Saturday, August 23, 2014

Did CIA/SSCI Revolving Door Lead Feinstein to Suppress Full Torture Report?

Marcy Wheeler at the Emptywheel blog is known for her facility at connecting the dots in relation to government and intelligence matters. An excellent recent example is her most recent posting, which looks at how "vague references to claims that surely were torture derived" were used back in 2004 by now-CIA chief John Brennan in a scare memo to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to substantiate his case for legally justifying a Internet dragnet. (I use the word "substantiate" guardedly.)

I have a tangential interest in this same memo, as it mentions (and not the first time this has been documented) that Tenet spent seven years working for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the very same institution that was charged with investigating Tenet's own torture program. For over four of those years (November 1988 through January 1993), Tenet was SSCI Staff Director.

While Tenet was Staff Director, the Minority Staff Director was John H. Moseman. In February 1996, Moseman was appointed Director of Congressional Affairs of the Central Intelligence Agency, demonstrating that the revolving door between the CIA and its Congressional overseers was not a partisan affair.

Moseman went on to become Tenet's Chief of Staff at CIA in 2001, serving until 2005. Today, he is an "Executive Advisor" at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Not everyone went from Congressional cloakroom to Langley. The Chief Clerk for the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kathleen McGhee, has served from Tenet's days at SSCI until January of 2014. In addition, sometimes the revolving door rotated in the opposite direction. When in February 2002, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees announced a joint investigation into the facts behind 9/11, they hired former CIA Inspector General L. Britt Snider to head the unified staff for the joint inquiry.

Another hire from CIA was Charles Battaglia. Battaglia, who had been the Navy's director for psychological operations during the Vietnam War, served as special assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence from 1978 to 1981. He was a senior line manager at the CIA from 1981 to 1985, and then went to work as on staff at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He ultimately became Staff Director, like Tenet, in the mid-1990s.

After leaving SSCI, Tenet went straight to the White House, where he worked as "Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Intelligence Programs."

If this were any other institution, there would be an outcry, or a least some raised eyebrows, over this revolving door between IC regulators and the IC itself. One has to ask whether what we have with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees isn't an instance of what George Stigler called "regulatory capture."

But, you may ask, isn't there a big conflict between the SSCI and the CIA over the former's attempt to regulate the latter, in the sense of holding them accountable for their torture-interrogation program?

In fact, given the amount of worldwide outrage over the revelations surrounding the US/CIA/DOD torture program, the actions of the SSCI appear to be one of helping the CIA with damage control, rather than actually bringing the scofflaws to heel.

The Senate investigation only began years after the revelations about CIA torture were made public. Indeed, scandals over CIA torture and assassination have come and gone over the decades without the SSCI, including the SSCI under Tenet, initiating any major investigation.

Moreover, even now, with some 6000+ pages of report and millions of pages of documentation, the SSCI has indicated that it will only release a few hundred pages of "Executive Summary." This "Summary" will be so carefully controlled by the CIA, i.e., by the very agency the SSCI is supposed to be overseeing, that, as Jason Leopold revealed the other day, it will not even name key personnel in the torture program like James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, despite the fact their identities were revealed by a separate investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But behind the hullaballoo over the CIA fight with Feinstein and her committee over the Executive Summary is the unassailable fact that the SSCI has suppressed its own report. Feinstein has said there is no planned release of the actual report itself, even though the mainstream press continues to treat the fight over censorship in the Executive Summary as a fight over the report itself. No, there is no fight over the main report. George Tenet's former employers do not threaten the CIA with that.

Another Suppressed Congressional Report on the CIA

This is not the first time Congress has suppressed a report on the CIA. In 1976, Congress voted to suppress the House Select Committee on Intelligence's Pike Report. A sampling of the report's conclusions may help one understand why.

"If this Committee's recent experience is any test," the Pike report concludes, "intelligence agencies that are to be controlled by Congressional lawmaking are, today, beyond the lawmaker's scrutiny.
These secret agencies have interests that inherently conflict with the open accountability of a political body, and there are many tools and tactics to block and deceive conventional Congressional checks. Added to this are the unique attributes of intelligence -- notably, "national security," in its cloak of secrecy and mystery -- to intimidate Congress and erode fragile support for sensitive inquiries.

Wise and effective legislation cannot proceed in the absence of information respecting conditions to be affected or changed. Nevertheless, under present circumstances, inquiry into intelligence activities faces serious and fundamental shortcomings.

Even limited success in exercising future oversight requires a rethinking of the powers, procedures, and duties of the overseers."
This was said even after the Committee had spent many months gathering a great deal of evidence (some of which today can be accessed here).

The Pike Report was suppressed by Congress after it was completed and after the CIA complained. It was never officially released to the United States citizens who paid for it. The late Daniel Schorr famously released a leaked copy to the Village Voice, which published it to great fanfare. Schorr was castigated, and his career and liberty temporarily threatened.

The history of what was in the Pike Report has mainly been ignored and forgotten, which is what happens when political history is suppressed.

Could the CIA have learned from this that to keep matters under control that one of their own should be well-placed inside the very oversight instruments of Congress itself? Could this have been George Tenet's role from his very first day working for SSCI?

I have no evidence that is the case, but there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to present to at least ask the question.

Here's another question, though no one -- and ponder that "no one" a bit -- no one has asked Senator Feinstein and her committee why they are not releasing the full report. The taxpayers paid for it. The crimes ostensibly investigated therein constitute among the most heinous possible, being torture and murder by torture, ordered by the Chief Executive of the land.

Why is the SSCI acting as an agent of cover-up? If the Congress cannot do their job of oversight, what options are left for civil society?

Appendix: Who was on the SSCI back when Tenet served? Looking at a hearing from April 1992, we see that Democratic Senator David Boren was chairman , while Republican Senator Frank Murkowski was vice-chair. Others serving included Ernest Hollings, Bill Bradley, John Warner, Alfonse D'Amato, Alan Cranston, John Danforth, John Chafee, John Glenn, Dennis Deconcini, Slade Gorton, Howard Metzenbaum, and Bob Kerrey. George Mitchell and Robert Dole served Ex Officio. Sen. Feinstein entered the Senate as Tenet was leaving his post at SSCI to work for the NSC. In July 1995, Tenet became Deputy Director of the CIA.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

CIA Intervention in Ukraine Has Been Taking Place for Decades

"The most powerful form of lie is the omission..." -- George Orwell

Of all the aspects of the current crisis over the NATO/Russia standoff in Ukraine, the determined intervention into Ukrainian political affairs by the United States has been the least reported, at least until recently. While new reports have appeared concerning CIA Director John Brennan's mid-April trip to Kiev, and CIA/FBI sending "dozens" of advisers to the Ukrainian security services, very few reports mention that U.S. intervention in Ukraine affairs goes back to the end of World War II. It has hardly let up since then.

The fact of such intervention is not hard to find. Indeed, it's hard to know where to start in documenting all this, there is so much out there if one is willing to look for it. But the mainstream U.S. press, and their blogger shadows, are ignoring this for the most part. Some exceptions at the larger alternative websites include Jeffrey St. Clair's Counterpunch and Robert Perry's Consortium News.

Even these latter outlets have almost nothing to say about the approximately 70 year history of U.S. intervention in Ukraine. The liberals and progressives avoid the subject because otherwise one would have to address the full reality of the intensive U.S. Cold War against the Soviet Union, and the covert and overt crimes and operations conducted by the U.S. against the USSR. Because the liberals share an anti-communist consensus, not far removed from Ronald Reagan's view of the USSR as an "Evil Empire," they have little to no interest in addressing the full history of the period.

But the current crisis in Ukraine, which pits a U.S.-backed coalition, which includes neo-Nazis, in Ukraine against Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern regions of the country, threatens to turn into a hot war between not just Ukraine and Russia, but between two nuclear-armed foes, NATO and Russia. Indeed, in the past six months, besides Brennan's visit,  the U.S. Vice-President and the head of NATO have all visited and consulted in Kiev with the current Ukrainian regime.

And now, the U.S. has announced it is sending military "advisers" to Ukraine, as the current government there prosecutes a major military operation against separatists in the East, which human rights groups say has included indiscriminate shelling, killing of civilians, torture, and kidnappings on both sides. The bulk of indiscriminate shelling, according to Human Rights Watch, has come from the U.S.-backed government forces. Amnesty International has documented that human rights violations and war crimes are committed by even a member of the Ukrainian parliament with total impunity.

Return of the Repressed: Recruiting Fascists as Anti-Soviet Allies

Back on March 28, The Nation and Foreign Policy in Focus published jointly an excellent article pulling up some of the relevant history, "Seven Decades of Nazi Collaboration: America’s Dirty Little Ukraine Secret." The article does a good job showing how the right-wing, fascistic Svoboda Party in Ukraine has its roots in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN], which was one of a number of East Europe parties that allied at various points with the Nazis, and had their own racist, ethnic, nationalist doctrines.

After WWII, the U.S. made a pact with many of these leaders, ostensibly recruiting them as allies against the Soviets in the Cold War. Indeed, in the early years after World War II, the U.S. and the British hired Ukrainian nationalists, many of them associated with fascism, to parachute and conduct guerilla war in Ukraine and the USSR. When doing so, they turned a blind eye to many of these leaders' war crimes, including participation in the Holocaust. When these links were revealed years later, beginning in the 1980s, the CIA and State Department worked assiduously to deny these links to Congress and the press.

Almost all of these men were rounded up and shot. When the Soviets offered an amnesty to members of the Ukrainian Insurgents Army (UPA) in January 1950, 8,000 anti-Soviet guerillas still fighting within Ukraine turned in their arms. The U.S./CIA operation to use Ukraine as a base for war against Russia and the bulk of the Soviet Union ran out of steam. (See Stephen Dorril's MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, The Free Press, 2000, pp. 242-243.)

It has taken many years, and the dedicated work of people like John Loftus, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, Linda Hunt, Christopher Simpson, Tom Bower, and many, many others who fought governmental inertia and lies to get out the truth. Much of that truth still needs to get out, but slowly, surely, it is trying to find its way into the public's consciousness, as this Daily Beast article on Operation Paperclip taken from Annie Jacobsen's new book on the same subject demonstrates so well.

One important article, by Joe Conason in the Village Voice in 1986, examined the role OUN leader Mykola Lebed played for U.S. intelligence. I'm going to take up the controversy about the VV in the near future, looking at how the CIA continued to operate to protect its Ukrainian intelligence assets, even into the early years of the Clinton administration (and likely beyond). Such protection included lying to politicians, consulting with those under investigation for war crimes how best to deal with the political fallout, and in general falsifying history to protect their covert anti-Soviet program.

Yet can the truth stand up to the daily drumbeat of lies and anti-Russian propaganda coming at a feverish pace out of the White House? The U.S. has stepped up its overt intervention in Ukraine, and it would do well for everyone to know as much as possible the lead-up to this moment, as the pending NATO/US/Russia confrontation could threaten the very world we live in, that we all live in. The U.S. is clearly ratcheting up the political and military pressure against both Russia and China, and more than even what is happening in the Middle East, it is this renewed aggressive stance towards those two countries that will dominate the news and our lives in the coming decade.

U.S. National Archives Documents U.S. Collaboration with Fascist Ukrainian Nationalists

In a remarkable book published by the United States National Archives a few years ago, historians Richard Breitman and Norman J.W. Goda have examined recent declassified documents and put together an initial history of Army and CIA collaboration with some of the most important Ukrainian fascist leaders after World War II. Hitler's Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War (PDF) attempts to document "the Allied protection or use of Nazi war criminals; and documents about the postwar political activities of war criminals."

Hitler's Shadow was preceded by the 2005 publication, U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis, a Cambridge University Press book based on the earliest examination of new documents released as part of the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. While the history of Ukrainian nationalism shows that nationalist movements were squeezed between the policies -- and sometimes invasions -- of foreign states, the book makes clear that today's EuroMaidan heroes of yesteryear were in fact trained by the Gestapo and took part in the Holocaust.

Chapter Five of Hitler's Shadow, "Collaborators: Allied Intelligence and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists," examines recently declassified documents in regards to how US intelligence agencies recruited, paid, protected and used war criminals who collaborated with the Nazis. In particular, it looks at the careers Stepan Bandera and Mykola Lebed, two WWII "heroes" of the Ukrainian nationalist movement.

These Ukrainian fascists -- Lebed turned "democratic" once in U.S. hands after the war -- had their careers rehabilitated by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko. When Putin points to the pro-fascist tendencies and Nazis within Ukraine, he is referring at least to this kind of evidence.

However, Putin cannot really address the full history of the U.S. and CIA campaign because 1) the crimes of the Stalin government is not something the Russians like to talk about, and 2) the long history of U.S intervention in Ukraine is tied up with the decades-long Cold War against Soviet communism. Putin and his allies are antagonistic to Communism, and ambivalent, at best, about the Soviet period (even if many of them were in fact former Communists or Soviet officials themselves).

Like the dilemma of the U.S. liberals mentioned above, to fully embrace a history of U.S. Cold War intervention against the Soviet Union would mean assessing what the role of the Soviet Union was, and in this, Putin and his anti-Soviet allies within Russia (like the oligarchs in Ukraine and other former Soviet states), who got rich off the corpse of the USSR de-nationalization, are not interested in dredging up Cold War history. They all shared an animus against the Communists that matched that of the CIA.

Breitman and Goda describe how the CIA's Ukrainian operation, codenamed "Aerodynamic," worked (this is taken from a National Archives government document and the extensive quote is not subject to copyright restrictions):
AERODYNAMIC’s first phase involved infiltration into Ukraine and then ex-filtration of CIA-trained Ukrainian agents. By January 1950 the CIA’s arm for the collection of secret intelligence (Office of Special Operations, OSO) and its arm for covert operations (Office of Policy Coordination, OPC) participated. Operations in that year revealed “a well established and secure underground movement” in the Ukraine that was even “larger and more fully developed than previous reports had indicated.” Washington was especially pleased with the high level of UPA training in the Ukraine and its potential for further guerrilla actions, and with “the extraordinary news that... active resistance to the Soviet regime was spreading steadily eastward, out of the former Polish, Greek Catholic provinces.”97

The CIA decided to expand its operations for “the support, development, and exploitation of the Ukrainian underground movement for resistance and intelligence purposes.” “In view of the extent and activity of the resistance movement in the Ukraine,” said OPC Chief Frank Wisner, “we consider this to be a top priority project.”98 The CIA learned of UPA activities in various Ukrainian districts; the Soviet commitment of police troops to destroy the UPA; the UPA’s resonance with Ukrainians; and the UPA’s potential to expand to 100,000 fighters in wartime. The work was not without hazards. Individual members of teams from 1949 to 1953 were captured and killed. By 1954 Lebed’s group lost all contact with UHVR. By that time the Soviets subdued both the UHVR and UPA, and the CIA ended the aggressive phase of AERODYNAMIC.99

Beginning in 1953 AERODYNAMIC began to operate through a Ukrainian study group under Lebed’s leadership in New York under CIA auspices, which collected Ukrainian literature and history and produced Ukrainian nationalist newspapers, bulletins, radio programming, and books for distribution in the Ukraine. In 1956 this group was formally incorporated as the non-profit Prolog Research and Publishing Association [CIA cryptonym: QRPOOL]. It allowed the CIA to funnel funds as ostensible private donations without taxable footprints.100 To avoid nosey New York State authorities, the CIA turned Prolog into a for-profit enterprise called Prolog Research Corporation, which ostensibly received private contracts. Under Hrinioch, Prolog maintained a Munich office named the Ukrainische-Gesellschaft für Auslandsstudien, EV. Most publications were created here.101

.... Beginning in 1955, leaflets were dropped over the Ukraine by air and radio broadcasts titled Nova Ukraina were aired in Athens for Ukrainian consumption. These activities gave way to systematic mailing campaigns to Ukraine through Ukrainian contacts in Poland and émigré contacts in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Spain, Sweden, and elsewhere. The newspaper Suchasna Ukrainia (Ukraine Today), information bulletins, a Ukrainian language journal for intellectuals called Suchasnist (The Present), and other publications were sent to libraries, cultural institutions, administrative offices and private individuals in Ukraine. These activities encouraged Ukrainian nationalism, strengthened Ukrainian resistance, and provided an alternative to Soviet media.103

In 1957 alone, with CIA support, Prolog broadcast 1,200 radio programs totaling 70 hours per month and distributed 200,000 newspapers and 5,000 pamphlets. In the years following, Prolog distributed books by Ukrainian writers and poets. One CIA analyst judged that, “some form of nationalist feeling continues to exist [in the Ukraine] and … there is an obligation to support it as a cold war weapon.” The distribution of literature in the Soviet Ukraine continued to the end of the Cold War.104

Prolog also garnered intelligence after Soviet travel restrictions eased somewhat in the late 1950s. It supported the travel of émigré Ukrainian students and scholars to academic conferences, international youth festivals, musical and dance performances, the Rome Olympics and the like, where they could speak with residents of the Soviet Ukraine in order to learn about living conditions there as well as the mood of Ukrainians toward the Soviet regime. Prolog’s leaders and agents debriefed travelers on their return and shared information with the CIA. In 1966 alone Prolog personnel had contacts with 227 Soviet citizens. [pp. 88-89]
This is the first in a series of articles examining the history of U.S. and CIA intervention in Ukraine, from World War II to today.

Crossposted from FDL/The Dissenter

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Obama Admits He Banned Only "Some" of the CIA's Torture Techniques

Forgive the tongue-in-cheek, but it is almost as if the only person who reads and responds to my work on torture is President Obama.

There was a cascade of coverage of the President's August 1 remarks concerning John Brennan and his defense of his embattled CIA chief, as Obama was also widely derided for his seeming defense of those who tortured "some folks" after 9/11. (Obama did not mention that the order to torture came from the Oval Office.)

"Well, at least he called the crimes out as 'torture," some observers noted. Others, including some in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), called for John Brennan's resignation as CIA director after he admitted the CIA had spied on Congressional investigators who were writing a thousands-of-pages-long report on the CIA Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program.

An Executive Summary of that report, in a censored version produced by the CIA itself, is now back in the hands of the SSCI, who may or may not release it soon. The Committee has already decided the full 6000 or so page report itself will not be released for years (if ever), a cover-up of immense proportions.

Jason Leopold, who has been covering the story for Al Jazeera America and VICE, noted astutely in a tweet the other day, that Obama's comments at his August 1 press conference included a reference to his only banning "some" of the CIA's torture techniques. Leopold believed Obama previously had always been more absolute in his prohibition of torture.

The full quote from the August 1 presser is worth reproducing here. The quote below begins in the middle of Obama's defense of those who used torture after 9/11, i.e., those who are the subjects of the Senate's controversial torture report (bold emphasis is added):
And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that's what that report reflects. And that's the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.
Only "some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques"? Not all? Was this merely a slip of the tongue by the President? No one in the press corp seemed to notice, and no one took him up on the issue. To date, no one has in the press has at all (besides Leopold's tweets), though it is very much worth noting that Jeremy Scahill reported in July 2011 on the CIA's continuing use of black sites and torture in an important article in The Nation. Others had surmised as much even earlier.

But there was a much more insidious and institutional salvage of torture by the U.S. government, which, rocked after the Abu Ghraib revelations, tried to hide and maintain its use of detention and interrogation techniques that relied on force, mental cruelty, fear, isolation, stress positions, sleep and sensory deprivation, and the use of drugs. Waterboarding, for all the attention given to that brutal form of torture, was never really a major component of U.S. torture. There were even some in the CIA who would be glad to see it go.

Using solitary confinement, loud music and 24 hour bright lights, verbal abuse and humiliation, "dislocating the expectations" of prisoners by, for instance, moving them around every day so they never had a sense of solid place or safety or time to rest, or using drugs to disorient them -- this is the kind of torture that leaves deep psychological wounds, and which the U.S. wanted to maintain in its interrogation arsenal.

What Obama Meant by Banning Only "Some" Torture

Over the past few years, I have shown how first the Bush administration hid their torture program within a 2006 rewrite of the Army Field Manual on interrogation, then how the Obama administration via Executive Order made that same field manual the law of the land, incumbent on both the CIA and the Defense Department.

I showed that when in January 2009 Obama publicly revoked the Bush torture program, which the government labeled "extraordinary interrogation techniques," and all the John Yoo/Jay Bybee/Steven Bradbury Justice Department memoranda approving that same torture program, he did not do it in a blanket fashion, but referred the memos themselves to Eric Holder for review. Ultimately, as a Department of Defense spokesperson actually told me, the Holder and the Justice Department never rescinded one of the Bush-era torture memos, in particular the one that approved forms of torture that would be used in a special section, called Appendix M, of the Army Field Manual.

Obama's admission that he had only banned "some" of the previous administration's torture techniques was not the first time the government has made such an admission, however obliquely.

Last April, I wrote how the Department of Defense's main directive on interrogations (3115.09), which supposedly had banned SERE-derived torture techniques (like waterboarding, hooding, etc.) used by the government after 9/11, in fact made a note that only some of the SERE techniques were banned. The ones that were not banned resided in -- the Army Field Manual on interrogation, the same manual Obama had endorsed in his Jan. 2009 executive order on "lawful interrogations."

SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and is the name given to DoD's program to prepare military and CIA and other specific government personnel for capture and imprisonment by a brutal enemy. Its participants take part in a mock-prison camp exercise, and it was the kinds of torture practiced during that exercise that were utilized in full-blown operational mode by CIA and Defense Department interrogators in the so-called War on Terror.

The SERE-derived model, which is what the "extraordinary interrogation techniques" really were, was superimposed on an earlier torture program based on isolation and sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, fear and drugs, developed by the CIA and codified in a 1963 interrogation program that is referred to today as KUBARK. Earlier this year, I obtained a version of the previously declassified KUBARK manual with new portions now unredacted.

But oddly, besides myself, only Obama seems to have noticed that not all the torture techniques were rescinded by him. The press and certainly the Senate and the House of Representatives have ignored entirely the use of torture in the Army Field Manual. While some bloggers and human rights groups have noted the anomaly of having the nation's primary instructions on interrogation include torture techniques, and some have even called for a repeal of Appendix M or a rewriting of the field manual itself, none of these groups or individuals have made this a primary issue. Nor, when the controversy over the Senate report on the CIA torture program is discussed, is the ongoing presence of torture in the Army Field Manual ever mentioned.

The failure to take on the entire torture apparatus is one reason accountability for U.S. torture cannot get sufficient traction. The argument remains shackled by what the Establishment deems reasonable dialogue about torture. So one can criticize the embrace of euphemism to describe torture, or argue why waterboarding is torture, or shout loudly why the redacted portion of the SSCI's Executive Summary of their years-long investigation should be released, but evidently it is not reasonable, that is, establishment-sanctioned via the New York Times or other media or political authority, to bring up torture beyond the terms already established.

But now Obama has done it. He has said he banned only "some" of the torture techniques that were the target of the SSCI's report. Now, besides me, who's going to take him on about this?

Crossposted from The Dissenter/FDL

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Forbidden Book: Douglas Valentine's "The Phoenix Program: America's Use of Terror in Vietnam"

Article originally posted at FDL/The Dissenter

On June 10, Open Roads publishers announced a new "Forbidden Bookshelf" series. Curated by New York University Professor Mark Crispin Miller, "Forbidden Bookshelf" aims to "fill in the blanks of America’s repressed history by resurrecting books that focused on issues and events that are too often left in the dark."

One of the first books published in the series is Douglas Valentine's invaluable, in-depth history of one of America's most egregious counterinsurgency, torture and assassination programs, as described in his 1990 book The Phoenix Program: America's Use of Terror in Vietnam.

The book is intricately and densely written, yet reads like a Rashomon-like detective story, as Valentine allows many of the actors involved speak for themselves. Never has such an in-depth look at a major CIA operation been written. You know who did what and when. The larger picture is not lost either, as, for instance, Valentine refers to earlier counter-terror programs that influenced Phoenix, such as the UK's counterinsurgency-terror program in Malaysia after World War II.

An encyclopedic attention to detail is Valentine's forte, as those will know who have read his two-volume history on the rise of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The Phoenix Program itself was created by the CIA as a way to coordinate numerous counterinsurgency programs during the Vietnam war, using methods of blanket surveillance, kidnapping and extrajudicial detention, interrogation and torture, and the paramilitarization of the police. The goal, beyond gathering of intelligence, was to eliminate -- via murder, mass use of informants, and terror -- what the U.S. called the "Viet Cong Infrastructure" (VCI), especially the top and middle levels of VC leadership.

Instead, Phoenix sank under the weight of institutional corruption and interagency competition, not to mention Washington's demand to produce results -- even if there were no results to produce. Phoenix itself grew out of the CIA's theory of "Contre Coup," or "counter-terror." The idea was the U.S. would match the terror used by opponent forces, but do it even better.

As Valentine wrote in a May 2001 article: "The object of Contre Coup was to identify and terrorize each and every individual VCI and his/her family, friends and fellow villagers. To this end the CIA in 1964 launched a massive intelligence operation called the Provincial Interrogation Center Program [PICs].... Staffed by members of the brutal [South Vietnamese] Special Police, who ran extensive informant networks, and advised by CIA officers, the purpose of the PICs was to identify, through the systematic 'interrogation' (read torture) of VCI suspects, the membership of the VCI at every level of its organization...."

As the Vietnam War grew in intensity and the U.S. intervention neared half-a-million troops, the CIA tried to rationalize their anti-terror campaign, uniting their counter-insurgency, police, and intelligence aims, while working closely with their fractious South Vietnamese partners.

What followed was murder and torture and graft and corruption on a grand scale. Untold thousands died and were tortured. The figures for those killed in the "counter-terror" program range from the CIA's admitted 20,000 to over 40,000.

A vast number of those killed had no connection with the VC at all. Valentine explains in his book, "most Vietnamese jailed under Phoenix were anonymous pawns whose only value was the small bribe their families offered for their release." The bribes didn't help thousands, as Phoenix managers imposed quotas as high as 1,800 "neutralizations" per month.

Phoenix and Torture

The PICs became an integral part of Phoenix, and torture was standard operating procedure, while CIA "advisers" stood by. Later, CIA personnel argued they had tried to teach their South Vietnamese partners more effective kinds of interrogation, but in practice, they often were present during torture sessions, and countenanced much of what went on. Indeed, CIA's Support Services Branch was in charge of training police Special Branch officers in interrogation methods.

Valentine describes the torture in the PICs: "rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes or hard objects, and rape followed by murder; electrical shock ('the Bell Telephone Hour')," as well as suspension in air, beatings with rubber hoses and whips, "use of police dogs to maul prisoners,"and more. But as the first director of the PIC program in Vietnam, John Patrick Muldoon, told Valentine, "You can't have an American there all the time watching these things."

The situation will sound familiar to those who have followed the actions of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan who routinely turned over prisoners for torture to local authorities, while shadowy U.S. agents lurked in the background of the foreign torture chambers. (A direct report on such actions in Iraq can be seen in Peter Maass's video report, Searching for Steele. More recent revelations in a new FOIA of the CIA's interrogation manual from the 1960s shows such interactions with foreign intelligence and police services during interrogation and torture was something the CIA thought and planned about a great deal.)

When the CIA was in control of their own captives, they used the kinds of "touchless" torture they had perfected and described in their KUBARK interrogation manual. Valentine describes the torture of high-level North Vietnamese officer Nyguyen Van Tai, who was kept in a specially-built prison cell, kept in isolation and constant surveillance by hidden cameras, in a room painted "snow-white," all the while exposed to frigid air conditioning. The solitary confinement continued over four years without Van Tai ever admitting who he was.

"Colby's imprimatur"

In her August 2007 New Yorker article on the CIA black sites, Jane Mayer noted the interest of the CIA in the Phoenix Program as a model for the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

"A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance," Mayer wrote. "But, after September 11th, some CIA officials viewed the program as a useful model."

While as a work of history The Phoenix Program is one of the most important books ever written on the CIA and the military, on the birth of US "counter-terror" policy, and government sponsored torture and assassination programs, its relevancy to post-9/11 history is self-evident. Anyone trying to understand the chaos and crimes committed by US and associated forces in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars must know this book.

There's a good reason national security historian and author John Prados has called Phoenix a "must read." Heavily researched over a number of years, more than any other book I know of about the period (with Nick Turse's book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, a close second), Valentine's book relied on over 200 interviews with participants, including top CIA and special forces personnel. How the author obtained such access, and what happened as a result is a story in itself.

Valentine described the story in an email exchange with The Dissenter:

"I began work on The Phoenix Program in the summer of 1984," Valentine wrote. "I approached the subject from two angles. First, I made a direct approach to William Colby, the former Director of the CIA and the individual most closely associated with Phoenix, based on his defense of the program before several Congressional committees. Colby agreed to help and referred me to several CIA officers who played prominent roles in Phoenix. These former, and in some cases current, agents spoke openly to me, simply because I carried Colby’s imprimatur.

"Colby generated access lasted into 1987, when I started to notice doors closing and people avoiding me. I’d always known it would happen sooner than later, and I’d pretty much made the rounds, so it didn’t bother me too much. I’d hustled the CIA, I’d gotten inside its walls and rummaged around, and now the CIA was going to exact its revenge. That’s just how it works. If you fuck with he bull, you get the horns. Everyone knows that.

"I also got asked by CIA officer Bob Wall to join the CIA before the door slammed shut altogether.

"But I wasn’t ready to quit, and I wanted to back the CIA off a bit, so I filed a Privacy Act request, and in 1992 I got some results, thanks to the ACLU and a sympathetic judge in the federal district in Springfield, Massachusetts."

"It may cause damage"

More of the story is documented in John Prados' book, The Family Jewels:

"Elements at Langley became uncooperative after one retiree asked CIA lawyers, in the summer of 1986, what things were safe to talk about. When a Publications Review Board lawyer checked to see whether Phoenix was off-limits (the Board had previously cleared Phoenix material in works by Colby himself and agency officer Ralph McGehee), he was advised to caution interviewees not to talk to Valentine....

"By April 1988 the Publications Review Board was advising clandestine service officers of a concern that Valentine’s 'forthcoming book will contain so much detailed information about Agency operations and officers that... it may cause damage,' and asking that senior management of the Directorate of Operations should have the entire matter brought to their attention. Spooks, including some in the ostensibly impartial Inspector General’s office, were ranging the halls telling each other that the author was bad news and hoping they might escape his attention. Valentine eventually discovered this stonewalling due to the reticence of CIA veterans—and the materials quoted here emerged in the course of legal discovery in the lawsuit Douglas Valentine brought against the Central Intelligence Agency."

Valentine has posted online some of the legal documents from his lawsuit against the CIA. His papers collected in the writing of the book are held by the National Security Archives, and available to researchers. Many of his taped interviews, including interviews with William Colby and other senior Phoenix personnel, can be heard online (thanks Cryptocomb.org).

What Phoenix Wrought

While a good knowledge of the Phoenix Program in necessary to understand how U.S. counterinsurgency acts in reality in countries around the globe, in a new introduction for the Open Roads edition of the book, Valentine writes about the corrupting influence of Phoenix upon democratic processes domestically.

Valentine speaks of the "insidious" spread of Phoenix methods in the United States for the purpose of "the political control of its citizens through terrorism, on behalf of the rich military-industrial-political elite who rule our society."

"Indeed, America's security forces were always aware of the domestic applications of the Phoenix," Valentine writes, "and the program has not only come to define modern American warfare, it is the model for our internal 'homeland security' apparatus as well. It is with the Phoenix program that we find the genesis of the paramilitarization of American police forces in their role as adjuncts to military and political security forces engaged in population control and suppression of dissent."

For Valentine, who makes a compelling case, the building of Guantanamo, the use of black sites and torture, the provision -- even as late as 2013 -- for the indefinite detention of Americans and other "war on terror" prisoners, "was easy to predict," if you knew about Phoenix.

I am grateful to Doug Valentine and Mark Crispin Miller for giving The Phoenix Program a new publishing life, to help educate a new generation, which faces a fight against forces of state repression every bit as difficult and important as any faced in this country's history.

Other books released as part of Open Road Media's "Forbidden Bookshelf" series include Christopher Simpson's landmark history, Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Destructive Impact on Our Domestic and Foreign Policy; The Search for an Abortionist: The Classic Study of How American Women Coped with Unwanted Pregnancy Before Roe v. Wade by Nancy Howell Lee, Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football by Dan E. Moldea; and The Lords of Creation: The History of America’s 1 Percent by Frederick Lewis Allen. More titles are promised in the near future.

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)

GITMO Nurse
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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Psychologists Call for End to Abusive Interrogation Techniques in Army Field Manual

A group of psychologists who have been outspoken in opposing the use of U.S. medical professionals in interrogations have released a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel condemning the ongoing use of interrogation techniques amounting to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners.

The use of such techniques are found in the current Army Field Manual (PDF), and in particular in its special Appendix M, which summarizes a set of techniques, under the label "separation," that are only meant to be used on prisoners who the U.S. government claims don't meet the additional Prisoner of War protections of the Geneva Conventions -- prisoners like those held in indefinite detention at Guantanamo.

Even so, most human rights and legal groups have found the techniques under question -- solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, manipulation of diet and environment, use of fear and emotional abuse of prisoners -- to be against Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention Against Torture, and other international and domestic laws. (See "Contrary to Obama's promises, the US military still permits torture," The Guardian, Jan. 25, 2014).

Not mentioned in the letter, signed by Steven Reisner, President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), on behalf of his organization, is the recent discovery that the use of torture techniques derived from a government program to help military personnel resist torture (the "SERE" program), was never totally removed from the military's Army Field Manual. Instead, the Pentagon used obfuscating language and obscure references to hide that fact from the casual onlooker.

Indeed, the current Army Field Manual on interrogations, including its Appendix M, was the subject of an Office of Legal Council 2006 memorandum by "torture memo" author Steven Bradbury. While President Obama rescinded most of the Bush-era torture memos when he first came into office, he never rescinded the Bradbury memo on Appendix M.

To this day, the use of methods amounting to torture in the Army Field Manual continues, and while this is opposed by nearly every human rights group that has looked at the torture question -- from Amnesty International to Physicians for Human Rights, from Center for Constitutional Rights to The Constitution Project -- Congressional oversight personnel at the Senator Carl Levin's Armed Services Committee (SASC) state the procedures in the Army Field Manual and its Appendix M are not abusive.

The procedures in the Army Field Manual currently are backed by presidential executive order, and its methods are used by both the Department of Defense and the CIA.

A SASC staffer was quoted recently as saying, “We are comfortable that Appendix M of the Army Field Manual no longer permits the use of interrogation techniques that are cruel and inhuman, or are a violation of our obligations under international law.”

"No longer permits..."? Does SASC admit Appendix M once did permit torture? If it "no longer permits" such use of cruel and inhuman techniques, nor violate international obligations, can someone at SASC inform us of when that change took place? And what did that change consist of?

I don't think we'll ever get an answer to these questions. As long as the mainstream media, including so-called alternative outlets, continue to ignore the current use of torture by the United States, government apologists and those who cover for use of torture have nothing to lose by keeping mum.

History will not treat such cowardice and dishonesty kindly.

Below is the full text of the letter from PsySR. The link to the letter is here.

**********

April 29, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As an organization of health professionals dedicated to human rights advocacy, Psychologists for Social Responsibility strongly objects to practices that violate the ethics of health professions and lie outside the norms of international law and practice. The recent Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence confirms that, beginning during the Bush Administration, interrogation and detention practices were put in place by the CIA that constituted torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Practices once condemned under law and international treaty were soon redefined by the Justice Department to permit a "culture of torture" to proliferate under U.S. policy. These practices quickly spread to the detention centers of the Department of Defense and throughout the theaters of war. While legal progress has been made to limit these policies and practices, significant remnants remain under your authority. We write to you today to urge you to eliminate all existing procedures allowing for torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees.

In 2009, via Executive Order 13491, your administration officially announced its intention to end the torture practices developed and instituted under the Bush Administration. Interrogation practices that did not conform to the Army Field Manual were abolished. However, as documented by numerous legal and human rights groups, as well as by former interrogators,[1] the Army Field Manual still includes abusive techniques in violation of these standards.

We concur with the recent recommendation of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP)/Open Society Foundations report [2] calling for you to issue a new executive order banning interrogation techniques using isolation, sleep deprivation, exploitation of fear, and other methods that violate international standards regarding torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. We, too, urge you to remediate the ethical standards of the Army Field Manual via executive order.

The current edition of the Army Field Manual (2006) officially supports interrogations using "approach techniques," including the creation, manipulation, and intensification of phobias and fears in prisoners ("Fear Up") and the calculated psychological attack against ego or self-esteem ("Emotional Pride and Ego Down"). The "Emotional Futility" approach intends to create a perception in a prisoner that "resistance to questioning is futile." The manual describes the purpose of this technique as engendering "a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness" in a detainee and notes the "potential for application of the pride and ego approach to cross the line into humiliating and degrading treatment of the detainee."

Also problematic on both basic health and human rights grounds is Appendix M, added to this most recent version of the Army Field Manual (2-22.3). This special annex proposes a technique known as "Separation," which includes the use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forms of sensory deprivation, and environmental manipulations -- all of which could theoretically be extended indefinitely -- as ostensibly legitimate forms of treatment on "unlawful combatants." The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture [3] and independent human rights organizations describe such practices as torture and/or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. As health professionals and human rights advocates, we are disturbed that such techniques are conducted under an official capacity and by executive order.

We are particularly concerned that health professionals, including psychologists, have been engaged to support such efforts, directly or indirectly, in violation of their ethical obligations and in violation of the policies of their professional associations.

As you must be aware, these practices are not only cruel, but also yield questionable intelligence and contribute to a perception of our country as a systematic violator of human rights. It would serve as a strong and principled legacy of your Administration if these remaining practices of torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment were finally and definitively ended.

We look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Steven Reisner, PhD
President
Psychologists for Social Responsibility

cc: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

[1] Scott Horton, "Interrogators Call for the Elimination of Appendix M", Harpers, Nov. 16, 2010. URL: http://harpers.org/blog/2010/11/interrogators-call-for-the-elimination-of-appendix-m/
[2] Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, IMAP/OSF Task Force Report (PDF), Nov. 2013. URL: http://www.imapny.org/File Library/Documents/IMAP-EthicsTextFinal2.pdf
[3] "'Solitary confinement should be banned in most cases," UN expert says'", UN News Centre, Oct. 18, 2011. URL: https://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=40097

[Note: The letter was first posted at Counterpunch on April 30. Also, in regards to full disclosure, I should say that I am a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and while I am not on the steering committee that decided to publish this letter, nor have ever held any leadership position in that organization, I was consulted on the matter of this letter. I am proud that an organization I belong to took a principled stand on this issue.]

Originally posted at FDL/The Dissenter

Sunday, April 20, 2014

DoD Deception Masks Fact SERE Torture Techniques Still Allowed for Interrogations

Recent revelations about the content of a still secret Senate report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, which allowed for use of torture, highlight the use of techniques used by a little-known military department.

These techniques from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program (SERE) had been lifted from a mock-torture prison camp exercise used to inoculate U.S. prisoners against the effects of torture. Two military psychologists hired as contractors for the CIA allegedly helped form the CIA’s controversial “enhanced interrogation” program.

James Mitchell, one of the two psychologists, recently told The Guardian newspaper he could not talk about the specifics of the program due to a non-disclosure agreement, which carried "criminal and civil penalties" should he violate it. But the details of the program, used in slightly different forms by both the CIA and the Department of Defense have been examined in numerous press and governmental reports.

Currently, the use of SERE techniques is supposedly banned for use by both CIA and Defense Department interrogators.

But a key U.S. Defense Department directive rewritten only a month before Barack Obama was first elected President used a legalistically-carved definition for SERE techniques to hide the fact that important components of the SERE interrogation techniques that could amount to torture were still available to U.S. interrogators.

Procedures for "Control, Dependency, Compliance, and Cooperation"

In October 2008, only a few weeks after the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee finished the second of two hearings on Defense Department (DoD) torture of detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon released a new version of its directive on "DoD Intelligence Interrogations, Detainee Debriefings, and Tactical Questioning."

The Senate hearings had focused on how after 9/11 SERE techniques had been turned into a proactive torture program to be used on prisoners captured by the military. The hearings (which produced a report in November 2008) documented how in December 2001, and on subsequent occasions, representatives from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office approached officials at the Pentagon's Joint Personnel and Recovery Agency (JPRA), which oversaw many of the military’s SERE programs, asking for assistance in using SERE techniques in interrogations. JPRA officials were more than willing to help.

According to the Senate report, SERE-derived techniques included "the facial slap, walling, the abdomen slap, use of water, the attention grasp, and stress positions," in addition to "use of smoke, shaking and manhandling, cramped confinement, immersion in water or wetting down, and waterboarding." Many of these techniques also were used by the CIA in its so-called "enhanced interrogation program,” but were not the subject of the Senate Armed Services Committee investigation. They are, however, said to be a key aspect of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's program.

Along with the techniques listed by SASC, a separate but complementary set of procedures included "tactics derived from JPRA SERE school lesson plans… designed to 'induce control, dependency, complia[n]ce, and cooperation,' including isolation or solitary confinement, induced physical weakness and exhaustion, degradation, conditioning, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, disruption of sleep and biorhythms, and manipulation of diet."

These "control" techniques ultimately formed an essential part of the military's post-9/11 detention and interrogation program. After the CIA’s “high-value detainees” were sent to Guantanamo in summer 2006, a new Army manual on interrogation introduced a special technique “restricted” to non-POW detainee “enemy combatants,” like those held at Guantanamo.

Titled “Separation” in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual 2-22.3 on interrogations, it was never one technique, but a collection of detention treatment procedures meant to disorient and break down prisoners using a combination of isolation (solitary confinement), modified forms of sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation, in addition to dietary and environmental manipulations, so long as they were not deemed “extreme.”

Yet the new interrogation techniques were so rough they required the presence of medical professionals, “in the event a medical emergency occurs,” according to the manual.

Scandal Leads to SERE "Ban"

Possibly in reaction to the Senate investigation and the wide press coverage of SERE-derived abuse and torture by the military, the new version of the Department of Defense directive on intelligence interrogations introduced in October 2008 now included a prohibition on the use of SERE techniques by military. The news was quickly reported.

One prominent news agency reported, "Pentagon bans SERE interrogation techniques." Steven Aftergood, writing for Secrecy News, part of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, noted that by the supposed banning of SERE techniques the directive "closes loopholes in detainee interrogation policy."

But a close reading of the DoD directive, numbered 3115.09, shows that only a portion of the SERE techniques were banned, even though the document clearly states, "Use of SERE techniques against a person in the custody or effective control of the DoD or detained in a DoD facility is prohibited."

But back in 2008, no one noticed the military’s sleight-of-hand regarding use of the controversial SERE techniques. The deception was hidden in the "Definitions" section of the directive, where "SERE techniques" are defined in the document as "Those techniques used by SERE school instructors that are not authorized in Reference (i) for use as intelligence interrogation techniques" (emphasis added).

Reference (i) refers to the Army Field Manual, the interrogation manual authorized by President Barack Obama's Executive Order 13491 to be the standard for all Department of Defense and CIA interrogations.

Cover-up

The Pentagon maintains the fiction that SERE techniques were prohibited. A 2010 DoD Inspector General report found the military had followed recommendations from an earlier military report on “detainee abuse” to eliminate the SERE techniques. In particular, the 2010 Defense Department report concluded the current version of the Army Field Manual “does not authorize the use of any SERE techniques as approved intelligence interrogation techniques.”

In fact, the Army Field Manual utilizes techniques of interrogation that many human rights and legal groups have described as torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners. The techniques involved -- use of isolation, sleep deprivation (no more than 4 hours sleep per night), partial sensory deprivation, manipulation of fears, inducing hopelessness, diet and environmental manipulation, etc. -- sound very much if not exactly like those SERE school lesson plans designed to induce control, dependency and compliance described in the Senate investigation into SERE-like torture of detainees.

While the military ultimately did ban certain techniques, like the use of "working dogs" to scare detainees, the use of hooding, and manipulation of phobias by Behavioral Science Consultants used in interrogations (nothing was said about manipulation of such phobias by interrogators), as DoD Directive 3115.09 makes clear, not all the SERE techniques actually were banned or prohibited.

Last February, Secretary of Defense Public Affairs spokesman, Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale, reiterated to this author the military’s position that the Army Field Manual relies on humane and legal procedures.

“The United States is committed to ensuring that individuals detained in any armed conflict are treated humanely in all circumstances, consistent with U.S. treaty obligations, domestic law, and policy, whenever such individuals are in the custody or under the effective control of the U.S. government," Breasseale said. "The Army Field Manual does not authorize or condone the use of sleep manipulation or sensory deprivation."

While, when asked, Breasseale did not deny the presence of some SERE techniques in the Army Field Manual, he stated, "It's worth noting that nothing in Appendix M could be read or used in such a way as to defeat those generally applicable principles and guidelines."

Breasseale also referred to criteria in the manual that is meant to guide interrogators as to whether a particular interrogation "approach" is prohibited.

A SASC staffer, when asked about the loophole allowing SERE techniques in the Army Field Manual, told this author in an April 11 email, "We are comfortable that Appendix M of the Army Field Manual no longer permits the use of interrogation techniques that are cruel and inhuman, or are a violation of our obligations under international law."

But a leading human rights expert demurred. Leonard Rubenstein, who was co-author of a recent report by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession condemning the use of medical professionals in abusive interrogations, told this author, “Almost a decade after revelations of torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib, it is disturbing that some of the interrogation methods at the center of the abuse and condemned by an independent medical task force continued to be authorized at the highest level of the U.S. military.“

Psychologist Bradley Olson, former president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, criticized the deceptive way DoD handled the supposed SERE ban.

“When it comes to torture, more than any other area, the devil is in the details,” Olson said. “Any attempt to pretend SERE techniques are prohibited while opening the door with Appendix M of the Army Field Manual is nothing but a contradiction, and a deceptive and dangerous one at that.”

Clapper's Role

In a link to the scandal over NSA surveillance, Directive 3115.09 was promulgated under the leadership of then-Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, James R. Clapper, Jr. Clapper, who is now Director of National Intelligence, famously lied to Congress in testimony in June 2013 about the extent of NSA spying on Americans.

According to former “master” SERE instructor Captain (ret.) Michael Kearns, who previously held high-ranking positions within the Air Force Headquarters Staff and Department of Defense, and who personally knew Bruce Jessen, one of the alleged proponents of the CIA's torture program, the format of the directive shows that back in 2008 Clapper’s office had “the initiating level of responsibility” for the directive.

Kearns said the policy promulgated was “enforced at the Deputy level.” The original version of the document itself was signed by Gordon England, then Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense.

But the policy on SERE techniques has not changed since the Bush presidency. The DoD’s most recent version of the directive, effective as of November 15, 2013, still carries the defining exception regarding SERE techniques used in the Army Field Manual.

Also posted at The Dissenter/FDL


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