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!

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