Saturday, January 31, 2009

Depth of Economic Downturn in Europe Spurs Large Protests

The UK Guardian is reporting that thousands of Europeans in capitals from Paris to Riga to Kiev are taking to the streets to protest the massive unemployment stemming from the economic recession. Millions of East Europeans, tired of Stalinist repression and economic stagnation, were lured to the glittery dreams of the capitalist West. Now, things aren't looking so good.

But even in the big Western states, things are not looking so good. While the U.S. population remains quiescent, placing their hopes in the new Obama administration, American bankers hauled in their sixth-largest year of bonuses, nearly $20 billion, for administering the greatest financial disaster since the 1930s. Some of this money came from taxpayers dollars for the bank bailout. Obama bristled, but nothing will stop this ongoing transfer of wealth to the very richest, all while the official unemployment figures are over 11 million, and growing by 100,000 leaps and bounds.

Meanwhile, in France, the Sarkozy government is so so afraid of their own people -- rioters are busting up the streets of Paris, while a million workers are now on strike -- that they won't even release their latest unemployment figures out of fear of raising even more angry dissent. In Iceland, riot police patrol Reykjavik, and the old government has been forced from power.

But according to the Guardian, it's in the Eastern European countries where the dissatisfaction, and the economic disaster runs deepest:
The old Baltic trading city {Riga] had seen nothing like it since the happy days of kicking out the Russians and overthrowing communism two decades ago. More than 10,000 people converged on the 13th-century cathedral to show the Latvian government what they thought of its efforts at containing the economic crisis. The peaceful protest morphed into a late-night rampage as a minority headed for the parliament, battled with riot police and trashed parts of the old city. The following day there were similar scenes in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital next door.

After Iceland, Latvia looks like the most vulnerable country to be hammered by the financial and economic crisis. The EU and IMF have already mounted a €7.5bn (£6.6bn) rescue plan but the outlook is the worst in Europe.

The biggest bank in the Baltic, Swedbank of Sweden, yesterday predicted a slump this year in Latvia of a whopping 10%, more than double the previous projections....

A balance of payments crisis last autumn, heavy indebtedness and a disastrous budget made Hungary the first European candidate for an international rescue. The $26bn (£18bn) IMF-led bail-out shows scant sign of working. Industrial output is at its lowest for 16 years, the national currency - the forint - sank to a record low against the euro yesterday and the government also announced another round of spending cuts yesterday.

Friday, January 30, 2009

CCR: Close Torture Loopholes in Army Field Manual

A huge step in the fight against torture took place today. Center for Constitutional Rights has joined Physicians for Human Rights, The Constitution Project -- and myself -- and come out publicly against the abusive interrogation techniques contained in the Army Field Manual.

This is significant because the Army Field Manual is being put forward by President Obama and top Democratic Senators as the proposed "single standard" for all interrogations by the military and the CIA. Meanwhile, old recalcitrant Bushites, and the CIA, are for their part trying to paint the current AFM as "too soft" for use with "terrorist" suspects.

Their "action alert", reprinted below, includes an automated letter that you can send to President Obama asking him to say NO to interrogation practices that include isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and humiliation. It also asks for investigations of those officials " for those officials who broke the law to create an official program of torture and abuse."

From CCR's website:
Close Torture Loopholes in the Army Field Manual

President Obama's three executive orders of January 22, 2009 call for the closing of Guantanamo within one year, the closing of secret CIA 'black sites,' and the limiting of interrogation techniques to those allowed in the Army Field Manual (AFM), eliminating the numerous executive orders and opinions issued during the Bush administration that granted official approval for torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, and abuse. These executive orders certainly represent an extraordinary step forward, but we remain concerned about potentially exploitable loopholes. Please take a moment to ask him to close the loopholes.

While the current Army Field Manual does not allow waterboarding, it does include approved techniques that constitute torture. One glaring problem with the executive order on torture is the implicit approval of the current AFM as it stands. The Army Field Manual is a guidebook for U.S. interrogators, meant to set a standard in accordance with the law. However, it has serious shortcomings - particularly following a Bush-era 2006 revision that attempted to legitimize some of the abuses taking place at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Please join us in urging President Obama to clarify that his executive order truly means an end to U.S. torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Appendix M of the Army Field Manual - a new section introduced in 2006, applicable only to "unlawful combatants," the category applied to detainees in Guantanamo, at secret CIA prisons, and elsewhere - allows the use of techniques such as prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners. These techniques, especially when used in combination as permitted by the AFM, constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and in some cases, torture. These techniques have caused documented, long-lasting psychological and physical harm and were condemned by a bipartisan congressional report released last month, as well as by the Bush-appointed head of the military commissions at Guantanamo.

Much like John Yoo's infamous "torture memos" at the Office of Legal Counsel attempted to provide a legal cover for the authorization of torture by high-ranking Bush administration officials, the addition of Appendix M attempts to provide the same cover, utilizing the Army Field Manual. President Obama's executive order repudiates Yoo's memos - but it is not sufficient to do so without also repudiating this appendix, drafted in light of those memos.

The rewritten 2006 AFM also included other problematic changes - allowing U.S. interrogators to pretend to be from another country, or to pretend the prisoner is located in another country (including countries known for torture and abuse), and allowing interrogators to use "Fear Up," a procedure designed to psychologically exploit prisoners' existing fears - and supplemented to allow interrogators to induce "new fears" in prisoners.

President Obama's executive order created a task force that has six months to examine whether to create "additional or different guidance" for agencies such as the CIA, outside the U.S. military - a potential escape hatch for a return to CIA "enhanced interrogations" and torture.

Please join us today to ask President Obama to reaffirm that his executive order will not provide a loophole for the CIA to return to torture and illegality, and to ensure that Army Field Manual lives up to the standards it is expected to set by revoking Appendix M and other sections of the AFM that could allow torture, abuse, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to continue. It is important that this review be conducted transparently, and with the open consultation of human rights groups. For too long, secrecy has ruled the day and protected torture and abuse.

Join us also in encouraging the Obama administration to fully investigate and prosecute those officials responsible for war crimes, torture and other violations of U.S. law. No future administration should take us back to these dark times. There needs to be individual accountability for the torture program, and other crimes committed. Prosecution is the only way to deter future lawbreakers.

We believe that President Obama wants to end torture through this executive order. Please join us today to help ensure that those goals are fully met.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Journalist Reports the Truth About Appendix M

William Fisher has written an outstanding yet brief article summarizing the case against the use of abusive techniques of interrogation in the Army Field Manual. The worst methods appear in the last pages of the manual, labeled Appendix M.
John Bradshaw, Director of PHR’s [Physicians for Human Rights] office in Washington, DC, told IPS [Inter Press Service], “The technique of separation allowed by Appendix M sounds innocuous, but in reality it allows the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and isolation.”

“Particularly when used in combination, these techniques amount to psychological torture. The Obama Administration must close this loophole in the Army Field Manual by eliminating Appendix M, which leaves the door open to torture,” he said.

Legal experts agree. Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers Guild, told IPS, “President Obama’s announcement that the United States will not engage in torture is commendable. But cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment also violate U.S. law, as specified by three treaties we have ratified. The new administration should not use the Army Field Manual as the gold standard for interrogations since Appendix M sanctions techniques, including isolation and prolonged sleep deprivation, that amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The bulk of the article concentrates on the use of medical professionals in the U.S. torture program. Fisher notes, for instance, that the International Committee of the Red Cross called the participation of doctors and other health professionals, such as psychologists, as part of the interrogation program at Guantanamo a “flagrant violation of medical ethics.”

I should note, that Bill Fisher quotes this blog and some statements of mine favorably, for which I am grateful. It gives one hope that thoughtful and careful journalists are increasingly asking questions about the current proposals to make the AFM the "single standard" for U.S. interrogations. What they are finding is that the important medical, legal, and human rights activists and organizations find the AFM's interrogation techniques to amount, in toto, to torture.

Thank you, Bill Fisher, for helping further the cause of purging torture for good in this country, by critically examining the statements of President Obama about the supposedly humane procedures of the Army Field Manual, and the alarmist, crackpot views of ex-Bush administration officials, like John Yoo, who wrote in today's Wall Street Journal that the AFM doesn't go far enough in allowing freedom to use "coercive interrogation techniques,"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Foreign Press,, & the Army Field Manual

On September 7, 2006, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson and Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) Lt. Gen. John Kimmons showed up at a State Department foreign press briefing on the then-new DoD Directive 2310.10E (on its detainee program) and the also then brand-new Army Field Manual on interrogations. Only the day before, Kimmons and Stimson had held a news briefing for U.S. reporters at the Department of Defense on the same subjects, which I covered in a recent article at AlterNet.

While few bloggers paid attention to the September 6 DoD briefing (except one noted reporter, as I'll note later), most likely that was because President Bush had one of his infrequent news conferences the same day, and this one was a blockbuster. Bush acknowledged the existence of a secret CIA prison network. He also announced he was ordering the transfer of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 13 other "high-value detainees" to Guantánamo Bay to be put on trial.

As the Guardian UK described it:
Mr Bush's disclosure was intended to put pressure on the US Congress to support draft legislation put forward by the White House yesterday for a system of military tribunals for the Guantánamo detainees.

The US supreme court struck down the military tribunals established by the administration for the 450 inmates at Guantánamo last June, ruling that they had no basis in US law and violated the Geneva Convention [Hamdan v. Rumsfeld].
The pressure of the Bush administration to get a military commissions process in place, to replace the one thrown out as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, resulted later that year in Congressional passage of the Military Commissions Act. As described by the ACLU, this infamous legislation, passed with the support of the vast majority of the GOP and certain key Democrats, eliminated "the constitutional due process right of habeas corpus for detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere." It also:
...[gave] any president the power to declare — on his or her own — who is an enemy combatant, decide who should be held indefinitely without being charged with a crime and define what is — and what is not — torture and abuse.
With so much going on at Bush's news conference, who would notice the goings on at DoD, with the decidedly less glamorous Kimmons and Stimson? But one reporter did notice the confluence of events that day. In an article for, journalist Mark Benjamin, who had been covering the torture beat for awhile, noted the "mixed messages on torture" emanating from the White House and DoD. While Bush was defending "tough interrogation tactics" and "black site" secret prisons, the DoD spokesmen were lauding the new Army Field Manual as "designed to fit squarely within the protections of the Geneva Conventions." Benjamin quoted Kimmons approvingly, describing the AFM as "humane" and in accord with the views of "conventional senior generals."

Benjamin failed to notice, or report, that the bulk of the Q&A session with reporters at that news conference concentrated on serious questions about whether the Army Field Manual allowed abuse itself, particularly in its Appendix M, which describes an omnibus "technique" called "Separation." Appendix M allows the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and various forms of sensory deprivation on prisoners, mostly to be used with other AFM "approaches," like "Fear Up," "Ego Down," and "Futility."

The reporters grilled Kimmons and Stimson on the AFM and its use of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. But you wouldn't know that from Benjamin, the alternative and progressive reporter, whose coverage of the event was as obtuse as that of the mainstream press. (See here or here for the full story of that news conference.)

The Foreign Press Have Their Say

The same day was publishing Benjamin's article, and the mainstream press was assessing Bush's news conference, Stimson and Kimmons traipsed over to the State Department to give their briefing to the foreign press on 2310.10E and the Army Field Manual. Also in attendance were Brigadier General Thomas L. Hemingway, Legal Adviser to the Appointing Authority, Office of Military Commissions, and Sandra Hodgkinson, State Department Deputy Director, Office of War Crimes Issues.

During the State Dept. news conference, Reymer Luever, from the German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung, tried to nail down Lt. Gen. Kimmons on the use of the "Separation" technique and the applicability of Geneva Common Article Three. As we will see, skepticism from the press was met with double-talk, and a misrepresentation of the situation of "unlawful enemy combatants" and Geneva protections (bold emphasis added):
QUESTION: Thank you very much General Kimmons. You mentioned the 19 interrogation techniques and the 19 interrogation technique [S]eparation. You mentioned that this isn't covered by -- or is an exception from the Geneva Convention. Are there other exceptions from the Convention, the new manual?

LTG KIMMONS: Well, I take issue with you that it's an exception from the Convention. It's the wording in the Geneva -- the third Geneva Convention that causes us to place separation as a restricted technique and not to employ against prisoners of war or lawful combatants. It is the wording and the requirements of Geneva and the definition within Geneva of what is a lawful enemy combatant, what is a prisoner of war. And clearly al-Qaida and the Taliban and the people we are dealing with now in large portions, you know, of the battlefield do not fit the standard established in Geneva for prison of war or other types of lawful enemy combatants. And therefore, according to Geneva, those type of enemy combatants are not -- are just like spies and saboteurs in the older days. And traditionally are not entitled to the same protections under Geneva.
"Like spies and saboteurs"? Where did Kimmons come up with that? The reference is to the Fourth Geneva Convention on "Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War." Of course, no one from DoD wants to refer to this GC, because they would have to admit that such prisoners had rights even beyond those in Common Article 3, which protect against violence, "cruel treatment and torture." For instance, there's Article 31:
No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.
Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions does not explicitly forbid coercion. Kimmons is correct that the POW Geneva convention has a higher standard, forbidding all forms of coercion upon a POW. Unfortunately, the GCs don't define what they mean by "coercion." But the CIA's 1963 Kubark interrogation manual does.

Jennifer Elsen, in an an essay on the "Lawfulness of Interrogation Techniques Under the Geneva Conventions," in The Treatment of Prisoners (ed. R.D. McPhee, 2006, Nova Science Publishers), pointed out that the CIA distinguished between coercive and non-coercive interrogations. Coercive interrogations were those "designed to induce regression," producing a loss of general cognitive capacities, including the ability to deal with complex situations, or the ability to "cope with repeated frustrations." The tools of the coercive interrogator include the induction of fatigue, pain, sleep loss, anxiety, fear, and the "deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement or similar methods."

According to the Civilian convention, for which any prisoner, "including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause," which definition being part of Common Article 3 the U.S. government accepts for those captured in their "war on terror," spies and saboteurs have "forfeited rights of communication." Does this mean one can lock them up and throw away the key? The Civilian convention goes on:
In each case, such persons shall nevertheless be treated with humanity, and in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention. They shall also be granted the full rights and privileges of a protected person under the present Convention at the earliest date consistent with the security of the State or Occupying Power, as the case may be.
"Full rights and privileges of a protected person"... that doesn't sound like one could be subject to coercive interrogation, does it?

Let's go back to the briefing, and pick up just where we left off. Kimmons, asked if there exceptions to Geneva in the AFM, had noted that unlawful enemy combatants were "not entitled to the same protections under Geneva" as prisoners of war. But in his very next sentence, Kimmons continued, in an entirely different, and confusing vein:
As a matter of law here in the United States, we are going to provide the same single standard for humane treatment to all categories of detainees, both lawful and unlawful combatants.

That same legal requirement does not require us to afford additional privileges above and beyond that standard to unlawful combatants. And that's why separation is placed -- separated to it.

I'm sorry, could you repeat the second part of your question.

QUESTION: My question was are there other -- what I have called exceptions from the Convention in the field manual?

LTG KIMMONS: No. In accordance, as a matter of law, only those interrogation approach techniques that are listed in -- authorized by the Army Field Manual, this field manual, can be employed on any class of category of detainee across the Department of Defense.
The last statement makes no sense when compared with Kimmons remarks during his opening statement, remarks to which Mr. Luever alluded in his question above. For in that statement, Lt. Gen. Kimmons stated (bold emphasis added):
Separation meets the standard for humane treatment, but the Geneva Conventions, specifically the third Geneva Convention, affords prisoners of war, lawful enemy combatants, additional protections above and beyond the single humane standard to which they're entitled. It entitles them to pay, entitles them to send and receive mail and packages, and it also protects them from separation from other prisoners of war with whom they were captured without their expressed consent.

Unlawful combatants are not entitled to those additional protections and privileges above the humane standard. So Geneva -- the common third -- Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to all categories of detainees' [there may be missing text in the transcript here] [S]eparation, however, is only authorized for use on a by-exception basis with unlawful enemy combatants.
Threading the eye of the needle, DoD means to say one thing one moment and another thing the next. What's clear is that they believe Separation is not a group of techniques that can be used on regular POWs, only "unlawful enemy combatants." But the privileges enumerated by the third Geneva Convention -- Kimmons lists pay, getting mail and packages -- does not include in its text, as Kimmons maintains, the right not to experience "separation," i.e., solitary confinement, sleep and perceptual deprivation, etc.

This can all get quite confusing, but seems to boil down to this. The Pentagon, and perhaps their CIA mentors, want to slice and dice the Geneva Conventions at their will, in order to allow the core program of coercive interrogation as laid down by the CIA's Kubark manual, using the Army Field Manual and Appendix M as their primary device. Because of the Abu Ghraib scandal, they want to hide or forbid all types of treatment that became notorious due to press exposure, and that includes the revelations around waterboarding. But the induction of regression, of a paradigm the CIA referred to as DDD (Dependency, Debility, Dread), is still at the core of the coercive techniques they intend to rescue for their use.

And because of the ignorance or indifference, or in some cases, collusion, of the press and politicians, it appears that they will get their way.

Tale of a Broken Link

I had wanted to go back and review the entire foreign press briefing again, but, as described below, the webpages for it were gone. I tried to use the handy Wayback Machine, but it apparently was never logged or entered there. [UPDATE: Edger at Docudharma has successfully negotiated the Wayback Machine when I apparently couldn't. The URL for the State Department briefing is here, via a cache of the page. The State Department webpages themselves are still gone, and I've left the old links in for documentary purposes. So please read the following keeping that in mind. Big H/T to Edger!]

[Update, 1/13/2014: The following paragraphs were written to describe my difficulties finding the press conference transcript. However, I have since found a copy of that in archives section of the State Department's website. I am leaving the following paragraphs as written because historically it is what was written, but the link to the transcript has been fixed in the story above. For reference, again, here is the link.]

As this story "goes to press," I discovered that the link to the transcript of the State Department/Kimmons/Stimson briefing for the foreign press, hosted at State Department servers, is now defunct. A search of the site brings up old links to the appropriate html file, but the file itself is gone. The file I used was titled thus (found only now through a Google cache, where it was listed along with other foreign press briefings):
--09/07/06 Department of Defense Directive on Detainee Operations, the Release of the Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collection and an Update on Military Commissions; Cully Stimson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs; Foreign Press Center Briefing; Washington, DC -- Official Transcript
I should note this does not appear to be a global deletion of State Department files by date, as a different State Department document, that is, yet another briefing to the foreign press earlier on the same date (9/7/06) as the Kimmons/Stimson briefing, this time with State Department Legal Advisor John Bellinger, is available on State Department servers under the title "Press briefing on detainee issues and military commission legislation."

The difference between these two briefings? While the foreign press asked good hard questions during the Bellinger briefing, none concerned specifics about the Army Field Manual -- no embarrassing questions about "separation" or sensory deprivation.

Yet, I cannot conclude there is any grand conspiracy regarding any missing webpages, since, upon looking, there appear to be plenty of other missing or scrubbed files from the Bush years, through 2008. Is this routine house-cleaning, or something else? I honestly don't know. I only know that the transcript to the briefing was there a few months back, and I apologize to readers for quoting and reporting upon an event that one cannot now fact-check for accuracy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Erda's Warning

"Weiche, Wotan!" -- If you don't know why Wotan must "beware", then you haven't been paying attention.

From Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold, the Met, conducted by James Levine. Birgitta Svenden is Erda, and James Morris is Wotan.
Wie alles war - weiss ich;
wie alles wird,
wie alles sein wird, -
seh' ich auch,
der ew'gen Welt
Erda, mahnt deinen Mut.
Drei der Töchter,
gebar mein Schoss;
was ich sehe,
sagen dir nächtlich die Nornen.
Doch höchste Gefahr
führt mich heut'
selbst zu dir her.
Höre! Höre! Höre!
Alles was ist, endet.
Ein düst'rer Tag
dämmert den Göttern:
dir rat' ich, meide den Ring!

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Medical Ethics and Torture: Revising the Declaration of Tokyo"

The following is a press release from The Lancet, describing an important new article on the question of medical ethics in relation to the torture of prisoners. It is reproduced here:
A Viewpoint in this week’s edition of The Lancet discusses how the 1975 Declaration of Tokyo, on Medical Ethics and Torture, could be further revised to make it more relevant to the world today — making sure that physicians who are complicit in torture of prisoners are held to account. The Viewpoint is written by Dr Steven Miles, Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota, MN, USA, and Dr Alfred Freedman, New York Medical College, USA.

Medical complicity with torture and abuse of prisoners is common in the roughly 100 countries that practise torture. Physicians devise ways to keep physical scars to a minimum, certify prisoners as fit for abuse, monitor vital signs during mistreatment, and give approval to intensify abuse. A third to half of torture survivors report physicians overseeing the abuse; this number does not include those who do not see physicians being accomplices of the abuse and those who die of torture that a physician, either willingly or under coercion, certifies as death by natural causes. Many more physicians are complicit with abusing prisoners than work in programmes to treat torture survivors.

The World Medical Association’s (WMA) Declaration of Tokyo has been a landmark event in medical ethics. It was passed in 1975, and has undergone several revisions. The declaration condemns medical participation in torture, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or any act to diminish the ability of the victim to resist such treatment. It serves as a template for many medical codes. Although the WMA updated the Declaration of Tokyo in 2006, a revised version might further clarify medical roles and duties in countries where prisoners are abused.

The authors propose four manners in which the code should be revised. First, it should incorporate authoritative definitions of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, to harmonise this medical ethics code with international law and, thereby, communicate the accountability of physicians to international law. Second, a revision of the Declaration of Tokyo should incorporate some of the good ideas recently endorsed by various clinical societies — for example, a death certificate should be publicly posted for every death in custody, as is currently mandated for prisoners of war by a Geneva Convention. False or non-issued death certificates conceal torture. Third, a revision of the Declaration of Tokyo must commend ways for holding physicians professionally and criminally accountable for abetting abuse of prisoners — including those who flee the country where the abuse occurred and attempt to obtain a licence to practice elsewhere. Finally, a revision of the Declaration of Tokyo should be readable by a person with 12 years of education — the current version needs advanced collegiate-grade reading skills, with its average sentence containing more than 30 words.

The authors conclude: “The medical community is key to the campaign against torture. Governments that practice torture need complicity of prison medical personnel. Furthermore, a profound link exists between domestic torture and worldwide medical solidarity against torture. A physician community that acquiesces to abuses by its members undermines its credibility in protesting against foreign medical communities or colleagues who abet torture. Accordingly, physicians and their societies must act on their duty to promote prisoners’ wellbeing, access to prisons, skills at identifying abuse, and membership of civil society.”
Of special interest in Miles and Freedman's article is their delineation of what they call unofficial teaching definitions of torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment. (The article covers the de jure definitions, as well). These two categories are often buried in legalese and, therefore, confusion. Their "unofficial definition" is meant to cut through the obfuscations:
Torture is any act that intends to cause a prisoner to feel severe physical or mental pain or suffering. Torture occurs when a government official orders, supervises, consents to, allows, or performs acts that cause such pain or suffering.

Torture is unacceptable for any reason, including when it is used to:

-- obtain information or a confession from the tortured person or someone else or
-- punish the tortured person or someone else for an act that he or she has done or is suspected of having done or
-- frighten or coerce the tortured person or someone else or
-- discriminate against a race, religion, political belief
-- or any other reason

This definition does not include pain or suffering that is caused by legal prison conditions and sentences

Cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment is any physical or mental abuse. Among other things, it includes depriving a prisoner of sight, hearing, and awareness of place or the passing of time.
A physician [or any treating professional, such as a psychologist] should not:

-- assist with torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
-- be present when a prisoner is subject to, or threatened with, torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment
-- provide or withhold clinical facilities, equipment, supplies, or knowledge to support torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment
-- assist procedures that aim to decrease a prisoner's ability to resist interrogation or punishment;
-- withhold, or threaten to withhold, medical assessment or treatment from a prisoner who is not cooperating with officials;
-- assist in certifying a prisoner's fitness for interrogation, treatment, or punishment that might harm that person's physical or mental health
-- assist in monitoring an interrogation, treatment, or punishment to advise officials to modify procedures that might harm a prisoner's physical or mental health.
Miles and Freedman note that there is a "pandemic of torture" going on in the world. The attempt to squeeze torture techniques into the U.S. Army Field Manual, and furthermore cover up the attempt, is only one aspect of this frightening spread of the torture cancer. Arm in arm with it, there is an attack on civil liberties in general, and a glorification of militarism and brutality in public life and political action. The invasion and attack on Gaza, the missile attacks by U.S. robot aircraft in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the massive death of civilians in Iraq, the Congo, Somalia, and elsewhere around the world are part and parcel of the torture ethic, which reduces human beings to mere things, despised objects, and victims of national greed and will.

American Psychological Association: An Object Lesson in Ethics Failure

Doctors and ethicists such as Steven Miles and Alfred Freedman, and their colleagues in human rights and medical organizations around the world are to be applauded for their attempts to turn back the tide of dehumanization and violence.

Compare this to the actions of the American Psychological Association, who, weeks now after the head judge at Guantanamo condemned the interrogation of Mohammad al-Qahtani as "torture", refuses to even utter a statement of condemnation or regret for the participation of one of its members, John Leso, in this abomination of an interrogation. Instead, they have dragged out an ethics investigation of this same individual for over a year. Meanwhile, the same institution is trying to pretend that it is suddenly interested in revamping an ethics clause (1.02) that allows its members to follow "authorities" who may command them to undertake actions that go against their ethics code.

If Stephen Behnke, the ethics director of APA, had any self-respect, or if the organization itself had any integrity, he would have resigned or been fired after the Crawford revelations on the al-Qahtani torture interrogation.

It certainly seems like the world is being swept by a pandemic of torture, war, and brutality. The primary sources of information for the populace do little to educate the public, or push fear and misinformation. These are terrible times, indeed. The new U.S. president proclaims this a time of progressive change and hope. But no president can undertake alone the massive social changes that are needed. That is up to each of us, and that is the message I believe Miles and Freedman are giving us. While international law and institutions press to change national deformations, each individual in each profession must take responsibility upon themselves to provide ethical leadership.

More Musings on Those Missing Gitmo Files

In an earlier posting, I surmised that the "disarray" of files discovered at Guantanamo were due to conflicts over documentation with the CIA (per a Washington Post suggestion), or because there was a cover-up of certain operations within Guantanamo, also related, at least in part, to CIA activity. I also wondered if some documentation hadn't been in fact destroyed.

The excerpt below from an excellent article by Alfred McCoy on the CIA at Abu Ghraib points, I believe, to the answer to a lot of questions. I'm thinking Guantanamo... Abu Ghraib... was the CIA standard operating procedure in these cases very different?

Few in the press have followed up on McCoy's excellent analysis. How well I understand that problem. Anyway, this is from his 2004 article, "The Hidden History of CIA Torture: America's Road to Abu Ghraib" (bold emphases added are mine):
With the controversy over Abu Ghraib, incidents that once seemed but fragments should now be coming together to form a mosaic of a clandestine agency manipulating its government and deceiving its citizens to probe the cruel underside of human consciousness, and then propagating its discoveries throughout the Third World.

Strong democracies have difficulty dealing with torture. In the months following the release of the Abu Ghraib photos, the United States moved quickly through the same stages (as defined by author John Conroy) that the United Kingdom experienced after revelations of British army torture in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s -- first, minimizing the torture with euphemisms such as "interrogation in depth"; next, justifying it on grounds that it was necessary or effective; and finally, attempting to bury the issue by blaming "a few bad apples."

Indeed, since last April, the Bush administration and much of the media have studiously avoided the word "torture" and instead blamed our own bad apples, those seven Military Police....

In August [2004], Major General George R. Fay released his report on the role of Military Intelligence at Abu Ghraib. Its stunning revelations about the reasons for this torture were, however, obscured in opaque military prose. After interviewing 170 personnel and reviewing 9,000 documents, the general intimated that this abuse was the product of an interrogation policy shaped, in both design and application, by the CIA.

Significantly, General Fay blamed not the "seven bad apples," but the Abu Ghraib interrogation procedures themselves. Of the 44 verifiable incidents of abuse, one-third occurred during actual interrogation. Moreover, these "routine" interrogation procedures "contributed to an escalating 'de-humanization' of the detainees and set the stage for additional and severe abuses to occur."

After finding standard Army interrogation doctrine sound, General Fay was forced to confront a single, central, uncomfortable question: what was the source of the aberrant, "non-doctrinal" practices that led to torture during interrogation at Abu Ghraib? Scattered throughout his report are the dots, politely unconnected, that lead from the White House to the Iraqi prison cell block: President Bush gave his defense secretary broad powers over prisoners in November 2001; Secretary Rumsfeld authorized harsh "Counter-Resistance Techniques" for Afghanistan and Guantanamo in December 2002; hardened Military Intelligence units brought these methods to Iraq in July 2003; and General Ricardo Sanchez in Baghdad authorized these extreme measures for Abu Ghraib in September 2003.

In its short answer to this uncomfortable question, General Fay's report, when read closely, traced the source of these harsh "non-doctrinal methods" at Abu Ghraib to the CIA. He charged that a flouting of military procedures by CIA interrogators "eroded the necessity in the minds of soldiers and civilians for them to follow Army rules." Specifically, the Army "allowed CIA to house 'Ghost Detainees' who were unidentified and unaccounted for in Abu Ghraib," thus encouraging violations of "reporting requirements under the Geneva Conventions." Moreover, the interrogation of CIA detainees "occurred under different practices and procedures which were absent any DoD visibility, control, or oversight and created a perception that OGA [CIA] techniques and practices were suitable and authorized for DoD operations." With their exemption from military regulations, CIA interrogators moved about Abu Ghraib with a corrupting "mystique" and extreme methods that "fascinated" some Army interrogators. In sum, General Fay seems to say that the CIA has compromised the integrity and effectiveness of the U.S. military.

Sign Petition to Protest Gaza Civilian Destruction

Stephen Soldz has posted the following at his blog, Psyche, Science and Society. I reproduce it here for its importance, and strongly recommend mental health professionals both sign the petition, and distribute it to their colleagues.
The Israeli group “Psychoactive”: Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights, has created a petition — Online petition - Israeli Attack on Gaza: Protest, Grief and Call for Negotiations — for mental health professionals world-wide to protest the civilian destruction during the Israeli attack on Gaza.

The Petition reads:
Psychoactive Group – Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights, and the undersigned supporters, condemn the killing of innocents that has being carried out by the state of Israel in Gaza.

We are horrified by the extent of the killing, the destruction, and the violence that we have been witnessing over the past weeks in the Israeli offensive on Gaza. In addition to its being an attack on human lives, we consider this assault as a profound violation of our human values. As therapists we hereby express our profound concern over the physical and mental injuries, current as well as ongoing, that are being inflicted upon the citizens of Gaza. Such traumatization undermines both peoples’ prospects of living in peace and dignity, as well as the possibility of ending the occupation while pulling out of the circles of hatred, fear, and violence.

In addition, we strongly condemn the military assault on the Mental Health Center in Gaza and on other civilian institutions: Schools, universities, mosques, and clinics. We view this assault as a brutal destruction of the civilian infrastructure that has heretofore managed to survive under circumstances of continuous siege.

We condemn any damage caused to the civilian infrastructure in Gaza and in Israel and mourn the price paid by civilians for the absence of a political accord.

We support the workers at the Mental Health Center in Gaza and appreciate our colleagues’ activities for treating civilians and promoting their well-being under impossible circumstances.

We call for an end to the assault on the civilians in southern Israel, who have been enduring missile attacks for years. We believe that the assault on Gaza is not the way to protect Israeli civilians, and that only negotiations for terminating the occupation can provide a means for achieving regional quiescence.

We call for the immediate channeling of resources to repair the damage, for the promotion of civil discussion between the peoples, and for political negotiations to end the occupation.
To read it in Hebrew or Arabic and to sign it, go here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Meanwhile, back at Gitmo... Hey, where's the files?

If there were no better evidence of Bush administration and Defense Department malfeasance, then the fact the the files on the prisoners at Guantanamo are, according to this latest Washington Post story, "in disarray" would seal the case.

According to the article, "incoming [Obama] legal and national security officials [were] barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees." Why? No one could say exactly, but there was this:
Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.
What was going on at Guantanamo? Was it really even a detention center? Even a lousy county jailhouse keeps better records than this:
In a court filing this month, Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo who asked to be relieved of his duties, said evidence was "strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks."

He said he once accidentally found "crucial physical evidence" that "had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."
What kinds of information was the CIA and defense intelligence agencies unwilling to share? After years and years of detention, much of it in isolation and subject to various torture techniques, including possible drug administration, what kind of valuable intelligence was really available anyway? Suspicions among some that Guantanamo was really a vast experiment, or a giant laboratory for psychological torture research, such as occurred during the MKULTRA CIA program of the 1950s and 1960s starts to seem like something more than irresponsible speculation.

Although the article doesn't mention it, who can read of such disarray, such misplacement and scattering of documents and not think that what we are seeing is the aftermath of one giant document purge and shred-fest?

Those investigating committees and prosecution grand juries better get underway quickly, before all the relevant evidence is destroyed about whatever did happen at Guantanamo.

And then there's a little fact like chain of evidence, access to documents, etc.

Why take a year to dispose of the prisoners' fate? Why not free all the Gitmo prisoners now? Their rights have been trampled upon, and many tortured. There is no way to guarantee there has been no evidence tampering. There is no way we can now believe anything the government has to say about any of these prisoners.

I don't expect any such large-scale release. I'm not sure what I expect anymore. But the news has some other items of very important interest. There was this, from the United Nations:
Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, told a German television network that Bush and Cheney should be brought to trial for the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

Manfred Nowak says prosecution is legally required, because the U.S. has ratified the UN convention on torture. Last month, a bipartisan Senate report accused Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of direct responsibility for abuse and torture at Guantánamo and other U.S. prisons.
And this from Jordan Praust, a contributing editor at the Jurist:
International laws that President Obama must faithfully execute during an armed conflict include common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as well as all other treaty-based and customary laws of war, the Convention Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which also prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in all circumstances, including in times of relative peace), and related customary international laws. President Obama’s executive order to replace unlawful authorizations and orders during the Bush Administration with the requirement that such laws be faithfully executed by all U.S. nationals and certain other persons covered by the Order is the constitutionally proper and necessary response.

What should ultimately follow is presidential execution of treaty-based and customary international legal obligations to either initiate prosecution of or to extradite all persons who are reasonably accused of having authorized, ordered, abetted, or perpetrated war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. For example, Article 146 of the 1949 Geneva Civilian Convention expressly and unavoidably requires that all Parties “search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, ... grave breaches [of the Convention] and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts” for “effective penal sanctions” or, “if it prefers, ... hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party.” The obligation is absolute and applies with respect to alleged perpetrators of any status. As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States must either initiate prosecution or extradite to another state or, today, render an accused to the International Criminal Court. “Grave breaches” of the Convention include “torture or inhuman treatment” and transfer of a non-prisoner of war from occupied territory. Similarly, Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention Against Torture expressly and unavoidably requires that a Party to the treaty “under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed ... [for example, torture or “complicity or participation in torture”] is found, shall ... if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.” There are no other alternatives.
The criminals are busily trying to cover their tracks. They should be arrested as soon as possible, and that means Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, relevant personnel at DoD Office of Legal Counsel, relevant personnel at Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and SERE, and at CIA and DIA. Those who have left their jobs since the crimes were committed should be given an offer to surrender themselves.

And someone is going to have to put together the Augean stable that is the mess of documentation at Guantanamo.

German Pope Rehabilitates Holocaust Denier

Jesus, this headline practically wrote itself, as Reuters reports that Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of four far-right bishops belonging to the Society of Saint Pius X. Now, I don't care about the internal policies of the Roman Catholic Church, and what their ceremonies should be, or who should name bishops, or whatever the controversies over how to administrate this leftover from medieval times are.

But one of the four restored bishops is Richard Williamson, who has become notorious for making statements denying the extent of the Holocaust. From the article:
In comments to Swedish television broadcast on Wednesday and widely available on the Internet, Williamson said "I believe there were no gas chambers" and only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, instead of 6 million.

"I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler," he said.
Besides the obscenity that such a statement is, the sentiments feed anti-Semitic attitudes among many impressionable and/or bigoted people. They are also fertile recruiting slogans for the Zionists who run Israel, because they can point to such poisonous statements, now seemingly okay within Vatican circles, as a rationale for the nationalism that fuels Israel's attacks on the Palestinians and their leadership, such as the recent assault on Gaza that killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

Meanwhile, the Vatican thumbed its nose at Jewish leaders who protested the Pope's actions. Calling Williamson's holocaust denial merely "open to criticism", a Vatican spokesman said the comments were"'totally extraneous' to the lifting of the excommunications."
But Jewish leaders did not accept the explanation. They questioned why the Vatican had not issued a clear statement condemning Williamson and one said privately the decree represented "a nail in the coffin of 50 years of dialogue."
The Pope's actions should clearly be condemned.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

How the Press, the Pentagon, and Even Human Rights Groups Sold Us an Army Field Manual that (Still) Sanctions Torture

Originally published at AlterNet -- If you wish to repost this essay you can download a .txt file of the html here (right click and save). Permission granted.

A January 17 New York Times editorial noted that Attorney General designate Eric Holder testified at his nomination hearings that when it came to overhauling the nation's interrogation rules for both the military and the CIA, the Army Field Manual represented "a good start." The editorial noted the vagueness of Holder's statement. Left unsaid was the question, if the AFM is only a "good start," what comes next?

The Times editorial writer never bothered to mention the fact that three years earlier, a different New York Times article (12/14/2005) introduced a new controversy regarding the rewrite of the Army Field Manual. The rewrite was inspired by a proposal by Senator John McCain to limit U.S. military and CIA interrogation methods to those in the Army Field Manual. (McCain would later allow an exception for the CIA.)

According to the Times article, a new set of classified procedures proposed for the manual was "was pushing the limits on legal interrogation." Anonymous military sources called the procedures "a back-door effort" to undermine McCain's efforts at the time to change U.S. abusive interrogation techniques, and stop the torture.

A Forgotten Controversy

Over the next six months or so, a number of articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times described the course of the controversy. By mid-June 2006, the NYT was reporting that, under pressure from unnamed senior generals and members of Congress (including McCain, and Senators Warner and Graham), the Pentagon was rethinking its plan to have a classified annex to the AFM, which would include a different set of interrogation rules for "unlawful combatants," like the detainees at Guantanamo. Included in the discussion about these classified procedures were, reportedly, members of the State Department and various human rights organizations.

According to an article in the L.A. Times, this latest fight over the classified procedures went back at least to mid-May 2006. The manual itself had been written at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, roughly a year earlier, and then sent to the Pentagon for further evalution. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's right-hand man, Stephen Cambone, was put in charge of its final draft. According the L.A. Times article, members of Congress were "keen to avoid a public fight with the Pentagon." The announcement that the controversial and still unknown procedures might not be included in the manual was seen as a success by human rights groups.

Yet the proverbial chickens never hatched, and by early September 2006 the new Army Field Manual was finally released. The section on special interrogation procedures for "unlawful combatants" was included as a special appendix (Appendix M), and published in unclassified format. According to a L.A. Times story on September 8, Cambone was crowing that the new Army Field Manual instructions would give interrogators "what they need to do the job." The article noted:
The new manual includes one restricted technique that will only be used on so-called unlawful combatants – such as Al Qaeda suspects – not traditional prisoners of war.

That technique, called “separation,” involves segregating a detainee from other prisoners. Military officials said separation was not the equivalent of solitary confinement and was consistent with Geneva Convention protections.
As for the proposed secrecy surrounding the new techniques, the Pentagon had decided it couldn't keep them secret forever. Senator Warner was also on record as against any classified annex to the manual.

Not long ago, I wrote about what was included in Appendix M, which purports to introduce the single technique of "separation." In fact, the Appendix M includes instructions regarding solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and, in combination with other procedures included in the Army Field Manual, amounted to a re-introduction of the psychological torture techniques practiced at Guantanamo, and taught by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE psychologists and other personnel at the Cuban base and elsewhere.

The rewrite of the Army Field Manual included other seemingly minor changes. It introduced dubious procedures, such as the "False Flag" technique, wherein interrogators could pretend they were from another country. It also redefined the meaning of "Fear Up," a procedure meant to exploit a prisoner's existing fears under imprisonment. Now, interrogators could create "new" fears. The AFM rewrite was a masterpiece of subterfuge and double talk, which could only have been issued from the offices of Rumsfeld and Cambone.

One would think this turnaround of the Pentagon's position regarding a removal of these controversial procedures would have been a matter of some note. But there was no protest from Congress, no mention of the past controversy in the press, and only vague comments at first and then acceptance by human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Only Physicians for Human Rights protested the inclusion of the techniques listed in Appendix M. For the rest... silence.

DoD Rolls Out the New Model

On September 6, 2006, a news briefing was held by the Department of Defense, as part of the unveiling of the new Army Field Manual, in conjunction with the then-new Defense Department Directive for Detainee Programs (DoD Directive 2310.01E). Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson and Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) Lt. Gen. John Kimmons were the DoD presenters.

Much of the belief that the AFM provides an improvement over previous policies of the Department of Defense is likely due to a confusion between the two documents introduced that summer of 2006, the new Detainee Program Directive and the new Army Field Manual.

DoD Directive 2310.10E made a number of changes in regards to detainee operations and management. It made clear that "All persons subject to this Directive shall observe the requirements of the law of war, and shall apply, without regard to a detainee’s legal status, at a minimum the standards articulated in Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949..." The same type of language appears in the text of the Army Field Manual itself.

During the press briefing on September 6, and a different one the next day for the foreign press, reporters were not so easily fooled.

One unnamed reporter at the DoD briefing challenged Lt. Gen. Kimmons on the "single standard" issue:
Q General, why was the decision made to keep these categories -- the separate categories of detainees? You have traditional prisoners of war and then the unlawful enemy combatants. Why not treat all detainees under U.S. military custody the exact same way?
Kimmons's answer gives us insight into the kind of convoluted legal thinking that went into the Pentagon's rationale for the acceptability of coercive interrogation -- for some (emphasis added):
GEN. KIMMONS: Well, actually, the distinction is in Geneva through the Geneva Convention, which describes the criteria that prisoner -- that lawful combatants, such as enemy prisoners of war -- which attributes they possess -- wearing a uniform, fighting for a government, bearing your arms openly and so on and so forth. And it's all spelled out fairly precisely inside Geneva.

Geneva also makes clear that traditional, unlawful combatants such as in the -- 50 years ago, we would have talked about spies and saboteurs, but also now applies to this new category of unlawful -- or new type of unlawful combatant, terrorists, al Qaeda, Taliban.

They clearly don't meet the criteria for prisoner of war status, lawful combatant status, and so they're not entitled to the -- therefore to the extra protections and privileges which Geneva affords.
But Kimmon's clarification was not very helpful. In fact, if a prisoner is judged not a "lawful combatant", then he or she immediately becomes covered by Geneva IV, the "Civilian Convention," which protects anyone "who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever find themselves" held prisoner. According to the International Red Cross Commentary on the Geneva Conventions:
Every person in enemy hands must have some status under international law: he is either a prisoner of war and, as such, covered by the Third [POW] Convention, [or] a civilian covered by the Fourth Convention.... There is no intermediate status; nobody in enemy hands can fall outside the law.
Separation and Sensory Deprivation

One questioner took on the topic of the "Separation" technique. Wasn't it the same as solitary confinement, and wasn't solitary confinement "banned by Common Article 3 in the affront to human dignity, other provisions? "Are you confident," a reporter asked, "that separation is permitted under Common Article 3?"

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs responded by denying that separation amounted to solitary confinement, even though the AFM describes the technique as, among other things "physical separation" "limited to 30 days of initial duration." Extensions for such physical separation must be reviewed and approved the General Officer or Flag Officer who initially approved the original "separation."

Kimmons' reply was even more disingenuous:
We have always segregated enemy combatants on the battlefield at the point of capture and beyond, to keep them silent, segregate the officers from the enlisted, the men from the women, and so forth. That's traditional; it goes back to World War II and beyond.
So, is "separation" a matter of segregating prisoners, or what? In the Army Field Manual itself, one gets that same kind of double talk. At first it is presented thus:
The purpose of separation is to deny the detainee the opportunity to communicate with other detainees in order to keep him from learning counter-resistance techniques or gathering new information to support a cover story; decreasing the detainee's resistance to interrogation.
This description sounds a lot like segregation for security purposes, although there is that phrase "decreasing the detainee's resistance." A page or so later, however, we find the following (emphasis added):
The use of separation should not be confused with the detainee-handling techniques approved in Appendix D [Guide for Handling Detainees]. Specifically, the use of segregation during prisoner handling (Search, Silence, Segregate, Speed, Safeguard, and Tag [5 S's and a T]) should not be confused with the use of separation as a restricted interrogation technique.
Furthermore, we learn that "separation" requires an interrogation plan, and medical and legal review, as well, of course, as "physical separation." If this is not solitary confinement for the purposes of breaking a prisoner down for interrogation, then the English language has lost all purpose in explaining things.

Another line of questioning took on the AFM's contention that it banned sensory deprivation. The entire exchange at the September 6 hearing is worth reproducing here. It represents, among other things, the most thorough line of inquiry I have seen by any reporter in quite some time. The following quote contains added emphases.
Q General, as an expert in interrogations, do you believe that sensory deprivation was abusive, or did it ever prove to be helpful in interrogation?

GEN. KIMMONS: Sensory deprivation is abusive and it's prohibited in this Field Manual, and it's absolutely counterproductive, in my understanding of what we have used productively. Sensory deprivation, just to be clear -- and we define it in the Field Manual, but basically, it comes down to the almost complete deprivation of all sensory stimuli, light, noise, and so forth, and to the point where it can have an adverse mental, psychological effect on a -- disorienting effect on a detainee.

Q So could there be deprivation of light alone for extended periods of time, as opposed to complete sensory deprivation?

GEN. KIMMONS: I think the total loss of an external stimulus, such as deprivation of light, would not fit what we have described here as -- for example, if you're hinting about separation, separation does not involve the darkness or lack of that type of sensory stimulation.

Q That wasn't the question, though. Would sensory -- would the deprivation of light alone be permitted under the current manual, as opposed -- because you described sensory deprivation as total deprivation --

GEN. KIMMONS: That's correction.

Q -- of all senses. So deprivation of light alone for extended periods would be permitted?

GEN. KIMMONS: I don't think the Field Manual explicitly addresses it.

It does not make it prohibited.
And it would have to be weighed in the context of the overall environment. If it was at nighttime during sleep hours, then it would make personal sense to turn the lights off.

Q You know what I'm talking about. I'm trying to get at -- because you said specifically total sensory deprivation -- so deprivation of any one sense might be permitted. Like light, for example. They could be kept in the dark for extended periods of time beyond the usual nighttime hours.
This is really too specific and challenging for the DoD briefers, and they turn on their double-talk machine:
MR. STIMSON: Jim, questions like this are good questions to ask. And what's important to remember is that interrogation plans are put together for a reason so that not just one person can decide what he or she wants to do and then run off and do it. They're vetted. It's laid out how they're vetted. General Kimmons could go into that in exhaustive detail. Typically, there would be a JAG, as I understand it, General Kimmons --

GEN. KIMMONS: That's correct.

MR. STIMSON: -- that would have to review that. It goes up through various chains of command. And so, you know, types of questions like this would have to be asked and then vetted through that process.
Burying the Story

With all the hard questioning by the press, you'd think the issues would have been aired in the media in the days and weeks following the introduction of the Army Field Manual. As should be evident by now, that's not what happened.

Here's how the L.A. Times covered it (9/6/06), getting the story exactly backwards (emphasis added):
Bowing to critics of its tough interrogation policies, the Pentagon is issuing a new Army field manual that provides Geneva Convention protections for all detainees and eliminates a secret list of interrogation tactics.

The manual, set for release today, also reverses an earlier decision to maintain two interrogation standards – one for traditional prisoners of war and another for “unlawful combatants” captured during a conflict but not affiliated with a nation’s military force.
There is no mention of Appendix M or any controversy over techniques. Jumana Musa, an "advocacy director for Amnesty International, is quoted as noting, "“If the new field manual embraces the Geneva Convention, it is an important return to the rule of law.'"

The 9/7/06 article in the Washington Post was, if anything, even more laudatory of the new AFM:
Pentagon officials yesterday repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, specifically forbidding U.S. troops from using forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and waterboarding to elicit information from detainees captured in ongoing wars.

The Defense Department simultaneously embraced international humane treatment standards for all detainees in U.S. military custody, the first time there has been a uniform standard for both enemy prisoners of war and the so-called unlawful combatants linked to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.
The article falsely claims the AFM bans manipulation of sleep patterns. Regarding any controversy, the article explains:
Three expanded techniques -- good cop, bad cop; pretending to be an official from another country; and detention in a separate cell from others -- are allowed but require approval from senior officers. Officials originally considered keeping those three techniques classified but decided to make them public for the sake of full transparency.
The Post article also briefly mentions the generally positive response of human rights groups:
"This is the Pentagon coming full circle," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "This is very strong guidance."
As for the human rights organizations, Amnesty International later essentially signed off on the AFM. In an article from the Winter 2007 issue of Amnesty International Magazine, Jumana Musa, quoted in the L.A. Times article above, had this to say about the new AFM:
AIUSA also worked with U.S. representatives and senators to introduce legislation to create a single, transparent standard for interrogations and to limit the CIA to approved interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.
In a telephone interview for this article, Mr. Malinowski said he supported using the Army Field Manual as a replacement for the CIA "enhanced interrogation techniques," and described the question of abuse in Appendix M as not entirely clear. The language in Appendix M was "ambiguous," and open to criticism due to a "lack of clarity." He maintained, however, that using the current Army Field Manual as a model was merely a beginning, and that a new overhaul of interrogation techniques was on the agenda.

A call made to Amnesty International's press contact regarding this issue, and an e-mail sent to Jumana Musa, were both unreturned.


Two conclusions can be drawn from the above examination of the "selling" of the Army Field Manual to the American public in the late summer of 2006 and beyond. One is that reporters on the beat were very aware of the origins and implications of the issues surrounding Geneva and the AFM, and the controversies surrounding the use of isolation and other techniques under the rubric of "Separation." The extremely muted or non-existent discussion in the mainstream press of these issues after the AFM was introduced means that a decision to suppress these issues was made at an editorial level, and were not the result of laziness or dilatory reporting on behalf of reporters.

Secondly, the role of some human rights organizations in promoting the new Army Field Manual -- in particular, the actions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch -- are curious, to say the least. Press reports and the interview with Malinowski show that inclusion of certain human rights organizations in the vetting of the AFM started at the very beginning. We may not be able to find out what went on in the editorial offices of the nation's top newspapers, but we should know more about the discussions within the human rights organizations on how they advised, or were fooled, by talks with Bush administration and Pentagon personnel.

Meanwhile, other human rights organizations, such as the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights, have criticized the language and techniques described in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, and called for rescission of the offending text. In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in May 2007, Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR, and retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, MD, former Commanding General of the Southeast Regional U.S. Army Medical Command, wrote:
The new Army Field Manual on human intelligence gathering... explicitly prohibits several SERE-based techniques, yet Appendix M of the manual explicitly permits what amounts to isolation, along with sleep and sensory deprivation. The manual is silent on a number of other SERE-based methods, creating ambiguity and doubt over their place in interrogation doctrine....

PHR, therefore, respectfully urges you to take the following actions:

1. Fully implement the OIG’s recommendation to “preclude the use of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape physical and psychological coercion techniques” in all interrogations. (Id, pp. 29-30.) This includes rescission of Appendix M of the new Army Field Manual and specific prohibition, by name, of each of the known SERE-based methods and their equivalents.
It seems likely that the Army Field Manual, whether by executive order (most likely) or by legislation, will become the new "single standard" for U.S. interrogation. Press reports hint that the Obama administration may yet allow a loophole for CIA interrogators. I don't know how that will sit with the many military lawyers and officers who have been instrumental in opposing Bush/Rumsfeld's torture policies from the beginning. I'm thinking of people like Alberto Mora and Antonio Taguba, or the new nominee for DoD General Counsel, Jeh Charles Johnson, who apparently intends to seriously change the policies set by his predecessor, Jim Haynes.

In any case, the full history and controversy behind torture and U.S. interrogation policy deserves a full airing. What happened, for instance, between June and September 2006, allowing for Pentagon acceptance of the Appendix M abusive procedures? When it comes to the implementation of a host of torture and cruel, inhumane interrogation techniques by the U.S. government, both an investigation and prosecutions are needed.

It will be a challenge for our society to bring out the full story, while also bringing to justice those individuals who broke both domestic law and international treaty. We will need both investigations and prosecutions in order settle scores with the past, to understand where we stand now, and what we need to change to move forward.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obscurity Blankets Certain Anti-Torture Moves

Josh Gerstein at Politico has ably described the important shortcomings one finds in President Obama's Executive Orders issued yesterday to close Guantanamo and end torture. While the CIA is disallowed from using waterboarding and other "enhanced" torture techniques, and forced to adhere to the standards (flawed as they are) of the Army Field Manual; and while the CIA is forced now to close their secret black site prisons; and while Guantanamo itself is to be close "promptly... within a year", there are some troublesome problems remaining.

Not least is the problem with the Army Field Manual itself. Some former Bush administration figures and CIA types see the AFM as insufficient to guide their interrogation actions in the field. They want the ability to improvise their techniques to the given interrogation or situation. Many of these same people are implying that Obama's moves to close Guantanamo raises the spectre of the release of horrible terrorists in the homeland itself, who will attack American communities. In a column today, Glenn Greenwald dissects this fear-mongering campaign by the right.

Others, like myself, see the AFM as abusive in and of itself. The inclusion of Appendix M, and other procedures allowed by that document, means that use of techniques such as isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners is still allowed. These techniques, especially when used in combination, which is what the AFM suggests, certainly amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading behavior (in contradistinction to Geneva rules), if not torture itself.

Josh Gerstein emphasizes a now much-examined aspect of the language of the executive order on interrogations:
[The] order also created an interagency commission which will have six months to examine whether to create “additional or different guidance” for non-military agencies such as the CIA. One group that represents detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, deemed that an “escape hatch” to potentially allow enhanced interrogations in the future.

White House counsel Greg Craig told reporters such fears are misplaced. “This is not an invitation to bring back different techniques than those that are approved inside the Army Field Manual, but an invitation to this task force to make recommendations as to whether or not there should be a separate protocol that's more appropriate to the intelligence community,” he said....

“For now, they’re punting, saying they’ll comply with what’s in the Army manual…but at some point in the future this commission may revert to the executive” to recommend harsher techniques, said [Yale law school lecturer, and attorney for Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Zuhair, Ramzi] Kassem, adding that he was concerned about how transparent the commission’s recommendations would be.
Gerstein has other caveats, as well. For one thing, the man ultimately in charge of Guantanamo in the last few years for Bush, Secretary of State Robert Gates, is also the man now in charge of re-examining whether conditions there meet "humane standards of confinement." His findings will be interesting for yet another reason. As Gerstein points out, Guantanamo prisoners still suffer from isolation and force feeding.
According to detainee lawyers, about two dozen inmates who refuse to eat as a form of protest are currently being force fed, and about 140 are in some form of solitary confinement....

As far as we know, the force feeding and solitary practices continued onto Obama’s watch. Craig dodged a question about the new president’s views on those issues. “I'm not going to get into the details,” Craig said.
As I and others have noted, Obama's executive orders say nothing about other U.S. prisoners held in Baghram (about 600), and the tens of thousands held in Iraq. Nor does the halt in the military commissions mean there won't be a return to some form of ersatz trial body in the near future.
That suggestion exasperates detainee lawyers like Kassem. “That would be a huge mistake, “ he said. “That system [is] set up to launder statements obtained through torture… What’s the point of getting rid of our offshore, improvised, sham, military tribunals in Cuba, only to recreate it here in the United States?”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has called for trying prisoners (who can be charged) in ordinary criminal courts.
The new administration must repatriate those who can be released safely, secure safe haven in the United States and other countries for those who cannot be repatriated safely, and prosecute in federal criminal courts those who should be prosecuted. Only 250 of 779 men remain in the prison camp. Most can be returned to their home countries through vigorous diplomacy. A smaller number need to be offered protection in the United States or third countries, many of whom have already begun to come forward to offer help to the new administration. There is no justification for continued detention without trial or the creation of special courts; such proposals would continue the human rights disaster rather than end it.
A number of political forces are circling around the torture interrogations issue. Senator Dianne Feinstein has apparently decided that Obama's executive order is not secure as policy, and declared she will go forward with legislation to "codify" the change to the Army Field Manual, making it less likely it can be overturned by further executive actions.

While Feinstein may see this as a progressive step, I see it as a danger, in that the abusive techniques left in the Army Field Manual will be perpetuated.

Much struggle still remains in the fight against torture. This next period will see a heightening of that struggle. One thing remains clear: we must not let the discussions and battles over it creep back into backroom corridors and out of public awareness. Hopefully, Obama's wish for greater openness, and his recent efforts to strengthen access to presidential records and government documents in general, through the Freedom of Information Act, will assist us in this effort. But the main tool of change will remain public awareness and public vigilance.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

PHR Praises (Critically) Obama's Executive Order on Torture

Whenever I find myself getting too negative, or on the contrary, being unreasonably optimistic and not attending to important information, I can count on the very reasonable and knowledgeable folks at Physicians for Human Rights to set me back on the right course.

This is the feeling I got once again when I read their press release today on President Obama's Executive Orders ending the illegal U.S. detention and interrogation program. While I have emphasized in previous posts my concerns about the what has been left out of Obama's reforms, or places where the torture cancer remains untouched or lies dormant, PHR takes a balanced approach, approving of important changes regarding torture and interrogations from the Bush years, and looking forward to the needed changes still necessary to return to this country to completely civilized status.

What follows is today's PHR press release:
For Immediate Release: Jan. 22, 2009

Contact: Nathaniel Raymond

PHR Praises President Obama's Executive Orders Ending Illegal US Detention and Interrogation Program; Accountability for Perpetrators of Torture Still Needed

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) praises President Obama for signing historic executive orders today that end the US' illegal detention and interrogation program, marking a clear departure from the abuses of the past administration and a return to the rule of law.

"PHR applauds President Obama's swift action to reclaim America's legacy as a nation committed to the rule of law," said Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer of PHR. "The reforms enacted today represents a victory for human rights and a blow against the use of torture."

Despite today's major progress, additional work remains to be done. PHR calls on President Obama and Congress to immediately authorize a non-partisan commission to investigate the authorization, legal justification, and implementation of the Bush Administration's regime of psychological and physical torture. Any accountability mechanism must include a subgroup tasked with investigating the participation of health professionals in detainee abuse. Additionally, any evidence that U.S. officials violated anti-torture law should be turned over to the Department of Justice.

"The desire to turn the page on the past seven years of detainee abuse and torture by US forces is understandable," Donaghue said. "However, President Obama, Congress and the health professions will not have fulfilled their obligation to the Constitution and medical ethics if we settle only for reform without accountability."

PHR urges the Obama Administration to end the use of Behavioral Science Consultants (BSCs) in interrogations. The continued use of BSCs violates medical ethics and subverts the traditions of the healing professions. Any procedures currently in place involving health professionals in interrogations which violate medical ethics should be prohibited.

"The past administration's weaponization of the health professions to inflict harm on detainees constitutes a war crime unto itself," said Donaghue. "Despite all that has been disclosed so far about abuses committed by health professionals, many questions remain, chief among them is whether there will be any accountability for gross violations of medical ethics and the law."

Additionally, PHR also calls on the task force appointed by the president to review US interrogation and transfer policies to revoke Appendix M of the Army Field Manual. This section allows the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and isolation—tactics which can constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under U.S. and international law. PHR encourages the task force to consult with human rights organizations as part of the review process.

Physicians for Human Rights mobilizes the health profession to advance the health and dignity of all people by protecting human rights. As a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. For more information, please visit us at

Confusion in the Press on Torture Plans

An Associated Press story by Lara Jakes and Pamela Hess, released last Friday, reports on President Obama's intention to limit the CIA to interrogation techniques listed in the Army Field Manual. The pending Executive Orders on interrogation would also end the practice of detention by the CIA in secret prisons.(Not pending anymore, see link.) But, in a potential sop to the Agency:
[Obama's] advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon...
Such a "loophole" would be included as a classified annex to the Army Field Manual, which the article assures us doesn't allow threats or coercion, while also banning physical abuse and outrageous torture techniques like waterboarding. The article does single out, without explanation, that there is a special AFM technique allowed "in some cases" -- isolation.

Without knowing it, and not knowing the history of the writing of the Army Field Manual, or possibly forgetting it, or maybe suppressing it, the AP reporters misrepresent that document. There already was a controversy over adding a classified annex to the AFM -- over three years ago. That controversy ended with the publication of disputed techniques of interrogation in an unclassified appendix to the Army Field Manual (Appendix M, "Separation"). That appendix includes descriptions of coercive psychological torture techniques, including isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory/perceptual deprivation, as well as others that are included in the manual proper (such as "Fear Up" and "Ego Down" [humiliation]). These techniques are most harmful when combined together, and are similar to those used by the Stalinist countries and the Nazis to break men down. They are also similar if not identical to the main techniques of coercive interrogation and torture advocated for use by the CIA in its KUBARK interrogation manual of the early 1960s. (See this link for fuller explanation.)

With all the double talk and off-again, on-again secrecy about interrogation techniques, one shouldn't blame the AP reporters for their confusion. But they owe it to their readers to get the story right. Here's one example of that confusion:
The military rejected adding a classified annex to the manual before it was published in 2006 because it believed having two sets of rules could confuse soldiers and reasoned that the classified techniques would quickly become known once those interrogated were released.
But, if they would have only read the current Army Field Manual, they would have seen that two sets of rules already apply, and that Appendix M techniques are only for use on "unlawful enemy combatants."

The threat once more to add a classified annex of more coercive techniques serves two purposes. One, it satisfies those CIA officers who want the freedom to improvise more coercive forms of torture in the field. It also gives interrogators leverage in promoting the most basic factor in breaking down prisoners, fear, as a detainee can feel unsure just what kind of torture will be thrown at him. Worry, anxiety and fear work harder on a person's mind and body than an actual physical punishment, as a person can learn to endure the latter, or come to feel the worst has been experienced. But then I don't have to tell everybody this; it's all there, discussed in length by the CIA in its KUBARK document.

Secondly, the threat to add more coercive techniques to the AFM works as a cover for the fact that there are already abusive procedures in that document that amount to psychological torture. bmaz at Emptywheel/Firedoglake makes the point regards the latter in a recent posting, noting that Judge Susan Crawford at Guantanamo very recently described the combination of "legal" procedures upon prisoner Mohammad al-Qahtani as "torture." I would question Judge Crawford's opinion that most of these techniques were legal, but they were certainly commonly used upon prisoners, and did amount to torture. Most of those techniques are allowed in the current AFM. Some of them are not, i.e., the use of working dogs or stress positions. But just because the latter are removed doesn't mean the core KUBARK program of isolation and sleep deprivation and fear/humiliation doesn't remain.

Therefore, should the trial balloon over a special "loophole," or "classified annex" for CIA interrogation techniques should fail to pass Congressional or public muster, there is always Appendix M to fall back on, ignored in all the hubbub over some new secret techniques. This is the art of using the "Overton window", which the former administration had practiced with great mastery. One would have hoped such forms of shaping public discourse would have been abandoned in this new administration of proclaimed transparency. But I guess when it comes to CIA and military interrogation something less than full openness is preferred.

Still, it's good to see that not everybody is buying the entire package, as proven by dday's comments on Appendix M at digby's blog, Hullabaloo, today.

In general, torture and interrogation are tough stuff to read about, and the natural inclination to look away works to keep the public in a state of ignorance, the better to be fooled. Reporters rely too much on government press releases and briefings, and translate government spin into received wisdom, which is then transferred to their readers, and so the parameters of public discourse become set. In this sense, Jakes and Hess are not singled out for particularly bad reporting, as they are typical of their peers in this sense, of accepting military or CIA explanations for how things are, and not digging deeper.

Obama is to be congratulated for wanting to close Guantanamo, hold the CIA to non-abusive forms of interrogation, and in general trying to return the world of interrogation and military detention to a semblance of obeisance to international lawful standards. But there are a lot of questions about Obama's policy still on the agenda, and a lot of pressure coming from what we might call "interested parties." What will Obama's position be on extraordinary rendition? What about the hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners held in the U.S. "war on terror" in other U.S. prisons, such as Baghram?

The public must call for no special loophole for the CIA on the matter of interrogations. They must also call for the removal of Appendix M and abusive techniques like "Fear Up" before giving any pass to Obama's call for changes in interrogation. Otherwise, we will have done not much more than put lipstick on a pig. (Now where have I heard that one before?)

Update: The same threat to add coercive procedures to the otherwise supposedly sanitized AFM is repeated in today's AP story by Ben Feller, reporting on Obama's signing of executive orders that will lead to the eventual closing of Guantanamo, a shut-down of CIA prisons, an affirmation to the right of habeas corpus by detainees, and an end to the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques". From now on the CIA will have to rely on the Army Field Manual techniques. While this will aggravate the agents in the field, it will still leave much leeway for certain traditional CIA forms of interrogation, as described above.

Obama's changes are in general positive. But they do not go far enough, and the status of what exactly will be changed, as in the case of future adjudication of the Guantanamo prisoners, or how "terror suspects" will be handled in the months or years to come, await the conclusion of review task forces. The latter are headed by the main administration bureaucracy at State, Defense, and the intelligence agencies, and coordinated by the Attorney General. Their trustworthiness is yet to be determined, and in some cases these people are already known and not very untrustworthy, given their support of the Iraq War, or over-identification with intelligence and covert operations.

Isn't it funny that no one thinks that it would be a good idea to have some on the spot oversight by human rights groups? Obama has strengthened the Freedom of Information Act as a tool of non-governmental oversight. But why is there not input in these "task forces" by prominent human rights groups or individuals? What's even more remarkable is that no one even sees fit to ask.

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