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Torture, Rendition, and other Abuses against Captives in US Custody

Independent Investigations

Project: Prisoner Abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Elsewhere
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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According to a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report (see April 21, 2009), US counterterrorism officials are growing frustrated at the lack of “useful leads” coming from interrogations of suspected terrorists. The officials are particularly concerned with what one Army major will later recall as “establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.” The lack of actionable intelligence will result in military interrogators resorting to much harsher interrogation methods. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Independent Investigations, Military Commissions / Tribunals

Captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), after recovering somewhat from three gunshot wounds inflicted during his capture, is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand, presumably the revamped Vietnam War-era base in Udorn. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In late 2006, after being transferred to Guantanamo, Zubaida will tell representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross the story of his interrogation in Thailand (see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Zubaida becomes what CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later call “a test case for an evolving new role… in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects” (see September 17, 2001).
New Tactics To Be Used - Officials from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program are involved in Zubaida’s interrogations. SERE officials have prepared a program of so-called “harsh interrogation methods,” many of which are classified as torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture (see December 2001 and July 2002). A 2009 Senate report (see April 21, 2009) will find: “At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA [the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency] assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high-level al-Qaeda operative.” Further investigation will prove that the person whose name will be redacted is, indeed, Zubaida. According to a June 20, 2002 memo, the SERE officials’ participation in the Zubaida interrogation is “training.” JPRA psychologist Bruce Jessen, one of the authors of the JPRA torture methodology (see January 2002 and After), suggests that “exploitation strategies” be used against Zubaida. Jessen’s collaborator on the torture proposal, James Mitchell, is present for Zubaida’s torture; Mitchell plays a central role in the decision to use what the CIA calls an “increased pressure phase” against Zubaida. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
First Weeks Shackled and Sleep-Deprived - Zubaida will begin his narrative after his initial, and successful, interrogation by FBI agents (see Late March through Early June, 2002). He spends the first weeks of his captivity shackled to a chair, denied solid food, and kept awake. In Zubaida’s words: “I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle. I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time. The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise. The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks. During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.” In 2009, author Mark Danner will write: “One can translate these procedures into terms of art: ‘Change of Scenery Down.’ ‘Removal of Clothing.’ ‘Use of Stress Positions.’ ‘Dietary Manipulation.’ ‘Environmental Manipulation.’ ‘Sleep Adjustment.’ ‘Isolation.’ ‘Sleep Deprivation.’ ‘Use of Noise to Induce Stress.’ All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and ‘counter-resistance’ carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the [proposed regulations say], for example, that ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is ‘not to exceed four days in succession,’ that ‘Dietary Manipulation’ should include ‘no intended deprivation of food or water,’ that ‘removal of clothing,” while ‘creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence,’ must be ‘monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.’ Here we are in a different place.”
CIA Team Moves In - The first weeks of Zubaida’s captivity are maintained by a small team of FBI agents and interrogators, but soon a team from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center takes over. As Kiriakou will later recall: “We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information.… These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.” After the initial period of captivity, Zubaida is allowed to sleep with less interruption, stretched out naked and shackled on the bare floor. He is also given solid food for the first time in weeks—rice. A female doctor examines him and asks why he is still naked; he is, he will recall, “provided with orange clothes to wear.” The clothes only last a day, though: “[G]uards came into my cell,” Zubaida will recall. “They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.”
Alternating Harsh and Lenient Treatments - For the next few weeks, Zubaida’s treatment veers from abusive to almost lenient. Mostly he is kept naked and confined to his cell, often suffering from intense cold in the frigid air-conditioned environment. One official later tells the ICRC that often he “seemed to turn blue.” Clothing is provided, then taken away. Zubaida will tell ICRC officials: “When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair.” For a time he is given a mattress to sleep on; sometimes he is “allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.” A month goes by with no interrogations. He will recall: “My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played 24 hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.” Then, “about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before.” Danner will write that he isn’t sure if the wild swings in procedures are intentional, meant to keep Zubaida off-guard, or, as he will write, “resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled ‘alternative set of procedures’ that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, ‘friendly’ governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now ‘reverse-engineered’ the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture.” Danner notes that some CIA documents going back to the 1960s advocate subjecting the captive to sensory deprivation and disorientation, and instilling feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness. The old CIA documents say that captives should be kept in a state of “debility-dependence-dread.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Justice Department's 'Ticking Bomb' Scenario - The August 2002 “golden shield” memo from the Justice Department (see August 1, 2002) will use what is often called the “ticking bomg scenario”—the supposition that a terror attack is imminent and only torture can extract time-critical information from a terrorist detainee to give US officials a chance to stop the attack—to justify Zubaida’s torture. According to CIA reports, Zubaida has information regarding “terrorist networks in the United States” and “plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas.” But Brent Mickum, who later becomes one of Zubaida’s attorneys, will say that he believes the Justice Department memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used. “If torture occurred before the memo was written, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal,” Mickum will note. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Interrogations Continue in June - Sometime in June, Zubaida will once again be interrogated (see June 2002).

The CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, headed by John Helgerson, receives information that some CIA employees are concerned about the agency’s interrogation program. Specifically, they are worried that certain covert CIA activities at an overseas black site where detainees are held may involve violations of human rights. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 2 pdf file] The identity of the CIA black site and the type of abuse is not publicly known. However, around this time, some new officers arrive at a CIA black site in Poland and report abuse there to the agency’s management (see January 2003).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), John Helgerson

Category Tags: Independent Investigations, Stare Kiejkuty (Poland), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

The CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, James Pavitt, asks the agency’s office of inspector general, headed by John Helgerson, to investigate allegations that a high-value detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, has been abused. Apparently, Pavitt has just learned of the abuse of al-Nashiri, who was captured in October or November the previous year (see Early October 2002). [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1-2 pdf file] The abuse took place at a black site in Poland and was apparently carried out by a CIA officer known only as “Albert,” with the approval of his superior, “Mike.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1-2 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The inspector general will issue a report on the incidents later in the year (see October 29, 2003).

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), John Helgerson, Directorate of Operations, “Mike”, “Albert”, Central Intelligence Agency, James Pavitt

Category Tags: Independent Investigations, Stare Kiejkuty (Poland), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

The CIA’s Office of Inspector General begins an investigation of the agency’s torture and interrogation practices. The investigation is spurred by three stimuli: notification of a controversial incident in November 2002 (see Shortly After November 20, 2002); concerns over the interrogation of high-value detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see January 2003); and other concerns about human rights abuses at a black site (see (January 2003)). The investigation will cover the period between September 2001 and mid-October 2003. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 2 pdf file] The inspector general, John Helgerson, will issue his office’s final, classified report on the investigation in May 2004 (see May 7, 2004).

Entity Tags: John Helgerson, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Independent Investigations

One of a group of 25 al-Qaeda members captured in Pakistan, Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29, 2003), is taken into US custody and sent to a CIA-run detention facility in Afghanistan. Years later, after being transferred to Guantanamo, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006), who will identify him as “Walid bin Attash” in their documents.
'Forced Standing' - Bin Attash will recall his introduction to detention in Afghanistan as follows: “On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural. During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.… The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.… I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing 24 hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.” Author Mark Danner, writing of the ICRC report in 2009 (see March 15, 2009), will note that the “forced standing” technique. with arms shackled above the head, was a favorite technique of the Soviets, who called it “stoika.” Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan, found the technique particularly painful: “After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position.” He is checked periodically by a doctor. The doctor does not object to the ‘forced standing,’ even though the treatment causes intense pain in bin Attash’s leg; neither does the doctor object to the suspension from shackles, even though the shackles cut and abrade his wrists.
Cold Water, Physical Beatings - Bin Attash will tell ICRC officials that he is “washed down with cold water every day.” Every day he is also subjected to beatings: “Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves.… Also 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. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements. Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.… I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”
Moved to Second Facility - It remains unclear where bin Attash is moved to after his initial detention in Afghanistan, but he will tell ICRC officials that his captors there—also Americans—“were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me.” Danner will later note that the methods used to interrogate and torture bin Attash are somewhat more refined than those used on an experimental basis with another al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002). For example, a towel was wrapped around Zubaida’s neck and used to slam him into walls, while bin Attash was given a plastic collar. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Khallad bin Attash, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Mark Danner, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Coverup, Criticisms of US, Independent Investigations, Extreme Temperatures, Insufficient Food, Isolation, Physical Assault, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Waterboarding, Other High Ranking Detainees

The CIA, the RAND Corporation, and the American Psychological Association host a two-day workshop entitled, “Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory.” One session, “Law Enforcement Interrogation and Debriefing,” explores the question, “What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?” [American Psychological Association, 6/18/2003; Congressional Quarterly, 4/4/2008] This question becomes more relevant in light of evidence that mind-altering drugs may be used by US interrogators against terror suspects (see April 4, 2008).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, RAND Corporation, American Psychological Association

Category Tags: Independent Investigations, Statements/Writings about Torture

The Justice Department’s criminal division decides not to prosecute a CIA officer, known only as “Albert,” who intimidated al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a handgun and power drill during interrogations. The use of the gun and drill took place around late 2002 (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003), but was not authorised by CIA headquarters. As there will be no prosecution, the department returns the matter to the CIA. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The CIA’s inspector general will issue a report on the incidents the next month, but its conclusion is unknown (see October 29, 2003).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Criminal Division (DoJ), “Albert”

Category Tags: Independent Investigations, Other US Bases and Centers, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, issues a report on the use of a handgun and power drill to intimidate al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during an interrogation. A CIA officer known only as “Albert” threatened al-Nashiri with the gun and drill at a CIA black site in Poland around late 2002 (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The incidents have already been referred to the Justice Department, which has declined to prosecute (see September 11, 2003). What conclusions Helgerson comes to in the report are unknown. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, “Albert”, John Helgerson, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Independent Investigations, Stare Kiejkuty (Poland), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

An Afghani civilian later identified as Abdul Wahid dies from what his autopsy report calls “multiple blunt force injuries to head, torso, and extremities.” Wahid is being held by US forces at a forward operating base in Helmand province. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Abdul Wahid

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Human Rights Groups, Independent Investigations, Prisoner Deaths, Physical Assault

A male Iraqi dies while being interrogated by American officials, probably from the CIA. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (see October 24, 2005), the male, detained in the city of Al Asad, is “standing, shackled to the top of a door frame with a gag in his mouth at the time he died.” The cause of death is asphyxia and blunt force injuries—in essence, being beaten to death while choking on a gag. The ACLU believes the Iraqi’s name was Abdul Jaleel. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Jaleel, American Civil Liberties Union

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Human Rights Groups, Independent Investigations, Prisoner Deaths, Physical Assault

In February 2004, a confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross says that “military intelligence officers told [us] that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.” Half or more of all prisoners in Iraq are held at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. This report echoes the conclusions of an unpublished US Army report by Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder given to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top US commander in Iraq, on November 5, 2003 (see November 5, 2003). Ryder, the US Army’s provost marshal, reported that some Iraqis had been held for several months for nothing more than expressing “displeasure or ill will” towards US troops. And it said the process for deciding which arrested Iraqis posed security risks and which should be released violated the military’s own policies. It also complains that the continuing influx of new prisoners detained despite little evidence against them threatens to strain the prison system. Senior officers claim that Brig. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top Army intelligence officer in Iraq, often ruled last against the release of prisoners, even vetoing the recommendations of a military police commander and military intelligence officers. [New York Times, 5/30/2004] Similarly, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigates abuses at Abu Ghraib prison around this time (see February 26, 2004), will later say very few prisoners there were affiliated with any terrorist group. Taguba saw classified documents revealing that there were only “one or two” suspected al-Qaeda prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Most of the detainees were not even connected to the Iraqi insurgency. [New Yorker, 6/17/2007] Despite this evidence, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt will later claim, “If they were innocent, they wouldn’t be at Abu Ghraib.… The number that were released because they were innocent? That number… is zero. Persons are held at Abu Ghraib because they are determined to be security threats, imminent security threats here in [Iraq].” [New York Times, 5/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald J. Ryder, Barbara G. Fast, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Kimmitt, Ricardo S. Sanchez

Category Tags: Human Rights Groups, Coverup, Independent Investigations, Criticisms of US, Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq)

A 27-year-old Iraqi male dies during his interrogation by US Navy SEALs in Mosul. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later find (see October 24, 2005) that during his confinement, “he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived, and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood.” The cause of death is officially “undetermined,” though the autopsy speculates that the prisoner may have died from hypothermia and/or related conditions. Notes from his interrogators say that he “struggled/ interrogated/ died sleeping.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, American Civil Liberties Union

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Human Rights Groups, Independent Investigations, Prisoner Deaths, Dangerous Conditions, Extreme Temperatures, Sleep Deprivation

The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Independent Investigations, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

The Guardian, during the course of an in-depth investigation of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, learns that while some of the base’s prisoners are being transferred to Guantanamo, others are being purposely kept off the books, a practice that a human rights organization has coined, “RPing,” or “Rumsfeld Processing.” These prisoners are sometimes called ghost prisoners. These detainees are sometimes rendered to the intelligence services of Egypt or other foreign governments for interrogation. [Guardian, 6/23/2004]

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Coverup, Independent Investigations, Rendition after 9/11, Ghost Detainees, Bagram (Afghanistan)

Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora writes a secret, but unclassified, memo to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Mora writes the memo in an attempt to stop what he sees as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruel and inhuman treatment of terror suspects. The memo details in chronological fashion Mora’s earlier attempts to speak out against the Bush administration’s decision to circumvent the Geneva Conventions (see January 9, 2002 and January 11, 2002).
Specific Problems - Mora, a veteran of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and a strong supporter of the “war on terror,” argues that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward US-held terrorist suspects is an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also writes that the Bush administration’s legal arguments that justify an expansion of executive power in everything from interrogations to warrantless wiretapping are “unlawful,” “dangerous,” and “erroneous” legal theories. Not only are they wrong in granting President Bush the right to authorize torture, he warns that they may leave US personnel open to criminal prosecution. While the administration has argued that it holds to humane, legal standards in interrogation practices (see January 12, 2006), Mora’s memo shows that from the outset of the administration’s “war on terror,” the White House, the Justice Department, and the Defense Department intentionally skirted and at times ignored domestic and international laws surrounding interrogation and detention of prisoners.
Cruelty and Torture - Mora will later recall the mood in the Pentagon: “The mentality was that we lost three thousand Americans [on 9/11], and we could lose a lot more unless something was done. It was believed that some of the Guantanamo detainees had knowledge of other 9/11-like operations that were under way, or would be executed in the future. The gloves had to come off. The US had to get tougher.” But, Mora will say, the authorization of cruel treatment of detainees is as pernicious as any defined torture techniques that have been used. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he says. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.… The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values.” [Mora, 7/7/2004 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Defense, Alberto Mora, Albert T. Church III, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Independent Investigations, Internal Memos/Reports, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases a report that documents the death of 44 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan while in US custody. Most died during interrogation. The report, based on government reports (including autopsy reports, death reports, and other documents turned over to the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request), finds that “detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation, and to hot and cold environmental conditions.” ACLU director Anthony Romero says: “There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.” The detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy SEALs, military intelligence officials, and “OGA” (Other Governmental Agency) personnel, a designation the ACLU says is usually used to refer to the CIA. Twenty-one of the 44 deaths were homicides, the ACLU says. Eight died from abusive techniques; autopsy reports show the causes of death were “strangulation,” “asphyxiation,” and “blunt force injuries.” Most of the “natural deaths” were attributed to what government doctors termed “Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The ACLU notes that the report proves that detainees died not only at the hands of CIA personnel, but from abuse and maltreatment by Navy SEALs and military intelligence officials as well. The report cites, among other deaths, an Iraqi prisoner who died from hypothermia (see April 5, 2004), an Iraqi prisoner who was strangled and beaten to death (see January 9, 2004), an Iraqi general who died from smothering and “chest compressions” (see November 26, 2003), an Iraqi prisoner beaten and smothered to death (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), two Afghani civilians beaten to death by US soldiers (see November 6, 2003 and December 10, 2002), and an older Iraqi man strangled to death while in US custody (see June 5, 2003). ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations. The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, American Civil Liberties Union, Amrit Singh, Anthony D. Romero, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Human Rights Groups, Independent Investigations, Prisoner Deaths, Physical Assault

In two separate sessions, from October 6-11 and again from December 4-14, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interview 14 detainees newly transferred from a variety of CIA secret “black sites” to Guantanamo. The transfers followed President Bush’s acknowledgment that the CIA has maintained a number of these sites and his announced intention to have a number of the detainees sent to the Cuban facility (see September 17, 2001 and September 6, 2006).
ICRC Access - The ICRC is legally bound to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; previously, it had not been allowed to see the detainees, and in some cases were never informed of their detention. The ICRC officials interview each prisoner in private, with the intention of producing “a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the CIA detention program.”
Interviews - The 14 have been held for periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.” The ICRC’s report, never intended for public consumption, will be released to the CIA several months later (see February 14, 2007) and revealed in a book in early 2009 (see March 15, 2009). Some of the detainees, concerned about the possible repercussions that may ensue from their discussions, ask the ICRC to withhold their names from some allegations, though most of the report attributes specific narratives and allegations to particular prisoners. Almost every allegation is independently corroborated by other, named detainees.
'Striking Similarity' - In 2009, author Mark Danner will write, quoting the ICRC report: “[I]ndeed, since the detainees were kept ‘in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention’ throughout their time in ‘the black sites,’ and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantanamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. ‘The ICRC wishes to underscore,’ as the writers tell us in the introduction, ‘that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.’”
Topics of Report - The report covers the following areas:
bullet Main elements of the CIA detention program;
bullet Arrest and transfer;
bullet Continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention;
bullet Other methods of ill-treatment;
bullet Suffocation by water (the ICRC term for waterboarding);
bullet Prolonged stress standing;
bullet Beatings by use of a collar;
bullet Beating and kicking;
bullet Confinement in a box;
bullet Prolonged nudity;
bullet Sleep deprivation and use of loud music;
bullet Exposure to cold temperature/cold water;
bullet Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles;
bullet Threats;
bullet Forced shaving;
bullet Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food;
bullet Further elements of the detention regime.
Conclusion - The report concludes: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Danner will write, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Danner

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, High-level Decisions and Actions, Independent Investigations, Forced Confessions, Insufficient Food, Isolation, Mental Abuse, Physical Assault, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Suppression of Religious Expression, Waterboarding, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

National Defense Intelligence College logo.National Defense Intelligence College logo. [Source: National Defense Intelligence College]A study just released by the Intelligence Science Board, a wing of the National Defense Intelligence College, suggests that after the 9/11 attacks, when US military and intelligence agency interrogators were asked to use harsher tactics on suspected terrorists to find out information about upcoming attacks, the interrogators were not sure how to implement such tactics. Therefore, they began “mak[ing] it up on the fly,” the study finds. It continues, “Th[e] shortfall in advanced, research-based interrogation methods at a time of intense pressure from operational commanders to produce actionable intelligence from high-value targets may have contributed significantly to the unfortunate cases of abuse that have recently come to light.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Intelligence Science Board, National Defense Intelligence College

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Independent Investigations, Indications of Abuse

The International Committee of the Red Cross sends its report on the detention and torture of 14 detainees formerly in CIA custody (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) to the CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo. The report is never intended to be made public, but it is documented in an article and subsequent book by Mark Danner (see March 15, 2009). [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Danner, John Rizzo, International Committee of the Red Cross

Category Tags: Coverup, High-level Decisions and Actions, Independent Investigations, Statements/Writings about Torture

Nieman Reports, a quarterly magazine about journalism, publishes an article by investigative journalist Craig Pyes describing how the US Army attempted to undermine a Los Angeles Times investigation looking into the March 2003 deaths of two Afghan detainees (see March 16, 2003). It is believed that members of a Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan murdered the two men, identified as Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed, and then covered up the circumstances surrounding their deaths. An official investigation into the two deaths by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) found insufficient probable cause to bring charges for either of the two deaths. As a result of the CID investigation, two soldiers were given noncriminal administrative letters of reprimand (see January 26, 2007) for “slapping” prisoners at the Gardez facility and for failing to report the death of Naseer. In his article, Pyes recounts the resistance he and his colleague Kevin Sack encountered from the military as they sought information about the two deaths. The military refused to disclose basic information about the circumstances surrounding the two deaths, including the two men’s identities, the circumstances of their detention, the charges against them, court papers, and investigative findings. The journalists also learned that soldiers had been told by their superiors that it was important that everyone be “on the same page in case there was an investigation.” During their investigation, they also discovered that “military examiners had made some significant errors, including their initial failure to identify the victims. They also grossly misidentified dates of crucial events and persistently failed to interview key people and locate supporting documents.” [Nieman Watchdog, 3/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Wakil Mohammed, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, US Special Forces, Jamal Naseer, Los Angeles Times, Criminal Investigation Command

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Coverup, Disciplinary Actions, Independent Investigations, Media, Prisoner Deaths, Reports/Investigations, Extreme Temperatures, Intimidation/Threats, Physical Assault, Stress Positions, Gardez (Afghanistan)

The Congressional Quarterly reports on a growing body of evidence that indicates US interrogators are using mind-altering drugs on prisoners suspected of terrorist ties. The evidence is not yet conclusive, but reporter Jeff Stein writes: “There can be little doubt now that the government has used drugs on terrorist suspects that are designed to weaken their resistance to interrogation. All that’s missing is the syringes and videotapes.”
Connection to Yoo Memo - The idea that the US might be using hallucinogenic or other drugs on detainees in Guantanamo and other US detention facilities was bolstered by the recent revelation of another “torture memo,” this one written in 2003 by then-Justice Department lawyer John Yoo (see March 14, 2003). Yoo wrote that US interrogators could use mind-altering drugs on terror suspects as long as the drugs did not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.” Yoo first rationalized the use of drugs on prisoners in earlier “torture memos” (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002).
Criticism - Stephen Miles, a bioethicist and author of a recent book detailing medical complicity in US torture of suspected terrorists, notes: “The new Yoo memo, along with other White House legal memoranda, shows clearly that the policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs was being laid. The recent memo on mood-altering drugs does not extend previous work on this area. The use of these drugs was anticipated and discussed in the memos of January and February 2002 by [Defense Department, Justice Department], and White House counsel using the same language and rationale. The executive branch memos laid a comprehensive and reiterated policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs.” Jeffrey Kaye, a clinical psychologist who works with torture victims through Survivors International, says plainly: “Yes, I believe [drugs] have been used. I came across some evidence that they were using mind-altering drugs, to regress the prisoners, to ascertain if they were using deception techniques, to break them down.”
Varieties of Drugs and Placebos Being Used? - It is well known that US military personnel often use sedatives on shackled and hooded prisoners on “rendition” flights from Middle Eastern countries to Guantanamo. There is no hard evidence to support claims that US interrogators are using hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD on detainees. However, Michael Caruso, who represents suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002), filed a motion last year asserting that his client “was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.” Caruso had no proof to back up his claim.
KUBARK - Stein notes that a 1963 CIA interrogation manual, code-named KUBARK, advocated the use of placebos as well as real drugs on prisoners. And Michael Gelles, a psychologist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Institute who has spoken out against the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo, says that he never saw anything related to drugs. “I never saw that raised as an issue,” he says. Hallucinogens such as LSD do not make subjects tell the truth. According to KUBARK, “Their function is to cause capitulation, to aid in the shift from resistance to cooperation.”
Winging It - In July 2003, the CIA, the RAND Corporation, and the American Psychological Association hosted a workshop that explored the question of using drugs to “affect apparent truth-telling behavior” (see June 17-18, 2003). After 9/11, top Bush administration officials pushed military commanders for quick intelligence but, according to a recent study, the interrogators unsure how to use harsher methodologies (see December 2006) and began “mak[ing] it up on the fly.”
Guantanamo - Guantanamo staff judge advocate Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver says that some of the interrogators drew inspiration from the popular TV drama 24 (see Fall 2006). Beaver makes no mention of drugs being used, but Ewe Jacobs, the director of Survivors International, says she may not have seen or heard about their use. “The Guantanamo camps were isolated from one another,” he says. What happened in one part of the facility may not have been known in other areas. Miles adds, “I suspect that most of the use of interrogational drugs was by CIA and Special Ops interrogators, and thus still remains classified.”
Credibility Issues - As with victims of the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program from the 1960s and 70s, when unwitting subjects were dosed with hallucinogenic drugs and their reactions catalogued and observed, the detainees who may have been forcibly given such drugs will likely not be believed by many. Absent hard evidence, many will consider the detainees either “looney,” in Stein’s words, or liars. Few believe that Padilla was drugged. And, Stein concludes, “Even fewer will believe the other prisoners, a number of whom are deranged from prolonged interrogation—if they ever get out.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Ewe Jacobs, Diane E. Beaver, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), American Psychological Association, Jeff Stein, John C. Yoo, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, Jeffrey Kaye, Stephen Miles, RAND Corporation, Michael Caruso, Michael Gelles, Survivors International

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, High-level Decisions and Actions, Human Rights Groups, Independent Investigations, Statements/Writings about Torture, Involuntary Drugs, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls for an independent counsel to investigate President Bush and his current and former top officials over their involvement in approving torture against terror suspects held captive by US military and intelligence personnel (see April 2002 and After and April 11, 2008). The ACLU’s executive director, Anthony Romero, says: “We have always known that the CIA’s use of torture was approved from the very top levels of the US government, yet the latest revelations about knowledge from the president himself and authorization from his top advisers only confirms our worst fears. It is a very sad day when the president of the United States subverts the Constitution, the rule of law, and American values of justice.” The ACLU’s Caroline Frederickson adds: “No one in the executive branch of government can be trusted to fairly investigate or prosecute any crimes since the head of every relevant department, along with the president and vice president, either knew [of] or participated in the planning and approval of illegal acts. Congress cannot look the other way; it must demand an independent investigation and independent prosecutor.” Romero says the ACLU is offering legal assistance to any terrorism suspect being prosecuted by the US: “It is more important than ever that the US government, when seeking justice against those it suspects of harming us, adhere to our commitment to due process and the rule of law. That’s why the ACLU has taken the extraordinary step to offer our assistance to those being prosecuted under the unconstitutional military commissions process.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Caroline Frederickson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Detainments, Human Rights Groups, Independent Investigations, Media, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Waterboarding, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

Jan Schakowsky.Jan Schakowsky. [Source: Washington Post]Fifty-six Democratic members of the House of Representatives send a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, asking him to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether top Bush administration officials committed crimes in authorizing the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). The lawmakers, who include John Conyers (D-MI), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and House Intelligence Committee members Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), cite “mounting evidence” that senior officials personally sanctioned the use of such extreme interrogation methods. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether such actions violated US or international law, the letter states. “This information indicates that the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law,” the letter says. It adds that a broad inquiry is needed to examine the consequences of administration decisions at US detention sites in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and in secret prisons operated by the CIA. The interrogation methods have resulted in “abuse, sexual exploitation and torture” that may have violated the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the American Anti-Torture Act of 2007. “Despite the seriousness of the evidence, the Justice Department has brought prosecution against only one civilian for an interrogation-related crime,” the letter reads. “Given that record, we believe it is necessary to appoint a special counsel in order to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation occurs.” Conyers tells reporters after sending the letter, “We need an impartial criminal investigation.” The entire detainee controversy is “a truly shameful episode” in US history, he says. “Because these apparent ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were used under cover of Justice Department legal opinions, the need for an outside special prosecutor is obvious.” The Justice Department refuses to comment on the letter. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says that the letter is significant even if Mukasey refuses to appoint a special counsel. “The fact that so many representatives have called for the investigation helps lay the groundwork for the inevitable reckoning and accounting that the next administration is going to have to do regarding this administration’s practices,” she says. [US House of Representatives, 6/6/2008; Washington Post, 6/7/2008; United Press International, 6/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Jerrold Nadler, House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), House Judiciary Committee, Human Rights Watch, Michael Mukasey, US Department of Justice, John Conyers, Jan Schakowsky, Jennifer Daskal

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Independent Investigations

Vanity Fair reporter David Rose publishes an extensive examination of the US’s use of torture to extract information from a number of suspected militant Islamists, focusing on three subjects: Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, May 2002-2003, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, and December 18, 2007), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and August 6, 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (see May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). The conclusion he draws, based on numerous interviews with current and former CIA, military, and administration sources, is that torture not only does not work to provide reliable intelligence, it provides so much false information that it chokes the intelligence system and renders the intelligence apparatus unreliable. One CIA official tells Rose: “We were done a tremendous disservice by the [Bush] administration. We had no background in this; it’s not something we do. They stuck us with a totally unwelcome job and left us hanging out to dry. I’m worried that the next administration is going to prosecute the guys who got involved, and there won’t be any presidential pardons at the end of it. It would be okay if it were [former Attorney Generals] John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales. But it won’t be. It’ll be some poor GS-13 who was just trying to do his job.”
Enormous Waste of Resources - A veteran FBI counterterrorism agent says the waste of time and resources on false leads generated through torture has been enormous. “At least 30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullsh_t,” he says. “There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, ‘Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true?’ That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”
No Proof of Efficacy of Torture - Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Dan Cloonan points to the near-total lack of proof the administration has been able to advance to show that torture works. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods,’” he says. “But if KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] and Abu Zubaida did give up stuff, we would have heard the details. What we got was pabulum.” A former CIA officer says: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaida or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
Propaganda Value - Officials who analyzed Zubaida’s interrogation reports say that his reports were given such credence within the White House not because of the American lives they would supposedly save, but because they could be used to rebut those who criticized the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t know he’d been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” says a former Pentagon analyst. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” He was unable to draw valid conclusions about the importance of Zubaida’s confessions without knowing how the information was extracted. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective,” he says. “I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”
False Claims of Preventing London Attack - President Bush has claimed that secret CIA black site interrogations “helped foil a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow [Airport] and London’s Canary Wharf” (see October 6, 2005). The former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, who served through May 2008 and helped stop several jihadist attacks, says Bush’s claim is specious. Clarke says it is possible that al-Qaeda had considered some sort of project along the lines of Bush’s assertion, but if it had, it was nowhere near fruition. “It wasn’t at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the UK doing it,” he says. “If they had been, I’d have arrested them.” No terror plot of which Clarke is aware has been foiled due to information gathered due to torture.
FBI Director Confirms No Plots Disrupted by Torture Interrogations - Rose concludes by quoting an interview he held with FBI Director Robert Mueller in April 2008. Rose lists a number of plots disrupted by the FBI, all “foiled by regular police work.” He asked Mueller if he was aware of any attacks on America that had been disrupted thanks to what the administration calls “enhanced techniques.” Mueller responded, “I’m really reluctant to answer that.” He paused, looked at an aide, then said quietly, “I don’t believe that has been the case.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] On April 21, 2009, a spokesman for Mueller will say, “The quote is accurate.” [New York Times, 4/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, US Department of Defense, Robert S. Mueller III, Peter Clarke, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Rose, George W. Bush, Dan Cloonan, John Ashcroft, Binyam Mohamed

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Independent Investigations, Statements/Writings about Torture

The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 pdf file; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
bullet The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
bullet Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
bullet Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
bullet While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
bullet The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; New York Times, 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Policies Driven from Top - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Carl Levin, Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Armed Services Committee, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Independent Investigations, SERE Techniques

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Key Events (98)

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Abu Ghraib Scandal Aftermath (28)Coverup (144)Criticisms of US (171)Detainee Treatment Act (15)Detainments (121)Disciplinary Actions (17)High-level Decisions and Actions (450)Human Rights Groups (81)Impunity (49)Indefinite Detention (41)Independent Investigations (27)Indications of Abuse (61)Legal Proceedings (217)Media (77)Military Commissions / Tribunals (66)Other Events (20)Prisoner Deaths (48)Private Contractors (8)Public Statements (84)Reports/Investigations (144)Statements/Writings about Torture (129)Supreme Court Decisions (5)

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Extraordinary Rendition (24)Rendition after 9/11 (75)Rendition before 9/11 (34)

Types of Abuses Performed by US

Abrogation of Rights (37)Dangerous Conditions (18)Deception (5)Electrodes (9)Exposure to Insects (4)Extreme Temperatures (48)Forced Confessions (37)Ghost Detainees (28)Insufficient Food (25)Intimidation/Threats (44)Involuntary Drugs (14)Isolation (33)Medical Services Denied (14)Mental Abuse (21)Physical Assault (140)Poor Conditions (30)SERE Techniques (30)Sexual Humiliation (57)Sexual Temptation (3)Sleep Deprivation (74)Stress Positions (65)Suppression of Religious Expression (18)Use of Dogs (20)Waterboarding (92)

Documents

Internal Memos/Reports (95)Presidential Directives (8)

Specific Events or Operations

Destruction of CIA Tapes (94)Operation Copper Green (9)Qala-i-Janghi Massacre (17)

US Bases and Interrogation Centers

Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq) (187)Al Jafr Prison (Jordan) (8)Al Qaim (Iraq) (6)Bagram (Afghanistan) (60)Camp Bucca (Iraq) (13)Camp Cropper (Iraq) (13)Diego Garcia (8)Gardez (Afghanistan) (7)Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba) (293)Kandahar (Afghanistan) (19)Salt Pit (Afghanistan) (34)Stare Kiejkuty (Poland) (21)US Base (Thailand) (15)USS Peleliu (7)Other US Bases and Centers (40)

High Ranking Detainees

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (32)Abu Zubaida (52)Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (6)Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (26)Hambali (9)Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (10)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (34)Majid Khan (7)Ramzi bin al-Shibh (13)Other High Ranking Detainees (14)

Other Detainees

Abed Hamed Mowhoush (8)Asif Iqbal (20)Binyam Mohamed (14)Bisher al-Rawi (11)Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (37)Huda al-Azzawi (10)Jamal Udeen (10)Jamil al-Banna (9)John Walker Lindh (29)Jose Padilla (31)Khalid el-Masri (17)Maher Arar (14)Moazzam Begg (8)Mohamed al-Khatani (13)Mohammed Jawad (14)Rhuhel Ahmed (22)Saddam Salah al-Rawi (8)Salim Ahmed Hamdan (12)Shafiq Rasul (20)Tarek Dergoul (11)Yaser Esam Hamdi (22)Other Detainees (167)
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