Friday, July 31, 2009

Congressional Commission to Examine CIA Crimes?

According to a July 15 report at the Newark Star-Ledger, Representative Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, is pushing for a "comprehensive" Congressional investigation of the activities of the CIA.
Holt said he believes the investigation, which he also called a review, should be as intense and comprehensive as the probe conducted more than 30 years ago -- in the wake of the Watergate scandal -- by a special committee headed by U.S. Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat.

The Church committee's findings shocked the public and lawmakers with revelations about attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, undermining of foreign governments, domestic spying, and other abuses.

"I think any new investigation will produce revelations that are as jaw-dropping as those that were uncovered by the Church committee," said Holt in an interview.
It certainly seems Rep. Holt is aiming at something similar to the Church and Pike Committee hearings of the early 1970s. These hearings, and others contemporaneous at the time, brought forth a cornucopia of revelations of misdeeds and crimes that are mind-boggling to consider, even at this historical distance.

The investigations covered "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders," CIA paramilitary operations, domestic spying, the MKULTRA drug and mind control program, torture, the support and organization of foreign coups, infiltration of the press, interference in foreign elections, operating domestic and foreign college student front groups, and more.

Today, the domestic psych ops program that supports the CIA's activities is more powerful than ever. They will work hard to prevent any openness and transparency and derail any investigation before it gets off the ground. When the Pike Committee released its report, whose first half consisted of complaints against CIA obstruction into the investigation, the CIA was able to get the report suppressed and withheld from the American public.

It has long been recognized that secrecy and democracy are counterpoised. Recent revelations of CIA torture of so-called "unlawful enemy combatants" have called into question whether the CIA is not, as so often in its past, a rogue elephant, a law unto itself, and a danger, not a savior, for democracy in this country.

I don't know all the particulars as yet of the Holt proposal. Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent quotes the congressman in an 7/27 article that Rep. Holt "did not have a concrete proposal prepared for the creation of such an investigation, and was at the stage of seeing what colleagues and members of the intelligence community made of such a move." Ackerman also notes that many in the intelligence community considered the Church and Pike committees to have been "an apex of progressive congressional attempts to geld the intelligence community." But for all their important work, the main problem with the Church and Pike Committees was that they failed to pursue the logic of their own findings and call for an end to covert action, and a dismantling of the CIA.

This country is a crossroads, where the pursuit of empire and world domination and the continuance of even an ideology -- never mind the flawed reality -- of a democratic republic and protected civil liberties, is at total odds with the kinds of actions a massive, secretive spying bureaucracy undertakes in this world. The recent reports of "fusion" centers, where FBI, military intelligence, and police surveillance join to spy on political dissidents within the U.S. is an ominous example of what we are facing.

I would hope that any investigation by Congress would expand to include the entire intelligence apparatus: CIA, DIA, NSA, Homeland Security, etc. While there are dangers in the world, and it would be utopian to believe there is no need for national security by all nation states, the temptation for misuse of power, for corruption, for devolution of agencies into power-seeking entities is too great. We need oversight and checks and balances that are real. The reforms of the 1970s have proven too weak to control agencies such as the CIA.

It remains to be seen if Congress if even up to Rep. Holt's challenge. The Star-Ledger reports that Holt is close to Nancy Pelosi. Of course, the CIA and Pelosi got into a tangle recently when Speaker of the House Pelosi said the CIA had lied to her during briefings on interrogations and torture.

If there is going to be an investigation, it will be a real battle between the intelligence professionals and bureaucratic apparatus, and those who seek societal openness and transparency, embodied in the elected representatives of the people. I hope Rep. Holt and his supporters are prepared for that. They must call on support from their constituents. If there were ever an important struggle that was not high enough on the public's radar right now, it's the fight for control over the untrammeled operations of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

For news on the Holt proposal, H/T to buhdydharma

UPDATE: Jordan Fabian at The Hill's Blog Reading Room reports that House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), is not supportive of a large-scale investigation into CIA activities.
Holt indicated that he was pushing hard for a broader investigation of the intelligence agency, saying that he doesn't "have, you know, the Congress behind this yet"....

A broader investigation into CIA practices may steal some of the focus from the Obama administration's domestic agenda, which includes healthcare and climate change legislation.
And so it goes. I'm not sure if that last paragraph is Fabian's editorializing, or a surmise of the mood of Reyes and his pals. In any case, Holt obviously has a high hill to climb to convince his colleagues. The difficulty in getting investigations off the ground appear to be due to a successful push by pro-intelligence forces to keep their turf free of Congressional interference. Or one might surmise that the congressmen and women, and the senators of our day are epigones of those flawed heroes of a prior age, who even if they left the job half-done, took up their quest with zeal and courage.

New York City Film Showing: "The Reckoning"

I'm pleased to help announce the Culture Project's second ”Blueprint For Accountability” installment. The following is adapted from the press release:
New York, NY, July 22, 2009 -- Culture Project has announced a special screening of The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court as part of its Blueprint for Accountability series. The film will be screened Tuesday, August 4, at Judson Church, 55 Washington Square South (corner of Thompson) at 7pm, followed by a talkback exploring the struggle and necessity of holding perpetrators of crimes against humanity— however powerful or concealed they may be — accountable. Tickets are $15.

The Reckoning, directed by veteran filmmaker Pamela Yates, opened the Human Rights Watch festival in New York this year, and follows dynamic International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo and his team for 3 years across 4 continents as he issues arrest warrants for Lord’s Resistance Army leaders in Uganda, puts Congolese warlords on trial, shakes up the Colombian justice system, and charges Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir with genocide in Darfur, challenging the UN Security Council to arrest him. The Prosecutor has a mandate but no police force. At every turn, he must pressure the international community to muster political will for the cause.

An official selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, The Reckoning documents this tiny court’s struggle to change the world and forge a paradigm shift for international justice. Will the Prosecutor succeed? Do world leaders have the political will to fulfill this new Court’s mandate and ensure that justice prevails?

Variety called the film “a potent argument for the Obama administration's move from isolationism to diplomacy.” The post-performance talkback will include a focus on the United States’ role in the ICC, why it is important for the United States to join, and how we, as citizens, can pressure the administration to cooperate with the ICC. Participants include Pamela Yates, and Paul Van Zyl, co-founder of the International Center for Transitional Justice, who will moderate.

Culture Project’s screening of The Reckoning follows the groundbreaking launch of the Blueprint for Accountability series on May 31 with Rachel Maddow, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, Ron Suskind and Vince Warren. The evening made breaking news on major news stations including MSNBC and CNN when Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former top coalition commander in Iraq, called for a Truth Commission - the first General from the Iraq theater to go on record to do so.

Culture Project’s Blueprint for Accountability series gathers the world’s foremost political and journalistic experts and today’s most visionary artists in the worlds of theater, music, film, dance, and literature to spotlight tangible ways to reintroduce accountability into our culture. Topics for future evenings in the series include domestic terrorism, economic injustice, human trafficking, Hurricane Katrina, and corporate media.
I'm not in New York, but if I were I would definitely try and make this film screening. I'm sure it will be a fascinating evening.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"So Ordered": U.S. to Release Mohammed Jawad After Six Years False Imprisonment

The judge's order reads as follows (emphasis in original):
ORDERED that Mohammed Jawad’s petition for writ of habeas corpus is GRANTED.
Jason Leopold reports at The Public Record the latest developments in the long struggle to obtain freedom for the Guantanamo prisoner who was captured and imprisoned at age 12 after a military engagement destroyed his home, and he was accused of throwing a grenade at U.S. forces (no one was killed).
U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle granted Mohammed Jawad his habeas corpus writ and ordered the Obama administration to submit the necessary information to Congress by Aug. 6, and begin the process of releasing Jawad from custody.

“After this horrible, long, tortured history, I hope the government will succeed in getting him back home,” Judge Huvelle told Justice Department lawyers during a court hearing Thursday. “Enough has been imposed on this young man to date.”

The government has wobbled back and forth as regards its intent to still file criminal charges and attempt to prosecute Mr. Jawad. But the "new" evidence presented against Jawad last week, in an effort to obstruct Mohammed's habeas release, didn't turn out to be so new after all.

But this week, in a three-page declaration, Maj. Eric Montalvo, a Marine Judge Advocate assigned to the Office of Military Commissions who has represented Jawad since last August, said the new evidence the government claims it obtained in February was shared with him and others on Jawad’s defense team in May and that it is not “new and based upon our investigation none of it is credible or reliable.”

It's worth remembering that the Jawad case was a lightning rod for internal protest against the trumped-up and abusive Military Commissions system the Bush administration put into place after 9/11. The military prosecutor in the case, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, "resigned because he said the evidence against Jawad was obtained through torture and there were no eyewitnesses to support claims that Jawad threw the grenade."

The torture began at the hands of U.S. and Afghan forces from the very beginning. It started with brutality and beatings, and ended with young Mr. Jawad submitted to the refined psychological tortures of Guantanamo: isolation, sleep deprivation, etc. In the end, Jawad attempted suicide. When a Gitmo Behavioral Science Consultant Team member, Army psychologist Lt. Col. Diane Zierhoffer, was called to testify last August at Jawad's military tribunal hearing, she took the fifth for her part in clearing Jawad for harsh interrogation and treatment.

Mohammed Jawad's case was unique for a number of reasons not usually mentioned:

· Mohammad Jawad was the only person charged under the Military Commissions Act (MCA) who was not been charged with terrorism, nor material support for terrorism, or even with conspiracy.

· Unique among those charged under the MCA, Mohammad Jawad was the only person not even alleged to have any affiliation with al Qaida or the Taliban

· No one died in the attack allegedly perpetrated by Mohammad Jawad.

As previously reported by McClatchy News, Mr. Jawad's release is going to be complicated by the provisions of an amendment the cowardly U.S. Congress stuck onto the recent Defense Appropriations Bill. But all lindications are that Jawad is going home to Afghanistan before the end of August. But his private hell will not end there, as the sufferings he endured will haunt him for a long, long time, if not the rest of his life.

As I wrote to the Convening Authority at Guantanamo, Judge Susan Crawford, last September:

This case has particular interest for me, as in my professional role as a licensed psychologist, I have worked with victims of torture from multiple countries around the world, both as a psychotherapist, and in a forensic role. I have been certified as an expert witness in the immigration court of the Department of Homeland Security....

As a psychologist myself, I was horrified to read that young Jawad endured multiple episodes of 30-day isolation upon the "recommendation of a psychologist with Guantánamo’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) who suggested that he was feigning homesickness and depression as a technique to resist interrogations." Even after Mr. Jawad reportedly made a suicide attempt in December 2003, he was subjected to Guantanamo's "frequent flyer" program, which, according to a Washington Post article I read last month, consisted of moving Jawad and other prisoners "repeatedly from cell to cell to cause sleep deprivation and disorientation as punishment and to soften detainees for subsequent interrogation."

Judge Ellen Huvelle appears to also be concerned with Mr. Jawad's condition, and what follows is the remainder of her order for his release:

FURTHER ORDERED that on or before August 6, 2009, respondents shall submit to the Congress the information required under Section 14103(e) of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, Pub. L. No. 111-32, 123 Stat. 1859 (2009). It is

FURTHER ORDERED that beginning on August 21, 2009, when 15 days following the submission of the aforesaid information to the Congress have passed, respondents shall promptly release petitioner Jawad from detention at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay and transfer him to the custody of the receiving government. It is

FURTHER ORDERED that petitioner Jawad shall be treated humanely consistent with respondents’ legitimate security and operational concerns. It is

FURTHER ORDERED that on or before August 24, 2009, respondents shall file a status report regarding petitioner Jawad’s transfer.


Pelosi and the Democrats could show they had an ounce of humanity and vote a special dispensation for Mr. Jawad, allowing his release to happen as quickly as possible, bypassing the recently implemented legislation of a mandatory waiting period.

Congresswoman Pelosi, do you have the humanity and the guts to do this? Do we really have to extend this innocent young man's imprisonment another three weeks?

UPDATE: If anyone wants to read the best analysis of where the Jawad case is now, and the twists and turns that brought it to this point, you really must read Andy Worthington's latest article, As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that, if the Justice Department and the Defense Department decide to proceed with a criminal prosecution, it will demonstrate not only that they have, collectively, taken leave of their senses, but also that no one in a position of responsibility — President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder or defense secretary Robert Gates — has either the courage or the awareness to step in to prevent a clear message being sent out to the world that, far from addressing the excesses of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” the Obama administration is, instead, pursuing exactly the kind of cruel, unjust and incompetent policies that would bring a smile to the lips of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

To understand the significance of the decision facing the government, it is important to understand that the case against Jawad was always tenuous, as I reported in October 2007, when he was first put forward for a trial by Military Commission (the “terror trials” introduced by Dick Cheney in November 2001, and revived by Congress in 2006, after the Supreme Court ruled them illegal), and that it unraveled spectacularly last September, when the prosecutor in his proposed trial, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, resigned.

Stating that he had once been a “true believer,” but had ended up feeling “truly deceived,” Lt. Col. Vandeveld explained, as I described it in an article two months ago, that he had come to regard the Commissions as “a dysfunctional system, which, both through accident and design, prevented the disclosure of evidence essential to the defense, thereby ensuring that no fair trial was possible.” He also “described how evidence proving that Jawad was a juvenile at the time of his capture, that he was tricked into joining an insurgent group and was drugged before the attack, and that two other men had confessed to the crime, had been deliberately suppressed.”

If a shred of credibility remained in the case, this dissolved in October and November, when, on two separate occasions, Jawad’s military judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley, ruled that the crux of the government’s case against Jawad — two “confessions” made on the day of his capture, the first in Afghan custody, and the second, just hours later, in US custody — were inadmissible because they had been obtained through treatment that constituted torture.

Four Important Articles

Democracy Now! has an amazing interview with a number of activists and an ACLU attorney on the stunning revelations around the use of spies (thanks, Wikileaks!), hired through private contracting firms, to infiltrate domestic political groups.
Newly declassified documents reveal that an active member of Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance in Washington state was actually an informant for the US military. The man everyone knew as “John Jacob” was in fact John Towery, a member of the Force Protection Service at Fort Lewis. The military’s role in the spying raises questions about possibly illegal activity. The Posse Comitatus law bars the use of the armed forces for law enforcement inside the United States. The Fort Lewis military base denied our request for an interview. But in a statement to Democracy Now!, the base’s Public Affairs office publicly acknowledged for the first time that Towery is a military operative. “This could be one of the key revelations of this era,” said Eileen Clancy, who has closely tracked government spying on activist organizations. [includes rush transcript]
From OpEd News, and following my own ground-breaking story on the role of former Navy psychologist Michael Gelles's role in the abuse of Daniel King, Stephen Soldz has written an excellent essay, The American Psychological Association and the Missing Ethics Investigation:

What is most important is that the APA Ethics Committee, faced with a complaint of very serious ethical lapses from a highly reputable attorney, failed to open the case or investigate these claims. It thus appears that they never even viewed the videotape containing the Gelles interview of King or sought information from King or his complainant attorneys.

This case is not the only ethics complaint filed against a member of the PENS task force. Another Task Force member faced charges for possible involvement in abuses at Guantánamo in 2003. Here, too, the APA Ethics Committee declined to open a case, even though the same APA Ethics Director, Stephen Behnke, publicly admitted that the acts alleged are unethical. In yet a third case, an ethics complaint against a Guantanamo military psychologist was opened but remains open three years later. Government documents show this psychologist participating in the planning and execution of the of Guantanamo detainees al Qahtani. A fourth psychologist, Col. Morgan Banks, has acknowledged training Guantánamo interrogators in abusive interrogation techniques. Ethics charges could not be brought against Banks because he was not an APA member at the time of the abuse. Nor was he an APA member when Behnke appointed him to the PENS Task Force, though he has joined the APA since. Evidently ethics complaints against psychologists affiliated with the military [Gelles was a civilian NCIS employee at the time of the King interrogation] have an exceedingly high threshold before the APA will even open a case, much less investigate.

Equally important to the failure of the APA to investigate the complaint against Gelles was that Behnke allowed Gelles to be appointed to the PENS task force on the ethics of interrogations, in spite of the fact that an ethics complaint had been filed against him for interrogation abuse.

Bmaz over at Firedoglake has an article on Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, whose case is finally coming to trial in Britain. Quoting from Reprieve representative Clive Stafford Smith in the Guardian:
"It pains me, then, to report on the role of the British government in the case of Saad Iqbal Madni, whose legal case Reprieve begins today. Madni was seized in Jakarta on 11 January 2002, and badly beaten. The Americans put him in a coffin, and flew him to Egypt, apparently stopping off in the British colony of Diego Garcia en route. When Madni arrived in Cairo, he was still bleeding through his nose and mouth from his earlier abuse, yet this was soon relegated to a minor complaint. At the behest of the Americans, he spent 92 days being tortured with electric cattle prods, before being rendered to Afghanistan and ultimately to Guantánamo Bay."
If you still have time after reading these excellent articles, you might want to bookmark, as well, Andy Worthington's important analysis on the Obama administration's dilatory policy towards ending the worst abuses around torture and detention, Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think:
The proposals put forward by the Task Force — and clearly endorsed by Obama — are bitterly disappointing, not only because they are so shamefully dismissive of the presumption of innocence, and because they reveal a desire to further turn the judicial system on its head by endorsing preventive detention, but also because they are cowardly in the extreme....

The fact that the Task Force appears not to have fully understood the scale of the Bush administration’s incompetence regarding the capture and interrogation of the Guantánamo prisoners, and the manifold problems with the supposed evidence against them counts, in the end, as a distressing example of the sort of paranoia for which Dick Cheney is best known triumphing over the kind of common sense and dedication to the pursuit of justice for which Barack Obama seemed to stand just a few short months ago.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jeppesen UK Gives In, Will Give Up "Ghost Plane" Evidence on Renditions

H/T Gitcheegumee at FDL
Sunday's UK Guardian, 7/26/2009

Secrets of CIA 'ghost flights' to be revealed

Confidential documents showing the flight plans of a CIA "ghost plane" allegedly used to transfer a British resident to secret interrogation sites around the world are to be made public. The move comes after a Sussex-based company accused of involvement in extraordinary rendition dropped its opposition to a case against it being heard in court.

Lawyers bringing the case against Jeppesen UK on behalf of the former Guantánamo Bay detainee, Binyam Mohamed, claimed last night the climbdown had wide-ranging legal implications that could help expose which countries and governments knew the CIA was using their air bases to spirit terrorist suspects around the world.

It was only three months ago that the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court ruled against the Obama administration's invocation of "state secrets" privilege in trying to squash Mohamed and his co-defendants' lawsuit again Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in Bush's extraordinary rendition program. While the suit in the UK is separate from that in the U.S., which is being fought by the ACLU and the British charity organization, Reprieve, the decision by Jeppesen in the UK will have a profound effect upon the question of "state secrets" in the U.S., and perhaps other countries.

The Guardian article explains:
The US government is seeking to have the case against Jeppesen dismissed, saying it would breach national security. But Jeppesen UK's decision to drop its opposition to fighting the case in a British court means a wealth of confidential information relating to the alleged rendition process will become public....

Reprieve's renditions investigator, Clara Gutteridge, said the CIA could not have acted alone and the case would raise questions over which governments were complicit in extraordinary rendition.
It's great to finally receive some good news, and hats must go off to Reprieve and Mohamed's London lawyers, Leigh Day & Co. Deserving of a similar victory are the hard workers at ACLU. As for Jeppesen UK, I guess they got a sense the jig was up, and it would better to hang out now. Or maybe they think the fix is in or they can finesse it in court.

In any case, greater openness is something to celebrate. The whole sordid tale of renditions to torture is one of the worst episodes of this country and its allies descent into moral turpitude and crime. Another lingering Obama scandal in the egg his administration's insistence that they will keep the rendition program, with yet another governmental promise that no one will be sent to torture. But if you think Obama really has control over the brutal rulers of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, etc., then you've really drunk the Kool Aid.

Hey, where's Andy Worthington when you need him?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stephen Soldz on APA's Latest Maneuver to Hang on to Nuremburg Defense

Psychologist/Activist Stephen Soldz has written a tremendous article at his blog describing the current situation surrounding APA obstinancy around changing its ethics code. The entire situation is described so well by Dr. Soldz, I'll leave him to explain it. Anyone following the ways in which APA has subordinated itself to "national security psychology" will not, most likely, be surprised.

While I'm giving my readers a big slice of his article, I'm not reproducing the entire thing. For that I want you to visit his blog and give him the traffic he deserves.
Will the American Psychological Association finally renounce the Nuremberg Defense?

The long-standing struggle within the American Psychological Association over involvement of psychologists in potentially abusive national security interrogations is heating up again, this time with a dispute over its ethics code. In 2002, the APA added the infamous standard 1.02 to its code. This standard allows psychologists to ignore the other provisions of the code when it conflicts with “law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.”

With its echoes of the universally reviled Nuremberg Defense – “I was just following orders” – of the Nazi doctors and others tried for war crimes after World War II, this standard has been deeply disturbing to many APA members and others. This code is binding upon all APA members and upon most licensed psychologists in the country as most, perhaps all, states require those receiving licenses to adhere to the APA code. Standard 1.02 built a loophole into the ethics code that allowed any unethical behavior by those following military or other governmental orders.

Interestingly, in an unenforceable aspirational section of the ethics code, the wording is different:

“If the conflict is unresolvable via such means, psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing authority in keeping with basic principles of human rights.” [Emphasis added.]

After World War II, as the allies planned the prosecution of Germans for crimes committed during the war, they anticipated the possibility that defendants would use the defense that they were “just following orders” and were thus not morally culpable for their actions. The rules governing the Nuremberg trials stated:

“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

This defense of following orders has been known ever since as the “Nuremberg defense” and has been regularly rejected in both U.S. and international law. In fact, the very term “Nuremberg defense” is often derided as the attempt of scoundrels to avoid moral and criminal responsibility.

In the wake of reports of psychologists aiding the Bush regime program of torture and detainee abuse, having the Nuremberg Defense in the APA’s ethics code took on added significance. Potentially, it could allow psychologists involved in detainee abuse or torture to escape future liability for these abuses before the APA or state ethics committees. Further, since violating professional ethics could be introduced as evidence in the unlikely possibility of future war crimes trials, 1.02 could provide some protection in potential future trials.

Human rights advocates within the APA have experienced revulsion at an ethics code that is effectively gutted by including the Nuremberg Defense. As Ken Pope, a former Chair of the APA Ethics Committee who has since resigned from the association wrote in a statement sent to thousands of psychologists:

“Nuremberg’s message of inescapable ethical responsibility and accountability came at an unfathomable price. It should never be set aside and forgotten, especially in a profession’s formal statement of its ethical values.”

The APA Council directed as early as 2005 that the association’s Ethics Committee evaluate and recommend an alternative to this standard; some discussions were held, but year after year, no action was taken. At its August 2008 meeting, Council again directed the Ethics Committee to make a recommendation regarding changes that would resolve the discrepancy between the aspirational “in keeping with basic principles of human rights” and the absence of any human rights restriction to following orders in the enforceable section of the code. This recommendation was to be presented to the August 2008 Council meeting.

During the year there was an open comment period during which over 80 psychologists posted comments on the APA web site. Interestingly, a number of military psychologists objected strongly to changing this standard. Among these were Morgan Banks and Larry James, both of the APA’s infamous PENS [Psychological Ethics and National Security] task force that, dominated as it was by military psychologists, gave the stamp of approval to psychologists participating in Bush-era interrogations. Also among those against changing 1.02 was Debra Dunivin, a Former BSCT psychologist at Guantanamo and wife of a former top APA official, Russ Newman, who played a major behind the scenes role in guiding the PENS task force. All three of these commentators served in chains of command that have been accused of abuses.

Joining the military psychologists in rejecting change were virtually all of the most powerful committees within the APA’s governance structure....

One month before this August’s Council meeting, the Ethics Committee made its recommendation. After four years of deliberations, they recommended no change in standard 1.02, but, rather, an additional lengthy period of discussion.. They did issue an apparently hastily-written statement that they would not accept a defense of “following orders” to ethics violations involving torture. This statement, however, is totally inadequate for several reasons:

  • First, it is of dubious legality, as it directly conflicts with the code (1.02) itself.
  • Second, such a statement is not binding on future Ethics Committees.
  • Third, it has no status with state licensing boards that adopt the APA code.
  • Finally, and most important, there are many other human rights abuses that may be authorized by law or orders that the EC statement will not cover....

The Ethics Committee’s recommendation was met with withering criticism from members. After initially refusing to respond to critics, the APA President and Board, sensing a pending PR disaster, responded positively to a motion from the members of Council who wrote the 2008 resolution directing the Ethics Committee to act by this august. Now these resolution Movers, as they were know, the President and the Board have united behind another six month delay, directing the Ethics Committee to recommend changes in 1.02 by the February Council meeting....

Whether or not it ultimately gets reversed, the Ethics Committee’s embrace of the Nuremberg Defense also was taken by many as yet another sign that the loyalty of the APA leadership to the military-intelligence establishment is greater than its loyalty to its members. After all, last September those members decisively rebuked the APA leadership by passing by a 59% to 41% margin a referendum declaring that psychologists, whether involved in interrogations or treatment of detainees, do not belong in detention centers violating international law or the Constitution....

The APA leadership.... has stymied efforts to apply the referendum to any actually existing detention facility, such as Guantanamo or Bagram, where indefinite detention without trial and other violations of human rights are still in effect....

Meanwhile there has been no action on the other major actions, including other essential ethics code revisions, recommended in the Psychologist/Human Rights groups Open Letter:

“1. Fully implement the 2008 referendum as an enforceable section of the APA Code of Ethics. This entails a public announcement that APA policy and ethical standards oppose the service of psychologists in detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, Bagram Air Base, CIA secret prisons, or in the rendition program.

“2. Annul the June 2005 PENS Report due to the severe and multiple conflicts of interest involved in its production.

“3. Bring in an independent body of investigative attorneys to pursue accountability for psychologists who participated in or otherwise contributed to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. APA should also: (a) clarify the status of open ethics cases and (b) remove the statute of limitations for violations involving torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, so as to allow time for information on classified activities to become public.

“4. Develop a clear and rapid timetable to remove Sections 1.02 and 1.03 [the `Nuremberg defense' of following orders] from the APA Code of Ethics. [We note that the APA Ethics Committee has stated that they will not accept a defense of following orders to complaints regarding torture; this statement is a welcome improvement but it is clearly inadequate as it is not necessarily binding on future committees nor does it cover abuses falling under the category of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.] Revoke the equally problematic Section 8.05 of the Code, which dispenses with informed consent `where otherwise permitted by law or federal or institutional regulations,’ and Section 8.07, which sets an unacceptably high threshold of `severe emotional distress’ for not using deception in the ethics of research design.

“5. Retain an independent investigatory organization to study organizational behavior at APA. Due to potential conflicts of interest, independent human rights organizations should be enlisted to select this investigatory entity. The study should address, among other things, possible collusion in the PENS process and the 2003 APA-CIA-Rand conference on the Science of Deception, attended by the CIA’s apparent designers of their torture program [James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen] during which “enhanced interrogation” techniques were discussed. The study should explore how the APA governance system permits the accumulation of power in the hands of a very small number of individuals who are unresponsive to the general membership. It should also propose measures to return the APA to democratic principles, scientific integrity, and beneficence, including restructuring for greater transparency and the assimilation of diverse viewpoints.”

Until these five actions are undertaken, the APA will still not have extricated itself from its close engagement with the Dark Side.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Former Top Navy Psychologist Involved in Pre-9/11 Prisoner Abuse Case

Crossposted from The Public Record

By Jeffrey Kaye

A well-known spokesman for ethical interrogations by psychologists in national security settings was himself accused in 2001 of unethical behavior for his part in the interrogation of a suspect in an espionage case. Dr. Michael Gelles was at the time the Chief Forensic Psychologist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). His work on the investigation of Petty Officer Daniel King was referred for ethical violations by King’s civilian attorney, Jonathan Turley, to the Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association, who declined to follow up the charges.

Lieutenant Robert A. Bailey of the Judge Advocate’s Corps, and one of two military attorneys for Mr. King, described the interrogation techniques used on his client as “abusive” and “unconstitutional.” The conditions of King’s custody were “intrusive, threatening, and illegal… coercive and inescapable.”

Daniel King was a Petty Officer and Navy cryptanalyst who was arrested for espionage in October 1999. The cause was an inconclusive, or “no opinion” polygraph examination made after he finished his assignment in Guam and was returning to the United States. The administration of such polygraphs is routine when exiting a high-security clearance assignment. King was subsequently incarcerated for 520 days without formal charges.

According to a CBS 60 Minutes story in March 2001, King recalled what happened after his arrest:

“That’s when I started getting interrogated for 17 to 19 hour [sic] at a time,” he says. “When we’d get done, I’d go back to the safe house and go into a room. I’d have to leave the door open, the lights would be on, they’d blare the TV, the phone would keep ringing all the time. Even when I went to the bathroom, I had to leave the door open.”

After 29 days of long interrogations (some sources say it was 26 days), in which every waking hour was spent with NCIS agents, and with periods of sleep deprivation imposed upon him, King made a false confession, which he later recanted. His requests for an attorney were ignored. NCIS tried to get family members to incriminate him.

When on October 6, 1999 he made his “confession” — admitting he had turned a computer disk over to the Russian Embassy — Petty Officer King had been interrogated for 30 out of the previous 39 hours. The confession was quickly retracted at his next interrogation session, and, according to Lt. Bailey, at almost all subsequent sessions King “denied the veracity of the October 6 statement.”

For many months after his return to the United States, King was held incommunicado in a six by nine foot cell for 19-20 hours per day. The lights were kept on at all times. He was subjected to multiple polygraphs, none of which obtained more than inconclusive results. These polygraphs were administered despite the fact Mr. King was not of sound mind, having trouble distinguishing fact from reality, and having suicidal thoughts. Sometimes they were administered after hours of onerous interrogation, breaking Department of Defense guidelines on the administration of polygraphs. Additionally, interrogators lied to King about the results of his polygraph examinations, which were never anything but inconclusive.

According to Jonathan Turley’s account, Mr. King was encouraged to write down his dreams and prior fantasies about espionage and then sign them as statements. Audio tapes made by the government “show King weeping and sobbing” during interrogation.

At times, King is shouting “I don’t know what I’m supposed to give you” over and over at the agents as they press him for a signed confession.

In the end, Petty Officer King was released from custody without charges on March 9, 2001. The Investigating Officer in the case, Commander James P. Winthrop, wrote in dismissing the charges (emphasis added):

Although the espionage charge is a very serious one, the government’s evidence does not appear to be significantly stronger. It is based exclusively on a confession that the accused subsequently contradicted on several occasions. Additionally, the defense clearly intends to attack the voluntariness of that confession and it appears that such a claim is colorable. The defense contention is bolstered by considerations of the accused’s mental state both before and during the weeks-long period where conditions were placed on his liberty. Furthermore, and most importantly, the confession lacks strong corroborating evidence.

By the end of his incarceration, according to Turley, Daniel King had exhausted his finances. His mother had died and he had missed the funeral. The Navy released him with a statement that he was a “traitor.” The case made headlines in early 2001, including reports by CNN, the Washington Post, and NPR (with audio, and includes an interview with Daniel King and a clip from the Gelles interrogation).

Michael Gelles’s Role

According to a prepared statement for a Senate Intelligence Subcommittee hearing by Lieutenant Matthew Freedus, the second of two defense counsels for Daniel King from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Mr. King continued to be interrogated by NCIS agents after his “confession,” and after repeated requests for access to counsel.

On October 19, 1999, three weeks into the interrogation, King was taken by his own request to see psychologist Michael Gelles. While this indicates probable earlier contact with Dr. Gelles, nothing is currently known about any earlier contact. Gelles met with King for 45 minutes. The session was videotaped, although this was done without the legal requirement to read King his rights, or inform him the tape could be used against him in court. Two other NCIS agents were also present during the meeting, which took place after days of prolonged interrogation, sleep deprivation, and ever-present monitoring.

Lieutenant Freedus stated that King made “highly exculpatory statements” during this meeting, as indeed he did in all other taped sessions with him.

The actions of Dr. Gelles were documented by a videotape, which with other audio tapes, were discovered by accident by the defense, as they had illegally been withheld from discovery. The videotape reportedly shows Dr. Gelles referring to himself as “the doc” and “not an agent.” King told Gelles he had “no memory” of any of the espionage activities to which he’d confessed. He was concerned he had “repressed memories, or something like that,” because he was falsely told the polygraphs had come out positive, and he wondered if perhaps hypnotism or “truth serum” could jog his memory.

According to Turley’s statement to the Senate Intelligence subcommittee (emphasis added):

[King] told Gelles that he had no memory of the espionage facts but says that the polygraph examinations prove that he must have done something – a clear misconception that neither Gelles nor the agents correct. King asked for hypnosis and truth serum to determine if this is merely a dream. Gelles told him that he might give King hypnosis if King goes back and gives the agents “corroborating” evidence. Gelles told King that he could trust the agents and says that the agents are clearly his friends, he had a “special relationship” with the agents and the agents “will be with you forever.” Gelles virtually ignored the statement of King that he had suicidal thoughts when he left Guam – two days before the interview. Instead, Gelles told King to give corroborating evidence as a precondition for the hypnosis that King sought to clear his doubts as to any espionage.

After King was released, Turley made known his intent to file ethics charges against Michael Gelles with the American Psychological Association (APA). According to Mr. Turley, Dr. Gelles “refused to give licensing information to the defense or to respond to allegations of violation of basic canons of professional conduct as a licensed psychologist.” In a private communication, Mr. Turley subsequently indicated the ethics charges were filed, and dismissed without any investigation by APA.

From Guantanamo to the APA PENS Task Force

After 9/11, Dr. Gelles was appointed in early 2002 to the government’s newly formed Criminal Investigations Task Force (CITF). He retained, as well, his position as Chief Psychologist with NCIS. At first, he appears to have gone to Afghanistan to help train interrogators there. Later he was sent to Guantanamo.

As documented by the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report on prisoner abuse, Dr. Gelles, along with a number of other CITF and NCIS professionals, protested the use of coercive interrogation techniques on prisoners. These techniques derived from the reverse-engineering of torture training protocols by the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) school. CITF and FBI interrogators had developed an alternative interrogation plan based on facilitating “long-term rapport” with the prisoner. In the end, along with his superior officer, Dr. Gelles took his complaints about the SERE-influenced techniques to the Navy General Counsel, Alberto Mora.

In a review of the draft interrogation plan for Guantanamo “Detainee 063,” Mohammad Al-Qahtani, Dr. Gelles observed of these abusive techniques:

Strategies articulated in the later phases reflect techniques used to train US forces in resisting interrogation by foreign enemies… [These techniques] would prove not only to be ineffective but also border on techniques and strategies deemed unacceptable by law enforcement professionals.

Nevertheless, Dr. Gelles and his colleagues were overruled and the torture plan for Al-Qahtani proceeded. So far as is known, Dr. Gelles continued to work at Guantanamo, and subsequently in Iraq. At no time has Dr. Gelles criticized the cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo that stemmed from a Standard Operating Procedure that emphasized isolation of prisoners, behavioral control over prisoners lives, or the “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program run at the prison. In fact, in an interview for the recent documentary Torturing Democracy, when asked Gelles minimized the psychological damage done to prisoners there:

Well, I think that whether you’re detained at Guantanamo Bay or you’re detained in any type of prison facility, one could experience psychological disturbance….

I mean, right now, I have a — though I haven’t been there in close to two years, though I do have some connections to those folks who are involved. It’s very much like a US prison in many cases. But that doesn’t change one’s own psychological expectation of what a potential outcome could be. Any degree of detention is going to have a psychological impact on someone.

With increased controversy over revelations about the use of psychologists in torture at U.S. prison facilities, especially following the Abu Ghraib scandal, the American Psychological Association bowed to pressure from the membership. In Spring 2005, they constituted a Psychological Ethics and National Security Task Force (PENS) to address the role of professional ethics and national-security related activity.

Altogether, six of the nine formal participants were military-related. One of these six was Michael Gelles.

While later held up by APA as a model of integrity for his protest against SERE techniques at Guantanamo, APA officials never alluded to the fact that ethics charges had been filed against Gelles in the King case. Nor was any of his behavior in that case ever brought to light. This could not be for lack of knowledge. In fact, Gelles alluded to his participation in the case in private emails exchanged with other PENS participants prior to the Task Force’s official meetings (and later published publicly at the ProPublica and Salon websites) (emphasis added):

As Chuck Ewing has said on many an occasion… the Agency is entitled to consultation just as an individual…. In the Squillicoate [sic] case referenced in the article, and to some extent my experience with the King case, a new demand to re-think how the profession was going to hold psychologists in practice accountable in contexts outside of the clinical and academic arena’s was becoming more evident.

There is no further mention of the King case in the PENS email listserv collection.

On 2005, the PENS Task Force issued their report. While formally condemning torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, the Task Force endorsed the participation of psychologists in national security interrogations, stating “The Task Force believes that a central role for psychologists working in the area of national security-related investigations is to assist in ensuring that processes are safe, legal, and ethical for all participants.”

Subsequent Developments

As Dr. Gelles’s role in protesting abusive interrogations at Guantanamo became public, he became an exemplar for APA in polemics with opponents on their interrogation policy from both within and outside the organization. Dr. Gelles has had letters to APA prominently posted on APA’s ethics website. In an article in the September 1, 2008 issue of Psychiatric Times, Dr. Stephen Behnke, who is APA Ethics Director, and who authored the PENS report, wrote “of psychologists who have used their professional positions to fight abuse”:

One stellar example is found in The Dark Side, in which author Jane Mayer reports that psychologist Michael Gelles, an American Psychological Association member, took heroic steps to fight abuse at Guantánamo.

Other professionals in the interrogation field have also been highly laudatory of Dr. Gelles. A recent example of this occurred in a public email exchange between Colonel Steven Kleinman, an intelligence officer and director for Air Force Special Operations Command, and anti-torture activist and psychologist Martha Davis, a visiting scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Mr. Kleinman told Dr. Davis that he had “extensive professional and personal knowledge” about Dr. Gelles, and some of Gelles’s PENS colleagues. “As a result,” he told Dr. Davis, “I am in a position to serve as a witness to their principled conduct and willingness to speak truth to power in defense of the law and the moral high ground.”

Despite the seriousness of the Daniel King case, no statement regarding Dr. Gelles’s participation in the King interrogation by APA or any of Dr. Gelles’s peers can be found. It is difficult to know exactly how much APA officials knew about his previous activities prior to assigning him to the PENS Task Force. Yet, at a minimum, one would think the Ethics Director would have been aware of the King case, after all, an ethics complaint was filed with his department, and Gelles brought up the subject during the PENS discussion.

A number of disputes are likely to be aired over interrogations and related issues at the APA Council of Representatives meeting at the psychologists’ yearly convention this August 6-9 in Toronto. One such dispute concerns a controversy over APA Ethics Code 1.02, which allows psychologists with ethical conflicts with organizational authorities to defer to government orders. Another controversy concerns the implementation of a member-passed referendum last summer that calls for prohibiting psychologist participation in settings where human rights violations take place.

It is incumbent upon APA members, as they consider the arguments for and against these issues, to consider the deeds as well as the words of the advocates for status quo at APA. Dr. Gelles is on the record as supporting the inclusion of psychologists in national security interrogations. Yet his words ring hollow when one considers his actual history:

Having worked with law enforcement, the intelligence community and correctional officers, I am very familiar with the structure and function of detention facilities. I am too aware of how easily aggression can get out of hand, and how the well intentioned can become carried away with emotion and perverse purpose and drift across boundaries, all of which may result in aggressive, violent and humiliating acts to detainees…. Removing trained professional psychologists from these settings will impact the degree of oversight and inevitably increase the likelihood of abuse, thus having precisely the opposite effect of what occurred as a result of my involvement at Guantanamo Bay.

Despite the opinions of Dr. Gelles, and a number of others who hold the same position, the Daniel King story stands as an indictment of professionals working for a government that all-too-often abuses individuals with no regard to human rights. Whatever Dr. Gelles did or did not do after 9/11, it was wrong to hide the story of his involvement in the King case from his peers, and wrong of APA not to investigate. It calls into question the sincerity of Dr. Gelles, NCIS, APA, and other actors involved in the case. It also challenges the legitimacy of the PENS Task Force, as well as the position of Gelles and the APA bureaucracy on the ethics of psychologists in interrogations.

On a larger scale, the Daniel King case, and the actions of NCIS agents and the “Chief Psychologist” involved, should raise red flags for Congress and other groups considering the proposed new “special unit of professional interrogators,” which the Obama administration is said to be “considering creating… to handle key terror suspects, focusing on intelligence-gathering rather than building criminal cases for prosecution.” Typically, “intelligence-gathering” interrogations have less safeguards regarding suspect rights than those used to build probable criminal prosecutions, i.e., less safeguards than even those that supposedly were involved in the King case.

For the record, back in 2001, the Navy denied using “coercion” on Daniel King. Today, Dr. Gelles is no long working for the Navy, but works as a consultant and writer. He was interviewed in January 2009 by Foreign Policy about interrogation issues and his experience at Guantanamo. Both Dr. Gelles and Dr. Behnke were contacted by email and offered an opportunity to comment for this article. Neither replied.

Correction, 7/26/09: The article incorrectly states that Petty Officer King's false confession was rendered after 29 days of interrogation. As the article elsewhere points out, the "confession" occurred on October 6, seven days after interrogation began. King subsequently recanted this confession and the interrogation continued, ending 29 days after it initially began.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

PHR on NPR's Fresh Air: "A Mass Grave In Afghanistan Raises Questions"

In April 2002, Physicians for Human Rights forensic experts dug a test trench as part of a preliminary investigation for the UN at the Dasht-e-Leili mass grave site near Sheberghan, Afghanistan, and exposed 15 bodies. (Physicians for Human Rights, used by permission)

Nathaniel Raymond, Dr. Jennifer Leaning, and Dr. Nizam Peerwani of Physicians for Human Rights were interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air program earlier today. If one goes to this link, you can listen to the entire interview (33 min.). Mr. Raymond led the investigation into the alleged 2001 Dasht-e-Leili massacre in Afghanistan. In the interview, he links the issue of accountability from the crimes of U.S.-backed warlords to the years of torture practiced by the United States.

The NPR lead-in is as follows:
In 2001, shortly after the American invasion of Afghanistan, hundreds or possibly thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord on the payroll of the C.I.A.

Over the course of three days, the captured prisoners were allegedly packed into shipping containers without food or water. Many suffocated, while others were reportedly shot by guards.

The mass grave has never been fully exhumed, and human rights groups allege that the Bush administration discouraged investigation of the matter, even after the urging of officials from the F.B.I., the State Department and the Red Cross.
The PHR interview comes on the heels of new questions about U.S. involvement in the massacre aired by Mark Benjamin in an article at
Earlier this month, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen advanced the story, revealing that the United States had resisted any war crimes investigation into the massacre, despite learning from Dell Spry, the lead FBI agent at Guantánamo Bay following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that many Afghan detainees were telling similar stories of a mass killing. Spry directed interviews of detainees by FBI agents at Guantánamo Bay, and compiled allegations made by the detainees.

But what the Times did not report was that many of those same detainees also alleged to Spry's interviewers that U.S. personnel were present during the massacre, a potentially explosive allegation that, if true, might further explain American resistance to a war crimes probe of the deaths. In an exclusive interview, Spry told Salon that he informed Risen about the additional allegation that U.S. forces were present. Risen confirmed to Salon that Spry told him of the allegations, but said he did not publish them, in part, because he didn't believe them.
Whatever the facts of the case, it's clear that, as PHR's Raymond points out, we don't the full story of what happened. President Obama has taken some preliminary steps by calling for his "national security team" to review the facts of the case. A full investigation is imperative. Evidence at the grave site has already been tampered with, and witnesses tortured and killed.

As Raymond said in a PHR press release late last week:
"... a full, formal and transparent investigation into the allegations against Dostum and the evidence that the Bush Administration impeded at least three federal probes into the case must be launched by the US and Afghanistan. Witnesses must be protected and the Dasht-e-Leili site must be secured.”
Donate now to help get this story out there and help bring about a full investigation.

EFF Warning About Google and Reader Privacy

I got the following email today from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and thought it worth passing on:
With help from a proposed class action settlement, Google is planning to dramatically expand its Book Search service so that millions of books will be available for browsing, reading, and purchasing online. But in designing this new service, Google is leaving reader privacy behind. Without strong privacy protections, all of your browsing and reading history may be collected, tracked, and turned over to the government or third parties without your knowledge or consent.

Email Google CEO Eric Schmidt
and demand that Google Book Search protect your freedom to read privately. You should be able to read about anything — from politics to health — without worrying that someone is looking over your shoulder. Demand that Google pledge it will not stockpile information about who you are and what you read and will not become a one-stop shop for government fishing expeditions into the reading habits of Americans.

Take Action Now!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SERE Psychologists Still Used in Special Ops Interrogations and Detention

Originally posted at Firedoglake

The great novelist William Faulkner famously wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

With all the controversy over the use of Survival, Evasion, Escape, Resistance, or SERE, psychologists in the interrogation of "high-value detainees" -- most recently detailed in a fascinating melange of an article in last Sunday's Washington Post -- everyone seems to assume that terrible chapter is a thing of the past. Recent documentation that has come to my attention suggests otherwise.

The reasons no one until now has noticed the current activities of SERE psychologists in offensive military operations are that, one, no one has cared to look, and two, a specious narrative ending in the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) report, "Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody," released last April, that appeared to conclude the episode was over. In its Executive Summary, the SASC concluded that, in September 2004, "JFCOM [U.S. Joint Forces Command] issued a formal policy stating that support to offensive interrogation operations was outside JPRA's charter." And that, presumably, was that.

JPRA, or Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, operates under U.S. Joint Forces Command, and is responsible for "for shaping and enabling the planning, preparation and coordination of personnel recovery for DoD." Its mission is subordinated to the preparation of U.S. military personnel for capture, and organizing "tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to assist the services in conducting joint recovery operations." The SERE program is supposed to train personnel for what to expect if they are captured, and prepare them for the onerous rigors of brutal captivity and torture.

The SASC report essentially tells the story of how JPRA and SERE went off the rails after 9/11. It presents a compelling documentary narrative of how Bush administration officials, eager to get information from prisoners newly captured in the "war on terror," for operational needs, or to manufacture intel to back up their plans to invade Iraq, or other nefarious purposes, found in JPRA/SERE an ambitious group of individuals eager to promote themselves and expand the work of their agency. Elsewhere, I have documented that some of these folk also were motivated by money.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spinning Torture: More Details on Mitchell-Jessen-CIA-FBI Torture Imbroglio

Joby Warrick and Peter Finn have a new article in Sunday's Washington Post. The story summarizes some of the competing narratives offered by different participants in the interrogation of alleged Al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Zubaida. (AZ was later admitted to not be an Al Qaeda member by various intelligence agency spokesmen.)

The entire article deserves close reading, the kind reserved for tea leaves, for through the varying narrative threads one can discern attempts by the differing agencies and actors involved to present their actions in the best possible light. In the end, no one comes out looking very good. The article reads like a summary of an internal dispute among gangsters.

In April 2002, as the terrorism suspect known as Abu Zubaida lay in a Bangkok hospital bed, top U.S. counterterrorism officials gathered at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., for a series of meetings on an urgent problem: how to get him to talk.

Put him in a cell filled with cadavers, was one suggestion, according to a former U.S. official with knowledge of the brainstorming sessions....

One man's certitude lanced through the debate, according to a participant in one of the meetings. James E. Mitchell, a retired clinical psychologist for the Air Force, had studied al-Qaeda resistance techniques.

"The thing that will make him talk," the participant recalled Mitchell saying, "is fear."

FBI & CTC (& JPRA): A Tale of Two (or Three) Agencies

One of a number of new revelations concerns the actions of R. Scott Schumate, a CIA psychologist, as the WashPo article calls him. According to his bio for the American Psychological Association's Psychological Ethics and National Security 2005 Task Force, he was in fact "chief operational psychologist for the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center (CTC)."

When it came to pushing increased levels of coercion on Zubaida, CTC played a central role, apparently with the backing of the White House. (Unreported here, but playing in the background were the machinations of the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency [JPRA], the parent organization for Mitchell and the SERE psychologists. How thrilled such JPRA agency central figures must be to be so removed from the spotlight.)

According to Warrick/Finn, "Permission had to be obtained before every technique was used, and the dialogue was very heavy.... All Mitchell's communications were with the Counterterrorist Center." Furthermore, it was believed the torture tactics had been approved "downtown," that is, at the White House. (Emptywheel has a posting up about the possible legal implications of the recent revelations for any prosecution of Mitchell or other interrogators involved in Zuabaida's torture.)

The FBI, having made it their purpose of late to remind everyone they opposed CIA harsh tactics, stayed around the Zubaida interrogation long enough to play ostensible "good cop" to Mitchell/CIA's "bad cop."

Or maybe they weren't such soft cops after all. Apparently, they agreed to continue on under conditions of use of nudity and sleep deprivation on Zubaida. While the FBI reportedly would "clash" over the temperature level in Zubaida's cell, their style of interrogation meshed more with the CIA's than has been presumed."The cables will not show that the FBI just asked friendly questions and got information about Padilla," one "U.S. official" said. This may put a different light on FBI interrogator Ali Soufan's derision of Mitchell's "experiment" with interrogation technique.

Now, a lot of this must be spin by the various sides. The FBI was good. No, the FBI weren't choir boys, etc. But notably, the FBI agents involved wouldn't comment to the Post. R. Scott Schumate -- who also is reported as protesting harsh techniques by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape [SERE] military psychologist Mitchell, and leaving Zubaida's interrogation in Thailand in protest -- also refused to speak to the Post reporters. Bruce Jessen, Mitchell's SERE comrade, who joined the interrogation in July, and with Mitchell was involved in the interrogation during the waterboarding phase, kept mum, too.

James Mitchell broke his silence, however:

Yesterday, Mitchell issued a brief statement: "It may be easy for people who were not there and didn't feel the pressure of the threats to say how much better they could have done it. But they weren't there. We were and we did the best that we could."

If this is the "best," I'd hate to see the worst.

The Keystone of the Narrative

Two crucial points from the article deserve emphasis.

One, Mitchell makes clear that it is the use of fear that is central to the style of breaking down individuals. This is not a casual or even empirical statement by the SERE psychologist, but draws upon decades of study by U.S. government behavioral researchers (as I reported recently).

Two, and probably the aspect of the article that will receive the most coverage in coming days, is the way the White House and CIA leadership pushed hard for the use of torture techniques, especially waterboarding, to gain information on a possible new terrorist attack. Or at least that's the story the sources for the story are pushing. It's one narrative, but not necessarily the true one.

The article leaves us with a number of questions. Not least, why did the CIA turn to Mitchell to begin with? Here is the key portion of the proffered narrative, and one that has holes large enough to drive the proverbial truck through:

Agency officials had no firm notion of what a post-Sept. 11 interrogation of a terrorism suspect should look like.

"It was not a job we sought out," said one former senior intelligence official involved in early decisions on interrogation. "The generals didn't want to do it. The FBI said no. It fell to the agency because we had the [legal] authorities and could operate overseas."

In Mitchell, the CIA found an authoritative professional who had answers, despite an absence of practical experience in interrogating terrorism suspects or data showing that harsh tactics work.

Previously, I showed that the use of SERE torture techniques was born out of sponsorship by Special Forces and Joint Forces leadership, in conjunction with certain military contractors. It seems likely the CIA knew of or even sponsored this activity. The Warrick/Finn article makes clear the crucial role of CTC.

As with any good narrative, there is a presumed ending, in that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" were supposedly discontinued. In my next article, I will challenge this last aspect of the narrative, and show that the conclusion of this CIA fairy tale, i.e., that SERE techniques were ultimately rejected, that Mitchell "retired", and this is all in the past, is a fiction.

Support CCR Call to Ban Private Contractors from Interrogations

The Center for Constitutional Rights has called for the public to take action regarding the Interrogations and Military Commissions provisions in the 2010 Defense Bill.
The U.S. Senate is in the process of debating the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2010. The NDAA currently includes a provision that bans the use of private military contractors from conducting interrogations of detainees. Also, an amendment to the bill could require the video recording of all interrogations. The White House is opposed to the provision that bans the use of private contractors from conducting interrogations and is also opposed to any amendment requiring video recording. There is a possibility that these elements could be stripped from the bill.

Also, while the elements pertaining to interrogations are positive developments, the NDAA could undermine our efforts to end the use of military commissions. CCR has long maintained that the use of military commissions is absolutely unacceptable in a democracy. The NDAA currently includes provisions that would change the laws regarding the use of military commissions, changes that the Obama administration appears to welcome, stating the changes will “make the commissions an effective and fair system of justice.” Congress should not refine a broken and unjust system – they should repeal the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Write your Senators today and send a clear message that private contractors should be banned from conducting interrogations, that all interrogations should be recorded, and that military commissions have no place in our justice system. [A sample letter and a form to fill out to send a letter right away is available at this link.]
Regarding the contractor issue, CCR reports:
In April 2004, 60 Minutes II and the New Yorker exposed a system of torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners detained by the U.S. at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The revelationof pictures and video documenting horrific abuses led to the court-martial of a small number of low-level U.S. soldiers. Relatively unexamined, however, is the role played by contractors from two U.S.-based companies: Titan Corporation/L-3 and CACI International, Inc. Although Titan/L-3 and CACI employees were directly involved in the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib and other prisons, no employee of either company has been convicted of any crime.
See Facts on Corporations & Torture in Prisons in Iraq (PDF):
After the U.S. military invaded Iraq in March 2003, dozens of private military companies — including CACI and Titan/L-3 — were hired to support U.S. military and government operations there. Companies with U.S. government contracts provide a vast array of services in Iraq, ranging from personal security for Iraqi and American officials to protection of oil facilities to armed escorts for “reconstruction” businesses. The contracts between the U.S.-led occupation authority and for profit military groups are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Titan/L-3 and CACI are two corporations with headquarters in the U.S. which contracted with the U.S. military to provide services in Iraq. Titan/L-3 was hired to provide translation services for U.S. personnel at Iraqi prisons. CACI was contracted to provide interrogation services, supplying nearly half of the interrogators at Abu Ghraib. Employees from both corporations were part of the conspiracy to torture Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib and other prisons....

In the spring and early summer of 2008, CCR, with Susan Burke and other attorneys from Burke O’Neil and Shereef Akeel of Akeel & Valentine, filed five new cases against CACI and Titan/L-3 and individual torturers. These cases were filed on behalf of new plaintiffs. (The motion in Saleh for class certification was denied in December 2007). These cases have since been condensed into two lawsuits: Al Shimari v. CACI International and Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla and L-3 Services, Inc....

Sign up for CCR action alerts to receive updates and calls to action about contractors in Iraq and other corporate human rights cases on our website

For specific information on these cases, visit:
I heartily endorse CCR's actions, and hope readers will go to CCR's website and learn more about these important cases, little covered by the media.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Military Commissions -- "Broken Beyond Repair" (and other related stories)

July 9, 2009
Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld of the US Reserves, a former prosecutor in the Military Commissions at the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary hearing on “Legal Issues Surrounding the Military Commissions System
I am here today to offer a single, straightforward message: the military commission system is broken beyond repair. Even good faith efforts at revision, such as legislation recently passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, leave in place provisions that are illegal and unconstitutional, undermine defendants’ basic fair trial rights, create unacceptable risks of wrongful prosecution, place our men and women in uniform at risk of unfair prosecution by other nations abroad, harm the reputation of the United States, invite time consuming litigation before federal courts, and, most importantly, undermine the fundamental values of justice and liberty upon which this great country was founded....

The military commissions cannot be fixed, because their very creation — and the only reason to prefer military commissions over federal criminal courts for the Guantánamo detainees — can now be clearly seen as an artifice, a contrivance, to try to obtain prosecutions based on evidence that would not be admissible in any civilian or military prosecution anywhere in our nation.
The quote is from Andy Worthington's excellent recent posting, "Former Insider Shatters Credibility of Military Commissions". Worthington covered earlier testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee here.
Fortunately, Retired Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, who served as a Judge Advocate in the US Navy from 1973 to 2000, and was the Navy’s Judge Advocate General from 1997 to 2000, was on hand to cut through the administration’s fog, to put forward a stout defense of the abilities of the federal courts, and to deliver a withering dismissal of proposals to revive the Military Commissions (PDF).

Hutson said that although he was an “early and ardent supporter of military commissions,” the process created by the Bush administration “did not live up to the traditions” of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (the military’s own judicial system), and had become a “significant distraction for the military,” because “[p]reserving and ensuring justice in the United States is the primary mission of the Department of Justice, not the Department of Defense.”
But as a commenter on Worthington's Huffington Post article (reproduced by Andy here) noted, the SASC hearing came after language for the new military commissions law was already written.
CitizenLegislatorDC wrote:

Superb reporting, Andy.

You are absolutely right that floor debate on NEW Obama-blessed military commissions language — ALREADY PASSED by Carl Levin’s Armed Services Committee — is “imminent” in the Senate.

From Wednesday, July 8th:

“Mr. REID. I ask unanimous consent that on Monday, July 13, after the pledge, prayer, and any leader remarks, the Senate proceed to the consideration of Calendar No. 89, S. 1390, the Department of Defense Authorization bill.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.”

And from Thursday, July 9th:

“Mr. REID. …[Next] Monday, we will be in at 11 a.m. Senators Levin and McCain will begin managing the Defense Authorization bill… There are a lot of very big, important amendments on that bill.”

Perhaps Huffington Post Washington reporters (Hi, Dan Froomkin) could ask some questions:

1. WHO WROTE the complex new military commissions language? Levin’s Armed Services committee staffers, or the White House?

2. WHY was the public hearing on the new language held AFTER the committee had already adopted the language?

3. WHO will control the conference committee / negotiations merging the Senate (if its MC language remains) and House (H.R. 2647) defense bills? The President via Emanuel? Will those negotiations be secret, or publicly available?

4. WHY DID NO SENATOR OBJECT to consideration of this 2009 version of the 2006 Military Commissions Act?? Especially Pat Leahy, Chris Dodd, or Russ Feingold — who expressed disgust about the 2006 bill they ALL refused to filibuster, just before the Democrats regained Congress.
All of this comes in context recent scary statements also made at the SASC hearing (emphasis added):
The Obama administration said Tuesday it could continue to imprison non-U.S. citizens indefinitely even if they have been acquitted of terrorism charges by a U.S. military commission.

Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department's chief lawyer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that releasing a detainee who has been tried and found not guilty was a policy decision that officials would make based on their estimate of whether the prisoner posed a future threat.
Recent statements by Obama administration officials or their surrogates, and by Obama himself, indicate that a turn for more real transparency and accountability may be in the offing. The most promising of such turnarounds comes from Obama himself, on the investigation of the Dasht-e-Leili massacre. A Newsweek article, and a piece by Scott Horton at the Daily Beast, maintain that Attorney General Holder is leaning towards prosecutions over torture. Already there are analysts pouring over what Holder might choose to investigate.

Besides the Obama statement, which represents a turnaround for official U.S. government policy on a single investigation, we are getting very mixed signals from the Obama administration. The next period will be one of accelerated struggle over the fight for accountability and justice, and against torture and a war-inclined military. Unreported here by me is also a struggle over economic justice, as the country sinks ever deeper into economic depression. At some point, these two struggles must link up, and then major change in this country will be in the offing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Obama Orders National Security Team To Investigate Dasht-e-Leili Massacre

The following press release was issued by Physicians for Human Rights earlier today:
Physicians for Human Rights Hails the President's Commitment after Pressing for Accountability for Seven Years

Cambridge, MA – President Obama told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he has directed his national security team to look into the 2001 deaths of Taliban prisoners who allegedly were massacred by US-backed forces in Afghanistan. The President stated that the government needs to find out whether actions by the US contributed to possible war crimes.

The comments to Anderson Cooper were aired on CNN on Sunday as it promoted excerpts from Cooper's exclusive interview with the President in Ghana that will air in full at 10 PM Eastern on Monday, July 13. Cooper raised new evidence from a New York Times report by James Risen that the Bush Administration impeded at least three federal investigations into an alleged massacre of as many as 2,000 prisoners in Afghanistan. The excerpts from the interview as transcribed by Physicians for Human Rights follow at the end of this press release.
"Physicians for Human Rights praises President Obama for ordering his national security team to collect all the facts in the Dasht-e-Leili massacre and apparent US cover-up," said Physicians for Human Rights Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin.
President Obama's comments differ from statements made by Obama Administration officials on Friday, as reported by Lara Jakes of the Associated Press, that they had no grounds to investigate. In their statement, these officials claim that they lack legal grounds to probe these alleged war crimes because "only foreigners were involved and the alleged killings occurred in a foreign country." Physicians for Human Rights on Friday called these claims "absurd" and said the US "has a legal obligation to find out what US officials knew, where US personnel were, what involvement they had, and the actions of US allies during and after the massacre."
"Since Physicians for Human Rights discovered the mass grave in January 2002, we have been gathering the facts on the initial incident and the alleged cover-up of it through forensic investigation, legal action against the Bush Administration, and documentation of the chain of command," said Nathaniel Raymond, PHR's lead researcher in the case. "We stand ready to provide these facts to the president's national security team and to Congress. President Obama is right to say that US and Afghan violations of the laws of war must be investigated. If the Obama Administration finds that criminal wrongdoing occurred in this case, those responsible – whether American or Afghan officials – must be prosecuted. Additionally, reports that Attorney General Eric Holder is considering appointing a prosecutor to pursue violations related to detainee abuse is a welcome and long-awaited first step to restoring our nation's commitment to the rule of law," said Raymond, who also directs PHR's Campaign Against Torture.

"The White House should support the appointment of a criminal prosecutor to investigate the US use of torture as well as the creation of a commission of inquiry to gather all the facts of this dark chapter," concluded Raymond.
According to US government documents obtained by PHR, as many as 2,000 surrendered Taliban fighters were reportedly suffocated in container trucks by Afghan forces operating jointly with the US in November 2001. The bodies were reportedly buried in mass graves in the Dasht-e-Leili desert near Sheberghan, Afghanistan. Notorious Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was reportedly on the CIA payroll, is allegedly responsible for the massacre.


Excerpt from CNN interview:

ANDERSON COOPER: And now it seems clear that the Bush Administration resisted efforts to pursue investigations of an Afghan warlord named General Dostum, who was on the CIA payroll. It's now come out, there were hundreds of Taliban prisoners under his care who got killed…


ANDERSON COOPER: …some were suffocated in a steel container, others were shot, possibly buried in mass graves. Would you support – would you call for – an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah, the indications that this had not been properly investigated just recently was brought to my attention. So what I've asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known. And we'll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all the facts gathered up.

ANDERSON COOPER: But you wouldn't resist categorically an investigation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that, you know, there are responsibilities that all nations have even in war. And if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that.

PHR is right. This is an important victory, though not the end of the struggle. After years of official neglect and obstruction, it is a very welcome move by the Obama administration, but it is not the same as a full investigation, i.e., by DoJ, with subpoena power, witnesses under oath, etc. Obama is asking his "national security team" (and I'm not exactly sure what that comprises) to "collect the facts for me that are known", and then "probably make a decision... of how to approach it."

The fact that this isn't exactly the same as a full investigation (no subpoenas, etc.) was caught by Cooper, in the exchange PHR quotes:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah, the indications that this had not been properly investigated just recently was brought to my attention. So what I’ve asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known. And we’ll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all the facts gathered up.

ANDERSON COOPER: But you wouldn’t resist categorically an investigation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that, you know, there are responsibilities that all nations have even in war. And if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that.

This is not the full victory we want, but truly an enormous first step. Obama has committed himself to examining the issue, and has not turned down a full investigation.

I don't trust, from my standpoint, his "national security team" to give an unbiased report of "all the facts."

Still, caveats aside, the game is now engaged, and I don't see how the administration can back down. A full investigation is now on the table.

I would have liked to see Anderson Cooper push for a timeline here, and my fear is they are hoping this inside gathering of facts goes on for months. I know Physicians for Human Rights and the progressive community as a whole will keep Obama's feet to the fire.

Great work, everyone at Physicians for Human Rights. Don't forget, they spend a lot fo money to do this work, so grateful readers should donate.

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