Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trump Reveals Details of His CIA Torture Program: Isolation, Sleep Deprivation, Shackling, and Slow Starvation

According to the leaked draft version of President Trump's Executive Order, "Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants," Trump's interrogation policy will resurrect a version of the CIA's torture program, such as it existed in July 2007. [See Update at end of posting.] That was when Steven Bradbury wrote an Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] memo to John Rizzo, who was then Acting General Counsel at the CIA.

Trump's draft order rescinds two Executive Orders former President Obama issued in the first weeks of his first term. Section 1 of Trump's order reads:
Revocation of Executive Orders. Executive Orders 13491 and 13492 of January 22, 2009, are revoked, and Executive Order 13440 is reinstated to the extent permitted by law.
Besides formally shutting down the CIA's torture and detention program, and (supposedly) close Guantanamo, Obama's action also withdrew all the OLC memos on interrogation/torture drawn up during the Bush administration.

Bush's Executive Order 13440, "Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3 as Applied to a Program of Detention and Interrogation Operated by the Central Intelligence Agency," was issued the same day as a new OLC memo that clarified the legalities as the Bush Administration wanted them to be to prosecute the CIA's interrogation and detention program, which had been under attack from various quarters at that time. EO 13440, where Bush signed off on the supposed compliance of the CIA's program with Common Article 3 protections in the Geneva Conventions, was meant to go with Bradbury's memo. It was a two-fer.

Trump's order would withdraw Obama's own rescissions of the Bush-era CIA torture memos and replace them with Bradley's July 2007 memo. But none of the press accounts have explained what that means concretely. That's a shame, because the 2007 version of the CIA's torture program is very likely what we are going to see under a Trump-era CIA and national security interrogations in general.

The 2007 Bradbury memo gives approval to six "techniques" for the CIA to use in its interrogation of "enemy combatants" who have been denied protections as "prisoners of war" under the Geneva Conventions.

Similarly, even today, prisoners interrogated under the current Army Field Manual, approved by Obama and the US Congress, must adhere to Prisoner of War protections except those the administration deems unprotected or unprivileged. Those detainees are subject to further measures under the Field Manual's Appendix M.

The Appendix M techniques rely on sleep deprivation and solitary confinement or isolation, among other techniques, including the use sensory deprivation by means of goggles that obscure vision. As we shall see, these techniques are drawn from the more intense versions in the 2007 memo.

"Conditions of Confinement"

Both Trump's resurrection of the old OLC-CIA memo and today's Appendix M depend upon the use of isolation and sleep deprivation. For Bradbury, isolation and solitary confinement were relegated to "conditions of confinement." These conditions were promulgated in the CIA's black site prisons, under the advice and consult of the US Bureau of Prisons, and -- incredibly -- with the knowledge of Congressional leadership, at least that of the Senate Intelligence committee.

Bradbury noted in his 2007 memo that he had no need to justify the issues raised in an OLC memo on the subject, "Application of the Detainee Treatment Act to Conditions of Confinement at Central Intelligence Agency Detention Facilities," which he authored in August 2006. The use of isolation and other "conditions of confinement" noted below were taken for granted in the 2007 memo, and we too need to shoehorn them into our understanding of the burgeoning Trump torture program.

The other CIA "conditions of confinement" included blocking the vision of prisoners with some type of opaque material; forced shaving; the use of constant white noise and constant day-night illumination, as well as the practice of leg shackling in the cell.

Given these cruel and inhuman, if not tortuous conditions in and of themselves, the 2007 memo approved six special "techniques," among them slow starvation and "extended sleep deprivation," which amounted to keeping prisoners awake in forced standing positions for up to 4 days straight.

Slow Starvation and Extended Sleep Deprivation

The six "techniques" were as follows: 1) "Dietary manipulation," which means limiting caloric intake to "at least" 1000 calories per day, an amount that would result in slow starvation and malnutrition; and 2) "Extended sleep deprivation," which means up to 96 hours of enforced sleep deprivation, with up to 180 hours of sleep deprivation per month (maybe more if the CIA Director were to ask), and effected via use of shackles, extended standing (despite risk of dangerous edema), and the wearing of "under-garments" (really diapers), to shame the prisoner who cannot hold in urine or feces for up to four days straight.

The other four "techniques" were drawn from the military's torture survival course (known as SERE), and included 3) "Facial hold"; 4) "Attention grasp"; 5) "Abdominal slap"; and 6) "Insult or Facial slap." All of these SERE techniques are meant to demonstrate power over the person interrogated, and to enhance the humiliation and terror of the prisoner.

Taken together, there's no question that this 2007 version of the "enhanced interrogation" program, even though lacking use of the waterboard and confinement boxes, amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at the least, and more likely torture as a normative description.

The use of "dietary manipulation" deserves some further consideration. "Semi-starvation" was listed as a variable of "induced debilitation" in Albert Biderman's "chart of coercion", also known as "Biderman's Principles", which was taught to interrogators at Guantanamo by instructors from the Navy SERE program Dec. 2002, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee 2008 report on Detainee Abuse (p. 22 - link is a large PDF).

"Semi-starvation" is a form of inducing debility in a prisoner. According to Dr. Josef Brozek, of "the famous Minnesota Starvation Study," who gave a talk on the subject to CIA-linked scientists back in a 1950s symposium, explained:
"A situation in which food would be offered on certain occasions and would be withdrawn on other occasions would constitute a more intensive psychological stress than food restriction alone. It would result in severe frustration, and would more readily break a man's moral fiber. By combining such a treatment with other forms of deprivation and insult, one could expect eventually to induce a "breakdown" in the majority of human beings."
I have campaigned long and hard against the use of Appendix M and other techniques within the Army Field Manual's main section, especially the techniques "Fear Up," "Futility," "Ego Down," and "Mutt and Jeff." But the proposed Trump interrogation program -- incorporating a more intense and inhumane form of sleep deprivation, forms of sensory deprivation, physical abuse inherent in the "slaps," and the use of shackling and starvation -- is a giant step in the wrong direction.

Nothing describes the reactionary nature of a society more than its use of torture. The US has not rid itself of this evil, and even worse, it has collaborated with allies around the world to perpetuate it, even while formally, it has signed treaties that eschew the crime.

According to news accounts, the Trump administration claims current members of the White House staff did not produce the new draft Executive Order, nor has Trump signed it... yet. Given the strident right-wing course of this administration, I don't think this draft EO is a trial balloon.

The 2007 Bradbury memo derived its authorities, as it explained, from President Bush's September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification (MON), which gave the CIA authorization to run a detention program. That 2001 MON has never been rescinded, and no doubt Trump's attorneys will lean on it, and any new OLC memos considered necessary to firm up the implementation of the new torture program.

I believe the 2007 version of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program will be what the new Trump torture program will look like. What is described above is a first peek. I'm sure we'll hear and know more as time goes on.

Update: Wait! Trump pulls back

A February 4 New York Times article by Charlie Savage reports that the Trump Administration has pulled back on portions of the draft interrogation memo discussed above. In particular, Trump appears to have pulled back on the full revocation of the Bush-era OLC memos, has dismissed a study of reopening the CIA black sites, and withdrawn any reliance on the 2007 Bradbury memo, which would allow for the "extensive sleep deprivation," solitary confinement, and other forms of abuse detailed above. Even so, the revised draft is supposed to contain language that would keep Guantanamo open.

The revised draft itself has not been released, so we'll have to wait to see what Trump actually intends. At the least, it sounds like he wishes to keep Guantanamo open, and accelerate interrogations, which would of course include Appendix M interrogations.

The Savage article says nothing about a provision to review the Army Field Manual. I wouldn't be surprised if an earlier suggestion from the Bush years -- to add a secret portion to the manual -- is recycled.

But even as is, as the UN committee that monitors the international treaty on torture made clear, the US interrogation program under the Army Field Manual provisions still contains cruel, inhumane, and degrading techniques, some of which rise to the level of torture (the UN singled out sensory deprivation actions that can cause psychosis). This remains true even if the press and the "liberal" bloggers don't care to report or comment on it!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

U.S. Court Rules Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners Have No Right to Be Released

I'm very worried this story will be swamped by other news.

Below is a press release put out today by the international human rights organization, Reprieve. It concerns an outrageous ruling by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia. The ruling stated that long-time Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser cannot be released from Guantanamo, even though a government board said he could, and even though the only reason given is bureaucratic red tape.

The situation for 56-year-old Moroccan Abdul Latif is dire, because while President Obama has been able to release dozens of detainees from Guantanamo in his final weeks in office, the incoming president, Donald Trump, whose inauguration is imminent, has said he wants to keep Guantanamo open, and has criticized Obama for the recent prisoner releases.

According to Reprieve's website, Abdul Latif was "sold for a bounty to the US military in 2002." His original habeas petition for release from detention dates back to April 2005. Can the wheels of justice grind any slower?

According to Kollar-Kotelly's court ruling, last July the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB), established by President Obama to assess whether or not prisoners at Guantanamo merited ongoing incarceration, “determined that continued law of war detention of [Petitioner] is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

But Abdul Latif's home country, Morocco, was slow in giving the security assurances the U.S. wanted prior to release. Those assurances were made, however, via diplomatic note on December 28, 2016. But Congress requires a 30-day notice prior to release, and that 30-day notice will not be up by the time Trump becomes President. Tough luck for Abdul Latif, says the judge.
Because Morocco’s response came "less than 30 days before the Secretary of Defense would leave office, the Secretary of Defense did not make a final decision regarding the transfer, including whether the requirements of § 1034 of the 2016 NDAA were satisfied and the transfer was in the national security and policy interests of the United States, as he elected to leave that decision to his successor. Resp’ts’ Resp. at 6–7."
That "successor" is likely to be Marine Gen. James Mattis, who is on record as opposing any further Guantanamo releases. Because of red tape, Abdul Latif, who the PRB, a board composed of six agencies — the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — cleared for release, may be sealed up as in a tomb in what will now be Trump's Guantanamo.

Even worse, it seems, is what Reprieve calls the "advisory" only aspect of the PRB ruling: "The Executive authority enacting the PRB review process unequivocally states that the PRB’s findings '[do] not address the legality of any detainee’s law of war detention.' Exec. Order No. 13,567 § 8 (2011)" To Judge Kollar-Kotelly, Abdul Latif cannot demonstrate any "invasion of a legally protected interest" in his continued indefinite detention. Maybe this makes some legal sense, but damn if anyone else will find reason in it.

Yesterday, January 18, Reprieve attorneys "filed emergency litigation on Abdul Latif’s behalf, asking the court to relieve the Obama Administration of the burden of the 30-day Congressional notice requirement. This would allow the Administration to release him to Morocco, his home, before President-elect Trump took office."

Emergency Plea to President Obama

But the court said today that the PRB ruling was only "advisory. Reprieve has written an emergency letter today to President Obama asking him to release Abdul Latif immediately.
We have just learned that Abdul Latif's freedom will be denied by government red tape — a result that is as pointless as it is cruel. He was due to be released before you left office, but as the final days of your administration rushed by, we learned he would be left behind....

We learned yesterday that the transfer process has simply been too slow. The Moroccan government just took too long to respond to the United States' resettlement request....

We implore you now to use your enormous power to help a man whose fate is entirely in your hands. A man who your State Department promised to return to his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews in Morocco. We implore you to withdraw opposition to our motion today, and instruct your Defense Department to transfer Abdullatif home to Morocco immediately — a home that affirmatively requests his return. This is a result that all parties seek — Abdul Latif, the United States Government, and the Moroccan Government. Bureaucracy will steal yet more years of our client’s life unless you act now.

Abdul Latif has a stable, loving family eagerly awaiting his return, as noted by the Periodic Review Board, and he will have the ongoing support of Reprieve's Life After Guantánamo program. There is no sense in the United States holding him even a day longer. We beg that you do not leave him stranded in Guantánamo Bay.
Imagine being one week shy of liberty, and then being trapped in a torture hell for life!

Reprieve Press Release
An American court has today ruled that men cleared for release in Guantánamo Bay have no legal right to leave the prison - despite winning in the only viable release mechanism they have.

In declining to enable the emergency release of cleared prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, the DC federal court insisted that Abdul Latif had no right to be released because a win at the Periodic Review Board is merely 'advisory'. This leaves prisoners at Guantánamo stranded: with no charge, no trial and no viable, enforceable path to release.

Abdul Latif, a 51 year-old Moroccan, was unanimously cleared by the Periodic Review Board for transfer home to Morocco on July 11. He remains imprisoned simply because the government's transfer process has been too slow. There is no evidence that the Obama Administration did anything to hurry the process along.

With no release in sight and fearing the worst, Abdul Latif filed emergency litigation last Friday. As part of this litigation, the US government admitted that bureaucratic slowness was the only reason he had not been returned home.

Abdul Latif now faces indefinite detention at the mercy of the Trump Administration.

Reprieve attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis said: "It is distressing that we cannot rely on our courts to enforce basic justice and common sense. Everyone wants Abdul Latif to go home—the US government, the Moroccan government, and his family. The government admits that his detention is “no longer necessary,” but will keep him simply because the change in administration has halted their plans—a devastating conclusion for Abdul Latif."

The court's ruling is here. More information about Abdul Latif‘s case and emergency litigation is available on the Reprieve US website, here.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New DoD Document Claims Implausible Suicide Pact in Deaths of Gitmo Detainees Adnan Latif & Mohammad Al Hanashi

On November 21, 2016, the U.S. military's Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) released a "Force Protection Report" and two high priority emails sent to Guantanamo's guard force commander, Colonel John V. Bogdan, concerning the suicide threat of Adnan Farhan Abd Latif, who died in the early morning hours the day following the report and the emails.

Bogdan was in charge of JTF-GTMO's Joint Detention Group and was the Guantanamo official who recommended Latif be sent to a punishment cell in the island prison's Camp Delta, where he purportedly died of an overdose the next day. Latif also was suffering from pneumonia, according to the official Army Regulation 15-6 investigation into the “facts and circumstances” surrounding the September 8, 2012 death of Latif, a young brain-damaged detainee from Yemen, so it's strange that Bogdan got a medical release to send Latif to the punishment cell from the Behavioral Health Unit where he'd been held for severe mental illness and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The small release of FOIA documents was in response to a request I made a little over three years ago. The full set of documents are posted at (or alternatively, here).

Intelligence Units Informed About Detainee's Suicidality

While still heavily redacted, the FOIA release shows that information about what was thought at the time as a possibly imminent suicide attempt by Latif was shared with Guantanamo's intelligence unit at the "WFC" (Warning and Fusion Cell) and the "HOC" (HUMINT Operations Cell), which provided technical support to intelligence operations at the camp.

Ever since the early days at Guantanamo, intelligence and guard units worked in close collaboration together, but what intelligence value Latif supposedly held is unknown. So far as I know, this new information is the first instance of Guantanamo's WFC and HOC units being reported as associated at all with Guantanamo's internal response to suicidal prisoners.

Even more intriguing, the Force Protection report included a "Collectors Comment" that claimed Latif "was tasked to commit suicide with YSM-078 in June 2009." YSM-078 was Mohammed Al Hanashi, who the "collector" dryly notes "did commit suicide." The supposed suicides of Al Hanashi and Latif, and also the 2007 death of Abdul Rahman Al Amri in a high-security cell, are examined in detail, based on the FOIA release of numerous NCIS and military documents in my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo.

Despite the claim Latif was "tasked" to kill himself, there is no indication in any other record released thus far, or anywhere in DoD's declassified AR 15-6 report on his death, that Latif was supposed to commit suicide with Al Hanashi in 2009, or told to die with the latter, who also was from Yemen. As the NCIS FOIA documents on Al Hanashi's death are quite extensive, it is clear that Al Hanashi did not die according to any plan on a particular date, but had been severely depressed and suicidal for months, if not years. In my reading of the documents, his final act of suicide was either facilitated by Guantanamo personnel, or he was killed and it was made to look like suicide, with the reason for such killing unknown.

A Suicide "Conspiracy"?

It is worth noting that Behavioral Health Unit personnel were evidently told "through various JTF meetings" that Al Hanashi himself was on a "directed suicide list." According to testimony from camp health personnel, Al Hanashi thought he was supposed to die with the three detainees who all supposedly committed suicide (or were killed) in 2006, but this was understood as something he felt guilty about.

Camp authorities back in 2006 characterized the three deaths at that time as a joint suicide, an act of "asymmetric warfare," or alternately as "a 'mystical' belief at Guantánamo that three detainees must die at the camp for all the detainees to be released." (On the latter theory, see also here.)

The testimony of one Guantanamo guard, Joseph Hickman, present in 2006 (who later went on to research what took place), and the work of a raft of researchers, including Scott Horton at Harper's magazine, and Seton Hall Law School professor Mark Denbeaux and a number of his students, have poked significant holes in the Pentagon's story.

A University of California at Davis professor, Almerindo Ojeda, found the deaths were suspiciously similar to the torture of another U.S. prisoner who had endured something called "dryboarding." Even more, an alternative narrative emerged wherein the detainees were subjected to experiments, probably on interrogation or torture, possibly on the use of mefloquine as a torture agent, and died with the deaths then staged to look as suicides.

The work of Horton, Denbeaux, Hickman, et al., was met by a firestorm of criticism calling the charges baseless "conspiracy." Hence, it is no small irony to consider that internally, camp officials told those responsible for the care of suicidal prisoners that there was a conspiracy about to have detainees kill themselves upon the "tasking" of someone or some entity.

Was there really a "directed suicide list"? Were the three "suicides" from 2006 and the deaths of Al Hanashi in 2009 and Latif in 2012 all linked? That appears to be what Guantanamo personnel were told inside the camp. But there's no backup documentation, and the existing evidence for the deaths of all of these prisoners shows no coordination or adherence to any suicide pact. So why would anyone be told otherwise? Also, while DoD officials said the 2006 suicides were part of some pact, they have not publicly said the same about Al Hanashi or Latif.

As could be expected, these new revelations leave us with plenty of questions. What was the role of intelligence in the deaths of these individuals? What was the purpose of contending internally there was a "directed suicide list" but not publicly refer to this in the deaths of two detainees?

All of this leads to the overarching question: what really happened inside Guantanamo? It is sad testimony that when it comes to deaths at that facility, we still don't know the full truth.

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