Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Robyn E. Blumner, was published by The St. Petersburg Times, October 25, 2009
Ubi jus ibi remedium.
Probably nothing turns readers off more than starting a column with some incomprehensible Latin phrase. But this one's relevant. It means: Where there is a right, there is a remedy. When a legal wrong has been done, the courts should be able to order some kind of relief. Otherwise, what good is the right?
What good is habeas corpus (more Latin, sorry) if after it is determined that you are being held illegally you can be kept in jail? This is precisely the question the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to answer. A case taken Tuesday asks whether a court has the power to free Guantanamo detainees after finding they were wrongly imprisoned, even if the only place to send them is the United States.
Here is the crazy situation that exists now: A group of Muslim Uighurs who fled oppression in western China and went to camps in the mountains of Afghanistan were turned over to the U.S. military, reportedly by Pakistani officials for a bounty of $5,000 a head. They have been imprisoned in Guantanamo for more than seven years, and it wasn't until last October that the Uighurs finally had their habeas corpus petitions ruled on by a federal judge. He found they were wrongfully imprisoned. The government has admitted that the Uighurs are not enemy combatants. Whatever beef they have is with China, which is why the men cannot be returned there, where they would be tortured or executed.
But since at the time no other country would take them, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered them released in the United States. A Uighur community promised housing and employment help.
This seems fair. We made them stateless, dragged them to Guantanamo and robbed them of six years of their lives before bothering to give them due process. Releasing them is the least we can do.
But then something astounding happened, at least from a logic, compassion and constitutional standpoint. In February, a federal appellate court set aside the order to free the men. It said that because the Uighurs are aliens and all immigration decisions are the province of the political branches, the court is powerless to order their transfer to our shores.
According to this reasoning, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year in Boumediene vs. Bush that Guantanamo detainees have the right to be free from "arbitrary and unlawful restraint," the court intended a huge loophole. Even if a court determines that a Guantanamo detainee has been unlawfully imprisoned for years, he will have to remain until his jailer finds him another country, whenever that is ... maybe never.
Having a right without a remedy is frustrating when the issue is, say, money damages defeated by sovereign immunity. But here the issue is the most fundamental: liberty.
The Uighur case has resulted in other prisoners ending in the same limbo. Of 30 detainees who federal judges have found in the last year are being unlawfully detained, only 10 have been resettled in foreign countries, none here. Lower court judges are powerless except to admonish the administration to hurry its relocation efforts.
The hope is that even this conservative Supreme Court will side with the Uighurs. The high court was exceptionally protective of habeas corpus during the Bush presidency. It would be stunning if the court allowed those rulings elevating due process over presidential power to be emasculated by immigration law.
The case has iffy prospects on another front. President Barack Obama promised to shutter Guantanamo within a year of his presidency, which could moot the case by the time it is heard next year. Four Uighurs have now been sent to Bermuda, and Palau says it will take others.
But the principle will not go away. Obama promised in his inaugural to protect "the rights of man." To be meaningful, as the president knows, those rights must be more than declaratory. They must include a remedy, a way to walk free from one's illegal imprisonment.
This article, by Pascal Zachary, was posted to In These Times, October 9. 2009.
For all the talk of polarization and partisanship in U.S. politics, what’s remarkable is the extent to which President Obama has continued policies and practices of his predecessor, George Bush, in domestic economics and military affairs.
Economically, Obama has continued the bailout of Wall Street, maintained Bush-era tax cuts, pursued “stimulus” through large deficit spending and re-appointed Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman who was a Bush favorite.
In defense, Obama has broken with Bush on a few critical matters, notably by canceling expensive weapons systems and dropping (in September) an aggressive plan to impose a “missile shield” in Eastern Europe that Russia intensely opposed. Yet Obama has carried over Bush’s secretary of defense, Robert Gates; essentially stuck with Bush timetables on Iraq; and maintained historically record levels of Pentagon spending. The president has continued the war in Afghanistan, raising the number of American combat troops. In a speech on August 17, Obama even tried to construct a moral basis for the war, described it as “not a war of choice,” but “a war of necessity.” And as a necessary war, “a war worth fighting,” Obama has declared that only through the democratization of Afghanistan can the terrorist threat to the United States—in the form of al Qaeda—be eliminated from the country.
Further escalation of the war in Afghanistan is no sure thing, however. Having voiced support for increasing combat troops earlier in his presidency, in September Obama seemed torn between three possibilities: escalation, muddling through with the current military footprint or shifting to a greatly “limited” combat mission that would concentrate on countering terrorists targeting the United States, rather than fighting the insurgent Taliban.
Obama’s decision is complicated by his earlier decision to ask his top Afghan military commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to make the case for escalation. McChrystal is reportedly prepared to ask for an additional 40,000 U.S. troops—beyond the 68,000 American soldiers already approved to fight in Afghanistan.
While the question of whether or not the United States sends more troops to Afghanistan defines the current debate over the war, respected Democratic voices, such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Vice President Joseph Biden, are quietly stumping for a third way: limited war in Afghan, which would concentrate on countering terrorists and depend on a relatively small number of conventional combat troops. The “limited” advocates, who Obama seemingly ignored until recently, are offering the president a stark choice between escalating—and creating a new Vietnam-style quagmire—and a sharp reduction of ground troops, which would likely reduce both American deaths and the cost of the war. Supporters of this approach include conservative columnist George Will, who in a September column nicely summarized the “limited” war approach. “Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy,” Will wrote. “America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
A third way
That escalation in Afghanistan is no longer viewed as inevitable is welcome. Yet missing from the debate is any serious consideration of complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. No single voice in the foreign policy establishment supports the speedy exit of combat forces, though even McChrystal concedes that the United States might soon experience involuntary withdrawal—in total defeat. “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months)—while Afghan security capacity matures—risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” he wrote in his confidential assessment of the war, leaked to the Washington Post.
To be sure, the United States has already lost the war in meaningful ways. The month of October marks eight years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan. More than 800 American soldiers have died—and alarmingly more than one quarter of that total died in the past three months alone. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent since the war began. The Afghan government this summer presided over a fraudulent national election. Illegal opium production has exploded since 2001; for 2008, the United Nations valued Afghan drug exports at $3 billion. Polls show less than 40 percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, the lowest level of support since the start of the war.
Calling for complete withdrawal, phased or immediate, remains a lonely position, endorsed by such independent foreign policy experts as Andrew J. Bacevich, of Boston University, and Robert Naiman, coordinator of Just Foreign Policy, an activist group. Democratic Party leaders, while fretting over parallels between an Afghan quagmire and the Vietnam War that doomed Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in the ’60s, are objecting to escalation. Sen. Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) opposition to sending more troops, while trying to put limits on U.S. costs in the war, still holds fast to the notion that Afghan institutions, including the army, can be sufficiently strengthened to hold off the Taliban. Even many progressive advocacy groups, such as MoveOn, haven’t made rapid withdrawal form Afghanistan a high priority, perhaps fearing that by breaking with the president on war, they will weaken his ability to push through progressive domestic legislation like healthcare reform. But Code Pink, an influential peace group, has been calling on the president to “focus on negotiations and bringing our troops home.”
Getting the mission right
Yet the case for withdrawing from Afghanistan makes tactical, strategic and moral sense, chiefly because legitimate U.S. security needs can be achieved more effectively through other means. As Bacevich has written, “In Afghanistan today, the United States and its allies are using the wrong means to vigorously pursue the wrong mission.”
If there is a “right” mission in Afghanistan, it can only be to deny al-Qaeda and its friends the opportunity to attack Americans at home and abroad. After eight years in Afghanistan, U.S. troops (aided by much smaller forces from Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy and other “allied” countries) haven’t accomplished this. Yet targeted attacks by U.S. and allied forces are killing terrorists, highlighting an alternative to ground troops and an Afghan quagmire.
In September, U.S. military forces in Somalia killed Saleh Nabhan, the man believed to be responsible for attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. Predator drones, “robot” aircraft controlled from a distance by U.S. technicians, have killed al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.
The use of assassination squads and remote-controlled killer planes present their own practical and moral problems. The wrong people can be killed, for instance. And such attacks require detailed knowledge of the movements of the targets. Some of the declared “enemies,” meanwhile, such as Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban government shattered by U.S. air strikes beginning on Oct. 7, 2001, might be worth negotiating with instead of killing. Omar remains head of the insurgency, a popular hero and important to any negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Withdrawal of U.S. troops would be linked to progress in peace negotiation—and an acceptance that the Taliban, in some form, will play some role, if not a decisive role, in a new Afghan government.
An end to war in Afghanistan—and increased stability as a consequence of peaceful co-existence with the Taliban—would benefit Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants are believed to be living in a remote city. Secular political forces in Pakistan, which possesses nuclear weapons, are battling to keep the country out of the hands of religious fundamentalists who already exert profound influence. Anti-American feeling is extraordinarily high in Pakistan; even secular elites blame Americans for inflaming and exaggerating their domestic problems. The U.S. government, which is currently debating how much to increase financial assistance to Pakistan, would provide more effective help without troops in Afghanistan.
A comprehensive strategy
Defenders of escalation say that Afghanistan needs to be reformed and that the aim of U.S. intervention is to create a democratic society, where Afghanis are safe and free. The premise of a democratic Afghanistan informs McChrystal’s view of war aims; the commander’s edifice of escalation depends, he writes (weirdly echoing Hegel), on identifying “the objective will of the [Afghan] people.” In March, Obama gave powerful expression to this position when he announced his “comprehensive” strategy for Afghanistan. While his highest goal was to stop the use of the country as a terrorist staging ground, his next two were classic nation-building goals: to promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan and a national army that can ultimately take over “counter-insurgency” efforts from Americans.
In the arena of democratization, the American effort was marred by last month’s flawed elections, which saw President Hamid Karzai steal enough votes to claim victory (there’s a recount now underway). The election fiasco pushed Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), an influential Democrat, to predict Afghanistan “will remain [a] tribal entity.” Such a place would require a strong U.S. military presence to hold together and (perhaps) the emergence of a homegrown dictator ruling the country with a “strong hand.”
Yet the very presence of American troops inflames ethnic differences.
Afghans view Americans as invaders and occupiers, and their very presence galvanizes opponents, creating more resistance. As Afghan army spokesman Zahir Azimi has said, “Where [American] forces are fighting, people think it is incumbent on them to resist the occupiers and infidels.” The self-perpetuating nature of the conflict explains the profound pessimism expressed by some with deep experience in the region. British Gen. David Richards, who served in Afghanistan, said in August that stabilizing the country could take 40 years. While such predictions are dismissed as hysterical, they are simply the logical extension of Levin’s insistence that the United States “increase and accelerate our efforts to support the Afghan security forces in their efforts to become self-sufficient in delivering security to their nation.” These efforts at self-reliance inevitably involve a significant American presence on the ground, which in turn fuels the very cycle that Levin insists he wants to avoid: a costly quagmire.
The alternative to a McChrystal escalation or a Levin quagmire requires no leap into the unknown but rather recognition of limits of American power and the legacy of Afghan history. The script for withdrawal is essentially already written—in Iraq, of all places. For the sake of temporary peace, Iraq has essentially been partitioned into three “sub-countries,” two of which are essentially ethnic enclaves. The same could be done in Afghanistan—though the number of sub-divisions could be larger, and acceptance of Taliban rule over some of them would be required. In this scenario, a phased pullout of U.S. forces could accompany the negotiated “government of national unity,” which—like in Iraq—would preserve the “notional” nation of Afghanistan while effectively deconstructing the territory into more manageable pieces.
The United States once blithely dealt with the Taliban (Dick Cheney, after all, famously met with the Taliban prior to bin Laden’s attacks). While retaining the right to attack al Qaeda on Afghan soil, the Obama administration could tolerate Taliban rule if the result of a stable Afghanistan was to free more resources and attention to Pakistan’s urgent security issues. The embrace of realism could well co-evolve with the re-emergence of a moral center to American foreign policy.
Under this scenario, withdrawal of American troops would not mean the end of military actions on Afghan soil. As advocates of “limited” war argue, attacks could still be made from Predator drones based elsewhere. But air strikes and attacks by U.S. “special forces” on Afghan soil risk undermining any government of national unity and the pretense that the United States has halted its war on the Taliban.
For President Obama, the stakes are high. His young presidency is on the line. Perhaps because his secretary of defense, Gates, is a Republican, Obama has personalized the decision on Afghan strategy to a dangerous degree. Afghanistan is now Obama’s war. By deciding to reduce, if not altogether remove, U.S. combat troops from the country, the president will take a step towards the moral high ground that he so often desperately seeks to inhabit.
Morality must return to the center of America’s relations with the world. Afghanistan could become, as Obama likes to say, “a teaching moment,” for this president and his wider constituency, the citizens of the planet. The Bush presidency damaged both the image of the United States as a role model for promoters of democratization around the world, and further entrenched a darker counter-view of America as a reactionary force in world affairs. The Obama presidency creates an opening to restore the brighter side. In continuing the war in Afghanistan, Obama risks destroying his chances to redeem the United States in the eyes of the world. By ending the Afghan war, quickly and decisively, the president will match his rhetoric of hope with reality. He will also save U.S. lives and create new openings for negotiation, diplomacy and regional solutions to problems in distant lands.
This open letter, from the National Lawyers Guild, was posted to the Atlantic Free Press, October 10, 2009
We, the undersigned, are writing to request that you hold firm against any attempts by former Vice President Dick Cheney, the CIA directors, and the media to silence those who demand that the United States hold accountable those who have committed and authorized torture.
We call on you to appoint a special independent prosecutor who is not part of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute all those who ordered, approved, justified, abetted or carried out the torture and abuse. The people who are held accountable should not be limited to low-level operatives.
We are particularly disturbed by the efforts of the reporters at the Washington Post to distort the facts and ignore the illegality of torture. They cited anonymous sources who allegedly said that torture works; these “reports” contradict the newly released report of the CIA’s Inspector General.
Cheney’s claim that your decision to open an investigation into the conduct of the CIA is a politicization of this issue is shameful. If anything, political pressure has led to your office taking too narrow an approach to the investigation.
The world community has expressed its revulsion at the use of torture in any form. Torture is illegal under all circumstances. The prohibition against torture is considered in international law on par with laws against genocide, slavery and wars of aggression. Under the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, it is a crime against humanity.
The United States is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Geneva Conventions. Both treaties expressly require the United States to either extradite or initiate prosecution of persons who are reasonably accused – this is a legal obligation. The U.S. Torture Statute that Congress passed to fulfill our obligations under the CAT outlaws torture committed outside the United States. The U.S. War Crimes Act punishes torture as a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. In 2006, the Supreme Court affirmed in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that all prisoners in U.S. custody are protected by the Geneva Conventions.
There are many who claim we should ignore the facts and the law and refuse to hold accountable all those responsible for the use of torture. Whether actionable intelligence was gained is not the issue. Nor is the morale in the CIA.
We believe the oath of office you took requires that you not pick and choose those laws you will enforce.
National Lawyers Guild
Center for Constitutional Rights
U.S. Human Rights Network
American Association of Jurists
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Psychologists for Social Responsibility
The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Lawyers Against the War (Canada)
Japanese Lawyers International Solidarity Association
National Association of Democratic Lawyers in South Africa
European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights
Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers (England)
Progress Lawyers Network (Belgium)
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (Philippines)
Italian Association of Democratic Lawyers
Marjorie Cohn, President, National Lawyers Guild; Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights
Bill Quigley, Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights
Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director, US Human Rights Network
Jeanne Mirer, President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Roland Weyl, First Vice President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Micòl Savia, UN representative in Geneva, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Vanessa Ramos, President, American Association of Jurists
Max Boqwana, General Secretary, National Association of Democratic Lawyers in South Africa
Mike Mansfield QC, President, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Liz Davies, barrister, UK, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Richard Harvey, Bureau member of International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Executive member, Haldane Society.
Bill Bowring, Professor of Law, University of London; President, European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights; International Secretary, Haldane Society
Sister Dianna Ortiz, U.S. Torture Survivor and founder of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Harold Nelson, Advocacy Coordinator, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Gail Davidson, Chair, Lawyers Against the War
Osamu Niikura, President, Japanese Lawyers International Solidarity Association
Edre Olalia, Vice President, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
Neri Colmenares, Secretary General, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
Jan Fermon, representative, Progress Lawyers Network
Fabio Marcelli, Executive Committee and Speaker for International and European Affairs, Italian Association of Democratic Lawyers
George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary
Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University
Dr. Thomas Ehrlich Reifer, University of San Diego; Associate Fellow, Transnational Institute
Jordan J. Paust, Mike and Teresa Baker Law Center Professor, University of Houston Law Center
Terry Karl, Gildred Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies Department of Political Science, Stanford University
Marc Falkoff, Assistant Professor, Northern Illinois University College of Law
John W. Lango, Philosophy Professor, Hunter College of the City University of New York
Elizabeth M. Iglesias Professor of Law & Director, Center for Hispanic & Caribbean Legal Studies, University of Miami School of Law
Ray McGovern, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Michael Avery, Professor, Suffolk Law School
Michael E. Tigar, Professor of the Practice of Law, Duke Law School; Emeritus Professor, Washington College of Law
Andy Worthington, journalist and author of "The Guantanamo Files"
Michael Rooke-Ley, Professor of Law Emeritus, Nova Southeastern University
William J. Aceves, Professor, California Western School of Law
Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies
Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor, retired, Dept of Linguistics & Philosophy, MIT
Alfred W. McCoy, J.R.W. Smail Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Susan Rutberg, Professor, Golden Gate University School of Law
John Ehrenberg, Professor and Chair of Political Science, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY
Radhika Balakrishnan, Professor, Rutgers University
David Swanson, author of “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency"
Kristina Borjesson, Member, Robert Jackson Steering Committee Institute for Victims of Trauma
This articl;e, by Christopher Flavelle, was published by ProPublica, October 12, 2009.
Read our summary of the judge's remarkable ruling, which we've also posted in full. When President Obama took office and ordered the detention center at Guantanamo closed by next January, the biggest challenge was supposed to be the hard cases. Those were the ones in which the detainees were too dangerous to be let go but in which the evidence was insufficient for an American court, or had been obtained through torture, or would endanger national security if it became public. But a case decided last month in a Washington, D.C., federal court shows that for the Obama administration, the far easier cases—in which a judge has ordered a detainee released because there's no evidence he poses a danger—can also be hard.
On Sept. 17, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the release of Fouad Al Rabiah, a Kuwaiti detained at Guantanamo since 2002. She cited the complete lack of evidence justifying his detention. Kuwait is willing to take Al Rabiah back. Yet nearly a month later, he is still languishing at Guantanamo, along with at least 16 other detainees who have likewise been ordered released by a judge. By contrast, no more than 13 of the detainees ordered released have actually left Guantanamo. As the Obama administration telegraphs that it will probably miss its January deadline for closing Guantanamo, these cases raise the question of how much the government is even trying to place detainees.
Kollar-Kotelly found that the government had no grounds to keep holding Al Rabiah, a 50-year-old aviation engineer. The government alleged that Al Rabiah "provided material support to the Taliban and Al Qaida," but the judge ruled that the evidence against him was "surprisingly bare," consisting almost exclusively of confessions that even Al Rabiah's own interrogators didn't believe. The judge also found that Al Rabiah was subjected to "abusive techniques that violated both the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention[s]." She ordered the government to facilitate his release "forthwith," writing, "If there exists a basis for Al Rabiah's indefinite detention, it most certainly has not been presented to this court."
But David Cynamon, one of Al Rabiah's lawyers, says that the DoJ has refused to tell even him whether his client has been cleared for release. (I called, and they wouldn't tell me, either.) "I've learned that DoJ has to be hit with a two-by-four before they will do anything voluntarily re[garding] Gitmo," Cynamon wrote in an e-mail.
The government has 60 days to decide whether to appeal; Dean Boyd, a DoJ spokesman, told me no decision has been made about that. (Of the 30 cases in which a federal judge has ruled that a detainee be released, the government has filed an appeal for two of them.)
Even without an appeal, the government could continue to hold Al Rabiah. In February, the Obama administration created the Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force to determine which detainees may be safely released or transferred to another country, a process independent of the federal court cases. Because the government doesn't release the task force's rulings, it's impossible to know whether it has decided that some detainees who have won their court cases should be kept in detention. Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg wrote recently that the task force has cleared two Kuwaitis at Guantanamo to be released, but the Department of Justice won't say whether Al Rabiah is one of them. The secrecy makes it that much harder to hold the administration accountable.
Other detainees in Al Rabiah's situation have waited months for their release. On May 4, a federal judge ordered the release of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni detainee whom the government charged was part of the Taliban or al-Qaida. The judge in his case found that the government had "utterly failed to present evidence" to support its claim. But despite the court's order on May 4 that Ahmed be released "forthwith," he was not returned to Yemen until Sept. 26—four months and 22 days later. Yasin Muhammed Basardh, another Yemeni, was ordered released in April but remains at Guantanamo pending the government's appeal. Meanwhile, 13 Chinese Uighur detainees are still in Guantanamo, a full year after they were ordered released, as our government looks for a third country—probably Palau—that will take them and where they will agree to go. (For more on the status of detainees who have had their cases decided in U.S. courts, check out this ProPublica interactive chart.) The Department of Justice announced Friday that two more detainees had been released. One of them had won his court case; the DoJ will not reveal the identity of the second man.
According to the New York Times, Obama administration officials worried that even if Ahmed was not dangerous when he was first detained, Guantanamo itself might have made him so, turning him against the United States. If genuine, that concern must apply to every one of the 221 prisoners who remain in Guantanamo—whatever the strength of the evidence against them.
This editorial, by Ali Soufan, was published in the New York Times, September 6, 2009
PUBLIC bravado aside, the defenders of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques are fast running out of classified documents to hide behind. The three that were released recently by the C.I.A. — the 2004 report by the inspector general and two memos from 2004 and 2005 on intelligence gained from detainees — fail to show that the techniques stopped even a single imminent threat of terrorism.
The inspector general’s report distinguishes between intelligence gained from regular interrogation and from the harsher methods, which culminate in waterboarding. While the former produces useful intelligence, according to the report, the latter “is a more subjective process and not without concern.” And the information in the two memos reinforces this differentiation.
They show that substantial intelligence was gained from pocket litter (materials found on detainees when they were captured), from playing detainees against one another and from detainees freely giving up information that they assumed their questioners already knew. A computer seized in March 2003 from a Qaeda operative for example, listed names of Qaeda members and money they were to receive.
Soon after Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in 2003, according to the 2005 memo, he “elaborated on his plan to crash commercial airlines into Heathrow Airport.” The memo speculates that he may have assumed that Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a fellow member of Al Qaeda who had been captured in 2002, had already divulged the plan. The same motivation — the assumption that another detainee had already talked — is offered to explain why Mr. Mohammed provided details about the Hambali-Southeast Asia Qaeda network.
Mr. Mohammed must have likewise assumed that his interrogators already had the details about Al Qaeda’s organizational structure that he gave them. When I testified in the trial of Salim Hamdan, who had been Osama bin Laden’s personal driver, I provided many unclassified details about Al Qaeda’s structure and operations, none of which came from Mr. Mohammed.
Some of the information that is cited in the memos — the revelation that Mr. Mohammed had been the mastermind of 9/11, for example, and the uncovering of Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber — was gained from another terrorism suspect, Abu Zubaydah, by “informed interrogation,” conducted by an F.B.I. colleague and me. The arrest of Walid bin Attash, one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted messengers, which was also cited in the 2005 C.I.A. memo, was thanks to a quick-witted foreign law enforcement officer, and had nothing to do with harsh interrogation of anyone. The examples go on and on.
A third top suspected terrorist who was subjected to enhanced interrogation, in 2002, was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the man charged with plotting the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole. I was the lead agent on a team that worked with the Yemenis to thwart a series of plots by Mr. Nashiri’s operatives in the Arabian Peninsula — including planned attacks on Western embassies. In 2004, we helped prosecute 15 of these operatives in a Yemeni court. Not a single piece of evidence that helped us apprehend or convict them came from Mr. Nashiri.
It is surprising, as the eighth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, that none of Al Qaeda’s top leadership is in our custody. One damaging consequence of the harsh interrogation program was that the expert interrogators whose skills were deemed unnecessary to the new methods were forced out.
Mr. Mohammed knew the location of most, if not all, of the members of Al Qaeda’s leadership council, and possibly of every covert cell around the world. One can only imagine who else we could have captured, or what attacks we might have disrupted, if Mr. Mohammed had been questioned by the experts who knew the most about him.
A lack of knowledge perhaps explains why so many false claims have been made about the program’s alleged successes. Many officials in Washington reading the reports didn’t know enough about Al Qaeda to know what information was already known and whether the detainees were telling all they knew. The inspector general’s report states that many operatives thought their superiors were inaccurately judging that detainees were withholding information. Such assessments, the operatives said, were “not always supported by an objective evaluation” but were “too heavily based, instead, on presumptions.” I can personally testify to this.
Supporters of the enhanced interrogation techniques have jumped from claim to claim about their usefulness. They have asserted, for example, that harsh treatment led Mr. Mohammed to reveal the plot to attack the Library Tower in Los Angeles. But that plot was thwarted in 2002, and Mr. Mohammed was not arrested until 2003. Recently, interviews with unnamed sources led The Washington Post to report that harsh techniques turned Mr. Mohammed into an intelligence “asset.”
This latest claim will come as news to Mr. Mohammed’s prosecutors, to his fellow detainees (whom he instructed, at his arraignment, not to cooperate with the United States) and indeed to Mr. Mohammed himself. He told the International Committee of the Red Cross that “I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear.”
The inspector general’s report was written precisely because many of the C.I.A. operatives complained about what they were being ordered to do. The inspector general then conducted an internal audit of the entire program. In his report, he questions the effectiveness of the harsh techniques that were authorized. And he slams the use of “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques.” This is probably why the enhanced interrogation program was shelved in 2005.
Meanwhile, the professionals in the field are relieved that an ineffective, unreliable, unnecessary and destructive program — one that may have given Al Qaeda a second wind and damaged our country’s reputation — is finished.
This article, by Stephanie Mencimer, was originally published in the July/August 2009 issue of Mother Jones
ONE DAY in April, a 19-year-old sailor named William Kirkgaard was walking to the store at the Norfolk naval station when a man in a black Ford Mustang pulled up and asked for directions to the main gate.
Kirkgaard indicated the way, whereupon the man, who said he was a former Marine, began asking questions: Why don’t you have a car? Are you a member of the Navy Federal Credit Union?
Claiming he worked there, Kirkgaard says, the man then offered him a ride to the credit union to open an account—the first step toward buying a car.
So the sailor got in.
But an ominous feeling overtook him as the Mustang drove on and on. "I kinda thought I was gonna die at that point," he says.
The real destination, it turned out, was Tidewater Auto Brokers, a used car dealership in Virginia Beach, about 14 miles away.
Mustang Man didn’t work for the credit union, and the Marines say they have no record of his having served, either. He was a used car salesman.
Kirkgaard had maybe $20 to his name — not enough to get a taxi back to the base, much less buy a car.
He’d only been in the Navy 10 months and had never bought a car without his parents. He didn’t even have a driver’s license on him, which meant he couldn’t legally drive off the lot.
Still, Mustang Man, whose real name is Jesse Neely, eventually persuaded him to test-drive a 2005 Dodge Stratus with 78,000 miles and a $10,000 sticker price. It shook violently and the "check engine" light flashed.
Kirkgaard told Neely he didn’t want the car, he says, but he naively agreed to give the dealership his personal information. Afterward, employees asked him to sign some paperwork; the sailor obliged without much thought.
"Congratulations," they told him. "You just bought a car."
Kirkgaard says he tried to return the Dodge the next day, but the dealership told him (falsely) that it was illegal to cancel a sales contract in Virginia.
A saleswoman did offer to reduce the price to $7,900—hardly a deal given the car’s roughly $6,000 blue-book value.
Kirkgaard, out of desperation, signed the new contract. He then left the car in the parking lot with the keys inside and sought assistance from a lawyer back at the base. He was legally on the hook for the full price, plus 15 percent interest.
"I’m screwed," Kirkgaard told me soon after.
Mustang Man has been busy, apparently. Kirkgaard knows another sailor who was delivered to Tidewater after Neely allegedly offered him a ride to the movies.
That sailor ended up paying $11,000 for a 2005 Dodge Neon he didn’t want. He, too, abandoned it at the dealership the next day, prompting Tidewater to phone the sailor’s superior, Chief Electrician’s Mate Larry Gordon.
"They called me up saying they wanted to press charges against him because he left the car there," Gordon told me. "They are really preying on these sailors."
Tidewater’s owner did not return calls seeking comment. When I informed Neely of the complaints, his immediate response was, "Jesus, are you serious?" He admitted he’d picked up the sailors, but claimed they came voluntarily and seemed eager to buy.
"If he’s over 18 years of age and he’s willing to sign a contract," the salesman argued, "I don’t see how you can be forced."
So many young enlistees have been targeted in recent years that some officers now call predatory dealers a threat to national security. Yet authorities ranging from local prosecutors to state regulatory boards to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to the military itself have done relatively little to address the proliferation of dubious auto sales-and-credit tactics. (Many used car dealers make more money selling loans than selling cars.)
"I wish there were some aggressive enforcement of the consumer protection laws, especially where military personnel are involved," says Steve Lynch, a Coast Guard attorney who has seen many a Coastie get stung.
Beyond saddling service members with debt, sour car deals can result in bad credit, making it hard for soldiers to obtain the security clearances they need to get promoted.
Hard-sell tactics can even affect unit cohesion, says Dwain Alexander II, a Navy Legal Services lawyer at the Norfolk naval station, if a superior officer lures recruits to a dealership for a fee — a common occurrence.
"If you can’t trust the guys who your life depends on," he says, "that’s really bad."
THE HAMPTON ROADS region of southeast Virginia, home to 14 major military installations, is overflowing with used car dealers.
They hang their shingles here by the dozens, feeding on a steady supply of 18- to 22-year-old enlistees giddy at the prospect of their first real paycheck. "The guys buy the cars as soon as they get here," says Alexander. "There’s a beach. They can’t pick up girls without a car."
One showroom a stone’s throw from the Little Creek naval base lures sailors with pool tables and the promise of free lunch for those who bring a few friends.
Others feature video games and big-screen TVs, bikini car washes and Hooters nights featuring all-you-can-eat wings. (The slogan on Tidewater’s website: "All Military. All Ranks. 0 Down.")
When such promotional strategies fail to put boots on the lot, some dealerships resort to more aggressive methods like bird-dogging —t he illegal tactic of paying service members and others to drag their buddies down to the lot, or local cabbies to bring in kids who arrive at the airport fresh from boot camp.
One local dealership even convinced a USO volunteer to forward contact information for the newbies coming in at Norfolk International Airport.
Salespeople would then call and claim, say, that the recruit had won a prize, and would he like to come down and collect it?
Kirkgaard’s story isn’t even the worst of it.
In 2004, a Norfolk-area dealership called Carland lost its license for essentially kidnapping young Marines from bases in North Carolina and northern Virginia.
The victims had made the mistake of calling "Kim," a name listed on business cards someone had sprinkled around Camp Lejeune and other bases. (It stood for "kids in the military," military lawyers later discovered.)
The card promised discounts, and when Marines called, Carland sent an employee to pick them up and drive them to its lot nearly four hours away.
It was a one-way trip; the hapless grunts were told that they’d have to buy a vehicle in order to get back to base and not be declared AWOL. One stressed-out Marine paid $23,000 for a 1997 Civic, nearly quadruple its value.
Navy lawyer Alexander sees a steady stream of sailors trapped in bad car deals.
They make particularly good targets for credit shenanigans, since the government makes it easy for dealers to garnish wages when an enlistee defaults on a loan.
The upshot, Alexander says, is that his clients typically overpay by at least $2,000, often enough to trigger chronic money woes.
FOR ALL ITS war-fighting skills, the military is ill equipped to take on a bunch of unscrupulous businesspeople.
While its lawyers can help individual soldiers, litigation is expensive and time-consuming. Alexander says his office sued a dealer called Hollywood Wholesale Inc. a few years ago, but the owner simply changed the business name and transferred the property to his brother. Alexander won a $50,000 judgment plus $25,000 in attorney’s fees, but only managed to collect $3,000. "Getting a judgment against a car dealer is extremely difficult," he says.
The military isn’t without options. Most bases have disciplinary control boards that can declare a dealership off-limits, making it a crime for service members to patronize it. But while effective — it wreaks havoc on sales — this off-limits designation is rare.
Commander Art Record, vice chairman of the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board for the Hampton Roads area, says the board first gives dealers the opportunity to change their practices.
In the last year, seven Norfolk-area dealers have appeared before the board, but only one is currently off-limits, and that dealership has closed its doors.
The brass has also taken steps to educate enlistees, who now get some financial literacy counseling in boot camp.
"It’s so unfair to put all of the burden on the troops," says Rosemary Shahan, president of the California nonprofit Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, who has been fighting sleazy dealers since the 1970s. "They have enough to worry about. They’re protecting us. We need to step up and protect them."
FEDERAL LAWMAKERS have been more inclined to protect the dealers, a politically savvy bunch who doled out more than $9 million to federal candidates during the 2008 election cycle alone.
In 1982, after the FTC ordered auto dealers to post signs on used vehicles, disclosing any known defects, the dealers squealed and Congress eviscerated the new rule.
The commission hasn’t tried anything so bold since.
In any case, the feds have limited authority. Regulation of auto sales falls largely to state dealer boards. But the dealers, who have even more clout in local and state politics, tend to dominate.
Virginia, for instance, requires that dealers hold 16 of the 19 seats on its board.
The current board can, and occasionally does, revoke a dealer’s license or impose fines for illegal practices, but it has only 11 investigators to monitor nearly 3,600 dealerships. In most cases, it doesn’t take action until after a consumer successfully sues the dealer, and even then, only if the dealer fails to pay.
People in the industry "know what they need to do to stay legal," says Bruce Gould, the board’s executive director. "There’s a moral problem with it, but not a legal one."
The regulatory vacuum has allowed notorious operators to flourish.
Take Charlie Falk, a Virginia used car legend with a lot on the highway that runs between the Little Creek naval base and Oceana naval air station.
In 1977, Falk served several days in jail for rolling back odometers. In the 1990s, his business was the target of a racketeering suit that accused him of "churning" — selling at inflated prices and quickly repossessing the vehicles after customers missed even a single payment.
His dealerships would then resell those cars while suing the original buyers to collect on their high-interest loans.
Falk ultimately settled the racketeering case, which involved thousands of customers, by paying $400,000 in damages and writing off $10 million in loans.
Despite all this, state regulators have never shut down any of Falk’s lots, nor has the military ruled any of them off-limits.
Local politicos have also left Falk alone, although Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) alerted the Navy last year after a Falk dealership unleashed a 30-minute infomercial featuring hot chicks in military uniforms. (The dealership yanked the ads when the military threatened to charge it with improper use of a uniform.)
Tom Domonoske, a Virginia lawyer who specializes in consumer credit, says better policing is needed, not just of dealerships but also of the finance industry. Here’s why: Suppose a customer with decent credit is eligible for a loan at 7 percent interest. If a salesman can convince the customer to accept a 10 percent rate — a feat Domonoske says many dealers accomplish by lying — he can then sell the loan to a bank or finance company and pocket the extra 3 percent as a perfectly legal kickback.
This percentage cut encourages dealers to inflate sales contracts with pricey add-ons and even to falsify loan documents so that customers qualify for more loan than they can afford.
Banks and finance companies have largely turned a blind eye to these practices, Domonoske says. Many sell the loans to Wall Street, so what does it matter if the customer defaults? The easy credit, Alexander argues, "funds criminal conduct, bird-dogging, and provides incentives for the overpricing of vehicles for massive profit to dealers."
CASE IN POINT: In April 2008, Raenitra Mackingtee, then a 19-year-old enlistee at the Norfolk naval station, wanted to trade in her 2006 PT Cruiser for something with better mileage. She visited Diamond Motorcars, a Virginia Beach dealer, and settled on a 2002 Honda Civic priced at $15,000.
But Mackingtee still owed more than $19,000 on the Cruiser. No problem, the salesman said. He’d pay off her loan, credit her $10,000 for the trade-in, and get her a bigger loan to cover the balance on the Cruiser loan plus the price of the Honda. After taxes, fees, and add-ons, the grand total came to nearly $27,000.
The salesman had her log in to her account at the Navy Federal Credit Union—which, despite its name, is a private company.
Then, Mackingtee says, she let him fill out an online loan application on her behalf.
The credit union approved her loan at 12.25 percent interest, but when she picked up the loan check, something was wrong.
The promissory note listed a 2006 Dodge Charger. "I was like, I didn’t get no Dodge," Mackingtee told me later. When she phoned the dealer to see how this phantom car had ended up on her loan application, the salesman obfuscated. He insisted she bring in the check anyway, because they’d already sold her trade-in.
If she didn’t buy the Honda, she’d have no way to get to work on the base. So she did.
A few months later, the credit union sent Mackingtee a letter seeking the Charger’s title as collateral. She couldn’t produce it, of course, so the bank jacked up her rate to 18 percent. This raised her monthly payments from $515 to $600—not insignificant for someone making $1,680 (plus a housing allowance) before taxes. Desperate, she contacted Alexander at Navy Legal Services, who explained that no bank would make a $27,000 loan for a Honda with a blue-book value of $9,800.
The salesman knew she wouldn’t qualify, Alexander believes, which is why he listed a $25,000 Dodge on the loan application.
While Mackingtee’s problem might seem clear-cut, the dealer has refused to make things right.
Alexander hasn’t been able to help much, either; since she allegedly let the salesman use her account, it’s her word against his. Diamond’s sales manager insists his staff did nothing wrong. "If anyone’s lying, she is," he says. The credit union, meanwhile, won’t budge on the interest rate—if Mackingtee, who recently gave birth to her first child, defaults, the lender can simply garnish her wages.
And though she notified the Virginia Beach police of the incident, nothing has come of it.
This article, by Scott Shane, was published by the New York Times, August 11, 2009
WASHINGTON — Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were military retirees and psychologists, on the lookout for business opportunities. They found an excellent customer in the Central Intelligence Agency, where in 2002 they became the architects of the most important interrogation program in the history of American counterterrorism.
They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.
But they had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough.
So “Doc Mitchell” and “Doc Jessen,” as they had been known in the Air Force, helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course.
Dr. Mitchell, with a sonorous Southern accent and the sometimes overbearing confidence of a self-made man, was a former Air Force explosives expert and a natural salesman. Dr. Jessen, raised on an Idaho potato farm, joined his Air Force colleague to build a thriving business that made millions of dollars selling interrogation and training services to the C.I.A.
Seven months after President Obama ordered the C.I.A. interrogation program closed, its fallout still commands attention. In the next few weeks, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to decide whether to begin a criminal torture investigation, in which the psychologists’ role is likely to come under scrutiny. The Justice Department ethics office is expected to complete a report on the lawyers who pronounced the methods legal. And the C.I.A. will soon release a highly critical 2004 report on the program by the agency’s inspector general.
Col. Steven M. Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator and intelligence officer who knows Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, said he thought loyalty to their country in the panicky wake of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted their excursion into interrogation. He said the result was a tragedy for the country, and for them.
“I feel their primary motivation was they thought they had skills and insights that would make the nation safer,” Colonel Kleinman said. “But good persons in extreme circumstances can do horrific things.”
For the C.I.A., as well as for the gray-goateed Dr. Mitchell, 58, and the trim, dark-haired Dr. Jessen, 60, the change in administrations has been neck-snapping. For years, President George W. Bush declared the interrogation program lawful and praised it for stopping attacks. Mr. Obama, by contrast, asserted that its brutality rallied recruits for Al Qaeda; called one of the methods, waterboarding, torture; and, in his first visit to the C.I.A., suggested that the interrogation program was among the agency’s “mistakes.”
The psychologists’ subsequent fall from official grace has been as swift as their rise in 2002. Today the offices of Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the lucrative business they operated from a handsome century-old building in downtown Spokane, Wash., sit empty, its C.I.A. contracts abruptly terminated last spring.
With a possible criminal inquiry looming, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen have retained a well-known defense lawyer, Henry F. Schuelke III. Mr. Schuelke said they would not comment for this article, which is based on dozens of interviews with the doctors’ colleagues and present and former government officials.
In a brief e-mail exchange in June, Dr. Mitchell said his nondisclosure agreement with the C.I.A. prevented him from commenting. He suggested that his work had been mischaracterized.
“Ask around,” Dr. Mitchell wrote, “and I’m sure you will find all manner of ‘experts’ who will be willing to make up what you’d like to hear on the spot and unrestrained by reality.” A Career Shift
At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. Mitchell had just retired from his last military job, as psychologist to an elite special operations unit in North Carolina. Showing his entrepreneurial streak, he had started a training company called Knowledge Works, which he operated from his new home in Florida, to supplement retirement pay.
But for someone with Dr. Mitchell’s background, it was evident that the campaign against Al Qaeda would produce opportunities. He began networking in military and intelligence circles where he had a career’s worth of connections.
He had grown up poor in Florida, Dr. Mitchell told friends, and joined the Air Force in 1974, seeking adventure. Stationed in Alaska, he learned the art of disarming bombs and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.
Robert J. Madigan, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska who had worked closely with him, remembered Dr. Mitchell stopping by years later. He had completed his doctorate at the University of South Florida in 1986, comparing diet and exercise in controlling hypertension, and was working for the Air Force in Spokane.
“I remember him saying they were preparing people for intense interrogations,” Dr. Madigan said.
Military survival training was expanded after the Korean War, when false confessions by American prisoners led to sensational charges of communist “brainwashing.” Military officials decided that giving service members a taste of Chinese-style interrogation would prepare them to withstand its agony.
Air Force survival training was consolidated in 1966 at Fairchild Air Force Base in the parched hills outside Spokane. The name of the training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, suggests its breadth: airmen and women learn to live off the land and avoid capture, as well as how to behave if taken prisoner.
In the 1980s, Dr. Jessen became the SERE psychologist at the Air Force Survival School, screening instructors who posed as enemy interrogators at the mock prison camp and making sure rough treatment did not go too far. He had grown up in a Mormon community with a view of Grand Teton, earning a doctorate at Utah State studying “family sculpting,” in which patients make physical models of their family to portray emotional relationships.
Dr. Jessen moved in 1988 to the top psychologist’s job at a parallel “graduate school” of survival training, a short drive from the Air Force school. Dr. Mitchell took his place.
The two men became part of what some Defense Department officials called the “resistance mafia,” experts on how to resist enemy interrogations. Both lieutenant colonels and both married with children, they took weekend ice-climbing trips together.
While many subordinates considered them brainy and capable leaders, some fellow psychologists were more skeptical. At the annual conference of SERE psychologists, two colleagues recalled, Dr. Mitchell offered lengthy put-downs of presentations that did not suit him.
At the Air Force school, Dr. Mitchell was known for enforcing the safety of interrogations; it might surprise his later critics to learn that he eliminated a tactic called “manhandling” after it produced a spate of neck injuries, a colleague said.
At the SERE graduate school, Dr. Jessen is remembered for an unusual job switch, from supervising psychologist to mock enemy interrogator.
Dr. Jessen became so aggressive in that role that colleagues intervened to rein him in, showing him videotape of his “pretty scary” performance, another official recalled.
Always, former and current SERE officials say, it is understood that the training mimics the methods of unscrupulous foes.
Mark Mays, the first psychologist at the Air Force school, said that to make the fake prison camp realistic, officials consulted American P.O.W.’s who had just returned from harrowing camps in North Vietnam.
“It was clear that this is what we’d expect from our enemies,” said Dr. Mays, now a clinical psychologist and lawyer in Spokane. “It was not something I could ever imagine Americans would do.” Start of the Program
In December 2001, a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered outside Philadelphia at the home of a prominent psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, to brainstorm about Muslim extremism. Among them was Dr. Mitchell, who attended with a C.I.A. psychologist, Kirk M. Hubbard.
During a break, Dr. Mitchell introduced himself to Dr. Seligman and said how much he admired the older man’s writing on “learned helplessness.” Dr. Seligman was so struck by Dr. Mitchell’s unreserved praise, he recalled in an interview, that he mentioned it to his wife that night. Later, he said, he was “grieved and horrified” to learn that his work had been cited to justify brutal interrogations.
Dr. Seligman had discovered in the 1960s that dogs that learned they could do nothing to avoid small electric shocks would become listless and simply whine and endure the shocks even after being given a chance to escape.
Helplessness, which later became an influential concept in the treatment of human depression, was also much discussed in military survival training. Instructors tried to stop short of producing helplessness in trainees, since their goal was to strengthen the spirit of service members in enemy hands.
Dr. Mitchell, colleagues said, believed that producing learned helplessness in a Qaeda interrogation subject might ensure that he would comply with his captor’s demands. Many experienced interrogators disagreed, asserting that a prisoner so demoralized would say whatever he thought the interrogator exp
At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchell’s theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemy’s brutal techniques — slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding — into an American interrogation program.
By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center, whose director, Cofer Black, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., were impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon. One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear. In this person’s words, Dr. Mitchell suggested that interrogations required “a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings.”
By the end of March, when agency operatives captured Abu Zubaydah, initially described as Al Qaeda’s No. 3, the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready. At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, as reported in prior news accounts, two F.B.I agents used conventional rapport-building methods to draw vital information from Mr. Zubaydah. Then the C.I.A. team, including Dr. Mitchell, arrived.
With the backing of agency headquarters, Dr. Mitchell ordered Mr. Zubaydah stripped, exposed to cold and blasted with rock music to prevent sleep. Not only the F.B.I. agents but also C.I.A. officers at the scene were uneasy about the harsh treatment. Among those questioning the use of physical pressure, according to one official present, were the Thailand station chief, the officer overseeing the jail, a top interrogator and a top agency psychologist.
Whether they protested to C.I.A. bosses is uncertain, because the voluminous message traffic between headquarters and the Thailand site remains classified. One witness said he believed that “revisionism” in light of the torture controversy had prompted some participants to exaggerate their objections.
As the weeks passed, the senior agency psychologist departed, followed by one F.B.I. agent and then the other. Dr. Mitchell began directing the questioning and occasionally speaking directly to Mr. Zubaydah, one official said.
In late July 2002, Dr. Jessen joined his partner in Thailand. On Aug. 1, the Justice Department completed a formal legal opinion authorizing the SERE methods, and the psychologists turned up the pressure. Over about two weeks, Mr. Zubaydah was confined in a box, slammed into the wall and waterboarded 83 times.
The brutal treatment stopped only after Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen themselves decided that Mr. Zubaydah had no more information to give up. Higher-ups from headquarters arrived and watched one more waterboarding before agreeing that the treatment could stop, according to a Justice Department legal opinion. Lucrative Work
The Zubaydah case gave reason to question the Mitchell-Jessen plan: the prisoner had given up his most valuable information without coercion.
But top C.I.A. officials made no changes, and the methods would be used on at least 27 more prisoners, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.
The business plans of Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, meanwhile, were working out beautifully. They were paid $1,000 to $2,000 a day apiece, one official said. They had permanent desks in the Counterterrorist Center, and could now claim genuine experience in interrogating high-level Qaeda operatives.
Dr. Mitchell could keep working outside the C.I.A. as well. At the Ritz-Carlton in Maui in October 2003, he was featured at a high-priced seminar for corporations on how to behave if kidnapped. He created new companies, called Wizard Shop, later renamed Mind Science, and What If. His first company, Knowledge Works, was certified by the American Psychological Association in 2004 as a sponsor of continuing professional education. (A.P.A. dropped the certification last year.)
In 2005, the psychologists formed Mitchell Jessen and Associates, with offices in Spokane and Virginia and five additional shareholders, four of them from the military’s SERE program. By 2007, the company employed about 60 people, some with impressive résumés, including Deuce Martinez, a lead C.I.A. interrogator of Mr. Mohammed; Roger L. Aldrich, a legendary military survival trainer; and Karen Gardner, a senior training official at the F.B.I. Academy.
The company’s C.I.A. contracts are classified, but their total was well into the millions of dollars. In 2007 in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., Dr. Mitchell built a house with a swimming pool, now valued at $800,000.
The psychologists’ influence remained strong under four C.I.A. directors. In 2006, in fact, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her legal adviser, John B. Bellinger III, pushed back against the C.I.A.’s secret detention program and its methods, the director at the time, Michael V. Hayden, asked Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen to brief State Department officials and persuade them to drop their objections. They were unsuccessful.
By then, the national debate over torture had begun, and it would undo the psychologists’ business.
In a statement to employees on April 9, Leon E. Panetta, President Obama’s C.I.A. director, announced the “decommissioning” of the agency’s secret jails and repeated a pledge not to use coercion. And there was another item: “No C.I.A. contractors will conduct interrogations.”
Agency officials terminated the contracts for Mitchell Jessen and Associates, and the psychologists’ lucrative seven-year ride was over. Within days, the company had vacated its Spokane offices. The phones were disconnected, and at neighboring businesses, no one knew of a forwarding address.
This article, by Jason Leopold, was originally posted to Truthout.org, June 17, 2009
On January 25, 2002, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales advised George W. Bush in a memo to deny al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners protections under the Geneva Conventions because doing so would "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" and "provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."
Two weeks later, Bush signed an action memorandum dated February 7, 2002, addressed to Vice President Dick Cheney, which denied baseline protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners under the Third Geneva Convention. That memo, according to a recently released bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened the door to "considering aggressive techniques," which were then developed with the complicity of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior Bush officials.
"The President's order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees," says the committee's December 11 report.
"While the President's order stated that, as 'a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,' the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in US custody."
The Supreme Court held in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that the prisoners were entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.
Many of the classified policy directives, such as Gonzales's memo to Bush, are now part of the public record thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Bush administration, which has so far resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents that shows how Bush officials twisted the law in order to build a legal framework for torture.
These documents have been posted on the ACLU's web site. But several hundred of the most explosive records were republished in the book "Administration of Torture" along with hard-hitting commentary by the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer, who heads the group's National Security Project, and Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the organization.
Rumsfeld Wanted a "Product"
On February 14, 2002, just one week after Bush signed the action memo, Maj. Gen. Mike Dunlavey was contacted by Rumsfeld, who asked him to attend a Defense Department meeting with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others on February 21 or 22. At the meeting, Rumsfeld told Dunlavey he wanted him to oversee interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay naval facility in Cuba. Prisoners captured by US military personnel had first arrived at Guantanamo a month earlier. Dunlavey was a family court judge in Erie County, Pennsylvania, when he got the call from Rumsfeld and was placed in charge of interrogations at Guantanamo.
Rumsfeld told Dunlavey, according to a witness statement he made on March 17, 2005, to US Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who was investigating FBI complaints about abuse at Guantanamo, that the Department of Defense had rounded up "a number of bad guys" and the secretary of defense "wanted a product and wanted intelligence now." Rumsfeld "wanted to set up interrogation operations and to identify the senior Taliban and senior operatives and to obtain information on what they were going to do regarding their operations and structure," Dunlavey said, according to a copy of his witness statement. "Initially, I was told that I would answer to SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) and [US Southern Command]. The directions changed and I got my marching orders from the President of the United States. I was told by the SECDEF that he wanted me back in Washington, DC every week to brief him.... The mission was to get intelligence to prevent another 9/11." Dunlavey did not explain what he meant by "I got my marching orders from the president." But his comments suggest that Bush may have played a much larger role in the interrogation of prisoners than he has let on. Moreover, Dunlavey's witness statement indicates that harsh interrogations, such as waterboarding, may have taken place earlier than previously known and may have preceded an August 1, 2002, legal opinion issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel authorizing specific interrogation techniques to use against prisoners.
As early as December 2001, according to the documents obtained by the ACLU, high-ranking military officials began to implement an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare US soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime.
In June 2004, Gen. James Hill of Southern Command, the Defense Department's command unit responsible for military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, held a press briefing and confirmed that interrogation techniques specifically authorized by Rumsfeld for use at Guantanamo were derived from the SERE school. In October 2002, Dunlavey wrote to Hill to seek authorization that interrogators be granted the authority to use methods that strayed from the Army Field Manual in order to extract information from prisoners.
Dunlavey, in making his case to Hill for authority to use more aggressive techniques, attached a copy of Bush's then classified February 7, 2002, action memo along with an analysis that said, "since the detainees are not [Enemy Prisoners of War] the Geneva Conventions limitations that ordinarily would govern captured enemy personnel interrogations are not binding on US personnel." Hill sent Dunlavey's request to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers discussed it with William Haynes II, the Defense Department's general counsel, who briefed Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith. The request ultimately ended up on Rumsfeld's desk and he approved it, according to the documents.
"The documents establish that senior officials in Washington, including White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, constructed a legal framework that would permit the abuse and torture of prisoners," the ACLU's Jaffer and Singh wrote in "Administration of Torture." "They establish that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, relying on this legal framework, expressly authorized the use of interrogation methods - including SERE methods - that went far beyond those endorsed by the Army Field Manual. They establish that Rumsfeld and Gen. Geoffrey Miller oversaw the implementation of the newly authorized interrogation methods and closely supervised the interrogation of prisoners thought to be especially valuable."
In early December 2002, FBI officials who had participated in some interrogations at Guantanamo complained to Miller that the methods used against prisoners at Guantanamo were unlawful. But Miller was not receptive. That led FBI officials to conclude that senior Bush administration officials and Rumsfeld were making decisions about interrogations in particular.
A December 16, 2002, email written by an FBI official expressed frustration that the Defense Department refused to budge from its controversial interrogation methods.
"Looks like we are stuck in the mud with the interview approach of the military vs. law enforcement," the email said.
In May 2004, Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he briefed Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone about his plan to "Gitmo-ize" the Abu Ghraib prison.
That month, an email written by a senior FBI agent in Iraq in 2004 specifically stated that President George W. Bush had signed an executive order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation, and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.The FBI email, dated May 22, 2004, followed disclosures about abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and sought guidance on whether FBI agents in Iraq were obligated to report the US military's harsh interrogation of inmates when that treatment violated FBI standards, but fit within the guidelines of a presidential executive order.
According to the email, Bush's executive order authorized interrogators to use military dogs, "stress positions," sleep "management," loud music and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." to extract information from detainees in Iraq.
The May 2004, FBI email stated that the FBI interrogation team in Iraq understood that despite revisions in the executive order that occurred after the furor over the Abu Ghraib abuses, the presidential sanctioning of harsh interrogation tactics had not been rescinded.
"I have been told that all interrogation techniques previously authorized by the Executive Order are still on the table but that certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted," the author of the FBI email said.
"We have also instructed our personnel not to participate in interrogations by military personnel which might include techniques authorized by Executive Order but beyond the bounds of FBI practices."
The White House had emphatically denied that any such presidential executive order existed, calling the unnamed FBI official who wrote the email "mistaken." Prior to the May 22, 2004, email several others written by FBI agents that month were sent to Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, about detainees being tortured before the unnamed agent sent Caproni the email citing Bush's alleged executive order.|
On July 9, 2004, the FBI's Office of Inspections distributed an email asking its agents who were stationed at Guantanamo whether they had witnessed, "Aggressive treatment, interrogations or interview techniques ... which were not consistent with FBI interview policy/guidelines." More than two-dozen agents responded that they observed numerous instances of detainee abuse. One FBI agent wrote that, despite Rumsfeld's public statements to the contrary, the interrogation methods "were approved at high levels w/in DoD." In addition to Rumsfeld, the FBI emails said Paul Wolfowitz, one Bush administration official who has largely escaped scrutiny in the torture debate, approved the methods at Guantanamo.
In 2006, Miller received a Distinguished Service Medal for "exceptionally meritorious service." Dunlavey is an Erie County judge.
This article, by Hal Bernton, was posted to the Seattle Times, May 9, 2009.
The U.S. Justice Department under the Obama administration has decided to drop its appeal of a federal judge's ruling that 1st Lt. Ehren Watada cannot face a second court-martial resulting from his high-profile 2006 refusal to go to Iraq with his Fort Lewis brigade.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday granted the Justice Department's request to drop its appeal of a federal judge's earlier ruling that the second court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada on that count would represent double jeopardy and a violation of Watada's constitutional rights.
This is the latest development in the long legal battle of Watada, whose 2006 decision not to join his Stryker brigade in Iraq turned the Hawaiian-born officer into a national symbol of the anti-war movement.
But Watada's legal troubles may not be over.
He could still face a military tribunal for two other counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, according to a Fort Lewis spokesman.
Those counts were not thrown out by the federal court. They result from two interviews Watada gave in 2006, in which, among other comments, he attacked then-President George Bush for betraying the trust of the American people. He also said that Bush's conduct made him ashamed to wear his Army uniform.
"At this point the leadership at Fort Lewis is considering a full range of judical and adminstrative options, which could range from court martial to administrative actions and discharge," said Joe Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesman.
Watada's first court martial, in February 2007, ended with a mistrial.
To block a second court martial, Watada's attorneys sued in U.S. District Court. The unusual move left the U.S. Justice Department arguing the case on behalf of the Army.
In October, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma ruled that Watada could not be prosecuted again by the Army on charges of missing his deployment to Iraq. He also blocked court-martial for comments made in a news conference and while speaking at a Veterans for Peace national convention.
But Settle left open the possibility that the Army could retry Watada on the two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
The Army has consistently maintained that a second trial on all the counts would not be double jeopardy. In December, in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the Justice Department filed a notice of appeal that kept open the option of trying to overturn Settle's ruling.
After a more lengthy review, the Justice Department in the Obama administration opted to withdraw that appeal. That decision was made by the department's Office of Solicitor General, which determines what cases should be appealed, according to Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Western Washington.
Through the course of this legal battle, Watada has been assigned a desk job at Fort Lewis. Eventually, he hopes to return to civilian life and attend law school, said Kenneth Kagan, one of Watada's attorneys.
The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that left for Iraq without Watada was deployed for 15 months. The brigade returned to Fort Lewis and is preparing to serve again in Iraq later this year.