Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review - Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture

This review is adapted from my posting at Amazon.com

Mark Fallon's new book, Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture, is the story of one man's journey towards bitter illumination. It is also the story of a nation's journey into a moral abyss.

Fallon was a top counterintelligence official and investigator, someone who believed in patriotic idealism, who discovered a core of thuggery inside the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus. From 2002 to 2004, he was a top official for the government's Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF). Rather than turn aside (something repugnant to him), he tried to intervene against the barbarism of torture. What he encountered was the corruption of institutions to which he otherwise had been loyal, which he had served for decades. The book is the story of what he experienced and what he felt driven to do.

But this book also has a metastory, manifested in the form of words, sentences, paragraphs and ultimately pages of redactions. The repeated blackened lines of typeface represent the arm of that same torturing government Fallon opposed reaching into the reader's own personal universe, that sacred connection between reader and author. The shadow of the evil that conjured up torture, and then acted to protect it, seeps into the realm of the reader him or herself.

As anyone who has studied the torture issue for some time can readily see, many of the redactions are embarrassingly stupid, including censorship of names that were recorded in otherwise declassified government documents, or opernly reported by the press. But other redactions are serious and frightening, such as the attempt to still hide the full story about the torture of Mohammed Al Qahtani, the so-called 20th hijacker.

Mark Fallon is a congenial author, and he wishes to convey some of the shock and outrage he felt as the full implementation of the CIA's torture program unfolded, born out of the government's embrace of modern psychological and psychiatric forms of control over human behavior, and spread into the military.

I wouldn't look to this book for a full history of how that all took place, nor does the author pretend to present such a history. His is the account of a whistleblower. His former position inside Guantanamo and corridors of the Defense Department apparatus provides a unique and invaluable perspective of just how the torture policy spread and how it was covered-up.

In the end, Fallon witnesses the bureaucratic institutions to which he pledged fealty fatally infected by the virus of torture. His is a harrowing journey, and one that, it is clear from the narrative, haunts him still.

Along with books recently written by former detainees themselves, this book by someone on the other side of the interrogation booth is essential reading. I think the torture scandal is even far deeper and darker than even Mark Fallon presents it -- and his is a pretty dark portrayal -- but U.S. readers in particular must understand the courage it took for some of the government's most loyal and idealistic officials and servants to confront those in power with the truth of their crimes.

I believe that the torture policy began far earlier than after 9/11, and was inimitably linked to long-time policies of war and conquest. It's current manifestation was itself a logical extension of the "war on terror." From that standpoint, one can see Fallon's battle against torture, and others like him (some of whom he discusses in the book), is important and certainly courageous, as the people they come to oppose are seriously dangerous, with a great deal of power behind them.

Rather than the sense of failure that haunts Mark Fallon -- many times he bemoans the fact he could not actually stop the full torture program -- his moral awakening at a dire time in history is a triumph of the human spirit.

The confrontation with the urge to torture goes back centuries now, to Voltaire and the French Enlightenment, and on to Nuremberg, to those who organized ad hoc tribunals against Vietnam War crimes in the 1960s, to citizens in North Carolina today trying to bring their own state government to account for its collaboration with CIA torture, and many, many more. The latter include those I've known in the psychology profession who have fought to end collaboration with torture and war crimes in their own profession.

The fight against torture is something that has unfolded over generations, and sadly, I've come to realize, will take generations more to win. But what Mark Fallon and others like him achieved was significant. Some of the torture was cut back. The policy dragged out of the shadows and exposed in public. It is not so easy for the torturers to operate as before.

In the end, Mark Fallon's book is a document about a significant time in our history. Every partisan of human rights and liberty will want it on their bookshelf.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Detainee Reported Gitmo Guards Having Oral Sex, 2 Weeks Later He Was Dead

Having received hundreds of new pages of information regarding the deaths of Saudi detainee Abdul Rahman al Amri (ISN199) and Yemeni detainee Mohammed Salih Al Hanashi (ISN78) at Guantanamo, I've now finished revising my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo, published at Amazon*.

The new version is now online and ready to be purchased and downloaded. It's full of new revelations that will interest all who have followed or are still following the deaths of these two detainees, and others who have died at Guantanamo.

As a sneak preview, I thought I'd reveal one of the more disturbing, if not bizarre, details surrounding Al Amri's case. It just might also represent a motive for his murder by Guantanamo authorities.

Al Amri was found in his cell, almost dead (he still apparently still had a pulse), on May 30, 2017. According to guard accounts, he was hanging from a rope made from his bed sheet, attached to a second piece of sheet-derived rope whose end was ripped or torn into ten different strands and then looped through very small holes in an air conditioning vent some nine feet up off the floor.

As people can read when they buy the new 2nd, revised edition of my book, the method by which Al Amri supposedly died is very suspicious, not just that it seems nearly physically impossible for this particular detainee to have killed himself in the way described, but because the time it would have taken the 5'6" Al Amri to get up on some apparatus to tie the rope to the air vent almost nine feet up off the floor was far longer than very tight surveillance at Guantanamo made possible.

There's much more to the story, of course, but I wanted to mention one aspect that leads to the question of motive.

Perhaps Al Amri was not in fact a suicide, but was murdered. While it sounds outlandish, the fact is it's possible that guards at Guantanamo, having been reported to be having oral sex while on duty, decided to kill the detainee who blew the whistle on them.

According to a sworn statement by a Guantanamo linguist, dated June 5, 2007 - six days after Al Amri died - and released to me via FOIA request, approximately two weeks before he died, Al Amri asked for an interpreter. The linguist responded.

Interestingly, besides being an interpreter for detainees, this linguist also started each day listening to tapes made of detainee talk or chatter the night or day before, making transcripts of them for officials for "exploitation as well as interpretation." This linguist may have had more to do with certain details surrounding Al Amri's death, but you'll have to get my book to read about it.

The linguist told the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which was looking into Al Amri's death:
"When I arrived, ISN 199 informed me that the guards were performing oral sex on each other. I asked him how he knew. He responded that while he was not able to see the act, he could hear what was going on. At no time did ISN 199 allege that he had been sexually assaulted or violated by any of the guards."
Now there can really only be three possibilities here: either 1) the guards were really having oral sex; or 2) guards or interrogators were trying to make Al Amri think guards were having oral sex, as a way of messing with his mind. The use of sexualized situations or abuse as a means of torture of the religious Islamic detainees has been well documented, and anyone who saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib knows about that.

Finally, 3) perhaps there was no indication of oral sex taking place at all and the entire thing was a figment of Al Amri's imagination. If so, it would indicate a possibility of mental illness, or maybe a past instance of sexualized abuse or behavior, predisposing Al Amri to believe in such a situation as his guards having oral sex with each other. (There are other more distant possibilities, such as the linguist making the whole story up, or that guards were not having oral sex with each other, but with other detainees. But these all seem very unlikely.)

What makes the story noteworthy is that Al Amri was found dead in his cell about two weeks after making this allegation. Furthermore, the circumstances of his case are highly suspicious. He was found hanging in his cell with his hands tied "snugly" behind his back in a figure-eight fashion, attached via a rope made from bed sheets (prison sheets that weren't supposed to tear) to an air vent far above his reach.

NCIS tried to hide the fact of Al Amri's hands being tied behind him, not reporting on it in Executive Summaries of their investigation to NCIS and Guantanamo higher-ups. They did, however, tell the autopsy doctors, but misrepresented the circumstances, telling them the bindings were bound "loosely," the better to lead to an inference Al Amri did it to himself.

According to the FOIA documents released, the guard who actually cut the hand bindings off Al Amri described them as "snugly" bound. (All the relevant documents are now posted at GuantanamoTruth.com.)

As readers of the new edition of Cover-up at Guantanamo* will know, investigators ruled out his standing on either the cell toilet or sink to reach the vent from which he was hanged. There was no evidence that the other possibility -- standing on a folded bed mattress -- happened either. Even if he managed to reach the vent, it would have taken a lot longer to construct this death apparatus than the every three minutes or less constant visual surveillance upon him would have allowed.

The mainstream press let the death of this detainee for the most part go unexamined. I hope with the revelations here and in my book, about which I intend to write other stories, will lead authorities to look very seriously at what really happened inside Guantanamo, and that a process of accountability for the crimes there will commence.

[*Reader note: As of September 18, 2017, the updated revised version of Cover-up at Guantanamo is available in both paperback and its ebook version. Buy the paperback and get the ebook for only $1.99 more.]

Friday, August 11, 2017

Guantanamo Detainee Was Disciplined by Putting Him in the Morgue

You'd think the crazy things done to prisoners of the United States in the "war on terror" couldn't get any more bizarre. The U.S. government has waterboarded prisoners, placed them in coffin-like confinement boxes, threatened them with drills, given them forced enemas of hummus and pasta, and sealed them up in all-white rooms and blasted music at them night and day.

ISN 00156, Adnan Farhan Latif
By JTF-GTMO (File:ISN 156's Guantanamo detainee assessment.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But a newly surfaced document, part of a FOIA release on the death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif in September 2012, seems to state that subsequent to an alleged rock throwing incident by Al Latif on July 25, 2012, he was taken to Guantanamo's morgue for some unspecified punishment.

Even more, a series of reports, beginning July 25, and ending August 2, indicated that Al Latif had been sent to or located in the "morgue." The reports were each labeled "DIMS Observation/Disciplinary Report Form" and classified "Secret." See end of this post for all the documents. DIMS stands for "Detainee Information Management System" and is the primary documentary record at Guantanamo for literally everything a detainee does or happens to him. For more on DIMS, see my Truthout article here.

I asked the JTF-Guantanamo Public Affairs Office for an official explanation. I queried, "Was Mr. Latif imprisoned for a time in the morgue at Guantanamo as some kind of discipline or punishment for perceived or actual infractions?"

Commander John Robinson at PAO replied tersely, "We don't discuss details of camp operations." (I've asked whether this means they don't deny Al Latif was placed in the morgue as discipline. I've not yet had a reply but will update this post when I do.)

[Update, August 15, 2017: Today received a further communication from JTF-GTMO's Public Affairs Office, responding to a second query of mine on August 11. I had asked if military authorities weren't really going to deny use of the morgue as a disciplinary action. Commander Robinson wrote back:
"JTF GTMO does not discuss the details of camp operations or specific locations of specific detainees. However, the morgue is only used for proper handling of detainee remains, not for detention. In response to apparent confusion regarding Detainee Information Management System data received via FOIA, please note that when an electronic query is conducted in DIMS, a detainee's 'Current Location' in block 7 will show the physical location (updated to date) of the detainee at the time the search was conducted. The 'Current Location' in block 7 is not associated with the "Date" of the report shown in block 2. Therefore, the location 'Morgue' in block 7 was the updated (most current) location of the detainee at the time the electronic file query in DIMS was conducted."
This would seem to negate the essence of the claims made in this article. But in the service of transparency, I'll leave open what I wrote as a cautionary tale about the use of government documents, and because the other points in the article are still relevant. I'd note, as you'll see in update below, this explanation for the surfacing of the location as the "morgue" as something generated by computer or software dynamism was first brought to my attention by Charlie Savage of The New York Times.]

The period July 25 to August 2, 2012 produced a flurry of disciplinary reports on Al Latif. Only three days earlier, the Supreme Court had refused to hear Al Latif's appeal of a lower court's overturn of his habeas appeal. For the young Yemeni detainee, the Supreme Court's decision was devastating, condemning him to an unending detention with no hope of knowing when it would end. Such indefinite detention has been found to be extremely emotionally and mentally stressful.

Indeed, Al Latif's behavior became more erratic and confrontative after he was in effect sentenced to indefinite detention, following the Supreme Court's decision. If we can believe camp accounts, Al Latif assaulted guards and a nurse with urine and feces, threw a rock at a guard in a watch tower, and possibly even grabbed for a guard's gun in the recreation yard. Only a little over a month later, he was found dead in his cell in Camp 5, ostensibly from a drug overdose of prescription antipsychotic medication. He was also suffering from pneumonia only a day after being medically cleared to be moved from the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) at the Detainee Hospital to Alpha Block at Camp 5.

During the period in question in this article - July 25 to August 2, 2012 - Al Latif was ostensibly quartered in the BHU for ongoing suicidality and psychotic behavior. The registered nurse who worked closely with him told government investigators after Al Latif's death that during the period we're looking at Al Latif was “particularly agitated about events that had taken place the previous two days....”

The nurse described Latif as "jumping from the bed to the sink to the table to the toilet.” The jumping behavior would not stop. There was a lot of back and forth about giving Al Latif a forced injection of drugs to calm him. He refused the injection, and in the end, they opted to simply observe him, though there were other times when the prisoner was supposedly agitated when he was involuntarily injected with the drug Haldol to sedate him.

While the government isn't about to explain what really happened, reading between the lines, it looks like Al Latif became very upset when the Supreme Court denied his habeas appeal. His protests and psychological regression overwhelmed camp personnel, who responded ham-handedly by upping the discipline on him. While he was sprayed with pepper spray and involuntarily drugged, it looks like they also imprisoned him in the morgue for hours each day, returning him to the hospital later each day.

While it seems Al Latif was driven insane, or at least driven to desperate acts of defiance and protest by his despair at conditions at Guantanamo, things definitely seemed to get worse after July 25, the first day at the morgue. What happened to Al Latif there? Was he placed in a coffin-like box, as happened to Abu Zubaydah at a CIA "black site" prison? Was he threatened with death? Did he have contact with a corpse, or a fake corpse? Did Guantanamo authorities try to worsen his already fragile mental health?

We don't know the exact answer to the questions above, but given the macabre imagination of the torturers in the U.S. government, anything is possible.

[Update, 8/12/2017: Journalist Charlie Savage at the New York Times saw the documents online, and thought a simpler explanation for the "morgue" location could be that, since the documents contained "dynamic content" (as described at the top of each report), the "current location" was really simply the last location for Al Latif at Guantanamo. That would have been Guantanamo's morgue. In other words, the document automatically updated when it was processed for FOIA. Mr. Savage links to this webpage as an explanation. I think it's a possibility, at this point, and will look more into this explanation.]

The entire episode is an indication of how much we still don't know about the U.S. torture activities undertaken by both the CIA and the Pentagon. Meanwhile, apparently the U.S. is trying to suppress the publication of a "tell-all" book about Guantanamo from an insider, Mark Fallon, who worked with the Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2004.

There is also the fact the Senate Intelligence Committee has refused, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, to fully declassify and release their report on CIA torture.

Only a public outcry against torture and its effects, the human costs of which are staggering, will put an end to this censorship. Societal indifference to such inhumanity is highly damaging, the effects of which are to brutalize the society and render it less able to fend off authoritarian or even totalitarian impulses from above.

NOTE: The documents released from SOUTHCOM that are the basis for this story came from a FOIA I filed some years ago. The initial filing for the documents, however, was made by Jason Leopold, a journalist who now works at Buzzfeed, and with whom I worked on various stories about torture a few years back. Jason followed the Al Latif story for some time (see here and here). I've previously covered Al Latif's death as well, most recently in my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo.


If the embedded documents below don't work for you, you can download them here.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Saudi government defends imminent protest-related executions

The following is an August 4 press release from the international human rights and legal group, Reprieve. I'd note only that Saudi Arabia is a firm ally of the United States, and U.S. apologia for that government's human rights violations have been going on for decades.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice has released a rare response to criticism over the imminent execution of 14 Saudi nationals on protest-related charges - including juveniles and a man with disabilities. The statement, released today, makes a number of apparently false claims about the trial of the 14.

The Saudi government is facing criticism over plans to execute the 14, who were arrested in the wake of protests and sentenced to death on protest-related charges in a secretive counter-terrorism court. Among the group is a juvenile, Mujtaba al Sweikat, who had a place to study at university in Michigan, but was arrested at the airport en route to the USA; and Munir Adam, who has disabilities. Both men were tortured into making false confessions, which were used against them at trial. Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the 14 protest-related death sentences, meaning the executions are now imminent.

In a statement released today, Sheikh Mansour Al-Qafari, the spokesman of the Ministry of Justice, responded to criticism over the standard of the trial of the 14. The statement claimed that all trials before the controversial Specialised Criminal Court - which sentenced the 14 to death - meet international standards for fairness and due process, and allow for access to lawyers, the preparation of a defence, and even access to the trials by media and human rights observers.

The public statement on the executions is at odds with assessments by the UN, as well as rights groups such as human rights organization Reprieve. Reprieve has established that at least one defendant, Mujtaba, was never permitted to see a lawyer; in Munir's case, no evidence against him was presented at trial. Mujtaba told the court at trial that he was tortured into a false confession, but this claim was dismissed by the judges and never investigated.

In November 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said of the Specialized Criminal Court that “such a special court, specifically designed to deal with so-called terrorism cases, raises serious concerns about its lack of independence and due procedure.” The UN Committee Against Torture has accused judges of the Court of “repeatedly refus[ing] to act on claims made by defendants facing terrorism charges that they had been subjected to torture”.

Today’s Saudi statement also claimed that death sentences are only handed down for the most serious crimes. However, the Saudi authorities continue to carry out executions for non-violent alleged crimes, including political protest and drug offences. Some of the 14 men were convicted of offences such as using mobile phones to organise demonstrations, and using social media.

Commenting, Maya Foa – Director of Reprieve – said: “Saudi Arabia’s attempts to justify these 14 unlawful executions are appalling. This statement is a serious mischaracterisation of the trial process against the 14 men, and it is risible to claim that a protester like Mujtaba – who never even saw a lawyer – received a fair trial. Governments close to Saudi Arabia – including the Trump Administration and the UK – must urgently call on the Kingdom to halt these executions.”
According to Reprieve, English translations for the Saudi documents linked in their press release can be arranged via request. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: alice.gillham@reprieve.org.uk, or +44 (0)7792 351 660.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Writing to NARA to Stop CIA Destruction of Records

Following a story at Unredacted, the blog for The National Security Archive, regarding the potential changes in the rules allowing destruction of historical CIA documents, I wrote the following letter. Today is the deadline to submit comments to request.schedule@nara.gov. I strongly recommend readers mail their comments in ASAP!
Margaret Hawkins
Acting Director, Records and Management Services
National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

Dear Ms. Hawkins:

I was alarmed to read that the National Archives had tentatively approved a CIA request to destroy a number of potentially important documents that are 30 years old or older, including classified information related to the Agency’s official actions abroad, investigative files from the offices of the Inspector General, Security, and Counterintelligence, and files relating to CIA assets (spies) that the CIA itself does not deem “significant.”

This action would amount to a destruction of history itself, as there is no guarantee that the government operations covered by these records exist anywhere else, even if the CIA maintains that it does. Historians have too often seen documents destroyed. It was as recent as the late 1990s that historian Sheldon Harris complained of government officials (in this case, Department of Defense officials) destroying government records on U.S. collaboration with Unit 731 Japanese war criminals after he and other historians and journalists had expressed interest in such documents. See his letter republished in the November 19, 1999 issue of Congressional Record (pp. S14542-S14543).

I've had my own experience with disappearing records. In 2012, I filed a FOIA on investigative files from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on a Guantanamo detainee who died in custody in June 2009. I subsequently received notice that crucial computer records from the day the detainee had died (and the day after) had gone "missing" and were irretrievable as a result. While I cannot say with assurance they were deliberately destroyed, it was a very suspicious disappearance.

In this brief review, I'd note that the CIA itself has a history of destroying important documentation, from the bulk of the files pertaining to the MKULTRA program of the 1950s and 1960s, to the November 2005 destruction of videotapes of the interrogation and torture of detainees, which a court had ordered preserved.

This is an urgent matter, and the proposal to destroy historical records is contrary to the functioning of a democratic government and a strong civil society. I strongly request that NARA reconsider its pending approval of the CIA’s proposed schedule, N1- 263-13-1, until NARA can better assure the public that records of permanent historic value will not be allowed to be destroyed by the CIA.

In this matter, I am in accord with The National Security Archive, OpenTheGovernment, and other organizations, who ask that NARA pause the approval of CIA N1-263-13-1 until NARA is able to verify beyond a reasonable doubt to the public that: 1) the records set for destruction are in fact not historically valuable, as the CIA’s claims, and 2) The records and information that the CIA claims are captured elsewhere are in fact preserved. I also request that "Item 30-3a: Declassification Referral Files" be re-designated for preservation. We strongly believe that these files do have significant research value, as they provide an invaluable tool and a roadmap for researchers to identify documents that were once designated as too secret to disclose to the public, but will be subject to release at some point in the future. Executive Order 13526 states, “No information may remain classified indefinitely;” NARA must ensure safeguards so that no previously secret, historically valuable, information is improperly destroyed.


Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

10 Yr. Anniversary of Gitmo Detainee's Death, New Documents Show Suicide Improbable

Ten years ago today, Abdul Rahman Al Amri was found dead in Cell 211, B Block, upper tier, at Guantanamo's Camp Delta's Camp 5. The Saudi detainee was found hanging from an improvised rope attached to the air vent just under the ceiling, about nine feet up. Al Amri was 5'5" tall.

Al Amri was found with his hands tied "snugly" behind his back. He had no history of suicide attempts, and was considered a "detainee of interest." He weighed only 125 pounds.

The autopsy tested for the presence of antimalarial drugs, even though there was no malaria at Guantanamo. Al Amri had been a prisoner there for five years. He had never seen an attorney, but new documents I've received show he had papers that supposedly contained attorney-client communications. Those papers have not been released.

But NCIS has released a new trove of documents to me via a years-long FOIA request. I will be soon posting those publicly, as well as updating my analysis of those documents in my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo.

The new documents confirm what I already suspected, that Al Amri did not die a suicide. In fact, the prisoner, subject to checks every three minutes, and with his room bugged, if not under video surveillance, would have taken a long time to create and set-up his suicide apparatus, according to the NCIS investigator who examined the death scene.

As this investigator wrote, noting the complex fashion in which the rope was attached to the air vent:
The attachment of the cloth to this grate would have been time consuming as the cloth appeared to have been weaved through ten holes to assure that it would support a weighted object. It was difficult to ascertain how the cloth attachment was facilitated through gross scene examination. A request was made of this facility to have the grate removed for further inspection and study. The height of the grate on the wall was at a location in which the weaving necessary to attach the cloth to the grate would have been challenging for a shorter detainee. (Note: the detainee had been measured at a height of 66" at the time of the autopsy examination [5' 5" tall].) Standing on the nearby toilet or sink would allow this access but it would put the person at an angle in which further support would have been required through balancing with a hand or upper body.... There was no indication of recent use of the sink or toilet to climb as dust was found on the top surface of both the sink and toilet....
There will be much more to say about this and other new facts about Al Amri's death in the coming weeks. But it is not too late to remember his death, and the fact that his death and others at Guantanamo have never been independently investigated. I believe that when I explain all that is to be revealed about Al Amri's death, calls for a new investigation should be made.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Department of Justice Official Releases Letter Admitting U.S. Amnesty of Japan’s Unit 731 War Criminals

[The following is a portion of an article published initially at Medium.com. The length of the article (over 7000 words) precludes my reposting the full essay here. But approximately half is posted below. Please follow this link to read the entire work.]

Upon my request, both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center have released copies of a December 1998 letter from DOJ official Eli Rosenbaum to Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In the letter, Rosenbaum admitted to Cooper that after World War II the United States government had classified records pertaining to a Japanese military unit that engaged in biological warfare experimentation and field trials on humans.

The letter, one of two released to this author, confirmed the U.S. "essentially assisted Japan in covering up the atrocities perpetrated by the unit.”

In 1998, Rosenbaum was director of DOJ’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI), while Rabbi Cooper was associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. The occasion for the correspondence was the Wiesenthal Center’s sponsorship of a “Trans-Pacific Video-Conference on Japanese Wartime Atrocities,” held at the Center’s own Museum of Tolerance on August 16, 1998.[1]

Reported briefly in the press at the time [2], Rosenbaum’s letter of December 17, 1998 ended any doubts that the U.S. government had given scientists and military personnel associated with the notorious Japanese biological warfare program of the 1930s-1940s “immunity [from prosecution at the International Military Tribunal, Far East] in return for their human experimentation research data.”[3]

This appears to have been the first time that any U.S. government official admitted publicly and officially that the U.S. had proposed an amnesty for the members of Japan’s Unit 731 and assorted components, known to have murdered thousands of prisoners in illegal biological experiments, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians in biological warfare operations predominantly in China, but also the Soviet Union, from 1939 until nearly the end of World War II.

While Rosenbaum’s letter was quoted in the press, and in a 2002 Congressional Research Service report, the letter itself, and a November 1998 letter to Cooper also on the subject of Japan’s war crimes, were never released publicly. These letters are now available with the publication of this article, along with supporting documentation that until now was also not available.

This article looks at some of the salient issues in regards to aspects of these new documents, including the motivation for the U.S. amnesty action, the question of experimentation on U.S. and allied prisoners of war (and its possible cover-up), and the question of assigning culpability to those involved. The article concludes with remarks on these matters by both Rosenbaum and Cooper, who were interviewed for this article in Spring 2013. (The delay in publishing this information was occasioned by personal matters.)

Unit 731

Beginning with John Powell’s 1980 article, “Japan’s Germ Warfare: The US Coverup of a War Crime,” and a subsequent article in the October 1981 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “A Hidden Chapter in History”, revelations concerning long-hidden or suppressed aspects of Japanese war crimes began to surface in the U.S. and Western press. Powell shocked the American public by writing about and producing documentary evidence of a cover-up of “Japan’s use of biological warfare against China and the Soviet Union.”[4]

The primary Japanese military unit associated with the biological warfare research and production of weaponry was known as Unit 731, although there were a number of other military units also involved. Powell (1981) wrote, “The American government’s participation in the cover-up, it is now disclosed, stemmed from Washington’s desire to secure exclusive possession of Japan’s expertise in using germs as lethal weapons.”

The original promise of amnesty for information was made after a discussion some months after the end of World War II between the Ft. Detrick’s Colonel Murray Sanders and General Douglas MacArthur, according to numerous accounts of Unit 731’s history. The finalization of such a deal, however, took a few years, and was not without controversy within government circles.

Powell (1980) quoted a July 1, 1947 memo from two U.S. doctors associated with bacteriological research that Japanese researchers had thousands of slides of human tissues taken from their experiments on prisoners. The slides and reports from the Unit 731 researchers were available if the U.S. could provide assurances the Japanese doctors and scientists would be saved from war crimes prosecution. The two doctors, Edward Wetter and H. I. Stubblefield argued that since "any 'war crimes' trial would completely reveal such data to all nations, it is felt that such publicity must be avoided in the interests of defense and national security of the U.S."

The vagueness of the language – “it is felt” – appears to indicate their message was something discussed comprehensively in their circle, in particular by scientists from the Army’s Ft. Detrick, which was the center of a major crash program in biological warfare research begun during the war, and intelligence officers.[5]  Ft. Detrick personnel had been in charge of the debriefing of the Unit 731 doctors and scientists, while various documents speak to the sharing of such information with intelligence agencies.

According to Powell, Wetter and Stubblefield furthermore indicated “the knowledge gained by the Japanese from their experiments ‘will be of great value to the U.S. BW research program’ and added: ‘The value to the U.S. of Japanese BW data is of such importance to national security as to far outweigh the value accruing from war crimes prosecution.’”

The furor over Powell’s revelations peaked in the mid-1980s with public controversies over Japanese biological warfare (BW) experiments on U.S. and allied prisoners of wars. Congressional investigators ignored evidence of such experiments on U.S. POWs. It wasn’t until the publication of Linda Goetz Holmes’s book, Guests of the Emperor: The Secret History of Japan's Mukden POW Camp (Naval Institute Press, June 2010) that any mainstream historian accepted such experiments even took place. The entire episode is still ignored in the press accounts of World War II history.

Subsequently, the scandal around Unit 731 appeared to die down publicly, until it was revived approximately a decade later. In 1995, there were two major narratives published on Unit 731 and the U.S. immunity deal. One was an article by Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times. The other was historian Sheldon Harris’s book, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-45, and the American Cover-up.[6]  The publication and controversy surrounding the publication of Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking, in November 1997, also brought greater attention to the issue of Japanese atrocities during World War II.

Amnesty to Protect Collaboration and to Protect U.S. Biowar “Expertise”

The supporting documentation for this article includes two memoranda for the record from the early 1980s by Norman Covert, then Chief of Public Affairs and historian for the U.S. Army at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. Rosenbaum’s December 17 letter had quoted liberally from the latter of these two memoranda.[7]  While it is worth considering the portions Rosenbaum did not quote, the selection revealed to Rabbi Cooper, taken from Covert’s May 5, 1982 Memorandum for the Record, explained the U.S. rationale for the Unit 731 amnesty:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to keep Top Secret any information about the Japanese Biological Warfare Program. The Joint State, War, Navy Coordinating Committee expressed its desire that the information be retained in US hands exclusively and certainly it should be kept from the Soviet Union....

In the [June 26, 1947] memorandum written by Dr. Edward Wetter and Mr. H. I. Stubblefield[8] for the State, War, Navy Coordinating Committee for the Far East, the decision not to prosecute LTG [Lieutenant General Shiro] Ishii [founder and leader of Unit 731 and the biological warfare program] was discussed. “An agreement with Ishii and his associates that information given by them on the Japanese BW program will be retained in intelligence channels is equivalent to an agreement that this government will not prosecute any of those involved in BW activities in which war crimes were committed.”

.... Scientists in the US program said the information was not of significant value, but it was the first data in which human subjects were described. It indicated the Japanese program reached a level of expertise in 1939 that was never advanced because of lack of resources. Any prosecution of LTG Ishii and his associates would have exposed the Japanese capability in addition to US expertise. It would have been difficult to retain such information in US-only hands in such a case. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and SCAP [Supreme Command Allied Powers] agreed there would be little gained by such prosecution and deferred, offering LTG Ishii immunity in exchange for detailed information. [bold added for emphasis]
The Covert memorandum was certainly a kind of spin, although Mr. Covert himself may not have been aware of the full extent of U.S. crimes. Even so, he admitted to this author in an interview for this article that at the time he wrote the memos he was concerned mainly with “protecting Ft. Detrick[‘s]” reputation. The May 5 memo, and an earlier one Covert wrote on November 17, 1981, were a response to media attention following the Powell disclosures. The November 17 memo was undertaken as a rewrite of the May 5 memo for the purpose of submission to the Secretary of the Army.

“News media was beating me to death on that,” Covert said, referring to the strong response to the Powell articles. “The Memorandum for the Record was to cover your ass, a record of what I had done.”

Covert added there had also been “several legislative requests” for more information on the Unit 731 material as well. He also recalled that the Department of Justice had also contacted him on one occasion during this period, although he did not remember the details. Rosenbaum indicated in his interview that DOJ had likely been involved in some capacity in the postwar discussions surrounding the granting of amnesty to Ishii and associates.

The question of the value of the Japanese data and biological samples is a matter of conjecture, while the controversy over the use of such data (and similar data from the Nazi concentration camp experiments), including use of operational knowledge in purported U.S. germ warfare attacks on North Korea and China during the Korean War, is a separate, though related issue.[9]  At one point, Covert said U.S. scientists found the Japanese research “not of significant value.” He appeared to have gotten this information from speaking to Ft. Detrick scientists still resident in the Frederick, Virginia area. In addition, Covert appeared to give little credence to evidence that came from Soviet sources.

But elsewhere, writing about Ft. Detrick representative Dr. Norbert Fell's interrogation of Shiro Ishii, Covert wrote in his November 17, 1981 memo, "The data on human testing appeared to have significant value to the U.S. BW Research programs at Camp Detrick." Some months later, in his May 5, 1982 memo, Covert concluded, “It is certain the Japanese had a full-scale BW effort and achieved a level of expertise working with many traditional BW agents.”

A later report by Doctors Edwin Hill and Joseph Victor, also from Ft. Detrick, was quite direct when considering the value of getting the Unit 731 data. “Such information could not be obtained in our own laboratories because of scruples attached to human experimentation,” they wrote.[10]

To conclude the discussion on the value of Unit 731’s data, it is worth noting a May 1947 memo from MacArthur’s office to the War Department and Major General Alden Wiatt of the Chemical Warfare Service on the BW human experiments, “confirmed tacitly by Ishii” to interrogators. The memo was obtained by author William Triplett, and also describes the intersection of the amnesty agreement with unnamed intelligence agencies:

"Data already obtained from Ishii and his colleagues have proven to be of great value in confirming, supplementing and completing several phases of U.S. research in BW, and may suggest new fields for future research.... For all practical purposes an agreement with Ishii and his associates that information given by them on the Japanese BW program will be retained in intelligence channels is equivalent to an agreement that this Government will not prosecute any of those involved in BW activities in which war crimes were committed."[11]

MacArthur’s command told the War Department, “valuable technical BW information as to results of human experiments and research in BW for crop destruction probably can be obtained….”

Ft. Detrick’s Norbert Fell resumed interrogations of Shiro Ishii two days after this memo was sent....

[To see the rest of this article, click through to read at Medium.com - Relevant footnotes for portion published here are posted below - JK]

[1] China News Daily, Aug. 14, 1998, http://www.cnd.org/CND-US/CND-US.98/CND-US.98-08-14.html. CNET reported on the conference at the time: URL http://news.cnet.com/2100-1023-214541.html. See also the original announcement of the event by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, archived online at http://web.archive.org/web/19981203135255/http://events.broadcast.com/events/swc/nanjingmassacre/ (all accessed May 14, 2017).

[2] See Stars and Stripes, week of March 15 – 28, 1999, vol. 122, no. 6, reposted online at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Plains/5850/deathcamp.html (accessed May 14, 2017).

Reference was also made in a Congressional Research Service report by Gary K. Reynolds in December 2002, “U.S. Prisoners of War and Civilian American Citizens Captured and Interned by Japan in World War II: the Issue of Compensation by Japan,” online at http://web.archive.org/web/20080406073324/http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/usprisoners_japancomp.htm (accessed May 14, 2017).

[3] Letter, Eli Rosenbaum to Abraham Cooper, December 17, 1998.

[4] Powell’s 1980 article was published in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, “Japan’s Germ Warfare: The US Coverup of a War Crime” (Oct.-Dec. 1980, vol. 12, no. 4.) See URL: http://criticalasianstudies.org/assets/files/bcas/v12n04.pdf (accessed May 14, 2017).

Powell’s 1981 article is available online, reproduced as part of the Congressional Record on November 10, 1999, http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/1999/11/feinstein.html (accessed May 14, 2017) Powell died in Dec. 2008.

In the middle 1970s, John Saar at the Washington Post wrote a story, “Japan Accused of WW II Germ Deaths” (Nov. 19, 1976), that described a Japanese documentary by Haruko Yoshinaga, aired by the Tokyo Broadcasting System on Unit 731. “Japanese scientists killed at least 3,000 Chinese prisoners in World War II in bacteriological warfare experiments and escaped prosecution by sharing the findings with US occupation forces…. Press officers at the US Defense and Justice Departments said they had no information on the charges but would investigate,” Saar wrote. (See URL: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19761119&id=5E0aAAAAIBAJ&sjid=XCkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6053,6138361 - accessed May 14, 2017) But no one in the Western press pursued the story further until Powell published his first article four years later.

The impact of Powell’s expose can be gauged by the fact that 60 Minutes interviewed Powell for an on-air segment, “War Crime,” on April 4, 1982. The transcript for this episode is available beginning on pg. 352 in this large PDF file online: URL http://philippine-defenders.lib.wv.us/pdf/bios/sandy_and_search_for_truth.pdf.

Morley Safer narrated: "During World War II, the Japanese military experimented with germ warfare. Their guinea pigs were Chinese, Russian and American prisoners of war. For a variety of reasons, the American government kept it all a secret."

[5] The U.S. World War II program in both chemical and biological warfare is discussed in Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Random House, 2002.

[6] Nicolas D. Kristof, “Unmasking Horror -- A special report. Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity,” New York Times, March 17, 1995, URL: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/17/world/unmasking-horror-a-special-report-japan-confronting-gruesome-war-atrocity.html (accessed May 14, 2017).

Routledge published an expanded, revised version of Factories of Death in 2002. Harris died a few months later.

[7] My thanks to Mr. Norman Covert for sharing certain documents. The attempt to obtain the documents through official channels is a story in itself. A DoD spokesman had referred my query to Fort Detrick. Ft. Detrick’s FOIA office referred me to the National Archives. But the documents did not apparently exist there either. They may or may not constitute documents that Mr. Covert claims were destroyed by order of Ft. Detrick’s commanding officer in 1998.

[8] “Mr. H. I. Stubblefield” was in fact Dr. Henry I. Stubblefield, a bacteriologist who we know, at least in 1954, was on the Chemical Corps Advisory Council, according to an in-house history of Ft. Detrick written by Norman Covert. See URL: http://www.detrick.army.mil/cutting_edge/chapter09.cfm. Coincidentally, along with two other researchers, he had co-authored with Andrew C. Ivy an article in 1934, “Protective Action of Sodium Thiocyanate against Dysentery Toxin (Shiga): An Experimental Study in Dogs and Rabbits.” Ivy was later to be a major figure testifying on medical ethics at the Nuremberg trials.

According to Powell (1980), Dr. Wetter was at the time of the SWNCC memo “Panel Director” of the “Committee on Biological Warfare.” Powell does not say, but it appears likely this was the secret “DEF” committee, the third of three secret committees formed during the World War II years by the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council. See URL: http://www.nasonline.org/about-nas/history/archives/collections/cbw-1941-1948.html (accessed May 14, 2017). Wetter later went to work as a civilian employee for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Development (http://www.archive.org/stream/officialregister1955unit/officialregister1955unit_djvu.txt). According to the 1955 Official Register of the United States, p. 114, Wetter worked in this office as “Executive Secretary, Committee and Panel on Special Operations.”

[9] See Till Bärnighausen, “Data generated in Japan’s biowarfare experiments on human victims in China, 1932–1945, and the ethics of using them,” Japan's Wartime Medical Atrocities: Comparative Inquiries in Science, History, and Ethics, Taylor and Francis, 2010.

On the Korean War allegations, see Stephen Endicott & Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea, Indiana University Press, 1998.

[10] Op. cit., Bärnighausen, p. 97.

[11] See William Triplett, Flowering of the Bamboo, Woodbine House, 1985, pp. 241-250.

[To see the rest of this article, click through to read at Medium.com]

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Revealed: The Suppressed Report on 1952 U.S. Korean War Anthrax Attack

[Link to download PDF of the document above]

With the U.S. threatening a pre-emptive attack on North Korea for the latter's pressing development of a nuclear warfare capability, it is more imperative than ever that the history of the U.S.-North Korea conflict be made available to the world, the better to assess the claims made by both sides.

While many see North Korea as a dictatorship run by a madman or evil, others see a rational government - dictatorial, yes - that seeks to defend itself against a power that once obliterated its country in war, and threatened it with nuclear weapons. Indeed, even today, the U.S. says it will not forego using nuclear weapons against North Korea and even executes military war games with South Korea that involve practice runs with nuclear bombers almost up to the border of North Korea.

Back in the early 1950s, during the Korean war, until the Soviets began to fly MiGs over the Korean peninsula in defense of the North Koreans, the U.S. had near unconstrained freedom of airspace over North Korea and China, and in particular, dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of Napalm on North Korea, wiping out nearly every city, and contributing to over a million civilian deaths, maybe 15% of the entire population. Because of the relentless bombing, the people were reduced to living in tunnels. Even the normally bellicose Gen. MacArthur found the devastation wreaked by the U.S. to be sickening.

Most controversially, both North Korea and China maintain that the U.S. used biological or germ warfare weapons against both North Korea and China during the Korean War. The U.S. has strenuously denied this. Captured U.S. flyers who told their North Korean and Chinese captors of the use of such weapons were told under the threat of courts martial to renounce such confessions after they were returned to U.S. custody. They all did so.

To convince the world of the truth of their claims, the North Koreans and Chinese, sponsored a purported independent commission, using the auspices of the World Peace Council, gathering together a number of leftist scientists from around the world. Most surprisingly, this commission, which came to be known as the International Scientific Commission, or ISC, was headed by one of the foremost British scientists of his time, Sir Joseph Needham. The ISC travelled to China and North Korea in the summer of 1952 and by the end of the year produced a report that corroborated the Chinese and North Korean claims that the U.S. had used biological weapons in an experimental fashion on civilian populations.

This posting is not meant to examine the full range of opinions or evidence about whether or not the U.S. used biological weapons in the Korean War. It is instead an attempt to publish essential documentation of such claims, documentation that has been withheld from the American people, and the West in general, for decades. I am publishing here Appendices AA and BB from the Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China.

I introduced that report to the world and posted the report itself online back in January 2015. But the report itself is only some 60-odd pages long, and I was unable at that time to post or publish any of the voluminous appendices that documented the claims of the report. (I am reposting the original executive summary report at the close of this post, for reference sake.) The ISC appendices are crucial in assessing the claims made in the report, and the later denials from U.S. and other allied governments, such as Great Britain.

Appendices AA and BB concern claims of air attacks against various villages in Northeastern China in the Spring of 1952. Using the same kinds of insect (fleas, beetles, etc.) and related "vectors" (such as dropping feathers or rodents) that were studied intensely by Imperial Japanese military scientists and doctors as part of the infamous Unit 731 program. In a matter of proven historical record, but still largely unknown in the United States, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies, with knowledge of scientists working out of the Army's Ft. Detrick chemical and biological warfare labs, gave amnesty to the Unit 731 war criminals, who conducted their biological warfare experiments on live prisoners, who were incinerated after the Japanese scientists were done with them.

In the executive report, the ISC examined claims of a biological warfare attack in the town of "K'uan-Tien, which lies in the southeastern part of Liaotung province near the Yalu River," as well as a number of other "localities in the provinces of Liaotung and Liaohsi." They looked in depth at five "fatal human cases of respiratory anthrax and haemorrhagic anthrax," including "a railwayman, a tricycle-rickshaw driver, a housewife, a school-teacher, and a farmer." They considered the extreme, indeed, unprecedented appearance of this disease in that part of the world, and the fact that respiratory or inhalational anthrax had earlier been the subject of research by Ft. Detrick scientists. The analysis included laboratory examination from the bodies and from insects discovered in the area and believed to be spreading the disease, after being dropped by U.S. aircraft.

The ISC concluded (pg. 34 of the summary report, which can be accessed at end of this post):
On the basis of the evidence presented, and on their own searching and prolonged interrogation of a considerable number of witnesses, both medical and lay, the Commission was compelled to conclude that the delivery of various biological objects contaminated with anthrax bacilli to many places in the two Chinese provinces had taken place, and that this had given rise to a number of cases of a mortal infection hitherto unknown in the region, namely pulmonary anthrax and ensuing haemorrhagic meningitis. Eye-witness statements impossible to doubt indicated American airplanes as the vehicles of delivery of the infected objects.
The U.S. denied all biological warfare charges. They demanded the International Red Cross be allowed to independently examine the evidence and document the charges. But unknown to all, in secret meetings of top U.S. Pentagon, the CIA, and State Department officials, gathered together as the U.S Psychological Strategy Board, agreed that there never would be any independent investigation, as the Eighth Army was conducting operations during the Korean War which if they became known ("e.g. chemical warfare") "could do us psychological as well as military damage.” (See full article here.) The scholars Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman found similar evidence of an unwillingness to really examine the North Korean/Chinese/Soviet charges in their 1998 book on the BW controversy.

The controversy has simmered every since.

But convergent evidence of the charges was made in Chapter 13 of the 2006 book Deadly Cultures. Entitled "Allegations of Biological Weapons Use," the chapter was written by Martin Furmanski and Mark Wheelis. While these authors were highly dubious of the claims of U.S. biowarfare, they couldn't discount the anthrax charges. Primarily, they found that the description of inhalational anthrax made at this time - for instance, the wide range of incubational periods reported for the Chinese cases - came before a detailed scientific examination of such cases of anthrax had already been studied. But the ISC description was peculiarly apt and prescient. Furmanski and Wheelis concluded that the deaths documented by the ISC as due to inhalational anthrax had to be real and not faked.

"These results must have been from real human inhalation anthrax cases, since the information did not exist in 1952 to have allowed fabrication using textbook or medical literature sources," Furmanski and Wheelis wrote. (See pg. 260 of Deadly Cultures.)

But I should note, Furmanski and Wheelis in the end did not conclude this was full evidence of biological weapon attack. Indeed, they concluded it must have been of natural origin, though how such a coincidence of widely dispersed, unprecedented appearance of the disease occurred coinicentally with charges of biowar attack.

What they solely relied on for their conclusion was an April 2004 "personal communication" from a U.S. scientist that isolates from the B. anthracis samples from China, which by inference included those from the 1952 putative attack were "subjected to genomic analysis, and all were clearly indigenous to China." Furmanski and Wheelis believe that despite the "highly suspicious" nature of the inhalation anthrax cases discussed in the 1952 ISC Needham report, the genomic analysis proved that the anthrax cases reported to the ISC were of natural origin, and not from a U.S. biological warfare attack.

I have been in touch with all the people involved in this supposed genomic analysis, and while I find it odd that nothing was every published on this genomic or DNA analysis, I will leave a full analysis of the refutation of the ISC report on this score for a future and more scholarly essay. In the meantime, I have decided to publish the ISC documentation as in the West all we ever seem to get are what Cold War scholars publish. Even when critics of the U.S. historical account publish, the actual documentation is thin. This leaves us reliant on the authority of the scholars, which is an extraordinary situation.

I hope that the publication of this material will lead to a greater effort by U.S. and European media and other commentators to assess the real history of U.S. and North Korean and Chinese relations, the better to counter the claims of the hawkish Trump administration and Pentagon spokespeople, who are threatening to plunge this country, and possibly the world, into a terrible new war, painting the North Koreans as unreasonable and dangerous people. But any fair historical account will see that while not by any means perfect, the North Korean regime has plenty to complain about and fear from U.S. intervention.

[Link to download PDF of the document above]

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