Monday, January 19, 2009

Firedoglake Picks Up Army Field Manual Torture Story

Originally posted at Daily Kos

I was very grateful to see bmaz over at Firedoglake take up an issue I have been pushing very much at Daily Kos and elsewhere for the past few years. Really, my first big support on my opposition to using the Army Field Manual, as written, as a "single standard" for interrogations by the Pentagon and CIA, was by DKos front-pager Meteor Blades, picking up a story published by AlterNet, who also supported this story..

My objective in researching and reporting on the AFM issue was to change the public discourse about it, especially as Democrats had decided that the AFM was the perfect counterweight to the CIA's "enhanced interrogation methods." It was John McCain's idea to have the Pentagon and CIA hold to the AFM standards. But then Rumsfeld's office (or someone) ran an end run around him, rewrote the AFM, inserted techniques that amounted to psychological torture, and then battled with opponents over it for months, until finally the AFM was published the way Rumsfeld and his lieutenant, Stephen Cambone, wanted it.

Whatever the AFM was supposed to be, by September 2006 it wasn't that anymore, and not the press, or McCain, or even any bloggers were talking about it. Apparently there was an opposition from within the military, including military attorneys, and even some high officers, but they weren't going public with it, except to leak to the press. After September 2006, even those leaks stopped, possibly due to the political cave-in that was the passing of the Military Commissions Act.

There were two exceptions I was aware of, and one of them was myself. The other was Physicians for Human Rights, who opposed Appendix M from the beginning.

What is Appendix M? It is an addition to the Army Field Manual that allows for special interrogation techniques to be used against so-called "unlawful enemy combatants," such as the administration labeled the detainees at Guantanamo. In reality, the special techniques allow use of isolation/solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and arguably, other procedures similar to Guantanamo's hated "frequent flyer" torture program. As a result of the inclusion of these abusive technqiues, and others, I and others have stated that the AFM fails to meet the requirements of the Geneva conventions, the UN Convention Against Torture, the War Crimes Act, and other laws and treaties.

The AFM, as rewritten, includes problematic procedures even outside of Appendix M, including a rewrite of its use of the dubious technique of "Fear Up." Whereas in the earlier version of the AFM "Fear Up" allowed exploitation of the fear a prisoner might feel upon incarceration, the new version, which is in the main section of the manual, not Appendix M, allowed for the creation of "new" fears. The change was included in a clause of only a few words. In many ways, the AFM inclusion of torture is a classic case of the devil being in the details, or in the fine print, in this case.

bmaz's article picks up where mine left off by tying the kind of treatment advocated by the AFM to the torture endured by Mohammad al-Qahtani, otherwise known as Prisoner 063, whose interrogation logs made a sensational splash when published by Time Magazine a few years ago. The military interrogation of al-Qahtani amounted to torture, Susan Crawford, the convening authority to the military commissions, admitted to Bob Woodward in a bombshell interview the other day in the Washington Post.

Noting how Crawford emphasized the combination of interrogation techniques, most of them similar to those laid out in the current AFM's Appendix M, bmaz noted:

Crawford has exposed to bright sunlight the lie that is Barack Obama's, and other politicians', simple minded reliance on the Army Field Manual as cover for their torture reform credentials. Interrogators can stay completely within the Army manual and still be engaging in clear, unequivocal torture under national and international norms, laws and conventions....

The Army Field Manual provisions, especially with those pesky footnotes like "Appendix M", leave a wide open path for torture. And this is exactly what Susan Crawford directly admitted to Bob Woodward. This is a significant problem, the very torture, and modalities thereof, that are so abhorrent are about to be ratified and enshrined into the ethos of the new Obama Administration. What is worse is that the media and the country as a whole are biting off on the proposition that the torture regime is being slain in the process, and that is simply not the case.
bmaz notes that better people are soon to inhabit some of the posts within the Defense Department and other governmental agencies, and that they want to help change the former illegal policies. But he notes that issues like the current Army Field Manual and its Appendix M stand in the way of making these changes, and calls, as I do, for its removal.

It is very difficult to affect public discourse when the bulk of the mainstream media, politicians, human rights agencies, and even big-time political bloggers keep silent. To be honest, it makes one doubt one's sanity at times. That's why I want to give a big thanks of appreciation to bmaz (and the FDL crew) and Meteor Blades, for helping to push this issue forward. There are others behind the scenes who I know have supported this, and have kept me going, and I am very grateful to them, as well.

The AFM is only one piece of the larger picture regarding the torture project undertaken by the Bush administration, and it may not even be the most important piece. But I think the background story behind it may lead us to some very interesting places. And then, for the sake of those detainees currently held by U.S. forces in Guantanamo, Baghram, and U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention CIA "black site" prisons and prison ships, I could not stay silent when right in front of my eyes I saw the implementation of a torture program, albeit without some of the more unsavory and infamous techniques, like waterboarding and sexual humiliation. Probably, it was the elimination of these that kept many from seeing for a long time exactly what was actually wrong with the Army Field Manual.

I hope you are motivated to go read bmaz's excellent piece, and not because I am prominently mentioned in it. I think bmaz did an excellent job of drawing out the current significance of the issue and applying it to an important breaking story. That's what the truth does for you: it takes disparate pieces of information and throws a light upon it that draws out its true significance.

Onward and upward to prosecutions of those involved in the planning and implementation of torture by United States officials!

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