Monday, June 30, 2008

APA & CIA Study Deception to Help Undercover Police

I've written before about the July 2003 American Psychological Association/CIA/Rand Corporation workshop on deception that looked at, among other things, the use of drugs and sensory overload to "overwhelm the senses" and break down those imprisoned by state agencies.

But it turns out there was another workshop held roughly a year later, on Interpersonal Deceptive Practices, a "RAND Project sponsored by CIA Behavioral Sciences Staff." APA Science Policy staff were key participants in the meeting, which was aimed at helping law enforcement and intelligence agencies in their "undercover" work (among other things). The funding was part of a $500,000 grant authorized by Congress for the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to produce "not less than two workshops on the coordination of Federal Government research on the use of behavioral, psychological, and physiological assessments of individuals in the conduct of security evaluations."

Here's the skinny on the 2004 workshop:
On June 24th, Science Policy staff attended a day-long meeting designed to forge collaborations between operational staff working in the intelligence community and scientists conducting research on interpersonal deception. Generously funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the meeting was held near RAND headquarters in Arlington, VA and was facilitated by RAND policy analyst Scott Gerwehr. Gerwehr provided a conceptual framework for the meeting while Susan Brandon, Assistant Director of Social, Behavioral and Educational Sciences for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy [and former APA "Senior Scientist] and APA Science Policy Director Geoff Mumford concentrated on the logistics of inviting the particpants [sic] representing, the FBI, US Secret Service, CIA, DoD, Department of Homeland Security, UK Ministry of Defense, New Scotland Yard, and the UK Home Office as well as a long list of academic institutions.

Gerwehr's notion was essentially the reverse of a previous workshop conducted as a joint CIA/RAND/APA exercise on the theme of detecting deception....

Provided with that background, presentations were grouped thematically with Scott serving as facilitator throughout: 1) Interpersonal deception & deception detection: operational challenges; 2) Technological advances; behavioral challenges; 3) Empirical & ethical challenges.
The following is taken from Gerwehr's own introduction to the 2004 workshop (bold emphases added):
There is a long and robust record of scientific investigation into detecting interpersonal deception (highlights include De Paulo et al, 2003; Vrij, 2000; Zuckerman et al, 1981; Ekman & Friesen, 1969).... However, despite the significant amount of scientific work on detecting deception, there is astonishingly little on conducting interpersonal deception.... Those professions or vocations that feature interpersonal deception as a central component of the job (e.g., undercover police work) frequently have little written doctrine on how to deceive, and even more rarely have subjected that doctrine to rigorous scientific inquiry. This project aims to 1) systematically comb through the existing scientific literature for guidance on effectively practicing interpersonal deception, 2) survey a wide-variety of professionals who practice deception, in order to compile a broad knowledge base containing "best practices" of conducting deception, 3) identify gaps or untested hypotheses regarding the practice of deception in both the scientific literature and professional knowledge base, and 4) formulate a "road map" of scientific experimentation to address shortcomings, inaccuracies, and gaps in existing doctrine on deceiving....

Individuals who professionally practice deception (e.g., smugglers, undercover cops) may have a great deal of explicit and implicit information about what variables are key, what methods work and don't work....

For effective interpersonal deception there may be some generalities common to a number of fields (e.g., acting, undercover work, smuggling, unscrupulous sales or con artistry). In your opinion, for effective interpersonal deception:

-- What, if anything, do you need to know ahead of time about the audience?
-- How do you find out the critical information about the audience?
-- What audience traits/states are "showstoppers"?
-- Does it matter to you how many audience members there are?
-- What aspects of the milieu would you like to control?
-- What milieu features are "showstoppers"?
-- What milieu features do you capitalize on?
-- How much time is the appropriate amount of time to effectively deceive? Would you rather have more time or less time in any given situation (i.e., operate more or less quickly than the "usual")? If the answer is "it depends", then depends on what?
-- What are the critical variables about yourself necessary to ensure deception?
-- What do you do/not do with your: Hands? Eyes? Posture? ...?
-- What, if anything, is it important to keep in mind while deceiving? Objective? Story? Character?
-- How important is the style or tone of your speaking?
-- How important is the actual content?
-- How do construct the narrative? What are the key choices you have to make?
-- What is the right mix of truth, falsehood, and omission? How does this change with the objective? Audience? Environment?
-- Does the deception have to be perfect to be effective? What % is enough?
[Excuse me, I know it's the middle of the article, but I have to go take a shower right now. Be right back. *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***]

I'm sure undercover cops and agents are very excited that the scientists that gobble up government research money are now turning towards a scientific examination of their craft. Given the attendance at the meeting by members of the CIA, FBI, Scotland Yard, and other police agencies, the emphasis will be on what helps cops plant undercover spies in anti-war and other government opposition groups, like the "teams of undercover New York City police officers" that the New York Times reported "traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the [2004 GOP] convention"; or the Fresno peace group who was infiltrated by "an agent working for the Fresno Sheriff’s Department and local anti-terrorism unit"; or the two Oakland, California undercover police who infiltrated a local antiwar group in 2006; or the "widespread" undercover surveillance of activists in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as revealed by scores of documents released to the ACLU under Freedom of Information Act requests.

The implantation of undercover agents, in addition to agents provocateurs, into government opposition groups has a long and checkered history, both in the U.S. and abroad. It was a specialty of the FBI anti-radical program, COINTELPRO, and use of such surveillance was a major operation by military intelligence during the 1960s (bold emphasis added).
In July 1969, the Department of Defense opened a new war room in the basement of the Pentagon. Staffed by some 180 people and packed with all the latest equipment -data processing machines, closed circuit television, teletype networks, elaborate situation maps-the new operation was a marvel of military technology.... This was not a regular command center but a very special operation-a "domestic war room," the headquarters of the Directorate for Civil Disturbance Planning and Operations. It was the coordinating center for the Pentagon's domestic war operations.

The office, now known as the Division of Military Services, played a central role in the military's widespread intelligence operations against the American people, a sweeping campaign of civilian surveillance which ultimately affected more than 100,000 citizens. In the fall of 1968, there were more Army Counter-Intelligence Analysis Branch personnel assigned to monitor domestic citizen protests than were assigned to any other counter-intelligence operation in the world, including Southeast Asia and the Vietnam War.' In the later part of the 1960s and early 1970s, 1,500 army plainclothes intelligence agents with the services of more than 350 separate offices and record centers watched and infiltrated thousands of legitimate civilian political organizations. Data banks with as many as 100,000 entries each were maintained at intelligence headquarters at Fort Holabird, Maryland, and at Fourth Army headquarters at Fort Sam Houston, Texas....

The growth of the army intelligence bureaucracy paralleled the growth of dissident protest movements through the 1960s. Military intelligence undercover agents focused on the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, and then moved to the New Left anti-Vietnam War coalitions of later years. No political gathering, no matter how small, was considered insignificant. No distinction was made between groups preaching violent action and those advocating peaceful dissent. Even the most established and nonviolent groups such as the NAACP and the American Friends Service Committee became targets of military surveillance.

With the exception of the FBI, the military intelligence services collected more information on American politics in the sixties than any other federal agency.... The attitude pervading these army operations was best stated by Robert E. Jordan III, general counsel to the army: "the people on the other side were essentially the enemy. The army conducted a de facto war against all citizen protest, legitimate and illegitimate, violent and peaceful, white and black."
In its quest to serve the National Security State as the best providers of supposed scientific support, the American Psychological Association has prostituted itself right into the heart of the worst kind of secretive and anti-democratic government activity that exists in our society. One wonders what kind of individuals do this kind of work? And for those who believe that CIA and Rand and APA are interested in infiltrating Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, consider only the information above. It's not that the police or government groups don't sometimes operate to protect the nation or its citizens from harm. What's at stake here is the irrefutable proof that they so often turn their weapons, both figuratively and literally, upon those same citizens when they are in political opposition to the government.

But, for instance, don't the FBI make "sting" arrests on some bad criminals? No doubt they do, or they have, but I don't think these are the kinds of arrest scenarios these folks have in mind, having only a year earlier speculated on ways to break down or psychologically overwhelm a detainee -- via drugs or sensory overload.

Perhaps some members of APA will read this and ponder, as they ready for the next convention of APA this August in Boston. Or maybe, they will wonder why, after months and months, their organization cannot still bring themselves to call for a closure of the torture chambers at Guantanamo? No, most likely they will congratulate themselves for all the "progress" the organization has made, with such progress measured in toothless resolutions and the amount of government research gold piling up for psychologists to spend on projects such as the one described above.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Canadian Judge: U.S. Violated International Law in Khadr Case

A judge for a Federal Court in Canada has ruled, according to a report, that videotapes made of interviews with Omar Khadr at Guantanamo over four years ago must be released to Khadr's attorneys. It's believed that these videos show Khadr crying and begging Canadian officials to help him, in addition to making charges of torture, and showing these same officials physical marks said to stem from this torture.

The judge, Richard Mosley, said in his ruling that the videos "may tend to support the applicant's allegations". He also apparently stated that U.S. treatment of Omar Khadr -- a then-15-year-old teenager captured in Afghanistan during fighting back in 2002, who is accused of throwing a grenade at U.S. forces and killing one soldier -- violated international laws against torture. He also stated that the Canadian government was "implicated" in the maltreatment. Khadr, now 21 years old, remains imprisoned at the Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Last March, it was discovered that the U.S. government had been sitting on evidence that was exculpatory for Mr. Khadr. In his affidavit, Khadr describes abusive treatment by the American first at Baghram Air Force Base, and later at Guantanamo. He accused Canadian interrogators at Guantanamo of failing to stop the abuse, as they appeared single-minded in their determination to get him to implicate Canadian rendition torture victim, Maher Arar. Arar was a totally innocent man, kidnapped by U.S. forces from JFK airport in New York, flown to Syria and tortured there, until later released. A Canadian Commissioner of Inquiry later cleared Mr. Arar of all charges.

(H/T to Chaucounne at Daily Kos)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nuts & Bolts: How U.S. Organized Torture Program

The Armed Services Committee's hearings last week on interrogation and torture gave us a startling look into how torture was taught at the Naval Prison at Guantanamo Bay. Most articles have not bothered to look deeply into what was discussed in meetings between officials of the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, program and ranking officers and personnel at Guantanamo. This article will look in some detail at what actually occurred. (At the end, I will address an important correction and clarification to an earlier article on SERE.)

As Mark Benjamin writes in his "timeline to Bush government torture":
Soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon and the CIA began an orchestrated effort to tap expertise from the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school, for use in the interrogation of terrorist suspects. The U.S. military's SERE training is designed to inoculate elite soldiers, sailors and airmen to torture, in the event of their capture, by an enemy that would violate the Geneva Conventions. Those service members are subjected to forced nudity, stress positions, hooding, slapping, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and, yes, in some cases, waterboarding.
In an article the other day, I described some of SERE's rocky history, and indicated that by testimony of Lt. Col. Baumgarten, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense, which administers SERE, he was approached by an official of the defense department for information on SERE techniques as early as December 2001. This places DoD interest in possibly reverse-engineering of SERE techniques prior to the January 9 memo by John Yoo providing legal cover to Bush administration assertions that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees held in the new war in Afghanistan. In addition, it predates the January 25 memo by Alberto Gonzales, then a presidential counsel, approving the Yoo argument, and stating that when it came to interrogation of enemy prisoners, the Geneva conventions' "strict limitations on questioning" such prisoners was now obsolete.

In my opinion, and no one has been able to convince me otherwise (although I am no attorney), the query to Baumgarten in December 2001 may be sufficient evidence of war crimes, even by the twisted logic of the White House, who first wanted to torture, and then later dream up the legal justification for it. The only catch -- that no one catch them red-handed in the interim. I again encourage Senator Levin to release the documents that Lt. Col. Baumgarten says convinced him that he had been approached in December 2001. So far Levin and his committee have focused on the approach to SERE in July 2002. Why?

A Course in Torture

SERE training specialists arrived in Guantanamo in late December 2002. A copy of a SERE interrogation Standard Operating Procedure was circulated to camp officials. (All quotes from this and other documents can be found in the document release by SASC made coincident with last week's hearings.)

Most of this SERE SOP remains classified. The memo that accompanied it has been declassified, however:

The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations. These tactics and techniques are used at SERE school to "break" SERE detainees. The same tactics and techniques can by used to break real detainees during interrogation operations.
The document goes on to mandate SERE-related training for all instructors. The policy memo is approved by the Chief of Interrogation Control Element (ICE), Lt. Col. Ted Moss, Major Geoffrey Miller, Commanding General, Joint Task Force, Guantanamo, and a third colonel whose name I cannot read on the document as it is reproduced.

The SASC produced a small extract from the SERE SOP, dated December 18, 2002. It describes the use of "Degradation Tactics", including slaps to the shoulder, and stomach; something called an "Insult Slap"; and Stripping. In addition, it lists "Physical Debilitation Tactics", specifically "Stress Positions", including variations for kneeling, sitting, standing, something called "Head Rest Index Finger Position", and another one titled "Worship-the-Gods". Finally, the SOP commands "Demonstrate Omnipotence Tactics", via "Manhandling" and "Walling".

That would be all we know from government sources, if it weren't for an extraordinary memo by two SERE specialists written to the Officer in Charge at "FASOTRAGRULANT Det Burnswick". These two officers, John Rankin and Christopher Ross, say they were "directed to proceed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba at the request of LtCol [sic] Moss, Commander of the Interrogation Control Unit." It was their "impression" they were to provide "the theory and application of... physical pressures utilized during our training" to Gitmo interrogators. Utilizing the original SERE SOP, a training plan was worked up. The SERE trainers focused on "resistance", as it was believed that some of the high-profile detainees had undergone their own kind of resistance training, "as evidenced by the Al Queda Training Manual". The memo continues:
On the morning of 31 Dec 02, Mr. Ross and I initiated training with an in-depth class on Biderman's Principles, and the theory and practical application of selected physical pressures, [unclear word, maybe "IAW"] our "Blue Book", to approximately 24 ICE personnel. This training was conducted in one of the newly constructed interrogation facilities located at Camp Delta. During this training it was stressed that the physical pressures are only a part of the overall conditioning process designed to establish and maintain an effective captive management program.
After complaining about security glitches at Guantanamo, and rental car availability ("Future trips should utilize Enterprise Rental"), the memo concludes:
Recommend that future trainers, if requested, be thoroughly prepared to discuss and explain Biderman's Principles and captive management techniques.
Biderman, Brainwashing, and U.S. Torture

Some readers may be familiar with Biderman's "Chart of Coercion", as it has been well-circulated on cult deprogrammer websites for years. The original is supposedly from a 1970's Amnesty International publication on torture. The version released by the SASC -- originally an enclosure to Moss and Rankin's memo discussed above -- is very blurry and difficult to read. But it is almost word for word identical to this version published on the web, and can profitably be compared together.

Albert Biderman was a social psychologist who worked with the government debriefing POWs from the Korean War. At the time there was a huge controversy because many of these POWs were said to be collaborators, and some had told their captors that the U.S. had bombed Korea and China with biological weapons, a definite war crime. The U.S. called it "brainwashing" and began a crash program trying to understand the nuts and bolts of so-called mind control. Biderman became one of the outstanding researchers in this effort. In the early 1960s, he edited with a colleague a collection of research papers by psychologists and psychiatrists encapsulating the subject and entitled it "The Manipulation of Human Behavior." (Also see this review of MHB.)

Biderman became one of the premier experts in interrogation, both of the rapport-building and coercive types. Much of the knowledge gleaned by he and his collaborators was encapsulated in the "Chart of Coercion", or what SERE calls "Coercive Management Techniques". What are these techniques?

1. Isolation: This deprives the prisoner of all social support and "ability to resist". While turning the prisoner upon his own resources, it "makes victim dependent upon interrogator" (quotes are from the SERE version). Furthermore, isolation can be complete, semi, or "group isolation".

2. Monopolisation of Perception: This means again "physical isolation. Darkness or bright light. Barren environment. Restricted movement. Monotonous food." The goal? To fixate the prisoner upon his "immediate predicament", the technique also "eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor," frustrating all action "not consistent with compliance."

3. Induced Debilitation and Exhaustion: This is what it seems to be, i.e., a method to weaken a prisoners' "mental and physical ability to resist." Techniques include: "Semi-starvation. Exposure. Exploitation of wounds. Induced illness. Sleep deprivation. Prolonged constraint. Prolonged interrogation" and "over-exertion", among other practices (tortures!)

4. Threats: Which "cultivates anxiety and despair", including threats of death, non return, "endless interrogation and isolation", threats against family, and "mysterious changes of treatment".

5. Occasional indulgences: To provide positive motivation for compliance, it also has the effect of hindering "adjustment to deprivation."

6. Demonstrating "Omnipotence" and "Omniscience": The purpose of this is said to suggest to the prisoner the "futility of resistance". How is this done? By "demonstrating complete control over victim's fate". (And this, by the way, is a crucial way that the ban on habeas corpus for these prisoners, recently overturned by the Supreme Court, fed into the military's torture program, by demonstrating that there was no appeal to anyone.)

7. Degradation: This is where one finds the prevention of personal hygiene, the insults, taunts, "demeaning punishments" and "denial of privacy". The goal was to damage prisoner self esteem, making "capitulation" a lesser evil. It also "reduces the prisoner to 'animal level' concerns."

8. Enforcing Trivial Demands: Again the point is to develop compliance in the captive, and takes place through "enforcement of minute rules."

So there you have it, these are the "principles" the SERE instructors insisted future trainers for interrogators at Guantanamo (and since SERE instruction migrated to Iraq and Afghanistan as well, we can presume there as well) "be thoroughly prepared to discuss and explain".

If you aren't stunned by this point, you never will be. The hubris and ambition of the American imperial quest has reached it reductio ad absurdum in reducing those who oppose it to the "animal level", and making them objects of torture and omnipotent control. There are other aspects to this scandal that are worth reporting. For instance, Stephen Soldz has just written an excellent summary of the role of military psychologists and the American Psychological Association in all this.

My conclusion is only this: now that you've read this, what are you going to do about it? It's your society. Your leaders have proven impotent in stopping this activity, and the perpetrators have not been held accountable -- yet. Ask yourself, what will I do today, tomorrow, and the next day to stop this barbarity from eating up our society entirely, from destroying the entire social fabric.

A Final Correction and a Further Clarification

In my story the other day, Media & Gov't Torture Cover-up: Sen. Levin, Release the 12/01 SERE Docs, I wasn't sufficiently clear in my description about testimony from a 1960s Green Beret officer. I wrote:
Sergeant Donald W. Duncan, a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, recipient of two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Vietnamese Silver Star, the Army Air Medal, and sundry other decorations, testified at a "War Crimes" tribunal chaired by Bertrand Russell in the 1960s that SERE techniques had been taught to Special Forces interrogators for use in Vietnam....
From the Russell Copenhagen Tribunal testimony (pp.31-32) (bold emphasis added):
Duncan recounts an American instruction class for the Green Berets in "Counter-Measures to Hostile Interrogation" in which the techniques of hostile interrogation are presented in great detail but not any counter-measures, of which the instructor says there are none. A sergeant asks the instructor whether the only reason for teaching the class is for training in the use of the methods of interrogation (involving torture such as lowering of a prisoner's testicles into a jeweler's vise, mutilation, etc.). The instructor replies: "We can't tell you that, Sergeant Harrison. The Mothers of America wouldn't approve. Furthermore, we will deny that any such thing is taught or intended." D. DUNCAN, THE NEW LEGIONS 123-25 (Pocket Books ed. 1968). In his testimony before the Russell Tribunal, Duncan states that this dialogue is a word for word quote. RUSSELL TRIBUNAL, supra, at 463.
As a colleague kindly pointed out to me, the implication in my account is that SERE was involved in reverse-engineering their own techniques in order to teach torture to interrogators. In fact, Michael Otterman, in his book American Torture (where I first came across the Duncan story), writes: the late 1950s US Army Special Forces had coopted coursework from SERE for more sinister purposes....

Sergeant Donald Duncan joined the Special Forces in 1959. At the time, Special Forces resistance training was held at Camp Mackall and was supplemented by classroom training at the Army's nearby Special Warfare School [SWS] at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (pp. 39-40)
Otterman goes on to explain that Duncan was an interrogation instructor at the SWS. He also quotes from Duncan's Russell Committee testimony a more forceful description of how "counter-measure" instruction was used (p. 67 of AT):
The specific purpose for teaching this [at Fort Bragg] is so the student in turn, once he is put in another country, can teach these methods to what we refer to as an 'indigenous counterpart', somebody indigenous to the country. And he in turn then would become the interrogator... In Vietnam, of course, that would be the Vietnamese.
There are two important differences from the Duncan/Vietnam example and the current scandal over SERE and torture. One, the teaching of torture was done by instructors at Special Forces' Special Warfare School (although SERE techniques may also have been utilized there). Two, the ultimate recipients of the training were to be indigenous interrogators, or torturers. The current situation has SERE teaching their techniques to U.S. interrogators and personnel.

The main point remains, after all the distinctions are pulled away: the United States armed forces as a matter of policy have at various times utilized so-called counter-resistance techniques to be used by captured U.S. soldiers as a template for torture to be used on American enemy prisoners or political opponents. The situation with SERE is not new, but part of a military or national security culture that has lost its moral bearings and committed crimes for which they have never been held accountable. (This is not to downplay those portions of the military, as currently the military lawyers, who strenuously opposed this policy).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Media & Gov't Torture Cover-up: Sen. Levin, Release the 12/01 SERE Docs

Something very odd occurred during the hearings last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on the use of torture against detainees. Something crucial was missed. But before we examine that, let's first examine how the so-called responsible U.S. press covered the revelations oozing out of Washington.

When the New York Times's Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane wrote their June 18 article on the testimony in the SASC hearings on torture of detainees at U.S. prison sites, they made a tremendous blunder in the very first paragraph. (At least I am going to grant it was a mistake, and not something more sinister.)

Oh yes, Mazzetti and Shane made their primary point, i.e., that the CIA was heavily involved in shaping interrogation techniques to be used at Guantanamo Bay's Naval Prison for "enemy combatants." The documents released by the SASC reveal that discussions took place on the use of various torture techniques, on hiding prisoners from the prying eyes of the International Red Cross, and on how to hide evidence of these crimes from any future investigators.

For instance, the CIA representative at a "Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting" at Guantanamo on October 2, 2002, agreed with his compatriot from the Defense Intelligence Agency, that videotaping interrogations was a bad idea. "Subject to too much scrutiny in court," says Dave Becker, the DIA man. "Even totally legal techniques will look 'ugly'," adds John Fredman of the CIA. This discussion, by the way, took place only a visit to Guantanamo by CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, along with other high Bush officials, including then-counsel to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, among others.

Returning then to the New York Times reporting on the Senate hearings, we find this opening statement (emphasis added):
When military officers at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, struggled in the fall of 2002 to find ways to get terrorism suspects to talk, they turned to the one agency that had spent several months experimenting with the limits of physical and psychological pressure: the Central Intelligence Agency.
Several months! Mazzetti, Shane, and the New York Times fact-checking office is only off by a factor of 100. Not only has the CIA been studying and "experimenting with the limits of physical and psychological pressure" for year, not months, they have been doing so for over five decades!

It would appear that the mission of the New York Times is to provide limited but essential cover for the intelligence agencies in their work. This means publishing partial truths of particular events, but lying or covering up on all essential matters that could harm the agencies.

The same kind of lying about history -- something akin to the falsification work of George Orwell's "Ministry of Truth -- pops up in Scott Shane's NYT article today on the CIA interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. The article repeats the lie that the CIA in 2002 -- the year that saw the invasion of Afghanistan, the stepped-up campaign to track down and apprehend "terrorists", and the planning for the invasion of Iraq -- was "an agency nearly devoid of expertise in detention and interrogation."

And yet the opposite was true: the CIA had studied the effects of abusive detention and interrogation more than almost any other agency in the government. The results of a multi-million dollar study into coercive interrogation techniques -- centered on a deconstruction of Soviet and Chinese interrogation, and adding in intense research focus on sensory deprivation, sensory overload, and the use of psychotropic drugs -- were brought together as early as 1962 by the CIA into manual form. Anyone who wishes can today read the CIA's "Kubark" manual online and convince themselves of this fact.

It is likely true that with the invasion of Afghanistan and the meglomaniacal campaign that is Bush's "global war on terror", there was a shortage of experienced interrogators in the CIA and military. As a result, officers in the field and politicians back in Washington turned to the only other governmental entity that had serious expertise in this subject: the SERE program.

SERE & the Propagation of Torture

SERE originated in the early 1950s after Air Force pilots captured in the Korean War confessed (or not, depending on whom you wish to believe) to U.S. use of biological weapons on civilian and military targets in that war. The scandal over the pilots' "confessions" (and other pro-communist statements or collaboration by POWs) led to a re-working of the language of the military's "Code of Conduct" and a crash course in the inoculation of American military personnel against so-called Communist" brainwashing".

SERE training contained abusive techniques even from the beginning. A Newsweek article on SERE from September 12, 1955 -- "Ordeal in the Desert: Making Tougher Soldiers to Resist Brainwashing" -- describes the use of isolation, imprisonment in a coffin, electroshock, lies and insults aimed race, religion and national origin, and physical abuse upon Air Force trainees, for the purpose of "stress inoculation." According to Mike Otterman's book, American Torture, brutality within SERE led to a temporary cessation of the program in the mid-1950s.

In the mid-1970s, a SERE student and Navy pilot, Wendell Young, sued the government for millions of dollars, alleging SERE training resulted in abuse and a broken back. He alleged students had been "tortured into spitting, urinating and defecating on the American flag, masturbating before guards, and, on one occasion, engaging in sex with an instructor." The Navy admitted the physical abuse (including "water torture"), but denied the sexual torture. As more was revealed, the deaths of at least two SERE students was reported during what a Navy commander described as training that amounted to "illusions of reality." (See Newsweek article, "Navy's Torture Camp", March 22, 1976 -- of course, this article is not available online, but a reference to the Young case can be found here.)

The use of SERE techniques as a template for training of interrogators in abusive methods of educing information, i.e., torture, is not anything new, either. Sergeant Donald W. Duncan, a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, recipient of two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Vietnamese Silver Star, the Army Air Medal, and sundry other decorations, testified at a "War Crimes" tribunal chaired by Bertrand Russell in the 1960s that SERE techniques had been taught to Special Forces interrogators for use in Vietnam. (Thanks to Mike Otterman, too, whose book drew my attention to this forgotten episode in U.S. history.)

From the Russell Copenhagen Tribunal testimony (pp.31-32) (bold emphasis added):
Duncan recounts an American instruction class for the Green Berets in "Counter-Measures to Hostile Interrogation" in which the techniques of hostile interrogation are presented in great detail but not any counter-measures, of which the instructor says there are none. A sergeant asks the instructor whether the only reason for teaching the class is for training in the use of the methods of interrogation (involving torture such as lowering of a prisoner's testicles into a jeweler's vise, mutilation, etc.). The instructor replies: "We can't tell you that, Sergeant Harrison. The Mothers of America wouldn't approve. Furthermore, we will deny that any such thing is taught or intended." D. DUNCAN, THE NEW LEGIONS 123-25 (Pocket Books ed. 1968). In his testimony before the Russell Tribunal, Duncan states that this dialogue is a word for word quote. RUSSELL TRIBUNAL, supra, at 463.
This is the history out of which the current controversies arose. One supposes that the average reporter knows none of this, but even worse, doesn't want to know about it, because the presentation of unvarnished truth by a major U.S. reporter would jeopardize his or her career. Once in awhile, a piece of the whole story is reported, but then its forgotten or never repeated, an evanescent flickering of the light behind the thick screen of media fog, quick to disappear, easily overlooked and forgotten, a moment of courageous utterance meant to salve a reporter's or editor's uneasy conscience.

What's more typical is the unconscious statement of disparate facts, which go unresearched and unexamined. Such was the case in Scott Shane's homage to a CIA "good guy" interrogator reference above. One has to go to the end of the article to find this:
But Mr. Martinez has not turned away entirely from his old world. He now works for Mitchell & Jessen Associates, a consulting company run by former military psychologists who advised the C.I.A. on the use of harsh tactics in the secret program.
Martinez, the purported interrogator of KSM, who is praised for using techniques of gaining rapport to get good information, and contrasted with those who would use torture techniques -- never mind that Martinez is introduced to KSM after he has been softened up with waterboarding, etc. -- is exposed as just another SERE-related asset, as Mitchell & Jessen have repeatedly been outed as involved in teaching torture to military interrogators, as even Scott Shane points out. But Shane only leaves this damaging piece of evidence for the end of the article, undoing the positive portrait he paints of his chosen CIA "good guy." And, of course, he never comments on the context this revelation brings to the entire piece.

The Baumgartner Revelations

Today, SERE is administratively part of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense. JPRA is tasked with "personnel recovery mission." While Senator Levin gives a fairly thorough presentation of how SERE techniques migrated to Guantanamo, including discussions and meetings and when they took place, and descriptions (at least in the documents released by the committee) of what kind of techniques were being taught, one date is inexplicably left out which Lt. Col. Baumgartner gave in his testimony. Levin concentrates upon the late July 2002 request by Richard Shiffrin, a Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Defense, for information on SERE techniques and their effects upon prisoners. (Mark Benjamin follows Levin's outline of events at his otherwise impressive "Timeline to Bush Government Torture".)

But Baumgartner's own opening statement gives a more nuanced, different story. From his statement, as published online (bold emphasis added):
My recollection of my first communication with OGC relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry. From what I reviewed last year with Committee staff members, the information involved the exploitation process and historical information on captivity and lessons learned.
Now something is very strange here, as Levin's own staff appear to have documents indicating DoD was asking about SERE techniques in December 2001, eight months before the July 2002 request everyone else is concentrating on. Why this gap? My guess is that it would take us even closer to the Oval Office than Levin or anyone else wants to go at this point. Where are these documents on the December 2001 request? Why did no one on the committee question Baumgartner about this issue during the hearings?

Senator Levin, I thank you for bringing this issue to the fore, and in pursuing many relevant leads. I also thank you for the release of many important documents. But, Senator Levin, what about the request on SERE techniques made of Lt. Col. Baumgartner in December 2001. He says your staff has the documents on this; in fact, they were used to refresh his memory.

Senator Levin, release all the documents!

George Carlin, 1937 - 2008

The jester is dead, but his powerful (and funny) words can still be heard. "It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it":

[Hat tip to OPOL and robodd at Docudharma]

FISA & the Dream of Total Omnipotence

Niemand sieht mich, wenn er mich sucht;
doch überall bin ich, geborgen dem Blick.
Perhaps the commenter August Adams put it best, following upon a Robert Parry article on the Democratic capitulation on telecom immunity for illegal Bush administration wiretapping:
So we are a Capitalist State

So, fascism is led by a dictator, so how does a "super" capitalistic state, one where the President and the Congress and the Senate are all in lock Step, differ from a Fascist state where the Dictator simply seizes power.

I guess we live in a State where the leaders simply use the Corporate Controlled Capitalist Media to spin propaganda and the "electoral" process is manipulated to select our rulers.

Once elected, the House and the Senate know now that they must be in lock step with the Corporate powers that paid their way or they will be funded out of office.

So we have the best Corporate Government money can buy.

Looks like we need a new definition for our country. It's not a democracy of by and for the people. It's a corporate government of by and for the Super Capitalists. And it looks like things are a whole lot worse and more entrenched then we ever imagined.

Soon, our Representatives won't even need to pretend to pander to the people during the election cycles - they do whatever they want anyway.

It's all so clever - and virtually complete - I just wonder - what's next?

So we all go along with pretending there will be "Change" in November, what happens when it is just more of the same corporate controlled nonsense?
The "compromise" over wiretapping was engineered by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and blessed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who announced she would not in any case obstruct the "compromise". Even Barack Obama got into the act, calling the amnesty (legal amnesty for the telecoms, political amnesty for Bush) the best "we" could hope for at this time. If the trashing of Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure were not enough, it is the validation of the counterfeit "terrorist" meme that is most disturbing. Here's Obama on FISA:
"Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President's illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance -- making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future....

"It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives -- and the liberty -- of the American people."
Obama reveals what an ordinary politician he really is, mimicking the Bush demagogy about the "fight against terrorism" and "legitimate threats". He rewrites history with the best of his compatriots, talking about a restoration of FISA. Except FISA, i.e., legally established courts to review national security requests for covert surveillance, was always the law. Nothing is "restored" here, unless it be the concept of a monarchy that exists above the law, and its corollary, a rubber-stamp legislature that neurotically polices itself for lèse-majesté.

Of course, it is the Bush Administration that is most ecstatic over their victory. They proved to themselves yet again that there is almost nothing they can do for which they will be held to account, and that their ostensible opposition is in thrall to them. Those who are not remain marginalized and even maligned by the larger majority that cannot see past the lies of the corporate media, and are pledged to an incremental vision of "progress" that loses ground as quickly as Achilles in his race against the tortoise.

At the opera the other day (I must be a true "elitist," after all), I was struck at how the dream of the dwarf Alberich in Wagner's Ring of the Niebelung to be all-powerful, all-seeing, and everywhere at once, and able to totally observe and discipline his enslaved followers, matches that dream which quickens the deadened souls of our own enfeebled national leadership.

Alberich has fashioned a special device that allows him to change shape at will, to become invisible, if need be, and to transport himself anywhere he wishes instantaneously. He tells his interlocutor:
Now he is watching you
repose and rest
is refused you:
you must work for him
though he is unseen;
expect him
when you do not perceive him;
you are his vassals for ever!
Hoho! Hoho!
Listen for him, he is near,
the Lord of the Nibelungs!

No one can see me,
though he search for me;
yet I am everywhere,
hidden from sight.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Broken Laws, Broken Lives: PHR's New Must Read Report

Let me add my voice to the cascade of praise for Physicians for Human Rights's new publication Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the U.S. As PHR puts it in their publicity for the document, "we have for the first time medical evidence to confirm first-hand accounts of men who endured torture by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. These men were never charged with any crime."

Moreover, PHR has engineered a coup by getting Major General Antonio M. Taguba, "deputy commanding general for support for the Third Army for ten months in Kuwait during the early days of the Iraq occupation," to write a preface to the report. Taguba, who wrote his own report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib in 2004, and was reportedly forced to "retire" last year due to his criticisms of the U.S. military, minces no words in his PHR preface, accusing unnamed U.S. high officials of "war crimes."
After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
As PHR explains in their introduction to Broken Laws, Broken Lives:
This provides first-hand accounts and medical evidence of torture and cruel, inhuman,
or degrading treatment or punishment (“illtreatment”) of eleven former detainees who were held in US custody overseas. Using internationally accepted standards, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) conducted medical evaluations of the former detainees to document the severe, long-term physical and psychological consequences that have resulted from the torture and illtreatment. The evaluations provide evidence of violation of criminal laws prohibiting torture and of the commission of war crimes by US personnel.
The detainees examined were from Guantanamo and Iraq; all of them were ultimately released, though not before they were subjected to torture and abuse while in U.S. custody. The effects of this torture were documented throught the use of well-established medical procedures, notably the Istanbul Protocol: International Guidelines for the Investigation and Documentation of Torture.

From the report, some of the tale of Youssef, a man in his mid-forties, "held by US personnel at Kandahar and Guantánamo Bay detention centers. He was subjected to beatings, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, and sexual and cultural humiliation. He
was released in November 2003." Medically, it was determined that he currently suffers from depression, PTSD, and panic disorder.
Youssef recalled that after his interrogation [by U.S. officials at Kandahar, Afghanistan], soldiers tripped him naked. He noted that many of the soldiers were female and he believed that “they were just trying to humiliate us.” He was allowed no sleep during his first night in Kandahar because the guards “kept kicking us [and] throwing sand at us.” Throughout his roughly six weeks in Kandahar, he endured other abuse, including being stripped naked, being intimidated by dogs, being hooded, and being thrown against the wall on repeated occasions....

Youssef was subsequently transferred to Guantánamo in early 2002. He recalled that he was forced to disrobe in front of female soldiers, was clothed in an orange suit and dark goggles, and his ears were covered with headphones. He stated, “They didn’t tell us anything — I remember the plane and the doors opening and there was warm air"....

Youssef described the conditions at Camp X-Ray as deplorable: “It was just a big plot of concrete and they had these steel cages [and] it was really, really hot…even in the night.” The prisoners were let out of the two-square meter “cages” only for questioning, were not allowed to speak to each other, and had to use a bucket as a toilet. Even small infractions could result in beatings. “If they would find one piece of string on the floor they would send in the ‘robocops’ [the IRF soldiers dressed in riot helmets and padded uniforms] to beat us.” The detainees were kicked all over, including in the back, legs, and head. According to Youssef, during the two to three times that he was beaten this way in Camp X-Ray someone who he presumed to be a doctor was always present; he suspected this was to make sure there were no injuries. Youssef suffered bruising as a result of these beatings and did his best to follow prison rules in order to avoid such abuses. However, he witnessed other detainees being beaten this way on a daily basis....

Apart from following interrogations or beatings, and despite his frequent requests for medical attention (“many, many” requests) for persistent stomach pain and swelling in his wrists, Youssef noted that he rarely saw physicians at Guantánamo. He was of the opinion that no one was concerned with the detainees’ health and recalled having been told by one of the physicians, “We’re making sure you don’t die in here — besides that whatever happens doesn’t interest us.” Youssef reported that he was forced to take medications as part of what he considered “experiments” and recalled receiving an estimated ten to fifteen unknown injections, often developing rashes several hours after these injections (“red dots on my body and shoulders that would start to itch”). A fellow detainee informed him that the injections could cause impotence or heart attacks, although nothing was ever said by the doctors. He also indicated that some individuals administering the injections were “civilians … coming to take lessons — it was like internships” but acknowledged that this may only have been his perception....

While in Camp Delta, Youssef asked to speak with a psychologist because he was distressed, and the two spoke about him missing his family and his feelings of sadness. Although Youssef believed the meeting was confidential, he stated that shortly after the psychologist left, he was brought to an interrogator who immediately brought up information connected to his disclosures, such as telling him that he was going to stay at Guantánamo for the rest of his life and discussing his family (“Don’t you want to leave this place and get back together with your family?”...If you do as we tell you, you can get back to your family.”). He stated, “I figured out the reason they had called me for the interrogation was because the psychologist had told them about the meeting.” He stated, “They were stressing these fears very much.” Following this interrogation, Youssef reported that he was moved to the “worst” section in Camp Delta, where he was not allowed to have a blanket or a mattress.
War Crimes and a Culture of Non-Accountability

The entire report, as you can imagine, makes for very difficult reading, due to the traumatic nature of the subject matter. But in the first decade of the 21st century, the militarist and inhumane policies of the United States have made such material essential to educate the citizenry about the nature of these policies. The revelations about the actions of doctors and psychologists is particularly disturbing, and only further corroborates crimes by these professionals at U.S. security sites that have been well-documented elsewhere, and certainly discussed dozens of times in articles at this site.

The cry for war crimes trials belies the fact that no high or authoritative U.S. official has ever stood trial for a war crime, despite decades of documented crimes in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and now the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The national security state apparatus wields tremendous power over all three branches of U.S. government. Not only has no official or high-level officer had to answer for the crimes of torture, or any other war crime (such as the use of chemical warfare on civilian populations by the U.S. in Fallujah), but no doctor or psychologist has even been brought up on ethics charges by their own professional societies for their unfit and criminal behavior.

It will take practically a revolution (of some sort) to pry the engine of inviolablity from their control and re-establish the rule of law over the apparatus of government.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lucky Shoes: R.I.P. Ibrahim Alickovic

Ibrahim Alickovic died March 10, 2008. This gentle, giving man was a survivor of the concentration camps in Bosnia, where he was imprisoned and suffered torture and state terror because he was Muslim and had "attributes of leadership." You can read a moving obituary to him by psychologist Alice Shaw at the Survivors International website. The following poem by Alickovic is taken from the same site.

(Lucky Shoes 43 1/2)

By Ibrahim Alickovic

To public opinion
Holding that prison camp is a secular hell
There were--in our camp--
Moments of pure joy.
As one day when
They collected us all in the yard.
Then the command:
Take off your shoes
All you mother-fuckers!

So. We would be barefoot at our own executions.
I trembled, counting time backward
To shorten the time.
The night was quiet.
And full of moonlight.
We fifty-two men without shoes.
There were eighteen of them--with their guns.

Nevertheless, it was not what we thought.
Instead of a shot in the head--
Two big boxes: a gift!
Each of us given a pair of
brand new black shoes.
Each of us equally fit with
the same size: 43 1/2.

Oh! the delight of those new shoes, my God!
Oh! how much more delightful
If some of the shoes had been bigger
Some just a bit smaller--
Still. The pure joy of it!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Newly Posted: US Special Forces Counterinsurgency Manual

Steve Soldz informs us that Wikileaks has posted a copy of the U.S. Special Forces counterinsurgency manual.

From Wikileaks introduction, "How to train death squads and quash revolutions from San Salvador to you":
The document, which has been verified, is official US Special Forces doctrine. It directly advocates training paramilitaries, pervasive surveillance, censorship, press control and restrictions on labor unions & political parties. It directly advocates warrantless searches, detainment without charge and the suspension of habeas corpus. It directly advocates bribery, employing terrorists, false flag operations, concealing human rights abuses from journalists. And it directly advocates the extensive use of “psychological operations” (propaganda) to make these and other “population & resource control” measures more palatable.
Note to those of you wishing to download the entire pdf: it's 219 pages long. Think of it as a course in modern American history. Or you could consider it the nightmare of American power as it is projected abroad for the benefit of a small and corrupt elite that currently hold the reins of power in this country.

At Last! Senate Hearings Tackle SERE-Inspired Torture Program

The Senate Armed Services Committee will be holding hearings into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Tomorrow is part one, as Senator Levin's committee looks into the origins of U.S. aggressive interrogation techniques. A new article by AP makes clear that these techniques were approved at the highest levels, and that the resulting torture revelations were not due to the actions of a few "bad apples."

Also, on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing entitled "From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay", which is the second part of its inquiry into administration lawyers, like John Yoo, and their role in writing and approving torture and guidelines for abusive interrogation.

Meanwhile, Human Rights First has a petition up, demanding that Congress ask William Haynes, former General Counsel to the Department of Defense - who "once advised the Bush Administration that waterboarding and death threats were 'legally available' options" - tough questions, bearing upon his culpability for implementing a U.S. torture program.

Before going into the nitty-gritty details of what's going to be revealed at the hearings, I want to ask the indulgence of my readers. The news as presented even by the supposed best of our newspapers and other news sources often lack the context with which we can understand the often mind-boggling revelations that rain down upon us in 21st century America. It is with that thought that I turn momentarily aside to review an important U.S. military interrogation program from the Vietnam War. Considering this history will give perspective for the revelations to come.

The Phoenix Program: Blueprint for Bush's "War on Terror"

In Jane Meyer's August 2007 article, The Black Sites: A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program, she wrote of the scramble by the military and intelligence agencies after 9/11 to cohere an intelligence program in Afghanistan. Ultimately, the U.S. would arrest tens of thousands of supposed "terrorists", many of them turned in by greedy bounty hunters; establish a network of CIA-run secret prisons; expand a rendition program, which outsourced the interrogation of torture and prisoners to third-party nations; and establish the practice of torture against so-called enemy combatants, holding them incommunicado, without hope of appeal or release (until recently, that is).

In seeking to establish their military preeminence thousands of miles from the "homeland," the U.S. government turned to history - U.S. history - for inspiration. What they re-discovered was one of the darkest episodes in that history, one which is barely known or understood in this country, and whose consequences -- not least that the perpetrators of mass torture and assassination remain at large and in positions of power -- hang like the sword of Damocles over the head of uninformed citizenry. What they "discovered" was the Phoenix Program, a counterinsurgency operation by the U.S. government and its South Vietnamese allies that specialized in torture, terror, and assassination of individuals and families suspected of giving support to the Viet Cong. In the end, tens of thousands were murdered, often in their beds or homes, their ears cut off to prove that "kill teams" had made their quota for the night.

As Mayer wrote:
On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a secret Presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to create paramilitary teams to hunt, capture, detain, or kill designated terrorists almost anywhere in the world. Yet the C.I.A. had virtually no trained interrogators. A former C.I.A. officer involved in fighting terrorism said that, at first, the agency was crippled by its lack of expertise. “It began right away, in Afghanistan, on the fly,” he recalled. “They invented the program of interrogation with people who had no understanding of Al Qaeda or the Arab world.” The former officer said that the pressure from the White House, in particular from Vice-President Dick Cheney, was intense: “They were pushing us: ‘Get information! Do not let us get hit again!’” In the scramble, he said, he searched the C.I.A.’s archives, to see what interrogation techniques had worked in the past. He was particularly impressed with the Phoenix Program, from the Vietnam War. Critics, including military historians, have described it as a program of state-sanctioned torture and murder. A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance. But, after September 11th, some C.I.A. officials viewed the program as a useful model.
The brief documentary, embedded above as a YouTube video, represents an excellent introduction to the history of the Phoenix Program. Warning: some of the images are quite graphic.

Those interested in pursuing the subject in more depth should turn to Douglas Valentine's epic work, The Phoenix Program, or to Michael Otterman's excellent summary, linking Phoenix to the later torture policies of the current administration as part of its misnamed "war on terror", American Torture.

Military Psychologists Braintrust Pentagon Torture Program

The historical context offered by the documentary frames the current situation, where the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding hearings on detainee interrogation abuse and torture. Tomorrow, former Pentagon general counsel, William “Jim” Haynes, is due to testify. According to a new article by AP:
The investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee also has confirmed that senior administration officials, including the Pentagon's then-general counsel William “Jim” Haynes, sought the help of military psychologists early on to devise the more aggressive methods – which included the use of dogs, making a detainee stand for long periods of time and forced nudity, according to officials familiar with the findings....

Rumsfeld's December 2002 approval of the aggressive interrogation techniques and later objections by military lawyers have been widely reported. But the November protests by service lawyers had not, and the interest by Pentagon civilians in military psychologists has surfaced only piecemeal....

According to the Senate committee's findings, Haynes became interested in using harsher interrogation methods as early as July 2002 when he sent a memo inquiring about a military program that trained Army soldiers how to survive enemy interrogations and deny foes valuable intelligence.

Officials who taught the methods – known as “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape,” or SERE techniques – were well schooled in the art of abusive interrogations....
According to the AP article, Haynes went to Guantanamo with Alberto Gonzales (then with the Office of Legal Counsel) and David Addington, Vice President Cheney's own chief counsel. Ultimately, Donald Rumsfeld approved a number of abusive interrogation techniques, over protests by the services's own military attorneys. (The abuse continued even after Rumsfeld's torture program was officially discontinued, as unredacted portions of Admiral Church's investigation into detainee abuse revealed a few months ago.)

The use of SERE techniques may have leaked out "piecemeal", but there have been plenty of stories about the misuse of this military program, from Katherine Eban's expose article in Vanity Fair last summer, to the Pentagon Office of the Inspector report released late last year, to a recent ACLU release of documents describing the "first on-the-ground reports of torture in Gardez, Afghanistan" by Special Operations forces utilizing SERE techniques.

If anything, the Congressional hearings are the proverbial hour late and a mile short. The revelations about abuse of U.S. torture in Afghanistan and Iraq go back to the initial arrest of John Walker Lindh in 2001. As the Phoenix Program documentary makes clear, even earlier and if anything more egregious examples of U.S. war crimes were known and vetted and then ignored, the perpetrators allowed to filter successfully through the sinews of government until the current day, and the phenomena of a Phoenix reborn, metamorphosed into a "war on terror", a campaign to save the "homeland" masking a policy of aggressive invasion, war, occupation, and torture by the leaders of this country.

While late, I welcome whatever exposure will come from these Congressional hearings. I support Human Rights First's petition drive. Only when we bring these crimes into the light of day and educate all Americans about what has been done in their name will we have half a chance of ending the barbarous policy of war, torture, and oppression, and winning over that part of the world that has, in desperation, turned to their own demagogues who preach despair and (occasional) terror in the name of a desperate hope. Such a campaign will mean we have to confront the anti-democratic elements in our own society. This fight will be hard and long, maybe as long as Bush sees his own "war on terror". This will be a war on exploitation, violence, and the manipulation of human beings. Its banner will be freedom from fear, from want, from exploitation.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Guide to Kucinich's Articles of Impeachment

Elizabeth de la Vega is producing a handy three-part summary and guidebook to Dennis Kucinich's articles of impeachment against George W. Bush, introduced to much public acclaim and studied media silence on June 9. The pdf's of de la Vega's work are available for downloading courtesy of Jason Leopold's The Public Record.

De la Vega, who is a former U.S. Attorney, describes her project:
Part I is a chart that itemizes the Articles of Impeachment with a subheading and a longer description. Part II is also a chart which itemizes U.S. and international laws that are implicated by the charges in the Articles of Impeachment. (Quite properly, not every impeachable offense is based on a specific legal violation.) In Part III, to come early next week, I will present an opening statement setting forth - just as a prosecutor would do before a trial -what the evidence would show with regard to these allegations.
With Kucinich promising to reintroduce his impeachment resolution within 30 days if the House Judiciary Committee fails to act on its referral (the Democratic leadership having sent it there in hopes of burying it), I'd say this will be a damn handy reference source.

McCain/Scalia/WSJ Rally to Support Tyranny, Torture at Guantanamo

"No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” 1

"One of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” 2

"The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." 3

"In considering both the procedural and substantive standards used to impose detention to prevent acts of terrorism, the courts must accord proper deference to the political branches. However, security subsists, too, in fidelity to freedom’s first principles, chief among them being freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adherence to the separation of powers." 4

"Boumediene concerns habeas corpus – the right of Americans to challenge detention by the government. Justice Kennedy has now extended that right to non-American enemy combatants captured abroad trying to kill Americans in the war on terror. We can say with confident horror that more Americans are likely to die as a result." 5

"The game of bait-and-switch that today’s opinion plays upon the Nation’s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed." 6
The Supreme Court decision to render unconstitutional the provisions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that curtailed use of habeas corpus by detainees deemed "enemy combatants" by the Pentagon and held at the Guantanamo U.S. military base in Cuba has unleashed a spurt of vitriol from the right-wing establishment. As can be seen above, the Wall Street Journal has picked up the hysterical standard set forth by right wing ideologue Scalia in his blistering dissent to the Boumediene decision, accusing his fellow justices as nothing less than accomplices to murder. With John McCain jumping on the bandwagon, the GOP agenda for the fall campaign is thus established: a liberal Supreme Court, along with an ostensibly too-liberal and inexperienced Democratic candidate for President, are threatening our troops abroad, and making terrorist attacks at home a near certainty.

This demagogic assault on civil liberties is dangerous. Setting up your political opponents as criminals is a half-step away from indicating they are outside the pale of appropriate discourse. Such opponents can be targeted themselves by those who are only too ready to carry out the wishes of those they serve. But I consider even more ominous the likelihood that such outlandish statements represent the opinions of the military establishment, who have constructed the Guantanamo hell-hole, and wish to do their best to keep the torture and abuse there as secret and unnoticeable to citizen awareness as possible.

Suspension of Habeas and Techniques of Torture

Few understand, nor is it hardly ever mentioned, that indefinite detention is an integral part of the U.S. torture program. This program, no matter what its day-to-day contingencies (today waterboarding is in, tomorrow it's out... today hooding is in, tomorrow it's out) relies on three essential components: the inculcation of debility, dread, and dependency in prisoners held for torture and interrogation.

By debility, one means the breaking down of physical and psychological stamina. Common forms of effecting debility include the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, diet reduction, lack of access to needed medical procedures, stress positions, and sensory overload or deprivation -- all of which have been practiced at Guantanamo and other sites in Bush's "war on terror" prisons.

Dread is self-explanatory: it means making prisoners afraid, and the use of phobias and fear of the worst happening are two ways to produce this. (For instance, inducing fear of waterboarding is much more efficient than using waterboarding itself.) By dependency, the torturers mean producing a state where, as the CIA once put it:
Prisoners "... have reduced viability, are helplessly dependent on their captors for the satisfaction of their many basic needs, and experience the emotional and motivational reactions of intense fear and anxiety.... Among the [American] POW's pressured by the Chinese Communists, the DDD syndrome in its full-blown form constituted a state of discomfort that was well-nigh intolerable."
We might call this a smashing of hope in the prisoners' mind, an acceptance that his or her entire fate, his life, perhaps the lives of his or her family, rests with the incarcerating power.

If you allow prisoners the right to petition a court for their freedom, and to challenge the tyrannical exercise of executive authority, then you reduce the sense of total dependency that the torturers intend to perpetuate in their victims. This is why you hear the squealing from the apologists for U.S. torture, from right-wingers on the Supreme Court, to ostensible "moderate" on torture John McCain, who was tortured himself once, long, long ago. McCain has made an identification with the torturers of his own government, and this is not in itself so unusual, from a psychological point of view.

The particular reason for McCain's apostasy on torture is unknown to us -- perhaps it's guilt for talking under torture back in Vietnam, perhaps it's pure ambition and opportunism -- but one thing is certain, his current posture is anathema to anyone who opposes the use of torture and attacks on civil liberties, not to mention a militarist agenda that blithely suggests a war lasting for 100 years or more.

Make Torture a Central Issue

As much as Obama and his supporters like to keep the campaign against torture as something rolled out for special speeches and the like -- you won't find a word about torture by the Bush administration at Obama's campaign website -- the fight against torture is at the center of the struggle against Bush's war drive abroad and attack on civil liberties at home. Guantanamo's prison, which sits on a leased piece of land in Cuba, is a toehold for fascistic policies of torture and suspended civil rights to be implemented in the United States if and when the government deems it necessary. Already, the U.S. Naval Brig at Charleston, South Carolina has been the site of inhumane torture practices against U.S. citizen Jose Padilla.

The rhetoric is heating up. Bush and his backers fear that their untrammelled campaign projecting U.S. military power and influence abroad is threatened by the upcoming elections. They are desperate and will do anything to paint their opponents as traitors and criminally negligent adventurers. The miserable economy may make it impossible to effectively spread their message, but I wouldn't be too sure. The Democratic Party had best consider taking on the jingoistic, yellow journalism rhetoric of the right, if it is serious about defeating the right-wing agenda in this country.

Were the last, best defenders of democratic rights in this country five relatively old judges and a handful of constitutional attorneys? I know a lot of money is flowing into Obama's campaign coffers now, but that won't necessarily be enough to defeat Bush and Cheney's heir apparent. And even if McCain goes down in flames, a much bigger obstacle lies ahead for progressives in this country in the form of the myriad connections and influence of energy, technology, financial, information and military industries with the institutions of the army, navy, air force, and intelligence agencies... a tremendously larger obstacle.

1 Magna Carta, quoted in Boumediene et al. v Bush, Justice Kennedy's Opinion, p. 9

2 John McCain, GOP presumptive nominee for President, at a speech in New Jersey, commenting upon the Boumediene v Bush ruling, in "McCain Condemns Supreme Court Guantanamo Ruling", Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2008

3 U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2

4 Boumediene et al. v Bush, Syllabus [of Majority Decision], p. 8

5 Editorial, Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2008

6 Boumediene et al. v Bush, Dissent by Justice A. Scalia, p. 2

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Supreme Court Slaps Bush, Congress on Habeas Corpus

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional the provision of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that suspended the use of habeas corpus by detainees in Bush's "war on terror." The MCA was pushed by Bush, and overwhelmingly approved by Congress, including both supposed anti-torture politician John McCain and many Democrats.

From Justice Kennedy's majority opinion:
Security depends upon a sophisticated intelligence apparatus and the ability of our Armed Forces to act and to interdict. There are further considerations, however. Security subsists, too, in fidelity to freedom’s first principles. Chief among these are freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adherence to the separation of powers. It is from these principles that the judicial authority to consider petitions for habeas corpus relief derives....

The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law....

Congress has enacted a statute, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA), 119 Stat. 2739, that provides certain procedures for review of the detainees’ status. We hold that those procedures are not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus. Therefore §7 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA), 28 U. S. C. A. §2241(e) (Supp. 2007), operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ. [Thanks to Phil at Daily Kos for the quotes]
The decision was a defeat for the attack on civil liberties championed by the Bush administration, which has led to years of indefinite detention and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and other prisons in the U.S. gulag established in the wake of 9/11 and Bush's invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. While championed by Bush, Cheney, et al., this tyrannical program of rights suspension and abuse has been backed by the Democratic Party, or at least a significant section of the party, which voted for MCA, the Patriot Act, and other anti-democratic legislation, and has also failed to hold the Bush Administration to account for any of their crimes.

The latest example of the failure of the Democratic Party leadership was the shameful suppression of Congressman Dennis Kucinich's resolution to impeach George W. Bush. Despite a throrough vetting of the crimes of the Bush administration in a speech that lasted over four hours on the House floor, the Democrats voted practically unanimously to send the bill to an ignominious fate: a referral to committee, where the bill could languish unheard and ignored for eternity, if need be. Democratic Party chair Howard Dean explained, "The American people sent us there [to Congress] to get things done... They didn't send us there to impeach the President." The failure to get anything of note done in this current Congress belies Dean's statement, and stands as mute testimony to the impotence of the mainstream Democratic Party's opposition policies.

To remind us of the Democrats role in the habeas controversy, let's refer back to an excellent article Glenn Greenwald wrote in May 2007:
It is worthwhile to review briefly the history of how this legislative atrocity came to be. When the White House proposed this bill, Democrats were as meek and as silent as could be. They literally disappeared from the debate, allowing the illusion of "negotiations" between the White House on the one hand, and a handful of allegedly principled and independent Republican Senators (McCain, Warner and Graham) on the other.

When -- as was both painfully predictable and predicted -- those Republican Senators capitulated almost in full to the White House, "winning" only the most meaninglessly symbolic linguistic changes to the bill while acquiescing to its most Draconian provisions, the fate of the bill was sealed because Democrats had ceded their authority to those "rebel" GOP Senators....

It is true that most Democrats in both the House and Senate ultimately voted against this law (though 12 Democratic Senators out of 44 voted in favor). But even among the Senate Democrats who did vote against its enactment, many of them did not even reveal how they would vote until -- literally -- the very day before the vote occurred, and many such Democratic Senators announced their opposition only once it became clear that it would pass....

Far worse, many Democrats -- led by Harry Reid (who at the last minute announced his opposition) -- even spoke favorably of the MCA in the days immediately preceding the vote.
In all the disgust and even hatred that Bush's bellicose and autocratic and illegal policies have engendered, it becomes easy to forget that the Democrats acted way too often as a handmaiden to Bush, beginning with the Patriot Act, and further to the Iraq War. Even today, the supplemental funding bills for the continuation of U.S. military adventures and occupation policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen by the Democrats as opportunities to bargain for concessions on other issues, e.g., unemployment insurance, rather than as opportunities to secure principled opposition to a failed war policy. Along these lines, Speaker Pelosi now promises she'll deliver Bush's $170 billion war funding bill by July 4 (how patriotic of her).

The euphoria in certain circles over Obama's candidacy masks some very important political realities that cannot be ignored. The recent Supreme Court decision in the consolidated cases of Boumediene v. Bush and Al-Odah v. Bush is very welcome news. But in very important ways, it also points out how very, very far off the track politics in America has gone.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Chris Floyd's Obama Critique

I think Chris's article poses some starkly difficult questions for those who support Barack Obama for president. If nothing else, it places his candidacy securely in the realm of the non-revolutionary and the status quo, at least when it comes to the foreign policy of Bush/Cheney and their gang.
I'm not "writing Obama off" -- whatever that means. I'm just looking at what he is actually saying, his actual positions, and what he has actually done -- and not done -- in the U.S. Senate. In the previous post, I noted a long list of actions -- both substantive and symbolic -- that Obama could have already taken from his position of national power, then I concluded: "But he did not do so; he is not doing so now; and there is no reason to believe that he will do so in the future, despite the eloquent lip service he occasionally pays to one or two of these points."

Of course, I can't predict the future. Anything is possible, and perhaps Obama will astound us all with a new American revolution that will restore the Republic and dismantle the vast military empire America has built over many decades. Perhaps he will declare an end to the "War on Terror" -- the use of massive, nation-breaking military force, state terror, torture, rendition, secret prisons, concentration camps, and Constitution-stripping tyranny -- to deal with isolated groups of extremists that pose no existential threat to the United States. Perhaps he will establish a "Truth Commission" to investigate and prosecute the many high crimes of the Bush Administration. Perhaps he will change his position on Iraq, and call for a genuine withdrawal of all American forces there. Perhaps he will change his bellicose position on Iran, which he enunciated so forcefully to AIPAC recently. Perhaps he will forthrightly condemn the American-backed "regime change" invasion of Somalia, which has created the worst humanitarian disaster in the world (outside of Asia's recent natural disasters). Perhaps instead of stoking fears about the non-existent "Social Security crisis" -- and attending to the many Wall Street bankers and elitist lobbyists on his team -- he will call for the repeal of the draconian Bankruptcy Bill, he will shift billions of dollars from the Pentagon to the rebuilding of New Orleans and the restoration of the thousands upon thousands of refugees to their homes. Perhaps he will do all these things, and more -- even though he has not given the slightest indication whatsoever that this is what he would do in office.

Rather, in many cases, the opposite is true. He says he will do "everything, and I mean everything" to stop Iran from getting a single nuclear bomb like the thousands in the American arsenal and the hundreds in Israel's arsenal. He will take "no options" off the table in this feverish quest, including, one can only assume, the Hillary-like "obliteration" of Iran and its 70 million people. He has pledged to enlarge the American military machine, already gorged to monstrous, unmanageable size by blood and corruption. This in turn will guarantee the continued militarization of the American economy and our foreign policy, geared toward the continual fomenting of "war and rumors of war" to justify the all-devouring machine. He pledges to continue the "War on Terror," but to do it "better, smarter," and perhaps even expanding it into Pakistan. He pledges to leave behind an unspecified number of American troops in Iraq "and the region" -- forces that will continue to launch attacks in that broken land, sowing more hatred, more blowback for America.

These are simply facts, drawn from Obama's own speeches and position papers. What sort of "perspective" should we take toward these facts? Should we squint real hard and pretend they're not there?

....There is always hope of America becoming better, there is always hope for positive change. But that hope does not reside -- and has never resided -- in a single politician, or party, or faction. It resides in every individual citizen: in what they think and believe, in what they will accept and countenance, in what they will not stand for, in what they will work for. Hope resides in the amount of knowledge and truth and insight that we can all produce and disseminate and act upon. And hope depends on our ability -- and our willingness -- to confront reality as it is, to deal with our leaders and would-be leaders as they are, not as we wish them to be. For how can you change anything if you cannot see it clearly?
My pro-Obama friends will shake their heads, but the whole piece is worth reading. We better know what's going on, because it's coming right at us.

Did Bush Direct Destruction of Evidence in Gitmo Torture Cases?

Yesterday, via ABC News report on an AP story:
The Pentagon urged interrogators at Guantanamo Bay to destroy handwritten notes in case they were called to testify about potentially harsh treatment of detainees, a military defense lawyer said Sunday.

The lawyer for Toronto-born Omar Khadr, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, said the instructions were included in an operations manual shown to him by prosecutors and suggest the U.S. deliberately thwarted evidence that could help terror suspects defend themselves at trial.
According to a UK Guardian story today, the Pentagon is making the trying of Guantanamo prisoners in Bush's controversial military tribunals a "number one priority," assigning more military lawyers to both prosecution and defense. The tribunals have been criticized by human rights groups as denying due process rights to the accused, and for allowing the presentation of "evidence" gained via torture. This latest news seems likely to gum up their precious show trial scenario.

The story continues, via (bold emphasis added):
"By destroying handwritten notes containing 'interrogation information' and preserving only the sanitized summaries, interrogators effectively destroyed evidence of illegal treatment of detainees -- as well as evidence that could be used to contradict the statements recorded in the summaries," Kuebler said in a statement.

At hearings in Guantanamo, prosecutors have responded to Kuebler's requests for the handwritten interrogation notes by saying most appeared to have been lost or mislaid. But the SOP directive appears to suggest that those that existed were destroyed to minimize the chance interrogators ever have to explain how they extracted information....

According to Kuebler's notes, the directive says: "Once . . . created, handwritten interrogator notes may be destroyed. This mission has legal and political issues that may lead to interrogators being called to testify, keeping the number of documents with interrogation information to a minimum can minimize certain legal issues."
Kuebler has charged that destruction of the interrogation notes is a "violation of (U.S.) federal and military law." The SOP directive was included in a Pentagon operations manual that was attached to the Pentagon's Schmidt-Furlow report, which was one of a series of military investigations, mostly whitewashes, into detainee abuse. The operations manual addendum to the report was not released at the time the Schmidt-Furlow report was made public.

Tester over at TPM Cafe makes the following important points:
A. The President was informed of Prisoner abuse, but nothing was done;

B. There was a DoD policy connected with the President that ordered the destruction of evidence
As breaking news has Congressman Dennis Kucinich introducing articles of impeachment on the floor of the House of Representatives, even as I write this, the question becomes: who ordered the destruction of evidence in criminal investigations? who ordered destruction of evidence of crimes committed, such as torture? Is this not part and parcel of a long string of illegal and unconstitutional activities by the executive branch of the government, led by one George W. Bush?

I'm positive we will be hearing more about this in the days to come.

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