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

Private Contractors

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

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The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington.The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington. [Source: Brian Plonka / Spokesman-Review]The FBI has been interrogating captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida at a secret CIA prison in Thailand and learning valuable intelligence information (see Late March through Early June, 2002). However, the prison is controlled by the CIA and the FBI is only in control until a team of CIA interrogators arrives, which apparently happens around mid-April 2002. The FBI has been using humane rapport-building techniques, but the new CIA team immediately abandons this approach. The team is lead by psychologist James Mitchell, who runs a consulting business in Washington State with psychologist Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After). Both worked in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), a classified US military training program which trains soldiers to endure being tortured by the enemy. Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the techniques inflicted in the SERE training so they could be used on Zubaida and other detainees. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] SERE trainees are subjected to “waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to temperature extremes, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds, and religious and sexual humiliation.” One European official knowledgeable about the SERE program will say of Mitchell and Jessen: “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture.… They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses.” The use of these psychologists also helps to put a veneer of scientific respectability over the torture techniques favored by top officials. One former US intelligence community adviser will later say: “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have PhD’s who have these theories.’” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] But Mitchell and Jessen have no experience in conducting interrogations and have no proof that their techniques are effective. In fact, the SERE techniques are based on Communist interrogation techniques from the Korean War, designed not to get valuable intelligence but to generate propaganda by getting US prisoners to make statements denouncing the US (see December 2001). Air Force Reserve colonel Steve Kleinman, an expert in human intelligence operations, will later say he finds it astonishing the CIA “chose two clinical psychologists who had no intelligence background whatsoever, who had never conducted an interrogation… to do something that had never been proven in the real world.” FBI official Michael Rolince calls their techniques “voodoo science.” In 2006, a report by the best-known interrogation experts in the US will conclude that there is no evidence that reverse-engineered SERE tactics are effective in obtaining useful intelligence. But nonetheless, from this time forward Zubaida’s interrogations will be based on these techniques. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: James Elmer Mitchell, Abu Zubaida, Steve Kleinman, Michael Rolince, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Private Contractors, Deception, Forced Confessions, Intimidation/Threats, Mental Abuse, SERE Techniques, Destruction of CIA Tapes, US Base (Thailand), Abu Zubaida

R. Scott Shumate.R. Scott Shumate. [Source: American Psychological Association]Held in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is interrogated by a new team of CIA interrogators led by James Elmer Mitchell and Dr. R. Scott Shumate. Mitchell is a psychologist contracted to the CIA, while Shumate is the chief operational psychologist for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Mitchell wants to use torture techniques based on reverse-engineering SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), a class he has taught that trains US soldiers to resist torture by the enemy. But the techniques have never been tried before and studies will later determine they are not effective in obtaining good intelligence (see Mid-April 2002). Zubaida is resistant to Mitchell’s new aggressive techniques and refuses to talk. Mitchell concludes Zubaida will only talk when he has been rendered completely helpless and dependent, so the CIA begins building a coffin to bury Zubaida alive in but not actually kill him. This creates an intense controversy over the legality of such a technique, and ultimately it appears the burying alive is never carried out. Both domestic and international law clearly prohibits death threats and simulated killings. However, a number of aggressive techniques have just been approved at the highest political level (see Mid-March 2002), so opponents to these techniques are mostly powerless. Shumate is so strongly opposed to these techniques that he leaves in disgust. He will later tell his associates that it was a mistake for the CIA to hire Mitchell. But with Shumate gone, Mitchell is now free to use more extreme methods, and the torture of Zubaida begins in earnest around the middle of May. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] Around this time, the FBI also washes its hands of the controversial techniques and withdraws its personnel from the secret prison (see Mid-April-May 2002).

Entity Tags: R. Scott Shumate, Counterterrorist Center, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, James Elmer Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Private Contractors, Deception, Intimidation/Threats, SERE Techniques, Destruction of CIA Tapes, Abu Zubaida

Abdul Wali turns himself in to a US base in Asadabad, Afghanistan [CBS News, 6/18/2004] at the request of the Afghan governor of Kunar province. Wali allegedly participated in rocket attacks against the base, which is located in northeast Afghanistan close to the border with Pakistan. During the next two days, according to an indictment, he is “brutally assault[ed]” by David A. Passaro, a private contractor, employed by the CIA, [Guardian, 6/23/2004] who uses “his hands and feet and a large flashlight.” On June 21, Wali dies in detention. The CIA refers the case to the Justice Department in November 2003. Passaro will be indicted with charges of assault in June 2004. [CBS News, 6/18/2004]

Entity Tags: David A. Passaro, Abdul Wali

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Prisoner Deaths, Private Contractors, Other Detainees, Other US Bases and Centers

Amjed Isail Waleed arrives at Abu Ghraib and is designated a high-value detainee and assigned number 151365. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] He is immediately taken to the Hard Site and beaten by MPs. [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] Guards “put me in a dark room and started hitting me in the head and stomach and legs,” he later testifies. [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] He is then forced to strip and for five days he is left naked in his cell [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] where he is cuffed in stressful positions, a treatment known as “high cuffed.” [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] He is also forced to kneel with a bag over his head for four hours, denied bedding or blankets, [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] and chained to a window in his cell and forced to wear women’s underwear on his head. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] One time a soldier slams Waleed’s head against the wall, causing the hood he is wearing to fall off. “One of the police was telling me to crawl, in Arabic, so I crawled on my stomach, and the police were spitting on me when I was crawling and hitting me on my back, my head, and my feet. It kept going on until their shift ended at four o’clock in the morning. The same thing would happen in the following days.” Later, one day in November, five soldiers take him into a room, put a bag over his head and begin to beat him up. “I could see their feet, only, from under the bag.… Some of the things they did was make me sit down like a dog, and they would hold the string from the bag, and they made me bark like a dog, and they were laughing at me.” [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] A civilian interpreter, hired from Titan Corp., at one time hits him so hard, that he cuts his ear badly enough to require stitches. After several beatings that are so severe that he loses consciousness, he is forced to lie on the ground, while MPs jump onto his back and legs. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] “One of the police was pissing on me and laughing at me.” [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] Another day he is allegedly grabbed by US soldiers who hold him down and spread his legs. Another soldier meanwhile starts to open his trousers. “I started screaming,” he recalls. A soldier steps on his head. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] He is also beaten with a broom. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] Someone breaks a chemical light and pours the liquid over his body, which is witnessed by another detainee. “I was glowing and they were laughing,” he says. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] He is then taken to another room where a police baton is used to sodomize him. “And one of the police, he put a part of his stick that he always carries inside my ass, and I felt it going inside me about two centimeters, approximately. And I started screaming, and he pulled it out and he washed it with water inside the room.” [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] In the meantime, two female MPs are hitting him, throwing a ball at his penis, and taking photographs. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] “And the two American girls that were there when they were beating me, they were hitting me with a ball made of sponge on my dick. And when I was tied up in my room, one of the girls, with blond hair, she is white, she was playing with my dick. I saw inside this facility a lot of punishment just like what they did to me and more. And they were taking pictures of me during all these instances.” [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] Over the next few months, Waleed is subjected to six interrogations. Maj. George R. Fay (see August 25, 2004) will later conclude after an investigation into treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, “It is highly probable [the detainee’s] allegations are true.” [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George R. Fay, Amjed Isail Waleed, Titan

Category Tags: Key Events, Private Contractors, Physical Assault, Sexual Humiliation, Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq), Stress Positions, Other Detainees

Ivan Frederick.Ivan Frederick. [Source: Associated Press]A civilian contractor starts interrogating a detained Iraqi policeman at Abu Ghraib. He asks the detainee a question, and then warns that if he does not answer he will bring Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick into the cell. A military intelligence soldier witnesses Frederick going in and out of the cell several times. At one point, Frederick puts his hand over the detainee’s nose, not allowing him to breathe. Frederick also uses a “collapsible nightstick” to possibly twist the detainee’s arm. At the end of the session, Frederick tells the military intelligence soldier he knows ways to do this without leaving marks. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ivan L. Frederick II

Category Tags: Private Contractors, Physical Assault, Intimidation/Threats, Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq), Other Detainees

Top: Sgt. Evans fills out paperwork. A naked detainee and Adel Nakhla’s shoulder can also been seen. Bottom: Two naked detainees are cuffed together.Top: Sgt. Evans fills out paperwork. A naked detainee and Adel Nakhla’s shoulder can also been seen. Bottom: Two naked detainees are cuffed together. [Source: Public domain]In the early morning hours of Dec. 6, more photographs are taken of naked detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. According to MP Charles Graner, some of them are OGA (other government agency) prisoners, which typically means CIA prisoners. In one picture, a medic known as Sgt. Evans fills out paperwork while one of these OGA detainees stands naked next to him. Adel Nakhla, a Titan Corp. interrogator, can also be partially seen. That evening, another photo shows two naked detainees cuffed together. One of them has what appear to be several cuts on his head and arm. [Salon, 3/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Titan, Evans, Adel Nakhla, Charles Graner

Category Tags: Impunity, Private Contractors, Sexual Humiliation, Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq)

Jonathan Idema (far right) and his colleagues interrogating an Afghan.Jonathan Idema (far right) and his colleagues interrogating an Afghan. [Source: Columbia Journalism Review]Four Afghans and three Americans, Jonathan Idema, Brent Bennett, and Edward Caraballo, are convicted of running a private jail in Kabul and torturing Afghans. The Afghans are sentenced to between one and five years in prison; Idema and Bennett to 10 years; and Caraballo to eight years. They were arrested in Kabul in July on charges of kidnapping, torture, and illegal entry into Afghanistan. The US government calls Idema a bounty hunter, and the Pentagon denies any ties with the Americans. But Idema says his work was approved by Afghan and US authorities. He also tells the court the FBI is setting him up. During the trial, however, Idema fails to prove that his actions were authorized by the US authorities. An unnamed US agency gave him a passport, he alleges, and a visa similar to those furnished to US Special Forces. He also claims, “while we were not in the United States army, we were working for the United States army.” He says he had hundreds of videos, photos, and documents that could prove his claims—but they were confiscated by the FBI following his arrest. In their defense, lawyer Robert Fogelnest shows a video of the Americans suggesting they have received an official welcome in Afghanistan. In the footage, they are officially greeted by Afghan officials upon arrival in Afghanistan. One of the officials present was the Kabul police chief. [BBC, 9/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Jonathan Idema, Robert Fogelnest, Brent Bennett, Edward Caraballo

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Private Contractors

ABC News learns that two former military officers, both psychologists, were paid $1,000 a day to design a program to torture and waterboard detainees in US custody. The psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), were recipients of a contract awarded by the CIA to their firm, Mitchell Jessen and Associates. Mitchell and Jessen told the CIA that waterboarding was safe to use on prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer says, “It’s clear that these psychologists had an important role in developing what became the CIA’s torture program.” According to ABC, “Associates say the two made good money doing it, boasting of being paid a thousand dollars a day by the CIA to oversee the use of the techniques on top al-Qaeda suspects at CIA secret sites.” Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman says, “The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about is essentially their concepts.” ABC notes that “neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.” A military officer says that the CIA “went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience. They are not interrogators.” The CIA came to believe that the waterboarding “expertise” they claimed was “misrepresented,” and therefore the claims that waterboarding was “medically safe” and “effective” were questionable. As ABC notes, “The waterboarding used on al-Qaeda detainees was far more intense than the brief sessions used on US military personnel in the training classes.” [ABC News, 4/30/2009; Raw Story, 5/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, ABC News, Al-Qaeda, Bruce Jessen, Steve Kleinman, Jameel Jaffer, James Elmer Mitchell, Mitchell Jessen and Associates

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Private Contractors, Waterboarding

Ordering 

Time period


Categories

Key Events

Key Events (98)

General Topic Areas

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)

Renditions

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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