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

Techniques Used in SERE Training

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

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Albert Biderman, an Air Force sociologist, publishes a study that notes how “brainwashing” had been achieved by depriving prisoners of sleep, exposing them to intense cold, and forcing them into excruciatingly painful “stress positions” for long periods of time. Biderman’s study is based on techniques used by Chinese Communist interrogators against US prisoners of war, which produced little real intelligence but excelled in producing false confessions (see December 2001). In 2002, Biderman’s study will become the basis of a interrogators’ training class for use against detainees at Guantanamo (see July 2002). [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Albert Biderman

Category Tags: Other Events, Reports/Investigations, Extreme Temperatures, SERE Techniques, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions

According to a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report (see April 21, 2009), the Pentagon begins asking the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for assistance in developing a set of procedures for “harsh interrogations”—torture—to be used against suspected terrorists captured by US soldiers and intelligence operatives. JPRA has “reverse-engineered” a training program, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE), which trains US soldiers to resist torture techniques if captured by an enemy, to produce harsh techniques to be used in interrogating suspected terrorists. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Methods Already in Use - Military interrogators have already begun using the methods inflicted on them during SERE training on their prisoners, and SERE instructors—often having no training in interrogation procedures and no experience with other cultures—have been reassigned as interrogators. [Savage, 2007, pp. 216] The JPRA program will result in the personal approval of 15 “harsh” techniques by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The policies will be adopted by US interrogators in Afghanistan, at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and at Guantanamo. [New York Times, 4/21/2009] In a June 2004 press conference, General James T. Hill, the commander of the US Southern Command (SOCOM), which oversees the Guantanamo detention facility, will say that US officials tapped the “SERE School and developed a list of techniques.” Hill will say that he was reassured by Pentagon officials that the techniques were “legally consistent with our laws.”
Methods Devised to Produce Propaganda, Not Reliable Information - Trained interrogators are, in the words of reporter Charlie Savage, “aghast at this policy.” Savage will write that unlike many Pentagon officials, Special Forces troops, and even SERE instructors, they know full well where SERE techniques originated: from the techniques used by Chinese and North Korean interrogators to torture and brutalize US soldiers during the Korean War. The Koreans and Chinese were experts at coercing American captives to “confess” to “war crimes” and other offenses; those confessions were used for propaganda purposes. “After the war,” Savage will write, the captured soldiers “all told the same story: Chinese interrogators, working with the North Koreans, had put them through a series of sustained torments” identical to those used in SERE training “until their minds had bent and they had made the false confessions.” The stories led to the concept of Chinese “brainwashing” techniques made famous by such books and films as The Manchurian Candidate. In 1963, the CIA concluded that the techniques were virtually useless at producing reliable intelligence, but worked very well in coercing victims to say whatever interrogators wanted them to say. “[U]nder sufficient pressure subjects usually yield but their ability to recall and communicate information accurately is as impaired as the will to resist.” Savage will write, “Neither SERE trainers, who run scenarios by following the instructions in basic military manuals, nor their Special Forces trainees understood that the coercive techniques used in the program were designed to make prisoners lose touch with reality so that they will falsely confess to what their captors want to hear, not for extracting accurate and reliable information.” Colonel Steve Kleinman, the former head of the Air Force’s strategic interrogation program, will later comment: “People who defend this say ‘we can make them talk.’ Yes, but what are they saying? The key is that most of the training is to try to resist the attempts to make you comply and do things such as create propaganda, to make these statements in either written or videotaped form. But to get people to comply, to do what you want them to do, even though it’s not the truth—that is a whole different dynamic than getting people to produce accurate, useful intelligence.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 216-217]

Entity Tags: Steve Kleinman, Central Intelligence Agency, Charlie Savage, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Senate Armed Services Committee, James T. Hill

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Indications of Abuse, SERE Techniques, Key Events

Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, draft a paper on the use of harsh interrogations to break suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. Mitchell, a retired Air Force psychologist, and Jessen, the senior psychologist in charge of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)‘s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, will soon begin consulting for both the Pentagon and a variety of US intelligence agencies on the harsh methods—torture—they advocate. Jessen proposes an interrogation program similar to those later adopted by the CIA and Pentagon. His proposal recommends creating what he calls an “exploitation facility,” off-limits to outside observers including journalists and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the agency detailed to ensure that captives in the custody of other nations are being treated properly in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In the “exploitation facility,” interrogators would use such tactics as sleep deprivation, physical violence, and waterboarding to break the resistance of captured terrorism suspects. JPRA officials will later add their own suggestions to Jessen’s initial list, including sexually provocative acts by female interrogators and the use of military dogs. Most of these techniques are considered torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, James Elmer Mitchell, US Department of Defense, International Committee of the Red Cross

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Reports/Investigations, Statements/Writings about Torture, SERE Techniques, Key Events

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).

Pentagon psychologist Bruce Jessen, who serves as the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)‘s senior psychologist for its SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training program, releases an internal draft report for reverse-engineering SERE training techniques to be used against enemy detainees. SERE training teaches soldiers to resist torture inflicted on them by enemy captors. Jessen’s report, a follow-up to a previous report authored by him and fellow military psychologist James Mitchell (see January 2002 and After), calls for the creation of a secret “exploitation facility” that would be off-limits to oversight bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, and would be kept clear of reporters. Jessen’s plan also describes the fundamentals of an “enhanced interrogation” methodology. According to a 2009 press report, it advocated techniques “strikingly similar to those that later surfaced at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere: nudity, stress positions, hoods, treatment like animals, sleep disruption, loud music and flashing lights, and exposure to extreme temperatures.” The techniques also include waterboarding, used 266 times against two high-value al-Qaeda detainees (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009). The report notes: “Typically, those who play the part of interrogators in SERE school neither are trained interrogators nor are they qualified to be. Their job is to train our personnel to resist providing reliable information to our enemies.” However, senior JPRA and Pentagon officials will ignore Jessen’s caveats and authorize the application of SERE methods to the interrogations of al-Qaeda detainees (see April - June 2002). Three months later, JPRA will begin training CIA agents in SERE-derived techniques (see July 2002), including a two-day session on waterboarding (see July 1-2, 2002). Shortly after the training sessions, Pentagon general counsel William Haynes will ask JPRA for more information on SERE techniques. Haynes’s deputy, Richard Shiffrin, will later confirm “that a purpose of the request was to ‘reverse engineer’ the techniques.” [Agence France-Presse, 4/22/2009] In 2009, the press learns that Mitchell and Jessen are paid $1,000 a day to train military interrogators (see April 30, 2009).

Entity Tags: Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Bruce Jessen, Richard Shiffrin, US Department of Defense, William J. Haynes, Central Intelligence Agency, James Elmer Mitchell

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

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

The CIA believes that recently captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is withholding “imminent threat information” from his US interrogators. To that end, the CIA sends attorneys from its Office of General Counsel to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other senior White House aides to discuss what the Senate Intelligence Committee will later term “the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the US military and intelligence community” (see April 2002). The CIA proposes several “alternative” methods that equate to torture, including waterboarding, for Zubaida. After the meeting, the CIA asks the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to prepare an opinion about the legality of the proposed interrogation methods. The CIA provides the OLC with, in the committee’s words, “written and oral descriptions of the proposed techniques.” The CIA also provides the OLC with information about the medical and psychological effects of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which trains soldiers how to counter and resist torture and harsh interrogation techniques (see December 2001). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file; BBC, 4/23/2009] Meanwhile, the CIA will send Zubaida to Thailand for torture (see March 2002 and April - June 2002).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice, Stephen J. Hadley, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John Ashcroft

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Legal Proceedings, SERE Techniques, Waterboarding, US Base (Thailand), Abu Zubaida

Joint Personnel Recovery Agency logo.Joint Personnel Recovery Agency logo. [Source: US Air Force]The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the Pentagon agency tasked with advising the Defense Department on the use of harsh interrogation techniques—torture—against suspected terrorists in US custody (see December 2001), sends an unsigned memo to the Pentagon’s chief counsel, William Haynes, advising him that the use of such methods would constitute “torture,” and would produce “unreliable information” from torture victims.
Memo Warned of Torture Would Produce Bad Information - “The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible—in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life—has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture,” the document reads. “In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time-consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate information. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption.” The key deficiency of physical or psychological duress is the reliability and accuracy of the information gained, the memo says. “A subject in pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop.” The memo also warns that the use of torture by the US could influence US enemies to torture American captives: “The unintended consequence of a US policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured US personnel.” It concludes that “the application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably the potential to result in unreliable information.” The word “extreme” is underlined.
Also Sent to CIA - Besides Haynes, the memo is forwarded to the Pentagon’s Office of the General Counsel, and apparently to CIA chief counsel John Rizzo and the Justice Department. It is unclear whether high-ranking White House officials will see the document.
One of Many Warnings - JPRA chief of staff Daniel Baumgartner will later say that the agency “sent a lot of cautionary notes” regarding harsh techniques. “There is a difference between what we do in training and what the administration wanted the information for,” Baumgartner will tell a reporter in 2009. “What the administration decided to do or not to do was up to the guys dealing with offensive prisoner operations.… We train our own people for the worst possible outcome… and obviously the United States government does not torture its own people.”-
Senator Says Memo Suppressed - After the memo becomes public knowledge as part of a Senate report on Bush administration torture decisions (see April 21, 2009), Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, will say that he believes the memo was deliberately ignored and perhaps suppressed. Levin will call the memo’s treatment “part of a pattern of squelching dissent.” A Bush administration official will later say of the memo: “That information was not brought to the attention of the principals. That would have been relevant. The CIA did not present with pros and cons, or points of concern. They said this was safe and effective, and there was no alternative.” The memo conflicts with proposals from two JPRA psychologists heavily involved in creating a program of harsh interrogation tactics (see January 2002 and After). [Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, 7/2002 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Carl Levin, Bush administration (43), Daniel Baumgartner, John Rizzo, William J. Haynes, US Department of Defense, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Statements/Writings about Torture, SERE Techniques, Key Events

Instructors from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which oversees the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, conduct a training seminar for intelligence officials. JPRA officials, including senior psychologist Bruce Jessen, have proposed a set of interrogation procedures that amounts to torture (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002), and the JPRA instructors are now training CIA and other agency officials in those procedures. Two JPRA legal advisers tell the group that such harsh interrogation methodologies are already deemed acceptable, even though the Justice Department has not yet issued such approval (see August 1, 2002). The lawyers tell the seminar participants, “They [interrogators] could use all forms of psychological pressure discussed, and all the physiological pressures with the exception of the ‘water board.’” The lawyers say that waterboarding might also be permitted, but interrogators “would need prior approval.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2009] During the seminar, CIA agents are given two days of training in waterboarding (see July 1-2, 2002). In 2009, the media learns that Jessen and his partner, James Mitchell, are paid $1,000 a day for the training (see April 30, 2009).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Elmer Mitchell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bruce Jessen, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency

Category Tags: Key Events, High-level Decisions and Actions, SERE Techniques

US military instructor Joseph Witsch, who is helping craft “extreme” methods of interrogation—torture—for use against captured terror suspects, acknowledges that some of the techniques being developed come from torture inflicted on captured US servicemen in previous conflicts, including those used by Chinese interrogators against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see December 2001). “We can provide the ability to exploit personnel based on how our enemies have done this type of thing over the last five decades,” Witsch writes in a classified memo. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Joseph Witsch

Category Tags: Statements/Writings about Torture, SERE Techniques, Key Events

Officials from the Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) conduct a two-day seminar with select CIA interrogators and other agents on the methodologies of waterboarding. The JPRA officials are instructors in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Evasion) program, which teaches US soldiers how to resist torture. SERE instructors are not trained interrogators, and the SERE techniques, originally based on Chinese Communist methods used to force false confessions from American prisoners during the Korean War (see Mid-April 2002 and July 2002), have never been shown to produce reliable information from their victims. [Agence France-Presse, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency

Category Tags: SERE Techniques, Waterboarding

The CIA’s Office of Technical Services gathers data about the use of potential “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which the CIA wishes to use on detainees in the war on terror, and their long-term psychological effects on detainees. According to the agency’s inspector general, the information is solicited from “a number of psychologists and knowledgeable academics in the area of psychopathology.” It also comes from the Defense Department’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which provides information about Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training and its subsequent psychological effects on students. The JPRA says that no long-term psychological effects result from the use of the techniques, including waterboarding, on SERE students. The data is then provided to lawyers at the agency’s Office of General Counsel and the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who use it to draft legal opinions. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 14 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Technical Services

Category Tags: SERE Techniques, Waterboarding, Internal Memos/Reports

Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), writes a secret memo to John Rizzo, the acting general counsel of the CIA. The memo is entitled: “Memorandum for John Rizzo, Acting General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency: Interrogation of al-Qaeda Operative.” It will be released seven years later, after prolonged litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU—see April 16, 2009). It parallels another secret memo written by OLC lawyer John Yoo for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (see August 1, 2002). The memo, written at the request of CIA officials, finds that the use of the interrogation techniques proposed for use on captured Islamist extremist Abu Zubaida are consistent with federal law (see Mid-May, 2002 and July 17, 2002). The OLC has determined that the only federal law governing the interrogation of a non-citizen detained outside the US is the federal anti-torture statute, Section 2340A of Title 18 of the US Code. Bybee’s memo goes into detail about 10 torture techniques, and explains why they are all legal to use on Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), currently being held in a secret CIA “black site” in Thailand (see April - June 2002). Bybee writes that Zubaida will enter a new, “increased pressure phase” of interrogation, and will be dealt with by a “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (‘SERE’) training psychologist, who has been involved with the interrogations since they began.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Lack of Intent Equates Legality - As long as there is no intent to cause “severe pain or suffering,” Bybee writes, none of these techniques violate US law. “To violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” Bybee writes. “Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.… We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; CNN, 4/17/2009]
Ten Techniques of Authorized Torture - Bybee explains the 10 techniques that can be used on Zubaida:
bullet Attention grasp: “The attention grasp consists of grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. In the same motion as the grasp, the individual is drawn toward the interrogator.”
bullet Walling: “For walling, a flexible false wall will be constructed. The individual is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. It is the individual’s shoulder blades that hit the wall. During this motion, the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash. To further reduce the probability of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall. You have orally informed us that the false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock or surprise in the individual. In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action.”
bullet Facial hold: “The facial hold is used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual’s face. The fingertips are kept well away from the individual’s eyes.”
bullet Facial slap (insult slap): “With the facial slap or insult slap, the interrogator slaps the individual’s face with fingers slightly spread. The hand makes contact with the area directly between the tip of the individual’s chin and the bottom of the corresponding earlobe. The interrogator invades the individual’s personal space. The goal of the facial slap is not to inflict physical pain that is severe or lasting. Instead, the purpose of the facial slap is to induce shock, surprise, and/or humiliation.”
bullet Cramped confinement: “Cramped confmement involves the placement of the individual in a confined space, the dimensions of which restrict the individual’s movement. The confined space is usually dark. The duration of confinement varies based upon the size of the container. For the larger confined space, the individual can stand up or sit down; the smaller space is large enough for the subject to sit down. Confinement in the larger space can last up to 18 hours; for the smaller space, confinement lasts for no more than two hours.”
bullet Wall standing: “Wall standing is used to induce muscle fatigue. The individual stands about four to five feet from a wall with his feet spread approximately to shoulder width. His arms are stretched out in front of him, with his fingers resting on the wall. His fingers support all of his body weight. The individual is not permitted to move or reposition his hands or feet.”
bullet Stress positions: “A variety of stress positions may be used. You have informed us that these positions are not designed to produce the pain associated with contortions or twisting of the body. Rather, somewhat like walling, they are designed to produce the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue. Two particular stress positions are likely to be used on [Zubaida]: (1) sitting on the floor with legs extended straight out in front of him with his arms raised above his head; and (2) kneeling on the floor while leaning back at a 45 degree angle. You have also orally informed us that through observing Zubaydah in captivity, you have noted that he appears to be quite flexible despite his wound.”
bullet Sleep deprivation: “You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual’s ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep, to motivate him to cooperate. The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep. You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive [Zubaida] of sleep for more than 11 days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours, from which no mental or physical harm resulted.”
bullet Insect confinement: “You would like to place [Zubaida] in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us he has a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a caterpillar in the box. [REDACTED]”
bullet Waterboarding: “Finally, you would like to use a technique called the “water-board.” In this procedure, the individual is bound securely on an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air now is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individual’s blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic,’ i.e.,the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a beight of 12 to 24 inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths. The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout. You have orally informed us that this procedure triggers an automatic physiological sensation of drowning that the individual cannot control even though he may be aware that he is in fact not drowning. You have also orally infomed us that it is likely that this procedure would not last more than 20 minutes in any one application.… You have informed us that this procedure does not inflict actual physical harm.… The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view, inflict ‘severe pain and suffering.’”
Techniques Can Be Used in Conjunction with One Another - Bybee writes: “You have informed us that the use of these techniques would be on an as-needed basis and that not all of these techniques will necessarily be used. The interrogation team would use these techniques in some combination to convince [Zubaida] that the only way he can influence his surrounding environment is through cooperation. You have, however, informed us that you expect these techniques to be used in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique. Moreover, you have also orally informed us that although some of these teclmiques may be used with more than once, that repetition wllI not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Factual Background for Analysis - The opinion also gives the factual background for the legal analysis, including CIA research findings on the proposed techniques and their possible effect on Zubaida’s mental health. Much of those findings uses as a touchstone the results gleaned from the military’s SERE training, which uses stressful interrogation techniques, including a form of waterboarding, against US soldiers as part of their counterterrorism training. As the Senate Intelligence Committee will later write, Bybee’s “opinion discussed inquiries and statistics relating to possible adverse psychological reactions to SERE training.” The law clearly prohibits an interrogation method “specifically intended” to inflict “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”
No Technique Constitutes Torture, Bybee Concludes - Bybee’s opinion considers whether each of the proposed interrogation techniques, individually or in combination, might inflict “severe physical pain or suffering” or “severe mental pain or suffering” on Zubaida or other detainees. The opinion also considers whether interrogators using the technique would have the mental state necessary to violate the statute. Bybee concludes that none of the techniques used individually would inflict “severe physical pain or suffering.” Waterboarding would not inflict such harm, Bybee writes, because it inflicts neither physical damage or physical pain. Nor would it inflict extensive “physical suffering,” because the “suffering” would not extend for the period of time required by the legal definition of the term. None of the techniques, including waterboarding, would inflict “severe mental pain or suffering” as defined in the federal statute, Bybee writes. He bases this conclusion on reports from SERE training, where US soldiers are subjected to brief, strictly supervised sessions of waterboarding as part of their anti-torture training. And, Bybee writes, since the techniques individually do not constitute physical suffering, neither will they constitute such suffering in conbination, because they will not be combined in such a way as to reach that threshold. Bybee writes that the OLC lacks the information necessary to conclude whether combinations of those techniques would inflict severe mental suffering; however, because no evidence exists to suggest that a combination of the techniques would inflict an excessive level of mental harm, using the techniques in combination is not precluded. Bybee also concludes that any interrogator using these techniques would not have a specific intent to inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering, because the circumstances surrounding the use of the techniques would preclude such intent. Therefore, Bybee concludes, none of these techniques violate the federal anti-torture statute. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]

The Army’s senior SERE psychologist, Lieutenant Colonel Morgan Banks, warns interrogators at Guantanamo against using SERE techniques in their questioning of detainees. The SERE program, which trains US soldiers to resist torture, has had its tactics “reverse-engineered” to be used against suspected terrorists (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). In an e-mail, Banks writes: “[T]he use of physical pressures brings with it a large number of potential negative side effects.… When individuals are gradually exposed to increasing levels of discomfort, it is more common for them to resist harder.… If individuals are put under enough discomfort, i.e. pain, they will eventually do whatever it takes to stop the pain. This will increase the amount of information they tell the interrogator, but it does not mean the information is accurate. In fact, it usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain.… Bottom line: the likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the delivery of accurate information from a detainee is very low. The likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the level of resistance in a detainee is very high.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Morgan Banks

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, SERE Techniques, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

November 2002: CIA Begins Interrogation Course

The CIA starts a course for individuals who will be involved in its detainee interrogation program. The pilot program runs for two weeks, focuses on so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and is designed to train, qualify, and certify individuals as CIA interrogators. The curriculum is designed by several CIA Counterterrorist Center officers, including an instructor on Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques. The first week is for classroom training, whereas the second week is what the agency’s inspector general will call “hands-on” training in the use of the enhanced techniques. Once an interrogator becomes certified, he is deemed to be qualified to conduct an interrogation using the enhanced techniques. All course graduates are required to sign an acknowledgement that they have read, understood, and will comply with interrogation guidelines issued by the CIA’s director. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 25, 31-33 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Other Events, SERE Techniques

The deputy commander of the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigation Task Force at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility raises concerns that the SERE techniques being used against suspected terrorists (see December 2001) were “developed to better prepare US military personnel to resist interrogations and not as a means of obtaining reliable information.” Concurrently with this officer’s questions, Air Force officials cite “serious concerns regarding the legality of many of the proposed techniques.” Legal officials from other military branches agree, citing “maltreatment” that would “arguably violate federal law.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Criminal Investigation Task Force, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Legal Proceedings, Reports/Investigations, SERE Techniques, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

An Army memorandum released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006) will refer to the “SERE INTERROGATION SOP” (standard operating procedure) for Guantanamo. SERE refers to “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape,” a classified military program originally designed to teach US soldiers how to resist torture, and subsequently “reverse-engineered” for use in subjecting US prisoners to harsh interrogation and torture (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). The memo, which is heavily redacted, shows that torture techniques used in SERE training may have been authorized in a memo to military personnel at Guantanamo. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]

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

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, SERE Techniques, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) sends a team to Iraq to train interrogators in harsh, SERE-derived methods of interrogation (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, July 2002, and July 1-2, 2002). JPRA personnel demonstrate a number of methods to Special Military Unit (SMU) personnel, including “walling” (see May 10, 2005) and particular methods of physically striking detainees. JPRA personnel are present at several interrogations where detainees are placed in stress positions and repeatedly slapped. In at least one interrogation, JPRA personnel take part in abusing a prisoner, stripping him naked and giving orders to place him in a stress position for 12 hours. In August 2007, one JRPA official will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that, in regards to stripping detainees, “we [had] done this 100 times, 1,000 times with our [SERE school] students.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Other Events, SERE Techniques

After many SERE techniques have been authorized for use in interrogations (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002), and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency considers sending SERE trainers to interrogation facilities in Afghanistan, a SERE psychologist warns: “[W]e need to really stress the difference between what instructors do at SERE school (done to INCREASE RESISTANCE capability in students) versus what is taught at interrogator school (done to gather information). What is done by SERE instructors is by definition ineffective interrogator conduct.… Simply stated, SERE school does not train you on how to interrogate, and things you ‘learn’ there by osmosis about interrogation are probably wrong if copied by interrogators.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Joint Personnel Recovery Agency

Category Tags: SERE Techniques

Sometime in 2006, the deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) at Guantanamo tells the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) that CITF “was troubled with the rationale that techniques used to harden resistance to interrogations [SERE training—see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002 ] would be the basis for the utilization of techniques to obtain information.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Criminal Investigation Task Force, Senate Armed Services Committee

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Legal Proceedings, Statements/Writings about Torture, SERE Techniques

The American Civil Liberties Union releases documents detailing prisoner abuse at US facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. The documents prove the existence of a “Special Access Program,” involving a special operations unit, Task Force 6-26, that has been implicated in numerous abuse incidents in Iraq, and whose operatives used fake names to thwart an Army investigation. ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents confirm that the torture of detainees and its subsequent cover-up was part of a larger clandestine operation, in all likelihood, authorized by senior government officials. Despite mounting evidence of systemic abuse authorized or endorsed from above, however, not a single high-level official has thus far been brought to justice.”
Fake Names, Computer Malfunctions Avoid Accountability - An Army memorandum shows that a prisoner was captured by Task Force 6-26 in Tikrit, Iraq, and subsequently beaten into unconsciousness. The task force members used “fake names,” according to the Army memo, and the claim of a computer malfunction to avoid accountability.
SERE Techniques Used - A heavily redacted memo refers to the use of “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape” procedures at Guantanamo (see December 10, 2002). Sworn statements from military interrogators and a written “Chronology of Guard/Detainee Issues” show that the Army began receiving reports of prisoner abuse from Afghanistan as early as January 2002. The abuse continued, the documents show, through 2004 and perhaps beyond (see February 12-16, 2004, March 28, 2004, and May 6, 2004). Documents detail incidents where US soldiers poured peroxide and water over an Iraqi prisoner’s open wounds, and fired slingshot missiles at Iraqi children attempting to steal food from the base. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of the Army

Category Tags: Coverup, Criticisms of US, Media, Physical Assault, SERE Techniques

Actor Kiefer Sutherland as ‘Jack Bauer.’Actor Kiefer Sutherland as ‘Jack Bauer.’ [Source: Stuff.co.nz]Law professor Phillippe Sands begins a series of interviews with the former staff judge advocate for the US Army in Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver. She is the author of a legal analysis that was used by the Bush administration to justify its extreme interrogation techniques (see October 11, 2002). Sands describes her as “coiled up—mistreated, hung out to dry.” She is unhappy with the way the administration used her analysis, and notes that she was guided in her work at Guantanamo by personnel from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. She believes that some of the interrogation techniques were “reverse-engineered” from a training program called SERE—Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape—though administration officials have denied this. Several Guantanamo personnel were sent to Fort Bragg, SERE’s home, for a briefing on the program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, Mid-April 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, July 2002, July 2002, July 2002, and August 1, 2002). Military training was not the only source of inspiration. Fox’s television drama 24 came to a conclusion in the spring of 2002, Beaver recalls. One of the overriding messages of that show is that torture works. “We saw it on cable,” Beaver remembers. “People had already seen the first series. It was hugely popular.” The story’s hero, Jack Bauer, had many friends at Guantanamo, Beaver adds. “He gave people lots of ideas.” She recalls in graphic terms how excited many of the male personnel became when extreme interrogation methods were discussed. “You could almost see their d_cks getting hard as they got new ideas,” she will say. “And I said to myself, You know what? I don’t have a d_ck to get hard—I can stay detached.” The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service refused to become involved in aggressive interrogations, she says (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and December 17, 2002). [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Diane E. Beaver, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fox Broadcasting Company, Phillippe Sands, Georgetown University

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Legal Proceedings, Media, SERE Techniques, Internal Memos/Reports, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

Administration of Torture book cover.Administration of Torture book cover. [Source: Public domain]American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh publish the book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. In their book, Jaffer and Singh use over 100,000 pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to detail the sometimes-horrific conditions under which suspected terrorists are detained by the US government. The book spans detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The book’s central thesis is, according to the ACLU’s press release for the book, “that the torture and abuse of prisoners was systemic and resulted from decisions made by senior US officials, both military and civilian,” including President Bush himself. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007] “[T]he documents show unambiguously that the administration has adopted some of the methods of the most tyrannical regimes,” write Jaffer and Singh. Some of the prisoners “abused, tortured, and killed” were not even terror suspects, the authors show. [Raw Story, 10/22/2007] The book grew out of a long, difficult battle by the ACLU and several other such organizations to secure records pertaining to detainees held by the US in other countries (see October 7, 2003). The book shows a starkly different reality than the picture painted by the Bush administration’s repeated disavowals of torture, a reality established by the government’s own documentation. The administration has repeatedly claimed, for instance, that the torture and abuse so well documented at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was an isolated, unusual set of incidents that was not repeated at other US detention facilities. The documentation compiled by Jaffer and Singh prove that claim to be a lie: “This claim was completely false, and senior officials almost certainly knew it to be so.” Beatings, kickings, and all manner of abuses have routinely occurred at other detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, the book states. Autopsy reports show that numerous prisoners in US custody have died due to strangulation, suffocation, or blunt-force trauma. Documents from Guantanamo, a facility where Bush officials have repeatedly claimed that the “excesses” of Abu Ghraib were never implemented, show that Guantanamo detainees were regularly “shackled in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months.” And, perhaps most damningly for the administration, government documents show that top White House and Pentagon officials were not only well aware of the scope of the abuse months before the first pictures from Abu Ghraib were broadcast to the public, but that torture and abuse are part of the administration’s policy towards detainees. “[T]he maltreatment of prisoners resulted in large part from decisions made by senior officials, both military and civilian,” Jaffer and Singh write. “These decisions… were reaffirmed repeatedly, even in the face of complaints from law enforcement and military personnel that the policies were illegal and ineffective, and even after countless prisoners… were abused, tortured, or killed in custody.… The documents show that senior officials endorsed the abuse of prisoners as a matter of policy—sometimes by tolerating it, sometimes by encouraging it, and sometimes by expressly authorizing it.”
bullet The book presents a number of damning claims, all backed by extensive documentation, including the following: [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
bullet General Michael Dunlavey, who oversaw prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo and considered former camp commander Brigadier General Rick Baccus too soft on the detainees [BBC, 10/16/2002] , and who asked the Pentagon to approve more aggressive interrogation methods for the camp, claimed that he received his “marching orders” from Bush.
bullet Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in overseeing the interrogation of a Guantanamo prisoner named Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). Al-Khatani was “stripped naked, paraded in front of female interrogators, made to wear women’s underwear on his head, led around on a leash, and forced to perform dog tricks.” It is not clear just what being “personally involved” entails. Rumsfeld did not himself authorize such methods, but according to the investigator who documented the al-Khatani abuse session, Rumsfeld “failed to place a ‘throttle’ over abusive ‘applications’ of the ‘broad techniques’ that he did authorize….”
bullet Interrogators who used abusive ‘SERE’ (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) methods at Guantanamo did so because the Pentagon had endorsed those methods and required interrogators to be trained in the use of those methods (see December 2001).
bullet FBI personnel complained of abuses at Guantanamo; these instances of abuse were authorized by the chain of command within the Defense Department.
bullet Some of the most disturbing interrogation methodologies displayed in photos from Abu Ghraib were used at Guantanamo, with the endorsement of Rumsfeld, and that Major General Geoffrey Miller’s aggressive plan to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib was endorsed by senior Defense officials.
bullet Bush and his senior officials have always insisted that abuse and torture was limited to a few unauthorized soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Yet a Defense Department “Information Paper” shows that, three weeks before the Abu Ghraib photos appeared in the press, the US Army knew of at least 62 allegations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of which had no relation to Abu Ghraib.
bullet The Defense Department held prisoners as young as 12 years old.
bullet The Defense Department approved holding prisoners in cells as small as 3 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 18 inches high. Special Forces units held prisoners in cells only slightly larger than that. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Rick Baccus, Mohamed al-Khatani, Michael E. Dunlavey, Geoffrey D. Miller, George W. Bush, American Civil Liberties Union, Jameel Jaffer, Amrit Singh, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Coverup, Detainments, High-level Decisions and Actions, Human Rights Groups, Indications of Abuse, Legal Proceedings, Prisoner Deaths, Rendition after 9/11, Reports/Investigations, Statements/Writings about Torture, Abrogation of Rights, Physical Assault, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Internal Memos/Reports, Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq), Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba), SERE Techniques

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that confirm the military’s use of illegal interrogation methods on detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, are from an Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) probe. The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “These documents make it clear that the military was using unlawful interrogation techniques in Afghanistan. Rather than putting a stop to these systemic abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” In the CID reports, Special Operations officers in Gardez, Afghanistan, admitted to using what are known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques, which for decades American service members experienced as training to prepare for the brutal treatment they might face if captured (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). At least eight prisoners in custody at Gardez were beaten, burned, and doused with cold water before being placed into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in US custody (see March 16, 2003). Subsequent investigations ignored numerous witness statements describing torture; Naseer was eventually declared dead due to a “stomach ailment.” The documents also provide evidence showing that prisoners were sodomized. “These documents raise serious questions about the adequacy of the military’s investigations into prisoner abuse,” says Singh. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, Criminal Investigation Division, Jamal Naseer, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Reports/Investigations, SERE Techniques, Internal Memos/Reports, Gardez (Afghanistan)

The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a classified 261-page report on the use of “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—against suspected terrorists by the US. The conclusion of the report will be released in April 2009 (see April 21, 2009). The report will become known as the “Levin Report” after committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). Though the report itself is classified, the committee releases the executive summary to the public.
Top Bush Officials Responsible for Torture - 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.
Began Shortly after 9/11 - The report finds that US officials began preparing to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, and well before Justice Department memos declared such practices legal. The program used techniques practiced in a US military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE—see December 2001), which trains US military personnel to resist questioning by foes who do not follow international bans on torture. As part of SERE training, soldiers are stripped naked, slapped, and waterboarded, among other techniques. These techniques were “reverse-engineered” and used against prisoners in US custody. Other techniques used against prisoners included “religious disgrace” and “invasion of space by a female.” At least one suspected terrorist was forced “to bark and perform dog tricks” while another was “forced to wear a dog collar and perform dog tricks” in a bid to break down their resistance.
Tried to 'Prove' Links between Saddam, Al-Qaeda - Some of the torture techniques were used before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). Much of the torture of prisoners, the report finds, was to elicit information “proving” alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. US Army psychiatrist Major Paul Burney says of some Guantanamo Bay interrogations: “Even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We were not being successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link… there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Others did not mention such pressure, according to the report. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009] (Note: Some press reports identify the quoted psychiatrist as Major Charles Burney.) [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009] A former senior intelligence official later says: “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi (see November 6-8, 2001) and others had told them were there.… There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Warnings of Unreliability from Outset - Almost from the outset of the torture program, military and other experts warned that such techniques were likely to provide “less reliable” intelligence results than traditional, less aggressive approaches. In July 2002, a memo from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA), which oversees the SERE training program, warned that “if an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop” (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009]
Ignoring Military Objections - When Pentagon general counsel William Haynes asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve 15 of 18 recommended torture techniques for use at Guantanamo (see December 2, 2002), Haynes indicated that he had discussed the matter with three officials who agreed with him: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and General Richard Myers. Haynes only consulted one legal opinion, which senior military advisers had termed “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Rumsfeld agreed to recommend the use of the tactics. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Paul Burney, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmed Chalabi, Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, High-level Decisions and Actions, Reports/Investigations, SERE Techniques, Sexual Humiliation, Suppression of Religious Expression, Waterboarding, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba)

The CIA fires two contractors, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, from their lucrative consulting contracts. Mitchell and Jessen designed the CIA’s torture program (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), and earned $1,000 a day in doing so (see April 30, 2009). The CIA now believes that the two fundamentally misrepresented their knowledge of the safety and efficacy of particular torture techniques, particularly waterboarding. The firings are part of a larger “purge” by CIA Director Leon Panetta of all contractors involved in the Bush-era torture program. Panetta tells CIA employees that all contractors involved in the interrogation program and secret prisons are being “promptly terminated.” [ABC News, 6/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Leon Panetta, Bruce Jessen, Bush administration (43), James Elmer Mitchell, Central Intelligence Agency

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

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

Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, defends the Bush administration’s practices of torture by denying that anything authorized by the administration was, in fact, torture. Cheney, interviewed on MSNBC, is responding to the issues raised by the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009). “The tactics are not torture, we did not torture,” she says. To bolster her denial, Cheney says that the tactics are not torture because they were derived from training methods employed in the SERE program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). “Everything that was done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training,” Cheney says. “We did not torture our own people. These techniques are not torture.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress notes that in the May 30, 2005 torture memo (see May 30, 2005), then-Justice Department official Steven Bradbury wrote, “Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.” [Think Progress, 4/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, Senate Armed Services Committee, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney

Category Tags: Statements/Writings about Torture, SERE Techniques

Malcolm Nance, the former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) School who now serves as a consultant on counterterrorism and terrorism intelligence for the US government, makes a cogent point about “breaking” interrogation subjects. Nance is interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who asks: “One of the other things that I think is a term that sort of gets bandied around by civilians who don’t have experience in these things when we talk about, not only the politics of interrogation, but also the utility of interrogation, is this idea of somebody being broken, a prisoner, the subject of an interrogation being a broken person. And that was described by political actors about interrogation techniques as sort of the goal, about what the idea was to—what the object was of what we wanted to be doing to al-Qaeda prisoners. Does breaking a person in interrogation terms make sense if what you’re trying to do is get real information out of them?” Nance replies, “The process of ‘breaking,’ quote-unquote, a prisoner is not something interrogators do. Interrogators really don’t want to break you down as a human being and take away all of your ability to think and reason and give a coherent answer. That was something that was developed by totalitarian and hostile regimes who saw that a confession is what they wanted out of you. They didn’t care whether you had done it or not. A confession is what they needed out of you, and to get that confession, what they would do is break you physically, psychologically, and mentally so that you could get into a state of learned helplessness and you would comply no matter what they would say. Now, this killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American service members in Korea, World War II, and Vietnam. And this is not something which any real interrogator would want to try because, of course, at that point, you are not getting information. You are just getting compliance. And any idiot can comply and that makes no intelligence whatsoever.” Nance and Maddow note that former SERE psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the two SERE psychologists who designed the US torture program (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, Late March through Early June, 2002, April - June 2002, Mid-April 2002, April 16, 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, July 2002, April 2009, and April 30, 2009), were experienced in the methodologies of “breaking” prisoners and not in extracting useful information. [MSNBC, 8/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Bruce Jessen, Rachel Maddow, Malcolm Nance, James Mitchell

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Public Statements, SERE Techniques

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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