Monday, June 18, 2012

Slapping David Shedd, Part 2, or How to Spin the Torture Story in Two Simple Lessons

Marcy Wheeler's over at Emptywheel picked up on Daniel Klaidman's version of Bush CIA Director Michael Hayden's December 2008 briefing of then-President-elect Barack Obama, and in particular of Hayden's defense of certain interrogation techniques then in use by the CIA.

Wheeler notes the discrepancy between the kinds of techniques Hayden said were in use at that time and the techniques approved by Bush's Department of Justice Office of Legal Council in the final year of that administration. Steven Bradbury was the author of these memos, of which the most substantive appears to be his July 20, 2007 memo to John Rizzo, then-CIA Acting General Counsel on "Application of the War Crimes Act, the Detainee Treatment Act, and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to Certain Techniques That May Be Used by the CIA in the Interrogation of High Value Al Qaeda Detainees."

Now in that memo, the techniques the CIA proposed as "necessary" were "dietary manipulation," "extended sleep deprivation," "insult (or facial) slap," "facial hold," "attention grasp," and "abdominal slap." The latter four are meant to shock the detainees, who supposedly (and this is a lie on Bradbury's part) believe the U.S. will not touch them during interrogation.

How Bradbury can get away with such a statement three years after the Abu Ghraib revelations is strange enough, but the Manchester Manual explicitly told detainees to expect physical maltreatment from intelligence agency interrogations, as former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan pointed out in his book The Black Banners: "It was on the basis of the information in this manual that the two [former SERE psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen] reportedly concluded that harsh techniques would be needed to break al-Qaeda detainees.... This constituted a misreading of the Manchester manual and in fact Boris’s [CIA/EIT] techniques played into what the manual instructed captured terrorists to do.”

But that's not what I'm here to write about today.

Klaidman's tale of the Hayden briefing was actually told once before, but I've not seen anyone note that. Bob Woodward wrote about it in his book, Obama's Wars, back in 2010, and I analyzed that portion of Woodward's narrative in a posting at Firedoglake not long after.

Learn this Mantra: "Debility, Dread, Dependency"

In Woodward's earlier version of the account of Hayden’s Shedd shaking we get a somewhat different listing of what techniques Hayden was selling Obama.

Woodward's version:
Hayden said: Isolation of the detainee; noise or loud music; and lights in the cells 24 hours a day. There was limited use of shackles when moving a prisoner or when the prisoner was a danger. In addition, blindfolds were used when moving prisoners or when the prisoners might gain information that could compromise the security of the facility.
And then followed Hayden's demonstration of the facial slap upon Director of National Intelligence Deputy Director for Policy Shedd. "Then [Hayden] shook the deputy DNI." The latter could be construed as the "attention grasp," which, per Bradbury's memo cited above, used a towel or other collaring device... to prevent any whiplash from the sudden motion."

While Woodward reports Shedd was "shaken," he doesn't mention "walling." He may not have had the entire story and his reporting of Shedd being shaken may have lacked the missing explanation about the "flexible artificial wall" Klaiman's sources provide. Or there may not have ever been any discussion of "walling," and it was about "attention grasp" all along, with "walling" added later, as I explain below.

Klaidman's version:
Not long into his presentation., Hayden called Shedd over. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Hayden slapped Shedd's face. Then he grabbed him by the lapels and started to shake him. He'd wanted to throw him up against the wall during this demonstration, but there were chairs in the way. Instead he explained to Obama and his aides about the interrogation technique known as "walling," in which detainees were thrown against a flexible artificial wall that made a loud noise on impact but cause little physical pain.

Hayden went on to explain that the only other three techniques still used then were playing loud music, keeping lights on all day and sleep deprivation. He didn't mention that sleep deprivation was accomplished by hanging prisoners from ceiling hooks.
So, whoever Klaiman's sources were, they left out the use of isolation and use of blindfolds on the detainees, itself a form of sensory deprivation. And where do we find such techniques used otherwise? In the Army Field Manual on interrogation's Appendix M, precisely the approved standard for all interrogation per Obama's Executive Order. Can this sudden switch in narrative be accidental?

Klaiman's sources elide the blindfolding entirely, while Isolation is replaced (supposedly) by Walling, as there must be only "six techniques," and the narrative is bound by the numerical restriction, which was originally laid out in Bradbury's 2007 memo.

Even more, while Wheeler notes that "Walling" is not an approved technique in the latter-stage Bush OLC memos, it's worth noting that neither is Isolation, or the sensory overload techniques noted by both Woodward and Klaiman ("loud music," 24-hour lights).

Every opponent of torture should note carefully this very important statement from Bradbury's 7/20/07 memo:
The [CIA] program is designed to dislodge the detainee’s expectations about how he will be treated in U.S. custody, to create a situation in which he feels that he is not in control, and to establish a relationship of dependence on the part of the detainee.
This is not spin, but the psychological core of the program, based, as I’ve repeatedly emphasized, on decades-old research showing that the induction of Debility (sleep deprivation, isolation, dietary restrictions) and Dread (the physical assaults, dislocating the expectations, humiliation) produced Dependency for the purpose of CONTROL.

(Interested readers should see how this is all documented in early writings by Bruce Jessen, in a story Jason Leopold and I wrote at Truthout in March 2011.)

As I wrote in my first Shedd-related posting (bold emphasis added here):
From reading this account [Woodward's], apart from the hilarious bit of play-acting with the ever-obliging David Shedd, it’s difficult to see what six of the EITs were retained, and what, besides waterboarding, was eliminated. For one thing, Hayden’s reply focuses on techniques that were not part of the EITs — isolation, sensory overload, and partial sensory deprivation — while demonstrating by a slap to O’Connell’s deputy that “Facial or insult slap” was still in use.

Hayden then makes his play to keep “these methods” under an Obama administration, because “the very existence of the interrogation program was more important than its content.” The CIA director told the President-elect, “Terrorists would know they faced a more severe interrogation if picked up by the CIA than by the military, which used the Army Field Manual.”

But how would the terrorists know this, when even I can’t figure out what exactly the U.S. intelligence agencies do? Woodward quotes Hayden in an unintentional moment of self-revelation. For the CIA, the form is more important that the content. The “terrorists” don’t really know, but they believe they know they can expect something terrible, something especially bad. The point of this is to engender fear. And fear is an essential component to psychological torture. It enhances the effects of sensory overload and sensory deprivation, and contributes to the psychological breakdown of the victim. The use of SERE trainees as experimental subjects for coercive interrogation and techniques did not begin in 2001 or 2002 — it began at least over 50 years ago.
It's easy to get righteously indignant over the torture program of the CIA, but I'm amazed at how easy it's been to be lulled over the torture program inserted into the 2006 Army Field Manual. I think it's not an outrageous thought to believe that in the interim between Woodward's tale of the Hayden meeting and the Shedd slap-heard-round-the-intertubes and the one told by Klaiman, someone said "hey, icksnay on the the isolation-ay."

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