclosures but a broadly persuasive judgment, delivered by people who can look at all the evidence, however highly classified, and can claim bipartisan respect on the order of the Watergate Select Committee or the 9/11 Commission, on whether or not torture made Americans safer.
This is the only way we can begin to come to a true consensus about torture. By all accounts, it is likely that the intelligence harvest that can be attributed directly to the "alternative set of procedures" is meager. But whatever information might have been gained, it must be assessed and then judged against the great costs, legal, moral, political, incurred in producing it. Torture's harvest, whatever it may truly be, is very unlikely to have outweighed those costs.
6.Such an investigation would have to begin with an inquiry into the broader issue of the Bush administration's detention policies after September 11. These policies, built on a cascading series of reverse incentives, filled United States facilities, from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib to the secret prisons, with tens of thousands of prisoners.
The reverse incentives began with the bounties of anywhere from several hundred to thousands of dollars offered by US Special Forces in Afghanistan for any "Al Qaeda or Taliban member" whom Afghans might bring to American soldiers—incentives that led to the imprisonment of hundreds of Afghan farmers and even of lower-level Taliban who offered nothing whatever in the form of intelligence but who nonetheless ended up imprisoned in Guantánamo, often for years. They were sent there by young US Army interrogators, many of them reservists with little training and no language skills, who found themselves with the awful responsibility of deciding whether or not to let these prisoners go—and who, whatever their doubts about the prisoners' value as intelligence sources, in the days after September 11 had no practical incentive to release them and every incentive not to. As Chris Mackey, the pseudonym of an Army reservist who served as an interrogator in Afghanistan in 2002, said:
In talking to some of the officers at Kandahar and Bagram...they all talk about how there was a great fear among them, those who were going to be putting their signatures to the release of prisoners, great fear that they were going to somehow manage to release somebody who would later turn out to be the 20th hijacker. So there was real concern and a real erring on the conservative side, especially early in the war.(19)
This pervasive and understandable concern, together with a lack of competent linguists and interrogators in the combat zone, led to a general policy of rounding up suspects that flooded Guantánamo with prisoners who simply should not have been there. Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired US Army colonel who at the time served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, confirms what other studies have shown: that because of "the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan" and "the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and others to 'just get the bastards to the interrogators,'" many or even most of those detained "were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released." Colonel Wilkerson goes on:
Several in the US leadership became aware of this improper vetting very early on.... But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantánamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released.(20)
These initial errors, and the adamant refusal to correct or admit them, led to an overwhelmed, inefficient, and fundamentally unjust US detention system, one that displayed for the world, in televised images of orange-suited, shackled, and hooded prisoners at Guantánamo, and later naked, grotesquely contorted, and abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a kind of continuing lurid recruitment poster for al-Qaeda—a dramatic visual confirmation and reaffirmation of the very claims of an evil, repressive, imperialistic United States that lay at the heart of its ideology. Many studies have confirmed the essential truth that a great many prisoners, probably a majority, were unjustly held, without adequate cause or sufficient investigation.(21) Of the nearly eight hundred prisoners who have passed through Guantánamo, well over half have been released without charge, often after years of detention.
The initial panicked rush to "round up prisoners," which was replicated in Iraq during the first months of the insurgency in the summer and fall of 2003, led to what Wilkerson calls an "ad hoc intelligence philosophy" developed to "justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy."
Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance.... All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.
Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees' innocence was inconsequential.
I saw the consequences of this policy in Iraq, in the fall of 2003, when "neighborhood sweeps" and "cordon and capture operations" in "hot areas" led to wholesale arrests of young men. These men, about whom nothing was known apart from the fact that they were young and lived in a neighborhood deemed "hot," were flex-cuffed, hooded, and promptly sent to Abu Ghraib, where they...sat. Interrogators were overwhelmed, mostly with prisoners who simply had no intelligence to impart. The interrogators were well aware of this, of course, but in part because officers of the combat units who made the arrests sat on the boards that had to approve prisoner releases, it was almost impossible to release prisoners once they had been brought to Abu Ghraib. "Certain [Coalition Forces] military intelligence officers told the ICRC," according to a 2004 Red Cross report on Abu Ghraib, "that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake."(22)
As military interrogators described to me in some detail, these numbers overwhelmed the intelligence collection system that the wholesale arrests were intended to supply and fortify, leading interrogators to spend most of their time working through thousands of prisoners who had nothing to tell them—but who nonetheless could in most cases not be released and had to be interviewed, often repeatedly.
One soon begins to see a pattern: among officials at the top, panic and fear and incompetence lead to a compensating, self-justifying desire to "do whatever's necessary" to prevent attacks and finally to a consequent injustice inflicted on the innocents at the bottom that is both persistent and politically damaging. Thus the movement from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's call to "just get the bastards to the interrogators" to the overflow of innocent prisoners from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib, innocents who rendered unworkable the very system that the "get tough" directives were meant to snap into effective action.
Chris Mackey, the US Army interrogator, writes of "the gravitational laws that govern human behavior when one group of people is given complete control over another in a prison. Every impulse tugs downward."(23) All evidence suggests that in the days after September 11, 2001, the very officials who should have been ensuring that there were restraints put on such "gravitational laws" were instead doing all they could to augment them. Fear and a compensating desire to prove that nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of the all-important goal of protecting the country—especially not overly "legalistic" notions about international treaties and limitations on presidential power—were allowed to drive policy, and the country is still struggling to cope with the results.
7.We know a great deal about the Bush administration's policy of torture but we need to know more. We need to know, from an investigation that will study all the evidence, classified at however high a level of secrecy, and that will speak to the nation with a credible bipartisan voice, whether the use of torture really did produce information that, in the words of the former vice-president, was "absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US." We already have substantial reason to doubt these claims, for example the words of Lawrence Wilkerson, who, as chief of staff to Secretary of State Powell, had access to intelligence of the highest classification:
It has never come to my attention in any persuasive way—from classified information or otherwise—that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement.
It is important to note that a great many of those charged with the duty to "keep us safe" do not share the former president's view about the necessity of his "alternative set of procedures." Indeed, on September 6, 2006, a couple of hours before President Bush told the nation in his East Room speech about the "separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency" where the "alternative set of procedures" were used, and announced that the fourteen "suspected terrorist leaders and operatives" were being sent from the black sites to Guantánamo (where they would tell their stories at last to the Red Cross investigators), a very different event was taking place across the Potomac. At the Department of Defense, high-ranking officers and officials were introducing the new Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations— the newly rewritten manual for interrogators that was, as Lieutenant General John Kimmons, the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, pointed out, unique in a number of ways:
The Field Manual explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment.... To make this more imaginable and understandable to our soldiers...we have included in the Field Manual specific prohibitions. There's eight of them: interrogators may not force a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner; they cannot use hoods or place sacks over a detainee's head or use duct tape over his eyes; they cannot beat or electrically shock or burn them or inflict other forms of physical pain—any form of physical pain; they may not use water boarding, they may not use hypothermia or treatment which will lead to heat injury; they will not perform mock executions; they may not deprive detainees of the necessary food, water and medical care; and they may not use dogs in any aspect of interrogations.... (24)
Lieutenant General Kimmons's list of procedures is remarkable for including almost all of those that had come to light during the years of the Bush administration, either at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, or, now, at the "black sites." Indeed, just before his commander in chief's vivid defense to the country of the necessity of the "alternative set of procedures," the general was declaring that the military had expressly forbidden precisely those procedures—and was explaining, in answer to a reporter's question about whether the prohibitions didn't "limit the ability of interrogators to get information that could be very useful," precisely why:
I am absolutely convinced the answer to your first question is no. No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.
And moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility. And additionally, it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there.
And yet the "loud rhetoric" of Dick Cheney, as Colonel Wilkerson remarks, "continues even now" and remains a persistent political fact in our debate about national security. What should be a debate about facts remains instead a debate fueled by reckless assertions about "still classified" intelligence and leaks that undermine those assertions. The debate over the supposed importance of intelligence provided by Abu Zubaydah, whose torture, including waterboarding, is related with awful immediacy in the ICRC report, is only the most prominent of these controversies. Though waterboarding has not been performed on prisoners in American custody since 2003, there is a reason we continue to talk about it. Though we have known about the Bush administration's policy of torture for five years, there is unquestionably more debate about it now than there ever has been. We are having, in a ragged way, the debate about ethics and morality in our national security policies that we never had in the days after September 11, when decisions were made in secret by a handful of officials.
Philip Zelikow, who served the Bush administration in the National Security Council and the State Department and then went on to direct the 9/11 Commission, remarked in an important speech three years ago that these officials, instead of having that debate simply called in the lawyers: the focus, that is, was not on "what should we do" but on "what can we do."(25)
There is a sense in which our society is finally posing that "what should we do" question. That it is doing so only now, after the fact, is a tragedy for the country—and becomes even more damaging as the debate is carried on largely by means of politically driven assertions and leaks. For even as the practice of torture by Americans has withered and died, its potency as a political issue has grown. The issue could not be more important, for it cuts to the basic question of who we are as Americans, and whether our laws and ideals truly guide us in our actions or serve, instead, as a kind of national decoration to be discarded in times of danger. The only way to confront the political power of the issue, and prevent the reappearance of the practice itself, is to take a hard look at the true "empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years," and speak out, clearly and credibly, about what that story really tells.
1. See John F. Harris, Mike Allen, and Jim VandeHei, "Cheney Warns of New Attacks," Politico, February 4, 2009.
2. See my article, "US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites," The New York Review, April 9, 2009, in which the ICRC report is extensively excerpted, and to which the present essay is a sequel. The report is based on extensive interviews, carried out in October and December 2006, with fourteen so-called "high-value detainees," who had been imprisoned and interrogated for extended periods at the "black sites," a series of secret prisons operated by the CIA in a number of countries around the world, including, at various times, Thailand, Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, and Morocco. Download the full text of the report.
3. Among others, the Senate Armed Services Committee has made public parts of its Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody and more of this will doubtless be released in coming days. Meanwhile, a Spanish judge sent to a prosecutor a case against Alberto Gonzales, the former White House counsel and attorney general, and five other senior Bush officials, including John Yoo and Jay Bybee. See Marlise Simons, "Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials," The New York Times, March 28, 2009. In the United Kingdom, the Crown Prosecution Service has begun an inquiry into allegations of the torture of Binyam Mohamed during his detention by the CIA. In Poland, prosecutors have reportedly begun an inquiry into allegations that the CIA made use of an abandoned military facility as a "black site" to torture prisoners.
4. "Interview with Dick Cheney," S tate of the Union With John King, CNN, March 15, 2009.
5. See "Obama on AIG Rage, Recession, Challenges," 60 Minutes, March 22, 2009.
6. See "President Discusses Creation of Military Commissions to Try Suspected Terrorists," September 6, 2006, East Room, White House, available at cfr.org. This is the most important speech President Bush gave on the "alternative set of procedures" and is analyzed at length in my previous article.
7. See, for the definitive account, Jane Mayer, "Outsourcing Torture," The New Yorker, February 15, 2005, and The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (Doubleday, 2008); and also Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Metropolitan, 2006).
8. See Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody, "Executive Summary and Conclusions," released December 11, 2008, p. xiii. Emphasis added.
9.See Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number (University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), p. 32.
10. See Robin Bruce Lockhart, Ace of Spies (1967; Penguin, 1984), p. 176.
11. See my "US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites," especially pp. 71–75.
12. See Lawrence E. Hinkle Jr. and Harold G. Wolff, "Communist Interrogation and Indoctrination of 'Enemies of the State,'" A.M.A. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, Vol. 76, No. 2 (August 1956), p. 134.
13. The interpolated words in brackets are as they appear in the Red Cross report.
14. I discuss the Abu Zubaydah case more fully in my previous article. Nearly three years ago author Ron Suskind offered an extensive account of Abu Zubaydah and the exaggerations that officials had made about him, from President Bush on down—both about his rank and importance in al-Qaeda and about the value of the information he supposedly offered after the application of the "alternative set of procedures." See Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon and Schuster, 2006), especially pages 99–101 and 115–118. The debate about the case has continued to be pursued furiously in the press, an indication of the strong feelings of many, mostly unnamed officials within the intelligence and law enforcement communities. See, most recently, Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots: Waterboarding, Rough Interrogation of Abu Zubaida Produced False Leads, Officials Say," The Washington Post, March 29, 2009.
15. Jane Mayer, in her article "The Black Sites," The New Yorker, August 13, 2007, and in her book, The Dark Side, published many of the details of abuse contained in the ICRC report, though not texts from the report itself.
16. See Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, "US Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations: 'Stress and Duress' Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities," The Washington Post, December 26, 2002.
17. In October of that year I published several hundred pages of those documents in my book Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (New York Review Books, 2004). A few months later Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel published their more comprehensive collection, The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
18. These emotions affect government officials as well, as this description of those who insisted on the torture of Abu Zubaydah suggests: "They couldn't stand the idea that there wasn't anything new," the official said. "They'd say, 'You aren't working hard enough.' There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that 'He's going to talk, and if he doesn't talk, we'll do whatever.'" See Finn and Warrick, "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots."
19. See "Interview: Chris Mackey and Greg Miller discuss their book, 'The Interrogators,'" Fresh Air, National Public Radio, July 20, 2004. See Chris Mackey with Greg Miller, The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against Al Qaeda (Little, Brown, 2004).
20. See Lawrence Wilkerson, "Some Truths About Guantánamo Bay," The Washington Note, March 17, 2009.
21. See, for example, Corine Hegland, "Who Is at Guantánamo Bay," National Journal, February 3, 2006.
22. See "Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Persons Protected by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq During Arrest, Internment and Interrogation," February 2004, reviewed in my article "Torture and Truth," The New York Review, June 10, 2004.
23. See Mackey and Miller, The Interrogators, p. 471.
24. See "DoD News Briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary Stimson and Lt. Gen. Kimmons from the Pentagon," September 6, 2006.
25. See Philip Zelikow, "Legal Policy for a Twilight War," Annual Lecture, Houston Journal of International Law, April 26, 2007.