Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review - Surviving Evil: CIA Mind Control Experiments in Vermont

While the CIA's MK-ULTRA mind control research, and associated experimental programs concerned with interrogation, torture, and use of incapacitating agents and lethal weapons, involved many dozens, if not hundreds of top U.S. researchers, and cost many millions of dollars, actual testimony from its victims is extremely difficult to find.

Publishers, news agencies, and mainstream bloggers have shunned such stories, while most victims have been either too psychologically and physically damaged, or too frightened, to come forward. Others have been written off as "crazy." Indeed, CIA stories about "mind control" have sometimes brought out persecutory delusions in the purely mentally ill.

An Involuntary Experimental Subject 

But this is not one of those stories. This victim of CIA mind control research will not be dismissed, and her book, Surviving Evil - CIA Mind Control Experiments in Vermontis largely the tale of how she documents what happened to her.

While former MK-ULTRA subject Karen Wetmore was made an involuntary subject of CIA experiments from the age of 13, and suffered from ongoing psychiatric breakdowns over the years, involving major depression, PTSD, serious dissociation (including dissociative identity disorder), autoimmune disorders and psychotic episodes, her journey from powerless victim to intrepid researcher, whistleblower, and champion of historical truth is admirable.

Wetmore used FOIA, wide-ranging research, and a dogged determination, to gather materials that would document what happened to her. In the course of her journey -- meant to reconstruct her both her life and her sense of unified self -- she discovered that the story was bigger than just her own life and experience. By luck or circumstance, she was trapped inside a tremendously large, bureaucratic, inhumane, covert program in mind control and interrogation research, run by the CIA and the Department of Defense, with tentacles spread throughout the government, academia, and medical and pharmaceutical companies and associations.

Surviving Evil  is published by Manitou Comunications, a small firm owned by Colin A. Ross, M.D, who himself published an important book on the doctors who worked for the CIA in MK-ULTRA, and to whom Wetmore turned for advice and counsel during her journey. In the end, Ross helped her publish her memoir.

The book has all the strengths and a few of the weaknesses of a personal document and testimony. It is first of all an amazing story of Wetmore's recovery from psychiatric illness and trauma, made all the more impressive when you realize that she was not only combatting her own psychic demons but also government agents who did not want her to tell her story, or even know what had happened to her. Just as frustrating is the lack of help or interest in those to who she repeatedly reached out for assistance, documentation, and just plain human empathy.

Luckily for Karen, at crucial times she found people who were supportive or sympathetic. None of these were probably more important than Kathy Judge, the therapist that guided her out of the hell that is Dissociative Identity Disorder. It worth noting that while the Vermont native was horribly abused by many doctors and other medical personnel -- whose crime in many cases was silence in the face of unethical and illegal behavior -- she finds some doctors and nurses to praise for their humanity, kindness, and assistance.

Karen Wetmore was psychiatrically hospitalized at Vermont State Hospital (VSH) in the 1960s and early 1970s, and spent years there and in other psychiatric facilities. She was given powerful antipsychotic and tranquilizing drugs (and also likely hallucinogens like LSD), massive electroshock therapy, metrazol chemically-induced shock, was straightjacketed for months, probably hypnotized, and also likely sexually abused.

Recovering a History

Wetmore has searched diligently for records of her treatment, but was told they were destroyed. Yet by persistence and possibly luck -- including at one point a hint from an otherwise unhelpful CIA FOIA office -- she was able to put together some of the story, finally finding a link between psychological testing she was given at VSH and the CIA's MK-ULTRA testing psychologist, John Gittinger of Psychological Assessment Associates. (Gittinger's story was recounted in John Marks' classic book, Search for the Manchurian Candidate.)

Before she's done, Wetmore impressively linked her abuse to the operations of top CIA researcher, Dr. Robert Hyde, and others who occupied powerful medical and academic positions in the 1950s-1970s. An earlier version of her story was published in an important newspaper investigation at the Rutland Herald in November 2008. Journalist Louis Porter concentrated on following the links between Hyde and VSH. It's a rare instance of investigative journalism into the nationwide scandal that was MKULTRA (and associated programs), all-too-unique as for the most part researchers over the past 15 years have ignored the scandal. One major exception is H.P. Albarelli, who wrote an encyclopedic work on the subject, centered around the death of CIA-DoD researcher Frank Olson.

At one point in her book, Karen confronts Dr. Frederick Curlin, who had been Assistant Superintendent at VSH during part of her stay there. Her account of her conversation with the doctor is chilling. After telling Wetmore to look into his eyes, and telling her he will buy a plane or bus ticket so she can leave Vermont, Karen confronts Curlin:
"... Did you know that VSH was conducting CIA experiments?"

"Call me Doc. I love you Karen."

"Are you CIA, Dr. Curlin?"

"Not every good Indian is a dead Indian. I do love you."(p. 35)
The book is an exciting read, almost like a detective story, as Wetmore tries to put together the truth of what happened to her. At times the story rambles, and the book could sorely use an index. But in the end, her narrative holds together. When I looked up obscure references that relied on documentary evidence -- like the very little known Rockland Project, or the matter involved in MK-ULTRA subproject 8 -- the facts always checked out. Karen Wetmore has done her homework, and paid in blood and tears for having had to do it.

The narrative is often heart-breaking, and even the occasional repetitiveness works to help the reader understand how Karen's story was revealed to her over long periods of time, with sporadic new pieces of information or memories added after many iterations. The intrusive and often partial memories are like the heavy, persistent, if sometimes halting music played by PTSD, that can't be escaped.

Standing Witness

In the end, I can't review this as I would any book, for it's not just any book. It is an historical document, and the voice within is authentic. Wetmore can be plaintive, angry, sometimes confused, but more often authoritative. In my mind, she is a hero. She opens new avenues for researchers.

The best example of this is her research into deaths at VSH during the period it was presumably a CIA research facility. Wetmore documents inpatient death rates at the hospital of 11-15% per year from 1953-1972. While I could not find what normal death rates in hospitals were during that period, a CDC document I found states that normal hospital inpatient death rates from 2000-2010 were 2-2.5%. I believe that rates from thirty years earlier could not have been much more. In any case, this is a prime example of work still yet to be done.

Surviving Evil is the testimony of a witness and must be respected. We all owe Karen Wetmore a debt of gratitude. I know the impulse is to turn away from such evil as she reports, but we owe it to her, and to ourselves, not to do that. The people who did terrible things to Karen, and hundreds or thousands of others, were never held to account for it. Now a new generation practices their dark arts at CIA black sites, Guantanamo, and who knows where else. The archives remain mostly closed. Thousands of documents have been destroyed. Some few voices are still trying to speak out. Here's one. Listen.

Cross-posted at FDL/The Dissenter

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Punitive Use of Medical Restraints on Guantanamo Hunger Strikers

A partially redacted set of medical records released in the aftermath of the 2006 deaths of three Guantanamo prisoners shows that the use of "medical restraints" in the use of forced feeding of hunger striking detainees was used as a threat on hunger striking prisoners. At least one detainee was told over and over that use of "medical restraints" was due to his voluntary refusal to eat.

While Guantanamo medical authorities said the need for restraints was due to "medical necessity," such necessity was never documented. Instead, it was clear the use of restraints was punitive in nature.

The use of medical restraints in forced feeding, for which DoD uses a restraint chair, is not a normal procedure at other penal institutions. In a letter nearly one year ago from the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Feinstein noted, "When force-feedings do occur within the Bureau of Prisons, we have been told that nearly 95% of the time they are conducted with a fully compliant inmate requiring no restraints. At Guantanamo Bay, on the other hand, all detainees being force-fed—regardless of their level of cooperation—are placed in chairs where they are forcibly restrained." (Emphasis added.)

In the medical records (PDF) for Ali Abdullah Ahmed (ISN 693) in March 2006, a "Gitmo Nurse" noted in Ahmed's medical chart numerous discussions with the prisoner about his refusal to eat and the policy to feed him forcefully, a policy that insisted that the prisoner's behavior "must change":
Detainee placed in [redacted] Reason for Restraint: Medical Necessity [last two words are circled]

Detainee was advised by the Medical Staff that hunger striking is detrimental to his health. His behavior is due to his refusal to eat and not due to mental status change or illness. Medical Staff/Guards attempted to get the detainee to eat on his own. He is being offered food at every meal, yet he refuses to eat. Because the detainee refuses to eat, restraints were initiated for medical necessity for feeding. Detainee will be observed continually and he will be reminded of how his behavior must change (he must eat voluntarily) to avoid the use of medical restraints for present and future feedings. Detainee was told that he will remain in medical restraints until feed and post feed observation (60-120 minutes)

Elsewhere in the medical notes (3/7/2006), the nurse states, "There is no evidence that medications or a medical process is causing this detainee's refusal to eat."

Other notes show that while Ahmed was kept in restraints, he remained under "Line of Sight Observation." Circulation checks were made every 15 minutes for the first hour, and then hourly thereafter. Vital signs were checked immediately after the restraints are attached, and every hour thereafter. The medical restraints order expired only after 12 hours. No reason why it is medically necessary to restrain the prisoner was ever given in the notes I saw. No evidence of opposition to the process of enteral feeding by Ahmed was ever described.

The policy of keeping Ahmed in medical restraints through his "post feed observation" was not consistent with the SOP for hunger striking as later revealed in the March 3, 2013 Standard Operation Procedure for hunger strikes and forced feeding obtained by Jason Leopold for Al Jazeera last year.

According to the portion of the policy titled "Chair Restraint System Clinical Protocol for the Intermittent Enteral Feeding of Detainees on Hunger Strike," "Medical restraints chair restraint system) should be used for the safety of the detainee, medical staff, and guard force.... Upon completion of the nutrient infusion and removal of the feeding tube, the detainee is removed from the restraint chair and placed in a 'dry cell'. The guard force will observe the detainee for 45-60 minutes for any indications of vomiting or attempts to induce vomiting."

But this is not what happened to Ahmed, who perhaps along with other detainees was kept as long as possible in a five point restraint chair, or possibly a restraint bed. The purpose of prolonging his restraints could only be punitive in nature, to teach him a lesson and get him to "change."

Only three months after the notes quoted above, Ahmed was one of three prisoners found supposedly hanged in their cells. The government maintains the three prisoners hanged themselves in an act of "asymmetrical warfare," but recent revelations by researchers at Seton Hall Law School (and Scott Horton at Harper's) show that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), charged with investigating the deaths, withheld crucial information from their report, hiding information about the deaths that came from witnesses and even the Senior Medical Officer on site which contradicted the government's own narrative.

The new information which has come to light argues that Ahmed and the two other men died with socks or rags stuffed down their throats, possibly part of an interrogation session meant to force the prisoners to turn informants for the CIA or the Department of Defense. The Senior Medical Officer (SMO) at Guantanamo who attended at least two of three high-profile “suicides” at Guantanamo concluded at the time that, contrary to the conclusions of the NCIS investigation, the detainees did not die by hanging but by “likely asphyxiation” from “obstruction” of the airway. His conclusion was never mentioned in the NCIS report, and later interventions by the Department of Justice prevented inquisitive congressional representatives from knowing that fact.

"The Torture Chair"

The secretive, abusive Guantanamo regime is under new scrutiny of its hunger striking procedures, thanks to a lawsuit by a Guantanamo prisoner.

According to Ben Fox at AP, attorneys for Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab have been viewing almost three dozen videotapes a federal judge ordered government authorities to turn over to the defense in Dhiab's appeal to stop his forced feeding. Dhiab is one of a number of hunger strikers currently refusing food at Guantanamo in protest of inhumane conditions and their indefinite detention.

Dhiab himself has been cleared for transfer or release from the Cuba-sited prison since 2009. The next hearing in his case is on June 18.

Due to a change in policy last December, DoD will not report the actual number of active strikers, or those refusing food, in what many believe was an attempt by authorities to reduce the political effectiveness of the prisoners' strike technique.

A lot has been written on the torture that is Guantanamo's forced feeding policy, which includes brutal beatings -- so-called Forced Cell Extractions (FCEs) -- to bring the hunger striking prisoner to a restraint chair, where he is strapped down and has liquid food put down a tube forced down his nose and into his stomach. The speed at which the liquid is forced down a prisoner's gullet is something defense attorneys have likened to the ancient "water cure torture."

The UN high commissioner for human rights, the World Medical Association, and other medical and human rights organizations have said forced feeding of prisoners amounts to torture.

In a June 3 filing by one of Dhiab's attorneys, Jon Eisenberg, wrote, Dhiab "does not object to being force-fed in order to keep him alive, as long as the force-feeding is 'civilized.' He states: 'I am willing to be force-fed in a humane manner.' His recent force-feedings, however, have not been humane. He asks: 'Is it necessary for them to torture me? Is it necessary for them to choke me every day with the tube? Is it necessary for them to make my throat so swollen every day? Do I have to suffer every day? Is it necessary for them to put me on the torture chair in order to feed me?'”

A new version of the Guantanamo SOP for use on hunger strikers, who are now called "Detainees With Weight Loss" on "long-term non-religious fasts," placed instructions on use of the restraint chair into its own new SOP. That document, like almost everything else at Guantanamo, is currently classified.

Cross-posted at FDL/The Dissenter

Monday, June 2, 2014

New Report: NCIS Hid Medical Evidence About Guantanamo Suicides

The Senior Medical Officer (SMO) at Guantanamo who attended at least two of three high-profile "suicides" at Guantanamo nearly eight years ago concluded at the time that, contrary to the conclusions of a later government investigation, the detainees did not die by hanging but by "likely asphyxiation" from "obstruction" of the airway. Moreover this SMO found a prisoner he examined and pronounced dead had "cotton clothing material in [his] mouth and upper pharynx." (See pgs. 5-7 of this PDF to view the SMO's original findings.)

The finding is consistent with other accounts, and with the theory the three prisoners died from a torture procedure known as "dryboarding," as researcher Almerindo Ojeda described in an 2011 story at Truthout.

Yet, unaccountably, the SMO was never formally interviewed by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which had the Department of Defense mandate to investigate the supposed suicides. Furthermore, the SMO's account was not included in the NCIS final report. This new finding is one of a number of such discoveries detailed in a new investigatory report published last month by The Center for Policy and Research (CPR) at Seton Hall University School of Law.

Thus far, their report has been totally ignored by the press.

Other findings in CPR's new report either ignored or overlooked in previous investigations include the fact that guards who searched the deceased's rooms only hours prior to their deaths did "not discover anything that a detainee could hang himself with.... in the manner of the rumors" of their death by hanging.

CPR's report, "Uncovering the Cover-ups: Death in Camp Delta," was supervised by Seton Hall law professor (and attorney for some Guantanamo detainees) Mark Denbeaux, and co-written by Charles Church, Ryan K. Gallagher, Adam Kirchner and Joshua Wirtshafter. Joseph Hickman, who was at Guantanamo at the time of the deaths, and who figured so prominently in Scott Horton’s January 2010 Harper’s article, “The Guantanamo Suicides," acted as lead investigator. A full PDF download of the paper is available at this link.

This article will summarize CPR's findings, but it is highly recommended that readers study the entire report.

Newly Uncovered Documents

Last month, Scott Horton wrote an article at Harpers Magazine, "The Guantanamo 'Suicides," Revisited," which reproduced and annotated a document that had been suppressed in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) release of documents concerning their investigation into three purported suicides at Guantanamo on June 10, 2006. The document, part of a group of documents associated with a separate Staff Judge Advocate investigation of the deaths, had sat unexamined on a DoD FOIA website for literally years, until both Seton Hall and Scott Horton brought it to the public's attention. The original can be found on pgs. 15-17 of this PDF.

The explosive document -- a sworn statement by Master of Arms Denny called to attend to the suicides that evening -- states a number of facts from a witness on the scene that directly contradicts the story promulgated by Guantanamo officials and the NCIS report into the deaths. (Denny was named by Horton, but not described by name in the CPR report.) Horton and CPR describe Denny's account in some detail, including the fact attempts to revive a still living "suicide" were not made for some time, and that cloth wrapped tightly around his neck was not removed.

Government authorities contend the three prisoners died in an act of simultaneous suicide by hanging, an act JTF Guantanamo Commander Harry Harris described only one day after the deaths as "asymmetrical warfare." It is this version of what happened that has been accepted by a wide section of the press. Horton's article surmises that the prisoners may have died at Guantanamo's "Camp No," also known as "Penny Lane," thought to be a special CIA black site at Guantanamo used to coerce prisoners, including through torture, to turn informants for the U.S. government.

CPR's report goes much farther than Horton's article in documenting exactly how the government pulled this document -- Exhibit 25 of the NCIS report -- and replaced it with random pages from elsewhere in the group of documents gathered in the course of the investigation. Detailed in Appendix D of the report, the work is an impressive piece of forensic research.

This deliberate suppression of information contrary to the government's story should be a matter of public outrage and congressional investigation, but the CPR report also shows how the Obama administration's Justice Department deliberately misled congressional queries about the report in the wake of the 2010 Harpers report and earlier Seton Hall CPR investigation and report, "Death in Camp Delta" (PDF).

Unfortunately, for reasons that are not clear at present, Horton's recent article, which drew upon work done by Seton Hall's (CPR), did not include reference to to a number of other new findings and documents CPR uncovered in their ongoing analysis of the Guantanamo deaths (including the SMO report). The documents describe how important evidence contradicting the official narrative were withheld from the NCIS report. Furthermore, when congressional representatives went to the Department of Justice to ask for an investigation, they were lied to about how long the investigation had taken, and whether or not there was evidence that showed something other than death by hanging.

According to the CPR Executive Summary, besides the findings discussed above, the new report concludes:
• Contrary to standard investigative protocol, NCIS never authenticated “suspected suicide notes.”

• Contrary to standard suspected suicide protocol, NCIS never investigated the behavior, state of mind, or emotional condition of the dead men during the minutes, hours, days, and weeks before they died.

• NCIS failed to investigate multiple irregularities in protocol, among them: tampering with the contents of cells where the men were reported to have died, as well as more than fifty discrete events so irregular that they had no specific designation in the log book, and that were so secret that their details were redacted which occurred for hours before the alleged crime scene was secured and investigated by NCIS....

• Contrary to extensive protocol, the Camp Commander ordered the cessation of video recording of the events.
Cover-up or "Conspiracy building"?

The most compelling evidence of a cover-up consists of contemporaneous reports that all three prisoners were found with socks or other cloth material shoved deep into their throats. It was this account of the deaths that Guantanamo authorities moved quickly to cover-up and replace with a story that the detainees had hanged themselves.

According to Horton's 2010 article, the Joint Detention Group Commander, Michael Bumgarner, gathered camp personnel hours after the deaths and told them "you all know" the prisoners had died from swallowing rags and choking to death, but the press would be told something different: the prisoners had died by hanging themselves.

In May 2011, Alex Koppelman, then writing for Adweek, but currently the News Editor for The Guardian/US, wrote an influential article criticizing Scott Horton for "conspiracy building." He decried the story about Baumgarner's speech about "rags" -- because Bumgarner denied to him having ever made it. Koppelman's account was later cited in a government legal brief used to counter a lawsuit by the relatives of two of the Guantanamo "suicides." I deconstructed Koppelman's account in a series of articles that examined his arguments in detail.

But the new evidence in Horton's article and the Seton Hall report demonstrates conclusively that multiple witnesses on the scene, including the Senior Medical Officer, found cloth material inside the deceased's mouths and throats. This was no "conspiracy building": the evidence was covered up.

Among many telling details in the new documents, Master of Arms Denny's account of how one detainee, ISN 093, Yasser Talal al Zahrani, was found alive even two hours after he supposedly hanged himself. Denny witnessed cloth matching a ligature placed around Zahrain's throat being wrapped around his hands:
I observed a Corpsman wrapping an altered detainee sheet... around the detainee’s right wrist. The other side of the material was bound to the detainee’s left wrist with approximately a foot of cloth in between. The cloth was not on the detainees [sic] wrists when the Camp 1 guards removed the handcuffs a few minutes earlier.
The fact all the "suicides" had their hands bound was supposed to be evidence of collaboration in the "asymmetrical warfare" that was simultaneous suicide. But Denny's account shows the "evidence" was being fabricated after the supposed suicides themselves.

The Seton Hall report deserves wide exposure and Congress must undertake its own investigation, as it's evident that DOJ and the Obama administration have no intention of looking further into what happened. But according to Seton Hall's Executive Director for Communications, Janet LeMonnier, attempts to get attention from multiple attempts at media outreach have garnered "very little interest," and CPR personnel are frustrated at the lack of response.

Even so, Mark Denbeaux told me in a phone interview that Seton Hall's investigations are going forward, and another report with even more new revelations is due out early next year.

Cross-posted from FDL/The Dissenter

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