Sunday, March 1, 2015

Did Richard Zuley Participate in Renditions to Guantanamo?

If one did not know who Richard Zuley was from reporter Jess Bravin's account, or from my article linking Zuley, the interrogation leader in the torture of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, with a history of alleged Chicago police frame-up and coerced confessions (reported at The Dissenter last November), the splash of notoriety from a recent series of articles by Spencer Ackerman at The Guardian certainly made the former Chicago detective a near-household name.

While Ackerman himself, and others, have concentrated in follow-up stories on revelations of the existence of a so-called police "black site" at Homan Square, where cops reportedly lock-up suspects "off the books," and torture them, or on the larger issue of police abuse in Chicago or other major American cities, Zuley's links to military and other possible intelligence agencies have remained largely unexamined.

The lingering question remains: how did Zuley get from the Chicago precinct house to the interrogation booths at Guantnamo? Why was someone like him put in charge of the Special Projects Team responsible for the interrogation of an ostensible high-value detainee like Slahi, answering in the chain-of-command directly to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld?

If we follow the story down that rabbit hole, we will see that Zuley's background links to the role played by the Pentagon's European Command (EUCOM) in renditioning prisoners to Guantanamo. While we don't know if Zuley played any role in these renditions, it seems highly likely he knew of them, as he apparently worked for what Washington Post reporter Dana Priest once called the "super-secret" Joint Analysis Center (JAC) at EUCOM headquarters in England.

RAF Molesworth and EUCOM's Joint Analysis Center

In Ackerman's in-depth story on Zuley, he noted that the former Chicago policeman had links to "naval intelligence" going back to the 1980s. Ackerman found a court transcript that stated Zuley had been "mobilized for the war on terror in November of 2002.”

Ackerman continued, referencing Zuley's testimony in the court transcript, "Initially assigned to a Royal Air Force base in Molesworth, his superiors 'sent me to Cuba as the liaison officer for the European Command. And that job has evolved to what I’m doing now' – that is, 'assigned to the Joint Task Force Guantanamo as an officer in charge of one of the teams down there for the intelligence collection.'”

The tasking to Molesworth is key, especially when linked to Zuley's own admission that he was a liaison officer for EUCOM (reported first in my November 2014 Dissenter article). Ackerman didn't follow up the Molesworth link, but the RAF base at Molesworth is the headquarters for EUCOM's Joint Analysis Center.

According to a "Studies in Intelligence" report (PDF) by Adam D.M. Svendsen (liberated by the late Aaron Swartz), "The US Military European Command (EUCOM) Joint Analysis Center (JAC) based at RAF Molesworth, the US Visiting Forces base in Cambridgeshire, UK, also features as an important location where UK–US military intelligence liaison takes place" (p. 18).

Robert L. Davis, who had been a Naval Analyst at JAC in the 1990s, described the agency: "JAC Molesworth is the European Theater's multiservice, JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] sponsored all source intelligence production facility. It provides intelligence support for contingency operations, special exercises, and ongoing combined Joint Task Force missions...", including special operations forces.

The Role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Release of the "Custer Report"

The role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is worth noting. In a September 2002 "external review" of Guantanamo Bay Intelligence Operations tasked by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under the guidance of the Director JCS and "a team of subject matter experts from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint staff, and the US Army Intelligence Center and School, Fort Huachuca AZ" -- known as the "Custer Report" -- stated formally that "Joint Task Forces [at Guantanamo] are subordinate to SOUTHCOM and report thorugh Commander US Southern Command to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the Secretary of Defense."

The Custer Report, which was prominently discussed in the 2008 Senate Armed Services Report on Detainee Abuse, was obtained by me via FOIA, and is released here for the first time (PDF). Unfortunately, it is way too heavily censored, and I've appealed the amount of censorship. Meanwhile, this is what we have.

The JAC is obviously an important if little-known intelligence center. According to one of its former leaders, even back in the 1990s, it consisted of numerous divisions and was a "1,000-personnel intelligence organization" with a $60 million budget.

According to a page at the Federation of American Scientists website, JAC is EUCOM's version of a Joint Intelligence Center, which centers exist as "the principal element for ensuring effective intelligence support for combatant commanders in chiefs and theater forces." The same site notes, "Men and women in the U.S. European Command's Joint Analysis Center (JAC) process, analyze and consolidate data to produce fused intelligence information focusing on an area of responsibility consisting of more than 77 countries across Europe, Africa and the Middle East."

We can presume that, given Zuley's assignment to the head of a "special projects" team, that his posting at Molesworth was related to an intelligence function, most likely for JAC. According to Dana Priest's account back in 1999, however, JAC was a place where "Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others collect and analyze information...communications intercepts and overhead imagery."

Given recent revelations, such as those by former Guantanamo guard Joseph Hickman in his new book on the 2006 deaths of detainees at Camp Delta, that interrogations at Guantanamo were part of a highly-secret Special Access Program, it is not out of the question that Zuley worked closely with CIA, DIA, or other personnel that were read into to the secret, experimental torture program.

Zuley's appearance at Guantanamo, then, was no fluke. His intelligence background can be presumed to be far greater than we otherwise currently know. Zuley himself has refused to speak thus far to the press. But his claim in a court document that he was a EUCOM liaison to Guantanamo is quite intriguing. The posting could have been a cover for a special access program position, or possibly he was involved in the processing of detainees sent via rendition though the EUCOM theater of operations, or both, or, we must acknowledge, in some other capacity yet to be discovered.

EUCOM and Guantanamo Renditions

The EUCOM-renditions link that could concern Zuley has to do with revelations of early renditions to Guantanamo of Bosnian and Algerian detainees that used EUCOM assets and US Air Force bases in Germany. These renditions took place in January 2002, a few months after Zuley went to work, presumably, for JAC at EUCOM.

The news about EUCOM and German government collusion with renditions of detainees to Guantanamo arose from reports in summer 2006 that EUCOM's German headquarters Stuttgart was involved in arranging CIA renditions to Guantanamo. The charges were reported by Germany's ARD television and by the newspaper Die Zeit.

Indeed, a January 2007 report by the European Parliament (EP) said it was "deeply concerned at information contained in an unclassified document made available to the Temporary Committee which shows that the illegal rendition of at least six Algerians from Tuzla via Incirlik to Guantánamo was planned at the US European Command (USEUCOM) military base near Stuttgart..."

The EP called on the German Bundestag to investigate without delay whether those alleged renditions involved breaches of the Forces Status Agreement or other agreements or treaties concluded with US military forces on German territory, whether further illegal renditions were planned by USEUCOM and whether German liaison officers were involved in any way." (At least one report mentioned the presence of German officers at EUCOM headquarters.)

Unfortunately, the investigation went nowhere, stonewalled by recalcitrant German officials, even as EUCOM officials admitted the transportation of prisoners. German officials, meanwhile, denied any CIA renditions from German territory. The story, which never evidently made much headway in the U.S., dropped off the world press radar. In any case, it seems likely that EP officials were unaware in Jan. 2007 that German prosecutors had already a month earlier declined investigating EUCOM for alleged renditions.

"Kidnapping in the framework of fighting terrorism" is not criminal

According to a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks and dated December 29, 2006, from the US Embassy in Berlin to the Secretary of State's office, with copies to various military sites, including EUCOM's Washington DC Liaison Office, the National Security Council and the Secretary of Defense, "German Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms has decided that she is not responsible for investigating six EUCOM officers in Stuttgart for allegedly planning the kidnapping and rendition of six Algerian nationals from Sarajevo to Guantanamo Bay via Germany in 2002, according to December 29 German news reports. According to her spokesman, 'kidnapping in the framework of fighting terrorism does not fall under the criminal offense of abduction, for which political persecution is presumed.'"

Contacts from the office of the US Army in Europe and EUCOM told the Embassy officer that "this is 'good news' for the U.S. Forces in Europe. The EUCOM contact said the federal prosecutor's decision not to pursue an investigation in this particular case clarifies a general principle that should be applied to similar cases in the future."

In the name of clarifying the "general principle" of extraordinary rendition, the US had kidnapped Bensayah Belkacem, Hadj Boudellaa, Saber Lahmar, Mustafa Ait Idir, Boumediene Lakhdar and Mohamed Nechle, all of whom would be subsequently released from Guantanamo.

While CIA rendition has had most of the attention of human rights groups and press, U.S. military renditions swept up many prisoners itself.

According to a 2007 European Parliament report, at least two US military aircraft transported the six Bosnians/Algerians from the US base at Tuzla in Bosnia to the the Naval Base prison at Guantanamo Bay. "At least one of the aircraft originated at the U.S. Base at Ramstein, Germany, before departing for Tuzla," the investigators stated. The report quoted a Situation Report that said as early as January 18, 2002, the military had transported 110 prisoners to Guantanamo.

The Algerians were taken first from Tuzla to a US base at Incirlik, Turkey -- "a hub for the transportation of prisoners to Guantanamo" -- where they were joined by 28 prisoners from Qandahar, Afghanistan, delivered by US Central Command, and then flown to Guantanamo. They were all shackled. "Their eyes were covered by opaque goggles, and their hands were covered by mittens." In other words, they were subjected to profound sensory deprivation as part of their transport.

We know from other SOPs released via FOIA on Guantanamo procedures that scopolamine patches were put on the prisoners, ostensibly to prevent flight sickness, but possibly for the dizziness and nausea and disorientation often produced by the drug. When they arrived in Guantanamo, they were given a very large dose of the antimalarial drug mefloquine, also ostensibly for medical purposes, but most likely, as detailed in Hickman's book, for purposes of chemical disorientation and "softening" for interrogation.

The entire rendition took 30 hours.

According to documents released via, the prisoners were accompanied by a medical team, which included a flight surgeon and an aeromedical technician.

The documents clearly state that a situation report on the rendition was to be disseminated "to deployed forces across USEUCOM AOR [area of operation]." Hence, if Zuley was working with EUCOM at Molesworth, as seems likely, then he at the very least was aware of the renditions that took place.

A secret memo states, "Based on a forthcoming message from JS and coord with EUCOM - plan to pick-up 6 Algerians in Incirlik moved by EUCOM assets." The same memo notes the arrival of at least 17 detainees at Guantanamo via litters, and the need for an ambulance upon arrival.

"JS" refers to Joint Staff, i.e., the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the main Pentagon military authority.

Congressional oversight committees' "emergency intelligence appropriation" for Guantanamo

Over 13 years since the rendition of the first prisoners to Guantanamo, there is much we still don't know about the organization of that prison, the parameters of the secret programs that operated there, or why or who was put in charge of such programs.

The identification of Richard Zuley as the man in charge of the interrogation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and the background to his military intelligence career, has opened a door into the wide-ranging operations of the entire military apparatus, with its various military commands and far-flung bases, that along with the CIA ran a worldwide renditions operation and to this day still holds in indefinite detention and a state of torture, over a hundred human beings at Guantanamo.

What we have learned from this is not that Guantanamo is an aberration, but that Guantanamo is itself a manifestation of US military power, from the NSC and the Oval Office, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, all the way down to subsidiary commands and "joint" task forces. We have seen before how the military works hand-in-hand with the CIA in this apparatus of control and torture, as described by Douglas Valentine in his extraordinary history of the U.S. government's Phoenix Program in Vietnam.

The Congressional reports are have come and gone and little has changed. The full story is still not public. The Congressional oversight committees are too compromised to do more than arrange limited hang-outs of the full scandal.

Indeed, the Custer Report, released here for the first time, describes how the military worked with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to obtain "an emergency intelligence appropriation to fund construction" of new detention and intelligence operations facilities at Guantanamo. If the "oversight" committees are themselves involved in funding the torture, then who operates oversight on them? Certainly not the various human rights groups who have never reported on the intelligence funding role of these same Congressional oversight groups.

The "rabbit hole" has carried us very, very far down a dark abyss. Only radical social change holds any hope of affecting the regime of torture and worldwide imperial hubris and war-making that has descended upon us all.

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