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.
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This article by Devlin Barrett andf Pamela Hess, was posted to Yahoo News, August 24, 2009
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration launched a criminal investigation Monday into harsh questioning of detainees during President George W. Bush's war on terrorism, revealing CIA interrogators' threats to kill one suspect's children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted.
At the same time, President Barack Obama ordered changes in future interrogations, bringing in other agencies besides the CIA under the direction of the FBI and supervised by his own national security adviser. The administration pledged questioning would be controlled by the Army Field Manual, with strict rules on tactics, and said the White House would keep its hands off the professional investigators doing the work.
Despite the announcement of the criminal probe, several Obama spokesmen declared anew — as the president has repeatedly — that on the subject of detainee interrogation he "wants to look forward, not back" at Bush tactics. They took pains to say decisions on any prosecutions would be up to Attorney General Eric Holder, not the White House.
Monday's five-year-old report by the CIA's inspector general, newly declassified and released under a federal court's orders, described severe tactics used by interrogators on terror suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Seeking information about possible further attacks, interrogators threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill and tried to frighten another with a mock execution of another prisoner.
Attorney General Holder said he had chosen a veteran prosecutor to determine whether any CIA officers or contractors should face criminal charges for crossing the line on rough but permissible tactics.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, appointed by President Bush in 2006, expressed dismay by the prospect of prosecutions for CIA officers. He noted that career prosecutors have already reviewed and declined to prosecute the alleged abuses.
Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines, but the report by the CIA's inspector general said they went too far — even beyond what was authorized under Justice Department legal memos that have since been withdrawn and discredited. The report also suggested some questioners knew they were crossing a line.
"Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this (but) it has to be done," one unidentified CIA officer was quoted as saying, predicting the questioners would someday have to appear in court to answer for such tactics.
The report concluded the CIA used "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane" practices in questioning "high-value" terror suspects.
Monday's documents represent the largest single release of information about the Bush administration's once-secret system of capturing terrorism suspects and interrogating them in overseas prisons.
White House officials said they plan to continue the controversial practice of rendition of suspects to foreign countries, though they said that in future cases they would more carefully check to make sure such suspects are not tortured.
In one instance cited in the new documents, Abd al-Nashiri, the man accused of being behind the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded, handcuffed and threatened with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also threatened al-Nashiri's mother and family, implying they would be sexually abused in front of him, according to the report.
The interrogator denied making a direct threat.
Another interrogator told alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "if anything else happens in the United States, 'We're going to kill your children,'" one veteran officer said in the report.
Death threats violate anti-torture laws.
In another instance, an interrogator pinched the carotid artery of a detainee until he started to pass out, then shook him awake. He did this three times. The interrogator, a CIA debriefer accustomed to questioning willing subjects, said he had only recently been trained to conduct interrogations.
Top Republican senators said they were troubled by the decision to begin a new investigation, which they said could weaken U.S. intelligence efforts. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the revelations showed the Bush administration went down a "dark road of excusing torture."
Investigators credited the detention-and-interrogation program for developing intelligence that prevented multiple attacks against Americans. One CIA operative interviewed for the report said the program thwarted al-Qaida plots to attack the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, derail trains, blow up gas stations and cut the suspension line of a bridge.
"In this regard, there is no doubt that the program has been effective," investigators wrote, backing an argument by former Vice President Dick Cheney and others that the program saved lives.
But the inspector general said it was unclear whether so-called "enhanced interrogation" tactics contributed to that success. Those tactics include waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that the Obama administration says is torture. Measuring the success of such interrogation is "a more subjective process and not without some concern," the report said.
The report describes at least one mock execution, which would also violate U.S. anti-torture laws. To terrify one detainee, interrogators pretended to execute the prisoner in a nearby room. A senior officer said it was a transparent ruse that yielded no benefit.
As the report was released, Attorney General Holder appointed prosecutor John Durham to open a preliminary investigation into the claims of abuse. Durham is already investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videos and now will examine whether CIA officers or contractors broke laws in the handling of suspects.
The administration also announced Monday that all U.S. interrogators will follow the rules for detainees laid out by the Army Field Manual. The manual, last updated in September 2006, prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, threatening them with military dogs, exposing them to extreme heat or cold, conducting mock executions, depriving them of food, water, or medical care, and waterboarding.
Formation of the new interrogation unit for "high-value" detainees does not mean the CIA is out of the business of questioning terror suspects, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton told reporters covering the vacationing president on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Burton said the unit will include "all these different elements under one group" and will be located at the FBI headquarters in Washington.
The structure of the new unit the White House is creating would be significantly broader than under the Bush administration, when the CIA had the lead and sometimes exclusive role in questioning al-Qaida suspects.
Obama campaigned vigorously against Bush administration interrogation practices in his successful run for the presidency. He has said more recently he didn't particularly favor prosecuting officials in connection with instances of prisoner abuse.
Burton said Holder "ultimately is going to make the decisions."
CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an e-mail message to agency employees Monday that he intended "to stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the president's position, too," he said.
Panetta said some CIA officers have been disciplined for going beyond the methods approved for interrogations by the Bush-era Justice Department. Just one CIA employee — contractor David Passaro_ has been prosecuted for detainee abuse.
This article, by Mark Mazzetti, was posted to Common Dreams, August 20, 2009
WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials.
Executives from Blackwater, which has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The C.I.A. spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects.
The fact that the C.I.A. used an outside company for the program was a major reason that Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A.'s director, became alarmed and called an emergency meeting in June to tell Congress that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, the officials said.
It is unclear whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program. American spy agencies have in recent years outsourced some highly controversial work, including the interrogation of prisoners. But government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.
Officials said the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune. Blackwater's work on the program actually ended years before Mr. Panetta took over the agency, after senior C.I.A. officials themselves questioned the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program.
Blackwater, which has changed its name, most recently to Xe Services, and is based in North Carolina, in recent years has received millions of dollars in government contracts, growing so large that the Bush administration said it was a necessary part of its war operation in Iraq.
It has also drawn controversy. Blackwater employees hired to guard American diplomats in Iraq were accused of using excessive force on several occasions, including shootings in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed. Iraqi officials have since refused to give the company an operating license.
Several current and former government officials interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing details of a still classified program.
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to provide details about the canceled program, but he said that Mr. Panetta's decision on the assassination program was "clear and straightforward."
"Director Panetta thought this effort should be briefed to Congress, and he did so," Mr. Gimigliano said. "He also knew it hadn't been successful, so he ended it."
A Xe spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, also declined to give details of the program. But she praised Mr. Panetta for notifying Congress. "It is too easy to contract out work that you don't want to accept responsibility for," she said.
The C.I.A. this summer conducted an internal review of the assassination program that recently was presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. The officials said that the review stated that Mr. Panetta's predecessors did not believe that they needed to tell Congress because the program was not far enough developed.
The House Intelligence Committee is investigating why lawmakers were never told about the program. According to current and former government officials, former Vice President Dick Cheney told C.I.A. officers in 2002 that the spy agency did not need to inform Congress because the agency already had legal authority to kill Qaeda leaders.
One official familiar with the matter said that Mr. Panetta did not tell lawmakers that he believed that the C.I.A. had broken the law by withholding details about the program from Congress. Rather, the official said, Mr. Panetta said he believed that the program had moved beyond a planning stage and deserved Congressional scrutiny.
"It's wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin," the official said. "It went well beyond that."
Current and former government officials said that the C.I.A.'s efforts to use paramilitary hit teams to kill Qaeda operatives ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset. These efforts had been run by the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center, which runs operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the C.I.A. station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A., current and former officials said.
Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top C.I.A. officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.
C.I.A. operatives also regularly use the company's training complex in North Carolina. The complex includes a shooting range used for sniper training.
An executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976 barred the C.I.A. from carrying out assassinations, a direct response to revelations that the C.I.A. had initiated assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba and other foreign politicians.
The Bush administration took the position that killing members of Al Qaeda, a terrorist group that attacked the United States and has pledged to attack it again, was no different from killing enemy soldiers in battle, and that therefore the agency was not constrained by the assassination ban.
But former intelligence officials said that employing private contractors to help hunt Qaeda operatives would pose significant legal and diplomatic risks, and they might not be protected in the same way government employees are.
Some Congressional Democrats have hinted that the program was just one of many that the Bush administration hid from Congressional scrutiny and have used the episode as a justification to delve deeper into other Bush-era counterterrorism programs.
But Republicans have criticized Mr. Panetta's decision to cancel the program, saying he created a tempest in a teapot.
"I think there was a little more drama and intrigue than was warranted," said Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Officials said that the C.I.A. program was devised partly as an alternative to missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have accidentally killed civilians and cannot be used in urban areas where some terrorists hide.
Yet with most top Qaeda operatives believed to be hiding in the remote mountains of Pakistan, the drones have remained the C.I.A.'s weapon of choice. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has embraced the drone campaign because it presents a less risky option than sending paramilitary teams into Pakistan.
This article, by Scott Shane, was published by the New York Times, August 11, 2009
WASHINGTON — Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were military retirees and psychologists, on the lookout for business opportunities. They found an excellent customer in the Central Intelligence Agency, where in 2002 they became the architects of the most important interrogation program in the history of American counterterrorism.
They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.
But they had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough.
So “Doc Mitchell” and “Doc Jessen,” as they had been known in the Air Force, helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course.
Dr. Mitchell, with a sonorous Southern accent and the sometimes overbearing confidence of a self-made man, was a former Air Force explosives expert and a natural salesman. Dr. Jessen, raised on an Idaho potato farm, joined his Air Force colleague to build a thriving business that made millions of dollars selling interrogation and training services to the C.I.A.
Seven months after President Obama ordered the C.I.A. interrogation program closed, its fallout still commands attention. In the next few weeks, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to decide whether to begin a criminal torture investigation, in which the psychologists’ role is likely to come under scrutiny. The Justice Department ethics office is expected to complete a report on the lawyers who pronounced the methods legal. And the C.I.A. will soon release a highly critical 2004 report on the program by the agency’s inspector general.
Col. Steven M. Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator and intelligence officer who knows Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, said he thought loyalty to their country in the panicky wake of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted their excursion into interrogation. He said the result was a tragedy for the country, and for them.
“I feel their primary motivation was they thought they had skills and insights that would make the nation safer,” Colonel Kleinman said. “But good persons in extreme circumstances can do horrific things.”
For the C.I.A., as well as for the gray-goateed Dr. Mitchell, 58, and the trim, dark-haired Dr. Jessen, 60, the change in administrations has been neck-snapping. For years, President George W. Bush declared the interrogation program lawful and praised it for stopping attacks. Mr. Obama, by contrast, asserted that its brutality rallied recruits for Al Qaeda; called one of the methods, waterboarding, torture; and, in his first visit to the C.I.A., suggested that the interrogation program was among the agency’s “mistakes.”
The psychologists’ subsequent fall from official grace has been as swift as their rise in 2002. Today the offices of Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the lucrative business they operated from a handsome century-old building in downtown Spokane, Wash., sit empty, its C.I.A. contracts abruptly terminated last spring.
With a possible criminal inquiry looming, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen have retained a well-known defense lawyer, Henry F. Schuelke III. Mr. Schuelke said they would not comment for this article, which is based on dozens of interviews with the doctors’ colleagues and present and former government officials.
In a brief e-mail exchange in June, Dr. Mitchell said his nondisclosure agreement with the C.I.A. prevented him from commenting. He suggested that his work had been mischaracterized.
“Ask around,” Dr. Mitchell wrote, “and I’m sure you will find all manner of ‘experts’ who will be willing to make up what you’d like to hear on the spot and unrestrained by reality.” A Career Shift
At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. Mitchell had just retired from his last military job, as psychologist to an elite special operations unit in North Carolina. Showing his entrepreneurial streak, he had started a training company called Knowledge Works, which he operated from his new home in Florida, to supplement retirement pay.
But for someone with Dr. Mitchell’s background, it was evident that the campaign against Al Qaeda would produce opportunities. He began networking in military and intelligence circles where he had a career’s worth of connections.
He had grown up poor in Florida, Dr. Mitchell told friends, and joined the Air Force in 1974, seeking adventure. Stationed in Alaska, he learned the art of disarming bombs and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.
Robert J. Madigan, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska who had worked closely with him, remembered Dr. Mitchell stopping by years later. He had completed his doctorate at the University of South Florida in 1986, comparing diet and exercise in controlling hypertension, and was working for the Air Force in Spokane.
“I remember him saying they were preparing people for intense interrogations,” Dr. Madigan said.
Military survival training was expanded after the Korean War, when false confessions by American prisoners led to sensational charges of communist “brainwashing.” Military officials decided that giving service members a taste of Chinese-style interrogation would prepare them to withstand its agony.
Air Force survival training was consolidated in 1966 at Fairchild Air Force Base in the parched hills outside Spokane. The name of the training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, suggests its breadth: airmen and women learn to live off the land and avoid capture, as well as how to behave if taken prisoner.
In the 1980s, Dr. Jessen became the SERE psychologist at the Air Force Survival School, screening instructors who posed as enemy interrogators at the mock prison camp and making sure rough treatment did not go too far. He had grown up in a Mormon community with a view of Grand Teton, earning a doctorate at Utah State studying “family sculpting,” in which patients make physical models of their family to portray emotional relationships.
Dr. Jessen moved in 1988 to the top psychologist’s job at a parallel “graduate school” of survival training, a short drive from the Air Force school. Dr. Mitchell took his place.
The two men became part of what some Defense Department officials called the “resistance mafia,” experts on how to resist enemy interrogations. Both lieutenant colonels and both married with children, they took weekend ice-climbing trips together.
While many subordinates considered them brainy and capable leaders, some fellow psychologists were more skeptical. At the annual conference of SERE psychologists, two colleagues recalled, Dr. Mitchell offered lengthy put-downs of presentations that did not suit him.
At the Air Force school, Dr. Mitchell was known for enforcing the safety of interrogations; it might surprise his later critics to learn that he eliminated a tactic called “manhandling” after it produced a spate of neck injuries, a colleague said.
At the SERE graduate school, Dr. Jessen is remembered for an unusual job switch, from supervising psychologist to mock enemy interrogator.
Dr. Jessen became so aggressive in that role that colleagues intervened to rein him in, showing him videotape of his “pretty scary” performance, another official recalled.
Always, former and current SERE officials say, it is understood that the training mimics the methods of unscrupulous foes.
Mark Mays, the first psychologist at the Air Force school, said that to make the fake prison camp realistic, officials consulted American P.O.W.’s who had just returned from harrowing camps in North Vietnam.
“It was clear that this is what we’d expect from our enemies,” said Dr. Mays, now a clinical psychologist and lawyer in Spokane. “It was not something I could ever imagine Americans would do.” Start of the Program
In December 2001, a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered outside Philadelphia at the home of a prominent psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, to brainstorm about Muslim extremism. Among them was Dr. Mitchell, who attended with a C.I.A. psychologist, Kirk M. Hubbard.
During a break, Dr. Mitchell introduced himself to Dr. Seligman and said how much he admired the older man’s writing on “learned helplessness.” Dr. Seligman was so struck by Dr. Mitchell’s unreserved praise, he recalled in an interview, that he mentioned it to his wife that night. Later, he said, he was “grieved and horrified” to learn that his work had been cited to justify brutal interrogations.
Dr. Seligman had discovered in the 1960s that dogs that learned they could do nothing to avoid small electric shocks would become listless and simply whine and endure the shocks even after being given a chance to escape.
Helplessness, which later became an influential concept in the treatment of human depression, was also much discussed in military survival training. Instructors tried to stop short of producing helplessness in trainees, since their goal was to strengthen the spirit of service members in enemy hands.
Dr. Mitchell, colleagues said, believed that producing learned helplessness in a Qaeda interrogation subject might ensure that he would comply with his captor’s demands. Many experienced interrogators disagreed, asserting that a prisoner so demoralized would say whatever he thought the interrogator exp
At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchell’s theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemy’s brutal techniques — slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding — into an American interrogation program.
By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center, whose director, Cofer Black, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., were impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon. One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear. In this person’s words, Dr. Mitchell suggested that interrogations required “a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings.”
By the end of March, when agency operatives captured Abu Zubaydah, initially described as Al Qaeda’s No. 3, the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready. At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, as reported in prior news accounts, two F.B.I agents used conventional rapport-building methods to draw vital information from Mr. Zubaydah. Then the C.I.A. team, including Dr. Mitchell, arrived.
With the backing of agency headquarters, Dr. Mitchell ordered Mr. Zubaydah stripped, exposed to cold and blasted with rock music to prevent sleep. Not only the F.B.I. agents but also C.I.A. officers at the scene were uneasy about the harsh treatment. Among those questioning the use of physical pressure, according to one official present, were the Thailand station chief, the officer overseeing the jail, a top interrogator and a top agency psychologist.
Whether they protested to C.I.A. bosses is uncertain, because the voluminous message traffic between headquarters and the Thailand site remains classified. One witness said he believed that “revisionism” in light of the torture controversy had prompted some participants to exaggerate their objections.
As the weeks passed, the senior agency psychologist departed, followed by one F.B.I. agent and then the other. Dr. Mitchell began directing the questioning and occasionally speaking directly to Mr. Zubaydah, one official said.
In late July 2002, Dr. Jessen joined his partner in Thailand. On Aug. 1, the Justice Department completed a formal legal opinion authorizing the SERE methods, and the psychologists turned up the pressure. Over about two weeks, Mr. Zubaydah was confined in a box, slammed into the wall and waterboarded 83 times.
The brutal treatment stopped only after Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen themselves decided that Mr. Zubaydah had no more information to give up. Higher-ups from headquarters arrived and watched one more waterboarding before agreeing that the treatment could stop, according to a Justice Department legal opinion. Lucrative Work
The Zubaydah case gave reason to question the Mitchell-Jessen plan: the prisoner had given up his most valuable information without coercion.
But top C.I.A. officials made no changes, and the methods would be used on at least 27 more prisoners, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.
The business plans of Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, meanwhile, were working out beautifully. They were paid $1,000 to $2,000 a day apiece, one official said. They had permanent desks in the Counterterrorist Center, and could now claim genuine experience in interrogating high-level Qaeda operatives.
Dr. Mitchell could keep working outside the C.I.A. as well. At the Ritz-Carlton in Maui in October 2003, he was featured at a high-priced seminar for corporations on how to behave if kidnapped. He created new companies, called Wizard Shop, later renamed Mind Science, and What If. His first company, Knowledge Works, was certified by the American Psychological Association in 2004 as a sponsor of continuing professional education. (A.P.A. dropped the certification last year.)
In 2005, the psychologists formed Mitchell Jessen and Associates, with offices in Spokane and Virginia and five additional shareholders, four of them from the military’s SERE program. By 2007, the company employed about 60 people, some with impressive résumés, including Deuce Martinez, a lead C.I.A. interrogator of Mr. Mohammed; Roger L. Aldrich, a legendary military survival trainer; and Karen Gardner, a senior training official at the F.B.I. Academy.
The company’s C.I.A. contracts are classified, but their total was well into the millions of dollars. In 2007 in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., Dr. Mitchell built a house with a swimming pool, now valued at $800,000.
The psychologists’ influence remained strong under four C.I.A. directors. In 2006, in fact, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her legal adviser, John B. Bellinger III, pushed back against the C.I.A.’s secret detention program and its methods, the director at the time, Michael V. Hayden, asked Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen to brief State Department officials and persuade them to drop their objections. They were unsuccessful.
By then, the national debate over torture had begun, and it would undo the psychologists’ business.
In a statement to employees on April 9, Leon E. Panetta, President Obama’s C.I.A. director, announced the “decommissioning” of the agency’s secret jails and repeated a pledge not to use coercion. And there was another item: “No C.I.A. contractors will conduct interrogations.”
Agency officials terminated the contracts for Mitchell Jessen and Associates, and the psychologists’ lucrative seven-year ride was over. Within days, the company had vacated its Spokane offices. The phones were disconnected, and at neighboring businesses, no one knew of a forwarding address.
This article, by Joby Warrick and Julie Tate, was originally published in The Washington Post, April 7, 2009.
Medical officers who oversaw interrogations of terrorism suspects in CIA secret prisons committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a confidential report that labeled the CIA program "inhuman." Health personnel offered supervision and even assistance as suspected al-Qaeda operatives were beaten, deprived of food, exposed to temperature extremes and subjected to waterboarding, the relief agency said in the 2007 report, a copy of which was posted on a magazine Web site yesterday. The report quoted one medical official as telling a detainee: "I look after your body only because we need you for information." New details about alleged CIA interrogation practices were contained in the 43-page volume written by ICRC officials who were given unprecedented access to the CIA's "high-value detainees" in late 2006. While excerpts of the report were leaked previously, the entire document was made public for the first time by author Mark Danner, a journalism professor, on the Web site of the New York Review of Books.
The confidential report sheds additional light on the CIA's handling of the detainees, who were held in secret overseas prisons for up to four years and subjected to what the agency describes as "enhanced interrogation techniques." In addition to widely reported methods such as waterboarding, the report alleges that several of the detainees were forced to stand for days in painful positions with their arms shackled overhead. One prisoner reported being shackled in this manner for "two to three months, seven days of prolonged stress standing followed by two days of being able to sit or lie down." In addition to the coercive methods -- which the ICRC said "amounted to torture" and a violation of U.S. and international treaty obligations -- the report said detainees were routinely threatened with further violence against themselves and their families. Nine of the 14 prisoners said they were threatened with "electric shocks, infection with HIV, sodomy of the detainee and . . . being brought close to death," it said.
The ICRC report was based on accounts made separately to agency investigators by individual detainees, all of whom had been kept in isolation before the interviews, the document states. CIA officials have confirmed that three of the prisoners were subjected to waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
An ICRC spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the document and said the organization "deplores that what was to be a confidential report has been made public." The CIA declined yesterday to comment on the report, citing the Red Cross's own policy of maintaining the confidentiality of its reports. But spokesman Mark Mansfield noted that the agency had long since ended the controversial interrogation program.
"Director [Leon] Panetta has taken decisive steps to ensure that the CIA abides by the president's executive orders. That means CIA will not use interrogation techniques outside the Army Field Manual," he said. He noted that Panetta also has stated repeatedly that "no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished."
Previously, top Bush administration officials defended the interrogation methods, saying they were legal and necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.
The report's release puts added pressure on the Obama administration, which has banned the use of waterboarding and similar techniques but has resisted calls to conduct legal inquiries to determine whether Bush administration officials broke laws.
The presence of medical personnel at CIA interrogation sites has been reported previously, but ICRC investigators found that their participation in some of the more harsh episodes to be a severe breach of medical ethics. The report said the officials were enlisted to ensure that the detainees did not die or suffer irreparable damage.
This article, by William Fisher, was originally distributed by IPS, February 26, 2009
NEW YORK, Feb 26 (IPS) - In a stunning reversal, Britain’s government admitted Wednesday that it participated in the ‘extraordinary rendition’ to Afghanistan of two terror suspects captured in Iraq.
British Defence Secretary John Hutton told Britain's House of Commons that the two individuals were captured by British forces in Iraq, transferred to U.S. detention and later moved to a U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan.
His admission contradicts the British government’s earlier assertions that there were only two cases involving detainee rendition. That statement involved the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, a British territory, which the government admitted had twice been used by the U.S. as a refueling stop for the secret transfer of terrorism suspects.
Apologising to lawmakers for the error, Hutton said, "I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my department," Hutton told lawmakers. "I must stress that this was based on the information available to ministers and those who were briefing them at the time."
At the time, the U.S. denied using the island for extraordinary rendition flights, but later acknowledged that it had misled the British government. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband later released a statement declaring that the U.S. had studied a list of 391 flights compiled by British human rights groups and lawmakers and that no other cases had been found.
Hutton told lawmakers that the two men are still being held in Afghanistan. He said the U.S. has given assurances that they are being held "in a humane, safe and secure environment."
It was unclear if the men were being held along with some 600 others at the U.S. military prison at Bagram Air Force Base, near Kabul. That base has been the target of recent charges from human rights groups that it has become Afghanistan’s Guantanamo Bay, that many prisoners have been locked up there for years without charges or access to lawyers, and that some have been tortured and abused.
Hutton’s disclosure comes on the heels of a firestorm caused by a lawsuit brought in Britain by British resident Binyam Mohamed, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, and who charged that British intelligence was complicit with the CIA in rendering him to Morocco, then to Bagram, and finally flying him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mohamed was held there since 2004 before his release and return to Britain earlier this week. No charges were ever filed against him. Until shortly before his release, he had been on a hunger strike at the Caribbean military prison.
The lawsuit he filed in Britain - similar to a separate suit brought in the U.S. - has caused a furor there, where officials asked the British High Court not to make public documents that Mohamed’s lawyers say substantiate his treatment. Opposition spokesmen there claimed the U.S. had threatened to stop sharing intelligence with Britain if the documents were made public. Secretary Miliband denied there was any threat.
Mohamed’s U.S. lawyer, Steven Watt, a staff attorney in the Human Rights programme of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told IPS, "It’s about time the U.K. came clean. News of Britain’s complicity with the CIA has been slowly leaking out for several years. We now know more than enough to conclude that the U.K. has played a role."
"Both countries are still trying to keep this information secret, either to avoid political embarrassment or to cover up some egregious human rights abuses," he said.
Asked by an IPS reporter about the timing of the Defense Minister’s announcement and apology, Watt said, "Maybe they finally want to make a clean breast of it."
In a related development, newly-confirmed CIA Director Leon Panetta said Wednesday that President Barack Obama may limit the countries to which the U.S. sends alleged terrorists to those with good human rights records, and will ensure they are not tortured or abused.
"If it's someone we are interested in, there is no purpose to rendering anyone, particularly if it's a high-value target," Panetta said.
Panetta added that he believes prisoners should only be handed over to countries that have a legitimate legal interest in them, such as their home country or a country where charges are pending against them.
Panetta seemed to be trying to distance himself from statements he made during his congressional confirmation hearing earlier this month. He told lawmakers that the Obama administration intended to continue rendering prisoners captured in the war on terrorism.
Panetta said the administration would rely on a long-standing policy to first secure "diplomatic assurances" from the country that the prisoner would not be tortured or have his human rights violated. But human rights groups point out that such assurances have proved to be virtually worthless in the past, when suspects have been flown to countries with egregious human rights records.
Panetta said the Obama administration would "make very sure" that prisoners are not mistreated after they are rendered. Asked by the Associated Press exactly how that would be done, Panetta said, "Well, I guess, you know, A, make sure, first of all, the kind of countries that we render will tell us an awful lot about that," he said. "No. 2, I think diplomatically we just have to make sure that we have a presence to ensure that that does not happen."
The White House is currently reviewing the extraordinary rendition policy and programme.
Panetta said he does not believe additional prisoners will be sent to Guantanamo this year. In his first week in office, Obama ordered the prison closed within a year, but no decision has yet been made public on what to do with the roughly 250 inmates still there. Only a handful have been charged with a crime, and those trials have been suspended while the Obama administration reviews its legal options.
This article, by Lara Jakes and Pamela Hess, was distributed by the Associated Press, January 16, 2008
WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials familiar with drafts of the plans. Still under debate is whether to include a loophole that would allow exceptions in extraordinary cases.
The proposal Obama is considering would require all CIA interrogators to follow conduct outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the officials said. The plans would also have the effect of shutting down secret "black site" prisons around the world where the CIA has questioned terror suspects — with all future interrogations taking place inside American military facilities.
However, Obama's changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said, although the intent is not to use that as an opening for possible use of waterboarding.
The new rules would abandon a part of President George W. Bush's counterterrorism policy that has been condemned internationally. Bush has defended his policies by pointing to the fact that the nation has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on its soil.
Obama spokeswoman Brooke Anderson did not have an immediate comment Friday about the drafted plans, which the two officials discussed only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
No final decisions have been made about how to adjust the government's interrogation standards. Obama is still weighing whether to alter interrogation policy by executive order during his first days in office or working with Congress through legislation.
The plans do not specifically address the issue of extraordinary rendition, the policy of transferring foreign terrorism suspects to third countries without court approval.
In private Capitol Hill meetings, CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta and Director of National Intelligence designate Dennis Blair have said Obama wants a single set of rules for interrogations. And in Senate testimony Thursday, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder called the Army manual "a good place to start."
The 384-page Army manual, last updated in September 2006, is a publicly available document. It authorizes 19 interrogation methods used to question prisoners, including one allowing a detainee to be isolated from other inmates in some cases. The manual explicitly prohibits threats, coercion, physical abuse and waterboarding, which creates the sensation of drowning. Holder termed waterboarding a form of torture on Thursday.
The CIA also banned waterboarding in 2006 but otherwise has been secretive about how it conducts interrogations. In the past, its methods are believed to have included sleep deprivation and disorientation, stress positions and exposing prisoners to uncomfortable cold or heat for long periods. It's also believed that some prisoners have been forced to sit in cramped spaces with bugs, snakes, rats or other vermin as a scare tactic.
Waterboarding has been traced back hundreds of years and is condemned by nations worldwide. U.S. officials waterboarded at least three top al-Qaida operatives — including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed — in 2002 and 2003 because of fears that more attacks were imminent.
The Army manual can be amended by the military. It is unclear whether the CIA would be held to the one published in 2006 or future versions.
For Obama, who repeatedly insisted during the 2008 presidential campaign and the transition period that "America doesn't torture," a classified loophole would allow him to follow through on his promise to end harsh interrogations while retaining a full range of presidential options in conducting the war against terrorism.
The proposed loophole, which could come in the form of a classified annex to the manual, is designed to satisfy intelligence experts who fear that an outright ban of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques would limit the government in obtaining threat information that could save American lives. It would also preserve Obama's flexibility to authorize any interrogation tactics he might deem necessary for national security.
However, such a move would frustrate Senate Democrats and human rights, retired military and religious groups that have pressed for a government-wide prohibition on methods they describe as torture.
Glenn Sulmasy, an international law professor at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., said Obama can and should preserve his executive authority to order aggressive interrogations when necessary. But he said that should be done on a case-by-case basis and not become a broad policy.
"There are some coercive techniques that he might employ on a ticking time bomb scenario, but he'll distinguish himself by making it clear that the presumption under the law is that there is no torture," Sulmasy said Friday.
Critics, however, said Obama cannot claim to ban torture if it's not clear what interrogation methods will be allowed.
"That would not be good," said the Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. "We don't need to be able to torture and we don't need to engage in any interrogation techniques that are not humane. And unless we have absolute clarity that these interrogation techniques will not be used, they are not going to be able to say that."
Speaking with reporters Thursday, outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden said harsh interrogation tactics have been needed to get information from the most hardened terror suspects. He and some other U.S. intelligence officials oppose limiting the CIA to the Army manual, which was written specifically for military interrogations and may not be effective on the most dangerous detainees.
"It is an honest discussion to talk about what techniques we should use, but to assume automatically that the Army Field Manual would suit the needs of the republic in all circumstances is a shot in the dark," Hayden said.
Senate Democrats aren't likely to support a classified annex. Holder on Thursday said the interrogation methods outlined in the Army manual would be just as effective as those used by the CIA.
"I'm not convinced at all that if we restrict ourselves to the Army field manual that we will be in any way less effective in the interrogation of people who have sworn to do us harm," Holder said.