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This article, by Richard Lee, was posted to The Rag Blog, November 11, 2009
To Barack Obama:
Let’s have a military buildup! You can show those crazy-ass generals at the Pentagon that you aren’t just a chicken-shit weenie from Harvard.
You gotta do it right, however. Stop waffling about a measly 40,000 or 44,000 troops and do it like you mean it! I know you have never fought for or against anything. (That squabble with the Court Clerk to get your papers filed doesn’t count.) But you can do it! Don’t forget to keep that HOPE and CHANGE thingy going, so we won’t see what is really happening behind the curtain.
Since you don’t have a clue how to go about it, you should go back and dust off the template that the power-drunk cowboy used way back when. Turn to the record of his build-up, covering March 8, 1965, through, say, the end of January, 1966. Yep, that’s right I’m talking about Vietnam (they told me you were smart); don’t let that slow you down, a buildup is a buildup and you can do it in Afghanistan just like Lyndon and Waste-more-land did it back then.
You’ve already got 68,000 troops and an untold number of mercenaries... uh, contractors there so maybe you can forgo the photo op of the Marines stomping ashore like at Da Nang, or maybe you can arrange something like that, it was a good photo. No one will call you on it; the ignorance of the American people knows no limits. Don’t forget to include the Afghani ARVN; they’ll do you a lot of good.
That done, throw caution to the wind, fire anyone who counsels caution, and begin a real buildup!
Expect casualties. Lyndon was told to expect civilian casualties of 25,000 dead, about 68 men, women and children a day, mostly from “friendly fire” and 50,000 wounded. That was an estimate for the one year the generals said it would take to bring the Vietnamese “to their knees” and initiate their surrender; one year, or maybe 18 months at the most. That number was good enough for Lyndon, so don’t let anybody’s numbers scare you. In 1968 there were 85,000 civilians wounded.
Next, establish free fire zones. Once you get all those troops there, they will need some place to fire off all their ordnance. Go to an inhabited area, drop leaflets or have USAID workers visit and tell the population to get on the road and become refugees. Those who are too old or too infirm to go, or who come up with the excuse that Afghanistan is their country and they ain’t going; well, those are Viet Cong... I mean, Tally Band.
What good is a free fire zone if it doesn’t have any targets to shoot at anyway? While you are busy changing “Viet Cong” to “Taliban," change the name “free fire zones” to Specified Strike Zones; those pesky Congressional liberals will feel better about it. It worked when Lyndon did it.
Get an air war going. Crank up the SAC B-52’s, they don’t have anything to do now that the Russians opted out of the Cold War. One B-52 at 30,000 feet can drop a payload that will take out everything in a box five eighths of a mile wide and two miles long. You can still call it “Operation Arc Light”; no one will remember that’s been used before.
Don’t forget to let the other planes in on the fun! Fighter bombers can deliver ordnance too. Lyndon, in that first 10 months, got it up to 400 sorties a day, add in the B-52’s and they were able to drop 825 tons of bombs a day. Some even hit their targets.
Drop more than bombs. I hate to suggest a return to Agent Orange. Military science must have come up with better stuff in the last 50 years. If not, then use the leftover Agent Orange, the residual effect is worth it. Not only will those enemy Afghanis (or friendly ones, for that matter) not be able to plant food crops in target areas for decades, but “Taliban fighters” will keep dying from it for years after we’re gone.
During the 10-month Vietnam build-up, specially equipped C-123’s covered 850,000 acres, in 1966 they topped that, “defoliating” 1.5 million acres. By war’s end they’d dropped 18 million gallons of Agent Orange, in addition to millions of gallons of less notorious but still deadly poisons code-named for other colors -- Purple, White, Pink, and more -- over 20% of the south of Vietnam.
To help keep the buildup affordable, take no costly precautions with our own troops; it’s hot in Afghanistan, so let them take off their shirts while spraying. The afflicted Vietnam vets sued the government over it, they won! My brother Tommy was one of them. What did they win? Well, when they die, they get $300.00 from the government. You can forget about the vets anyway when the war is over, that’s S.O.P.
Now, a buildup ain’t all in the air. Howitzers, Long Tom Cannons and mortars expended enough high explosive and shrapnel in Southeast Asia to equal the tonnage dropped from the air.
And it’s not just troop strength that you’ll need to build up. Your friends The Masters of War have probably already told you that. A build-up is troops and MATERIAL. See how Waste-more-land did it, and more or less copy that. Brown and Root are still in business; have a sit down with them; they can help you sort it out.
Build airfields. With hundreds of thousands more troops you will need lots of airfields. Jet airfields are best for business. Lyndon had three in Vietnam before he started, he quickly built five more. So, discount what you have and get cracking! A 10,000 foot runway to start, and then add parallel taxiways, high speed turnoffs, and tens of thousands of square yards of aprons for maneuvering and parking. Use aluminum matting at first; you can replace it with concrete later. You gotta build hangers, repair shops, offices and operations buildings, barracks, mess halls, and other buildings. Don’t stint on the air conditioning!
Build deep water ports. What? Don’t have an ocean? Kee-rist, what kind of a country are we liberating anyway? Well, you still gotta build ports! Guess you can build them in Kuwait and other countries and truck all the shit through Iraq, they will be pacified by then and welcoming us with open arms and goofy little dances. Pakistan might like one or two, it would be good for business and we can just pay them to be our friend like we do now... only more.
Ports were dredged to 28 feet back then, but the newer boats draw 40 feet. It may be only mud to you, but its gold to the contractors. Half a dozen new ports should get you started.
But wait, there’s more. Four or five central supply and maintenance depots and hundreds of satellite facilities, build them along the lines of the prison gulag you are building in the U.S.
Build thirty more permanent base camps for the new combat and support troops you are sending. Another fifty or so tactical airfields long enough to hold C-130’s. Build two dozen or more hospitals that have a total of nine to ten thousand beds. Be sure there are new plush headquarters buildings for the brass and about four or five thousand staff. Everything has to be connected by secure electronic data systems, secure telephones, two or three hundred communications facilities around the country. Tens of thousands of new circuits will be needed to accommodate the built-up war machine.
You are a smart guy, Mr. President, so I won’t belabor an explanation of each thing. But here is a quick list of bare necessities: Warehouses, ammunitions stowage areas, tank farms for all the petroleum, oil and lubricants, new hard top roads, well ventilated and air conditioned barracks with hot water and flushing toilets (think 6-10,000 septic tanks). Food, not just MRE’s, but for all those REMF’s who will need fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products. Thousands of cold lockers to store this, and you need to build a milk reconstitution plant, maybe two or three, and ice cream plants.
All this is going to take a lot of electricity, so you will need thousands of permanent and mobile gas-driven generators (better add another tank farm). PX’s, not just for cigarettes and shaving cream, but all the things that the consumer army you will be sending is used to having: video game consoles, blackberries, microwave ovens, computers, slacks and sport shirts (to wear on R&R -- could omit that by having no R&R), soft drinks (better build a bottling plant), beer, whiskey, ice cubes (more generators?). Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, steaks.
Be sure to stock candy, lingerie, and cosmetics to improve the standard of living of the local women. They will also need to buy electric fans, toasters, percolators, TV’s, CD and DVD players, room air conditioners, and small refrigerators.
Movie theaters, service clubs, bowling alleys... will the list ever end? No!
Well, that will get your buildup started. I haven’t even addressed the more and more and more troops the generals will want, that is way too heavy for me!
In re-creating Johnson’s buildup, it will be better to skip over the second week in November, 1965, and all that stuff about the Drang River Valley, that’s just for historians. Close the book when you get to the end of January, 1966. Don’t read through April, with all those dreary reports from Khe Sanh. Don’t read about Tet 1968. Just remember it was the press and the Congress and the people who lost their will that lost that war, and not the stupid blundering generals or the presidents who didn’t give a shit how many they killed on either side.
One last thing: get your architects busy designing the Bush/Obama wall to put opposite ours on the Mall. Maybe you can even have your vets pay for it themselves like we had to.
I go there whenever I am in that stinking city. I sit on the edge of the grass just before sundown and sometimes I talk to the wall. The wall stands silent then; they are still waiting for an answer to the question of why we went to Vietnam. When it gets dark, sometimes the wall talks back. They say a lot of things, but they never say, “God bless my Commander-in-Chief.”
Richard Lee, Vet (Veterans Day, 2009)
This article, by Larry Ray, was published by the Rag Blog, October 4, 2009
Forty three years ago as a young civilian correspondent and documentary filmmaker, I stepped off the plane in Saigon knowing nothing about the history of that country or its people, and little or nothing about why Americans were fighting and dying there. I had come to see the war of my time.
As a U.S. Navy veteran and young news anchor for a South Texas regional TV station it seemed a given that we were there to fight godless communism and that we were the good guys.
It was 1966 and WWII had been over for 21 years and hostilities in Korea had ceased in 1953. But Americans still saw our military and patriotism as Johnny marching home again to ticker tape parades. We had whipped the Nazis and the Japs, and fought the North Koreans and commie Chinese to a draw. Clearly American might was not to be messed with.
But by 1966 America's claim of winning an honorable peace in South Vietnam was being seriously challenged by seasoned journalists in both Saigon and Washington D.C.. About the time I arrived, Morley Safer filed his story showing our Marines using a zippo lighter to set fire to thatch roofed homes in a rural village on a "search and destroy" mission. His was perhaps the first story that Americans saw that suggested America was facing bleak prospects of victory. We damn sure were not winning hearts and minds.
After a few months of sitting through bogus U.S. military press briefings which we called the "five o'clock follies," and working with seasoned reporters from around the world, my Boy Scout naiveté disappeared. After a year of the outright lies and misrepresentations in Pentagon and White House press releases about things I had seen with my own eyes, my naiveté turned to a frustrated, simmering anger. An anger that was ultimately taken to the streets across America just a few years later.
Since the Vietnam War, accredited correspondents have no longer been allowed to freely move about and report on our wars. Reporters are now "embedded" within military units under their control and influence.
The parallels between America's disastrous involvement in Southeast Asia and our costly and ill-advised involvement in the Middle East have fired up that frustration and anger anew. This time opposition by the average American to requests for more troops in Afghanistan is getting louder before the new call for 40,000 more troops has even been approved.
Our involvement in Vietnam started in 1950. General Eisenhower's decision to send military advisers to help the South Vietnamese army was the start of a massive buildup of American troop strength which reached a high of 543,482 in 1969. In the early years in Vietnam the Pentagon was still using a set-piece, WWII battle mentality, and Communism was our new political devil. And this was a hot, sweaty jungle war with no front lines.
Very few Americans spoke or understood the sing-songy monosyllabic Vietnamese language. The history and dynamics of a very old country that had been at war in some form or another for more than a thousand years was lost on those tasked with guiding America's efforts there.
The fiercest battles were being secretly waged between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State. The State Department's political and diplomatic findings were muzzled and marginalized. We bombed Hanoi while increasing numbers of young draftees and regular American troops were being slaughtered as they fought fiercely in unforgiving conditions for a cause they did not understand. Almost twice as many Vietnamese, insurgents as well as civilians, died from our bombs and bullets.
America's strong belief in the efficacy of power reasoned that if bombing our way to peace was not working, there was no need to consider diplomacy or a new approach. Clearly we only needed to drop more bombs, send in more troops and the enemy would finally give up. And that is just what we did. The generals called for increasing the enemy body count to achieve peace and allow us to return home with honor. And our politicians went right along with that reasoning.
We failed to appreciate that we were in the middle of a very old private fight between North and South. Intelligence showed early on that a majority in the South was ready for peace, even a communist style of peace, and most of all wanted the "long noses" who they saw as raining destruction down upon them to be driven out of their country. In Vietnam there ultimately was no victory and no honor for America. Today Vietnam is peaceful and prosperous and an important trading partner with the USA, just like our top trading partner, communist China.
The military might mentality was challenged early on by president John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 bucked extreme pressure from the Pentagon and within his own White House, and refused to order combat troops into Vietnam, limiting our presence there to military advisers. JFK listened not only to his top military brass, but also to his State Department, particularly undersecretary George Ball who predicted pretty much what eventually happened, except reality was worse than what he envisioned. After JFK's death his order halting combat troops was reversed by President Johnson, driven more by domestic politics than military necessity.
In Vietnam 58,000 American troops were killed, 155,192 were wounded or missing. The touted "domino effect" where all Southeast Asia would topple country after country to communism if we didn't win in Vietnam now is easy to see as so much expedient political hysteria.
The story is, of course, much more complex than this, but the bare bones are that politicians and military leaders refused to listen to the State Department and other foreign service experts who laid bare the corrupt leadership of South Vietnam, and pointed out that this was a long simmering internal war of insurgency with strong nationalistic roots. The actual communist Chinese or Soviet Russian interest in and backing of the war was extremely limited.
Our desire to strike back after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, combined the totally inept leadership of the George W. Bush administration with, once again, expedient political hysteria. First we launched an inadequately planned and then insufficiently supported attack upon al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda top officials escaped to protective sheltering by tribal supporters who had seen their country invaded by the British, the Soviet union, and now American and NATO troops.
Then, with political misinformation, outright lies, a cowed press and a Congress that asked few questions, our government launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9-11 attacks on the USA. This mad neo-conservative misadventure has had a massively destabilizing effect upon the Middle East and has bred more hatred for the USA and our military in the Arab world.
It has also unnecessarily stressed our military's ready troop strength and equipment readiness with 4,300 U.S. troops killed and more than 30,000 wounded and injured as of September 2009. Cost of the Iraq war is expected to surpass the $686 billion present day dollar value cost of the Vietnam war by year's end.
One of President Obama's first actions after taking office was to make good on his promise to get us out of Iraq, and that is now underway. Though the dynamics, politics, religion and leadership are totally different from Vietnam, Iraq, like Vietnam, will ultimately reach its own destiny without the forceful imposition of American ideas and politics upon its ancient culture. We eliminated its despotic leader, but its people still must sort through complex religious and ideological differences on its own and they may or may not decide to remain some sort of democracy.
Afghanistan is an even older and thornier problem. And one that cannot be bombed into submission. Afghanistan was first invaded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The tribal warlords have never been successfully subdued. No "surge" of military troops will somehow completely overpower the zealotry of religious belief. Imagine foreign troops invading America trying to subdue and forcibly control ultra-orthodox elements of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church, because they saw them as bad for the American people.
Afghanistan has never had organized, cohesive governance and is today just a fragile step away from becoming a failed state like Somalia. That is why it was an ideal location for Bin Laden to train his al Qaeda fighters. The American figurehead Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has become a real problem for the U.S. as well as NATO. We had hoped, with our backing, he could somehow unify the disparate tribes flung through the mountains and badlands into a proud democracy.
But such dreams have been jarred by the reality of a Karzai-rigged national election with rampant vote tampering and voter intimidation. Karzai is no better than the warlords we want him to pull together. Karzai has now distanced himself from his American minders and has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.
Now we want to send in a massive number of new troops and equipment to somehow again "win hearts and minds" and drive out the Taliban with brute force.
While the Taliban have no designs upon terror against America or any of the other NATO nations now with troops in the country, they operate as brutal criminals in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. An increased armed American presence there is a daily irritant to Afghans, as well as neighboring rogue areas of Pakistan caught between foreign troops who often cannot tell the difference between peaceful civilians and the Taliban.
Once more we are fighting a war where troops do not speak the language or understand the people and are tasked with fighting often in 130º heat. The goal of preventing Afghanistan from again becoming an al Qaeda terrorist training ground cannot be accomplished by bombing the country into submission. This is a complicated political, diplomatic and sociological challenge.
President Obama, in office less than a year, just like JFK, must soon make a decision regarding the politically charged prospect of approving or disapproving more troops being called for by a top military general. I hope he is aware of the assessment of others who have tried to subdue this ragged country:
“Afghanistan taught us an invaluable lesson . . . It has been and always will be impossible to solve political problems using force. We should have helped the people of Afghanistan in improving their life, but it was a gross mistake to send troops into the country.”– Retired Red Army General Boris Gromov
This article, by Jeremy Scahill, was published by The Nation, October 22, 2009
On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis' lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.
"We were very pleased with the ruling," says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater's spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, "We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis's opinion."
Ellis's ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis' lawyers but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed. In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs' documentation of facts before going to trial. According to Ellis's ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.
Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company's contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater's argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is "unavailing," adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that "claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes" are legitimate under the statute.
Ellis also rejected Blackwater's argument that "conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a 'military objective' rather than for economic or ideological reasons." Ellis said that under Blackwater's logic "it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater's] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate 'military objective' for committing the murders."
"What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis's ruling is "an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago" when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years "that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US." Ellis's ruling, he says, "is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law."
But Ellis also ruled that the Iraqi plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient specific details linking Blackwater's owner Erik Prince to the alleged murders and other crimes in Iraq. In order for the case to proceed against Prince, Ellis wrote, "the complaints must state facts that would allow a trier of fact plausibly to infer that Prince intentionally killed or inflicted serious bodily harm on innocent civilians during an armed conflict and in the context of and in association with that armed conflict." The plaintiffs, Ellis ruled, "have failed to meet this burden."
In a hearing on August 28, Burke said that she has evidence that Prince ordered or directed the killings of innocent Iraqis and at that time asked Judge Ellis permission to later amend her cases if Ellis ruled that, in light of the Iqbal decision, such information was necessary for the cases to proceed. In his ruling, Ellis granted Burke's request in four of the five cases. In one case, involving the alleged murder of a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president by a drunken Blackwater operative, Andrew Moonen, on Christmas Eve 2006 inside the Green Zone, Ellis found that there was insufficient evidence to suggest Prince "intentionally killed" the bodyguard or that his "conduct proximately caused the decedent's death."
In the four other cases, which include 18 Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by Blackwater, Ellis ruled that Burke could refile her claim with more details about Prince's alleged involvement and the role of the Blackwater corporation in the killings. Ellis found that the cases "could be amended to add factual allegations that would permit plausible inferences that Prince and Xe [Blackwater] defendants ordered killings of innocent Iraqi civilians...and that defendants' conduct proximately caused the injuries or deaths to plaintiffs."
Ellis rejected Burke's allegation that Blackwater engaged in summary executions, saying that under the law such classification of killings "require[s] state action, and none is alleged here." Blackwater also made an argument that the cases should have been tried in Iraq--or that the Iraqis' lawyers should have exhausted that possibility before filing their cases in US courts. Ellis shot down that argument and pointed out that Blackwater's own lawyers admitted that under the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 in Iraq, Blackwater would have immunity for its crimes under Iraqi law. Ellis also rejected Blackwater's claim that punitive damages are not allowed in these types of cases. As Ellis wrote, Blackwater's lawyers "offer no support" for this argument "in the case law or from recognized international treatises."
One of the central thrusts of the Iraqis' suits against Blackwater is that Erik Prince is the head of an organized crime syndicate as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal statute permitting private parties to seek redress from criminal enterprises who damage their property. Burke and CCR decided to sue Prince and his companies directly rather than his individual employees because they say Prince "wholly owns and controls this enterprise." They allege that Prince directed murders of Iraqi civilians from Blackwater's headquarters in Virginia and North Carolina. Ellis dismissed the claims that the Iraqis have standing under the RICO Act, but ruled that they can file an amended complaint that "Prince ordered or directed the killings allegedly committed in Iraq from within the United States, and that such conduct proximately caused the damage allegedly suffered by the RICO plaintiffs." In one of the cases, Ellis ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had expired for a RICO claim.
On August 3, lawyers for the Iraqis submitted two sworn declarations from former Blackwater employees alleging that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One former employee alleged that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." What role, if any, these allegations will play in the amended complaints is unclear, but Burke insists she has evidence to back up all of her allegations.
Burke's case is also bolstered by the evidence the US government will present in its criminal case against Blackwater forces. On September 7, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, submitted papers in the criminal case against five Blackwater operatives for their alleged role in the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded more than twenty others. Burke is representing many of these families in her civil case. Blackwater forces "fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause," the acting US Attorney in DC, Channing Phillips, alleges in court papers submitted by Kenneth C. Kohl, the lead prosecutor on this case. "[T]he defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at [Nisour] Square." The government also alleges that one Blackwater operative "wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as 'payback for 9/11,' and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot," while "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds."
In its motion to dismiss, Blackwater also argued that to allow the company to be sued for alleged crimes in a war zone would violate the rights of the president of the United States under the "political question doctrine" to not have a "second-guessing of the battlefield decisions of the U.S. government." Ellis rejected that outright and noted: "The United States has appeared as an interested party and argues that if defendants committed the alleged conduct, they were not acting as employees of the United States when they did so. Moreover, the government states that its contracts with defendants 'provided for multiple layers of [Xe defendants'] management to oversee the day-to-day operations' of its employees and that the employees were under the direct supervision of Xe defendants' management when the alleged conduct occurred."
Judge Ellis's ruling only relates to the charges that Blackwater and Prince violated federal laws and not to the additional allegations that they also violated state laws. Even if Judge Ellis ultimately rejects all of the federal arguments made by Burke and CCR, which is a big if, the cases can still proceed under "common law," as has happened in other torture and war crimes cases. Ellis has not yet ruled on those charges
This articl;e, by Christopher Flavelle, was posted to Alternet, October 14, 2009.
A few weeks ago, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia released a declassified version of a judge’s ruling in the case of Al Rabiah, a Kuwaiti citizen who has been held at Guantanamo for seven years. The judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, found that the government could not credibly support its allegation that Al Rabiah was part of the Taliban or al-Qaida, and that the evidence against him wasn’t sufficient to justify his continued detention. She ordered the government to release Al Rabiah "forthwith."
But the judge’s opinion is more than a legal document; it’s also a window into the interrogation process at Guantanamo and the risk that "enhanced interrogation techniques" will produce false information. Excerpts from the opinion are below; you can also read the whole document. Al Rabiah’s background.
Kollar-Kotelly describes Al Rabiah as a 50-year-old father of four, who graduated from the Air Service Training school at Perth College, Scotland, with a degree in aviation maintenance in 1981. He then went to Kuwait Airways, where he worked until his detention in 2001. At the time Al Rabiah was captured, he was an overweight man in his 40s, with "various medical ailments such as high blood pressure and chronic pain in his neck and lower back]" and no military training, save for two weeks of compulsory training in the Kuwait Army until he was discharged for a knee injury.
Al Rabiah often used his vacations to perform humanitarian work in impoverished or war-torn countries, the judge writes, and it was to perform the same kind of work that he traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001—an explanation that Kollar-Kotelly writes is supported by the evidence. After he tried to leave the country via Iran, whose border guards denied him entry, Al Rabiah tried instead to cross the Pakistani border, but he was captured by villagers and turned over to the Americans, who later transferred him to Guantanamo. The government’s evidence against Al Rabiah was "surprisingly bare."
The government’s case against Al Rabiah initially rested on two main pillars: allegations made against him by fellow detainees and his own confessions. But in the judge’s opinion, neither held any weight.
The judge’s ruling cites four detainees who made allegations against Al Rabiah. The names of his accusers are redacted, as are the specifics of their allegations, but Kollar-Kotelly explains her reasons for rejecting them. The first accuser made statements that were incorrect; the second made statements that changed over time, and which the judge called "demonstrably false"; the third seems to have made statements about someone who was not Al Rabiah; and the fourth made his allegations only after one week of sleep deprivation, exceeding the military’s own guideline prohibiting sleep deprivation for more than four days, "and he did not repeat this allegation either before or after."
Kollar-Kotelly notes that the government itself "withdrew most of its reliance" on the witnesses against Al Rabiah during the course of the trial. She writes that their allegations are unreliable, writing, "the Court finds that none of the alleged eyewitnesses have provided credible allegations against Al Rabiah." However, she calls it "very significant that Al Rabiah’s interrogators apparently believed these allegations at the time they were made, and therefore sought to have Al Rabiah confess to them." That brings her to those confessions. Al Rabiah’s confessions were obtained only after his interrogators began using "aggressive interrogation tactics," at least one of which was apparently used without proper authorization.
Kollar-Kotelly found that Al Rabiah initially denied any involvement with al-Qaida, even after he was told that eyewitnesses had made allegations to the contrary. Al Rabiah’s confessions began only after his interrogators "began using more aggressive interrogation tactics."
At least one of those tactics "did not become authorized by the Secretary of Defense for use at Guantanamo until April 16, 2003." The techniques approved by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on that date included isolation, "dietary manipulation," "attacking or insulting the ego of a detainee" and "environmental manipulation," including "adjusting temperature or introducing an unpleasant smell."
Whatever tactic was initially used by Al Rabiah’s interrogators, they may have broken the Defense Department’s rules in applying it. The judge writes that at least one of the tactics used on Al Rabiah "could not be used on a detainee until ‘the SOUTHCOM Commander ma[de] a determination of ‘military necessity’ and notif[ied] the Secretary in advance’ of its use." According to the judge, "the Government was unable to produce any evidence that [REDACTED] obtained authorization to use the [REDACTED] technique," despite requests from the court to produce that evidence.
Kollar-Kotelly writes that Al Rabiah told the court that he made his confessions "to reduce the abuse meted out by his interrogators ‘to obtain confessions that suited what [they] thought they knew or what they wanted [him] to say.’" According to the judge, Al Rabiah "maintained his confessions over time because ‘the interrogators would continue to abuse [him] anytime [he] attempted to repudiate any of these false allegations.’" The judge found that Al Rabiah’s interrogators supported his belief that if he did not confess, "his life would become increasingly miserable." Al Rabiah’s confessions frustrated his interrogators, leading them to use tactics that violated both the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions.
Instead of making his situation easier, Al Rabiah’s confessions made it worse. The judge writes that once Al Rabiah’s interrogators decided his confessions were implausible, they "became increasingly frustrated … [A]s a result, Al Rabiah’s interrogators began using abusive techniques that violated the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War."
The first of those techniques, writes the judge, included "threats of rendition to places where Al Rabiah would either be tortured and/or would never be found "—a violation of the Army Field Manual’s prohibition on "threatening or implying physical or mental torture."
To reinforce those threats, Kollar-Kotelly writes, Al Rabiah’s interrogators put him in the "frequent flier program," which the judge describes elsewhere in her opinion as a technique that "prevented a detainee … from resting due to frequent cell movements." Kollar-Kotelly writes that this technique, like threats of torture, violated  the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, the judge highlights the fact that the Army Field Manual states that such techniques "can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear."
Kollar-Kotelly writes that Al Rabiah’s lead interrogator "was disciplined for making similar threats during the same period " toward another detainee—one of the ones who was an alleged eyewitness against Al Rabiah, in fact. Al Rabiah was made to believe that he needed to confess in order to go home.
Later in the opinion, Kollar-Kotelly writes that "the evidence in the record suggests that Al Rabiah repeated these confessions in the false belief that it would allow him to return to Kuwait." Al Rabiah didn’t come to that conclusion by accident alone. According to the judge, "there is substantial evidence in the record that Al Rabiah was led to believe that he needed to confess something in order to be eligible to be returned to Kuwait." The judge’s rebuke.
Kollar-Kotelly writes that Al Rabiah’s interrogators repeatedly concluded that his confessions were not believable, and she chides the government for using those confessions as the basis for justifying his continued detention at Guantanamo.
"Far from providing the Court with credible and reliable evidence as the basis for Al Rabiah’s continuous detention," she writes, "the Government asks the Court to simply accept the same confessions that the Government’s own interrogators did not credit."
"If there exists a basis for Al Rabiah’s indefinite detention, it most certainly has not been presented to this Court. Al Rabiah’s petition for habeas corpus is GRANTED."
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 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.
The following interview, with Paul Wolfowitz, wasx braodcast on Weekend All Things Considered, September 5, 2009.
Some issues of the past still affect the present. Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz sat down Friday with former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the man widely known — fairly or not — as the "Architect of the Iraq War."
Wolfowitz has written a spirited attack on the so-called "realists" of the foreign policy world, including those who support President Obama, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine.
Raz asked Wolfowitz about his view of realism but also about issues he was somewhat reluctant to discuss: Iran and the Iraq war.
Foreign policy realists, in simple terms, believe the United States should only act when it serves its own interests. Many of them opposed the invasion of Iraq.
In his article, Wolfowitz writes that President Obama is not a classic realist.
Paul Wolfowitz: If you wanted to find a realist, as someone who believes foreign policy should support American interests, then I know of very few people who wouldn't associate themselves with that view. And certainly I do, and I'm sure President Obama does. The question is what are American interests? And there is a school of thought — and it's a fairly influential one — that says American interests should concern themselves only between external conduct of countries and external relations between states, and that we have no business getting involved with their internal affairs. And in fact, that's interference. And it's beyond our capacity. And my basic point is that, first of all, it is our business: The internal affairs of other countries has a big impact on American interests. To me, the evidence on that is dramatic, and we have an ability to influence more in some places than some others.
Guy Raz: Is that — when do you pick and choose? PW: Well, you tailor what you can do according to the circumstances. GR: Because you can't apply it consistently. PW: Look, I think the notion that there's a dogma or doctrine of foreign policy that gives you a textbook recipe for how to react to all situations is really nonsense. GR: But I want to ask you about President Obama, because you say that he is not a "realist." You argue that he is something else PW: Look, they made me take the quote marks out. It bothers me that the so-called "realists" have appropriated this term, "realism." Obama is, I think, a realist. GR: By "realist," you're referring to people like professor Stephen Walt from Harvard, John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago ... PW: I'm not trying to refer to a particular individual; I'm referring to people who believe in a doctrine that the internal affairs of countries is not our business, OK, and if people want to say there's no such person, then fine, that argument is over. I don't think that's true, actually, but I'm not really interested in individuals; I'm interested in saying we have a record over 25 years where American promotion of freedom and Democratic institutions — and, by the way, the rights of women, which is part of that — and if you look ahead, and Muslim countries, I believe, and improving the condition of women is not only something one should do because it's right, but it's in American interests and I think Mrs. Clinton — Secretary Clinton, excuse me — has that piece of the agenda correct, and I think she's being a realist. I think someone who puts themselves in a doctrine that says the way Saudi Arabia treats its women is no concern of ours. They may call themselves realists, but I think they're very unrealistic. GR: In defense of the argument that foreign policy realists are making, they're not saying that democracy promotion shouldn't happen; I think the argument they're making is it shouldn't happen at the point of a gun. PW: There's no argument that you don't do it at the point of a gun, and one of the points I make in that article is despite a lot of inaccurate representations — including this use of the word "architect" to describe me, I'm sorry — we went to war in Iraq, those of us who supported because we believed — GR: I mean, you were described that way in 2004 and — PW: You're not the only one who did it, but I don't want to get into an argument about why I did. The real point is this: Look, people who supported it, including me, did it because we believed Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and not because we believed we needed to go to war to install a democracy in Iraq. GR: In a response to your piece in Foreign Policy, one of the best known realists, Harvard professor Stephen Walt writes, "Idealistic wars of choice like Iraq invariably force policymakers to engage in threat inflation and deception, and Wolfowitz was an able practitioner of this art." There are so many unanswered questions about Iraq. First, your response to Stephen Walt. PW: Look, I didn't do this Q&A in order to argue about the Iraq war. I did this Q&A precisely for the opposite reason, which is to say that — GR: But this is a response to your — PW: Let me finish — which is precisely to say, don't confuse the Iraq war with promoting democracy peacefully, and that is an extremely important part of American foreign policy, and I personally don't think we should use force to promote democracy. Maybe there's someone around who does, but the real point is, we can have a lot of argument about Iraq, and a lot of people can feel very strongly that it was the wrong thing to do, and I'm just, in effect, pleading: Don't let that carry over to saying we should abandon anything that looks like, quote, interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Don't abandon the cause of women's rights. Don't abandon the cause of people pushing for freedom and democracy in Iran GR: But surely you can understand the skepticism of those like Walt who say we need to be very careful now because of the mistakes of Iraq. PW: We need to always be very careful about the use of force. There is no question about that, but I don't think it applies to being, quote, very careful about supporting democratic reformers in the Arab world. GR: The question is not about supporting democracy in the Arab world but what Walt in his argument calls "idealistic wars" — PW: I'm sorry, that isn't the issue. I'm not arguing for "idealistic wars," so we have no argument about that. If that's what the issue is — and if he thinks nobody is questioning support for Democracy — then there's no issue with him. But there are people who in fact believe that we have no business getting involved in internal affairs. GR: But there are clear examples of when you were trying to connect Iraq and al-Qaida — you've seen the Pentagon inspector general's report that was released by the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2007. I mean you write to Doug Feith, "We are not pulling together these links." I mean, can't you understand PW: Look, you want to re-debate the Iraq war, that's a different subject. But when I no, look — GR: — This is one of the most important foreign policy decisions taken in the last 30 years — PW: — But the issue that I'm trying — GR: — That you were a major part of.
1. PW: What I'm trying to say is no matter how much you detest the Iraq war, no matter what you want to say about arguments that I made, the fact is that it remains in our interest to do the kind of thing that we did with Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, that we did with Chun Doo Hwan in Korea, that we did with the whole Eastern Europe/Soviet Union, that we've done since then with promoting democracy in places like Serbia. Look at the change that's taken place in the Balkans because of the political change in Belgrade. GR: There's some testimony you gave to the House Budget Committee in 2003 shortly before the war, and I want to play that for you:
Recording of Wolfowitz in 2003: "It's been a good — a good deal of comments, some of it quite outlandish, about what our post-war requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. First, it's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine." GR: Not hard to imagine today. PW: Well, look, even at the height of the surge, I believe we got 180,000 American troops, and I don't think we'd have had to do that if we had built up the Iraqi security forces from day one the way we should have — but look, you're sort of illustrating, it seems to me, an obsession and I understand it, I'm not trying — I understand why people want to debate the past, but what I'm trying to say is, in terms of making policy today, whatever you think about the past, let's try to come to some agreement if we can that in fact it is in America's interest to promote reform in the Arab world and to do it peacefully. GR: But knowing what you know now about what happened in Iraq, would you have done it in a different way? I mean, you say — PW: You can't leave Iraq alone. GR: I mean is it more difficult for us to go to a country like Saudi Arabia and say, "We want you to do X, Y and Z, and we want you to follow these democratic principles in light of allegations of torture, in light of the mistakes made in Iraq — PW: You know, it's interesting, it's interesting — GR: I mean, isn't it hard to make — PW: No it isn't. It isn't. And it's especially not hard for this president. I mean, this president has a bully pulpit like no other, and whether it's fair or unfair, George Bush would have had a problem. Barack Obama has an incredible opportunity because he has a clean slate, because of who he is, because of what he represents about the best of America. GR: Do you believe Iran poses a threat to the United States? PW: I think on the track they're on, I think it's a very dangerous country. GR: I'm wondering, if you think it's a dangerous country, can you understand the skepticism that many Americans would have, particularly because of Iraq and because many Americans were led to believe Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States, that they would be skeptical about whether Iran poses the same kind of threat? PW: Look, I think Iraq was dangerous. I think a country that defies 17 U.N. resolutions and, which, the day after 9/11 Saddam Hussein says 'Until Americans suffer the way they've made other people suffer,' that its government will never change its policy it was a dangerous country. Some people misread the danger by the way, it wasn't just George Bush, Bill Clinton was the one who said, I think in 1998, 'I guarantee you someday they'll use these weapons.' GR: But he didn't invade Iraq. PW: He bombed it for four days. I think he thought that might bring them around. GR: But there's a difference — we're talking now about a war that's cost $800 billion — 4,300 lives. PW: I'm not saying it hasn't been costly and difficult but George Bush made that decision after many more years of frustration and after an unbelievable demonstration of what terrorism could mean and what weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists could mean. I mean, we're going to probably debate the Iraq war for at least as long as I'm alive — GR: — And you can understand why. PW: — I can understand why. What I'm trying to say is, don't confuse everything that President Bush was in favor of with the Iraq war that you may not like. GR: You have no regrets about what happened. PW: That's not true, but I didn't come here — look, there were a lot of mistakes that were made and some of them, I would say I identified and some of them I didn't, and I'm not the "architect," I'm not the sole author here, but that's not the point. The point here is we have a long record of American support for democratic institutions and for freedom, and we shouldn't give that up because we think it's somehow the Iraq war. GR: Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz is the former deputy defense secretary and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks for coming in. PW: Thank you.
This article, by Peter Bergen, was posted to Foriegn Policy, August 28, 2009
Since he left office, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has been waging a lonesome jihad to defend the practices of the Bush administration during the "war on terror," saying in an emblematic interview in February: "If it hadn't been for what we did -- with respect to the terrorist surveillance program, or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees, the Patriot Act, and so forth -- 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 U.S."
In a speech he gave three months later at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, Cheney said, "In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program."
Cheney gave this speech at AEI the very same day that President Barack Obama, just a couple of miles away at the National Archives, was giving his own major speech on his administration's revamped detention and interrogation policies. Giving such a dueling policy speech was something of a first for a just-stepped-down vice president, a job that is generally supposed to entail a comfortably obscure retirement fly-fishing and attending rubber-chicken fundraisers.
But Cheney did not go gently into that vice presidential night. At AEI Cheney amped up his own sky-is-falling rhetoric, claiming that the coercive interrogations of al Qaeda detainees had "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people." Holy smokes!
Cheney's AEI speech was essentially a remix of the arguments that he had made in the run-up to the Iraq war: that if only ordinary American citizens had seen the top secret information he had access to, they would be even more alarmed than he was. And the Bush administration had only prudently taken every measure necessary to keep Americans safe.
Hiding behind a wall of classification has been a quintessential Cheney trope. But that wall just crumbled.
On Monday Cheney released a statement -- first reported through the reliably unchallenging conduit of The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, who was also the amanuensis of Cheney's authorized biography -- in which the former vice president once again defended the Bush administration's record on the coercive interrogations of al Qaeda members, stating that CIA documents declassified earlier this week "clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks."
Those documents include two CIA assessments from 2004 and 2005 of the information derived from what the U.S. government terms its "high-value detainees." Cheney had pressed the agency to release those assessments because he said that they would substantiate his claims that coercive measures on al Qaeda prisoners had kept the United States safe.
So what do the newly released CIA documents show, in combination with the other records on the matter that are already in the public domain?
The first al Qaeda member to be subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- an Orwellian locution we can simplify to coercive interrogation -- was Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian al Qaeda logistician in his early 30s at the time. Abu Zubaydah was captured in March 2002 in a shootout in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in which he was shot three times and critically wounded. So grave was his condition that the CIA arranged for a leading surgeon from the Johns Hopkins medical center in Baltimore to fly to Pakistan to save his life.
Abu Zubaydah was the subject of intense interest from U.S. officials as they believed he was the first al Qaeda insider whom they could interrogate who might know what form the next terrorist attack could take. And so Abu Zubaydah was the first prisoner to be placed in a secret overseas CIA prison, this one located in Thailand.
There Abu Zubaydah was interrogated by Ali Soufan, one of the FBI's few Arabic-speaking agents. Abu Zubaydah described Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's operational commander, as the mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and he confirmed that Mohammed's alias was "Mukhtar," an important clue in helping to track him down.
Abu Zubaydah's confirmation of Mohammed's role in the attacks on New York and Washington was arguably the single-most important piece of information uncovered about al Qaeda after 9/11, and it was discovered during the course of a standard interrogation without recourse to any form of coercion. Soufan told Newsweek, "We were able to get the information about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a couple of days."
Abu Zubaydah also described an al Qaeda wannabe whose physical description jibed with that of Jose Padilla, an American small-time hood who would be arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in May 2002 and who was supposedly planning to detonate a radiological "dirty bomb" in the United States. Again, the information about Padilla was provided by Abu Zubaydah without coercive measures being applied.
Later, over Soufan's vociferous objections, a CIA contractor stepped in to take over Abu Zubaydah's interrogations. The FBI's standard, noncoercive techniques were jettisoned, and Abu Zubaydah was stripped naked, deprived of sleep, subjected to loud noise and wide variations in temperature, and later waterboarded 83 times, a form of simulated drowning generally considered torture.
In the end, the multiple waterboardings of Abu Zubaydah provided no specific leads on any plots, according to the just-released CIA documents, though clearly his role as an al Qaeda logistician gave him insights into the organization and its personnel that were useful to the agency. There is no reason, however, to think that any of those insights could not have been garnered by standard interrogation techniques.
Following his March 2003 arrest in Pakistan, al Qaeda's chief of operations, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), was also subjected to intensive coercive measures. KSM was taken to a secret CIA prison in northern Poland where he initially proved resistant to interrogation. In the words of the 2004 CIA inspector general's report on detainees that was also released this week, "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete."
Following his defiance, KSM was subjected to a number of coercive interrogation techniques including being waterboarded 183 times and being told that his children -- who were then being held in American and Pakistani custody -- would be killed. KSM then provided a wealth of information about al Qaeda's inner workings as well as details about past and future plots, much of which was detailed in the footnotes of the 9/11 Commission Report.
One such plot KSM offered up was a plan to attack London's Heathrow Airport in 2003 using hijacked commercial jets. But, as Peter Clarke, Britain's chief counterterrorism official at the time says, "It wasn't at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the U.K. doing it. If they had been, I'd have arrested them." The "Heathrow plot" was, in other words, just talk.
The 2004 CIA report, titled "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad: Preeminent Source On Al-Qa'ida," stated that "reporting from KSM has greatly advanced our understanding of al-Qa'ida's anthrax program," in particular about the role of a Malaysian scientist named Yazid Sufaat who was recruited by al Qaeda to research biological weapons. Sufaat, a biochemistry graduate of California State University, Sacramento, set up Green Laboratory Medicine Company for al Qaeda in southern Afghanistan in 2001 as a front company through which it was hoped that the terrorist group would acquire anthrax and other biological agents that could be used as weapons.
But what the CIA did not say in its 2004 report is that Sufaat was never able to buy or produce the right strain of anthrax suitable for a weapon. And so though KSM might have helped the CIA understand something of al Qaeda's anthrax program, either he had little understanding of the science of biological weapons, and/or agency officials who wrote the report were also similarly handicapped. In fact, al Qaeda's anthrax program was a big dud that never produced anything remotely threatening, a point that the CIA report is silent on.
An important piece of information that KSM did divulge, according to the 2004 CIA assessment, was "the crucial first link in the chain that led us to the capture" of a man named Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin and who was the interface between al Qaeda and its Southeast Asian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah. Hambali was the mastermind of the October 2002 bombings of two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, that killed about 200, many of them Western tourists. According to the CIA, Hambali's capture also led to the arrest of "more than a dozen Southeast Asian operatives slated for attacks against the US homeland."
A 2005 top secret memo by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that was released by the Obama administration in April points out that KSM only gave up his plans for a "Second Wave" of attacks on the United States after he had been subjected to "enhanced techniques," i.e. waterboarding and the like.
But did KSM's coerced interrogations really lead to any substantive plots against the American homeland being averted? The short answer is no
A document that the U.S. government released back in 2006 around the same time that KSM was transferred out of his secret CIA prison to the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, offered details on the plots he had hatched against the United States:
KSM launched several plots targeting the US Homeland, including a plot in late 2001 to have ... suicide operatives hijack a plane over the Pacific and crash it into a skyscraper on the US West Coast; a plan in early 2002 to send al-Qa'ida operatives to conduct attacks in the U.S.; and a plot in early 2003 to employ a network of Pakistanis ... to smuggle explosives into New York and to target gas stations, railroad tracks, and a bridge in New York.
The newly released CIA documents merely rehash the range of anti-American plots cooked up by KSM that the government had already made public three years ago. And though this second wave of attacks all sounded very frightening, there is no indication that these plots, like the plan to attack Heathrow, were ever more than just talk.
The chances of success, for instance, of al Qaeda's plan to attack the skyscraper on the West Coast -- since identified as Los Angeles' 73-story Library Tower, now known as the U.S. Bank Tower -- were described by KSM in one court document to be "dismal." KSM also explained in the same document that the second wave of al Qaeda attacks on the United States was put on the "back burner" after 9/11.
The CIA inspector general's report on al Qaeda detainees also concluded that based on a review of KSM's plots aimed at the United States, it "did not uncover any evidence that these plots were imminent," but it did find that KSM "provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen who Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad's information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio."
The man identified by the CIA inspector general as "Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York" who KSM supposedly gave up to his interrogator appears, in fact, to be Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was arrested on Dec. 12, 2001, in Peoria, Ill., a year and a half before KSM was captured.
The Parachas are a father-and-son team; the former, arrested in Thailand in the summer of 2003, is being held at Guantánamo and has yet to face trial, while his son was convicted in 2005 of providing "material support" to al Qaeda.
Majid Khan was arrested in Pakistan only four days after KSM was captured, suggesting that this lead came not from interrogations but from KSM's computers and cell phones that were picked up when he was captured.
Of the terrorists, alleged and otherwise, cited by the CIA inspector general as being fingered by KSM during his coercive interrogations, only Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris was an actual al Qaeda foot soldier living in the United States who had serious intention to wreak havoc. However, he was not much of a competent terrorist: In 2002 he researched the feasibility of bringing down the Brooklyn Bridge by using a blowtorch, an enterprise akin to demolishing the Empire State Building with a firecracker.
If that was the most threatening plot the United States could discover by waterboarding the most senior al Qaeda member in U.S. custody, it was thin stuff indeed. And when English journalist David Rose asked FBI Director Robert Mueller last year whether he was aware of any attacks on the United States that had been disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through "enhanced techniques," Mueller replied: "I don't believe that has been the case."
The CIA inspector general also arrived at a similar conclusion when he judged that "it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks," which was the supposed standard necessary for the imposition of coercive measures on the al Qaeda prisoners in the first place.
Historians will likely judge that the putative intelligence gains made by abusive interrogation techniques were easily outweighed by the damage they caused to the United States' moral standing. That is certainly the view of Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, who said in an April 2009 statement, "These techniques have hurt our image around the world. ... The damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security." Quite.
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 Stephen Walt, was published in Foreign Policy, August 18, 2009
At an appearance before the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Obama defended U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, calling it a "war of necessity." He claimed that "our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals -- to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies," and he declared that “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
This is a significant statement. In effect, the president was acknowledging that the only strategic rationale for an increased commitment in Afghanistan is the fear that if the Taliban isn't defeated in Afghanistan, they will eventually allow al Qaeda to re-establish itself there, which would then enable it to mount increasingly threatening attacks on the United States.
This is the kind of assertion that often leads foreign policy insiders to nod their heads in agreement, but it shouldn't be accepted uncritically. Here are a few reasons why the "safe haven" argument ought to be viewed with some skepticism. First, this argument tends to lump the various groups we are contending with together, and it suggests that all of them are equally committed to attacking the United States. In fact, most of the people we are fighting in Afghanistan aren't dedicated jihadis seeking to overthrow Arab monarchies, establish a Muslim caliphate, or mount attacks on U.S. soil. Their agenda is focused on local affairs, such as what they regard as the political disempowerment of Pashtuns and illegitimate foreign interference in their country. Moreover, the Taliban itself is more of a loose coalition of different groups than a tightly unified and hierarchical organization, which is why some experts believe we ought to be doing more to divide the movement and "flip" the moderate elements to our side. Unfortunately, the "safe haven" argument wrongly suggests that the Taliban care as much about attacking America as bin Laden does. Second, while it is true that Mullah Omar gave Osama bin Laden a sanctuary both before and after 9/11, it is by no means clear that they would give him free rein to attack the United States again. Protecting al Qaeda back in 2001 brought no end of trouble to Mullah Omar and his associates, and if they were lucky enough to regain power, it is hard to believe they would give us a reason to come back in force. Third, it is hardly obvious that Afghan territory provides an ideal "safe haven" for mounting attacks on the United States. The 9/11 plot was organized out of Hamburg, not Kabul or Kandahar, but nobody is proposing that we send troops to Germany to make sure there aren't "safe havens" operating there. In fact, if al Qaeda has to hide out somewhere, I’d rather they were in a remote, impoverished, land-locked and isolated area from which it is hard to do almost anything. The "bases" or "training camps" they could organize in Pakistan or Afghanistan might be useful for organizing a Mumbai-style attack, but they would not be particularly valuable if you were trying to do a replay of 9/11 (not many flight schools there), or if you were trying to build a weapon of mass destruction. And in a post-9/11 environment, it wouldn’t be easy for a group of al Qaeda operatives bent on a Mumbia-style operation get all the way to the United States. One cannot rule this sort of thing out, of course, but does that unlikely danger justify an open-ended commitment that is going to cost us more than $60 billion next year? Fourth, in the unlikely event that a new Taliban government did give al Qaeda carte blanche to prepare attacks on the United States or its allies, the United States isn't going to sit around and allow them to go about their business undisturbed. The Clinton administration wasn't sure it was a good idea to go after al Qaeda's training camps back in the 1990s (though they eventually did, albeit somewhat half-heartedly), but that was before 9/11. We know more now and the U.S. government is hardly going to be bashful about attacking such camps in the future. (Remember: we are already doing that in Pakistan, with the tacit approval of the Pakistani government). Put differently, having a Taliban government in Kabul would hardly make Afghanistan a "safe haven" today or in the future, because the United States has lots of weapons it can use against al Qaeda that don’t require a large U.S. military presence on the ground. Fifth, as well-informed critics have already observed, the primary motivation for extremist organizations like the Taliban and Al Qaeda is their opposition to what they regard as unwarranted outside interference in their own societies. Increasing the U.S. military presence and engaging in various forms of social engineering is as likely to reinforce such motivations as it is to eliminate them. Obama is hoping that a different strategy will eventually undercut support for the Taliban and strengthen the central government, but it is still an open question whether more American involvement will have positive or negative effects. If we are in fact making things worse, then we may be encouraging precisely the outcome we are trying to avoid. Sixth, one might also take comfort from the Soviet experience. When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the mujaheddin didn't "follow them home." Were the United States to withdraw from Aghanistan and the Taliban to regain power (or end up sharing power, which is more likely), going after the United States won't even be on their "to do" list.
One can of course make a moral argument for an extended commitment in Afghanistan, but that's not the argument Obama made (and it probably wouldn't sell very well here at home). For a realist, the "safe haven" argument is the only possible rationale for a large military commitment in Afghanistan. But the case is actually quite dubious, and somebody in the administration really ought to take a hard look at it. I doubt anyone will, however, because Obama is now committed, and his administration is filled with "can-do" types who never saw an international problem they didn't think the United States could fix.I sure hope they're right and I'm wrong, but I also wish that I didn’t have that feeling quite as often as I seem to these days.