Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Connecting the Dots"

The week before last, ABC News reported that the NSC Principals, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, George Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Ashcroft, engaged in meetings in the Situation Room of the White House, in which they discussed, watched demonstrations, and signed off on techniques and algorithms for interrogation of prisoners in CIA custody that included methods that most of the world recognizes as torture. When he was confronted with the story two days later by Martha Raddatz, President George W. Bush asserted that he knew of, and approved of the meetings and was happy with the results. He stated, "Well, we started to connect the dots, in order to protect the American people."

In a previous posts we have tried to connect the dots with respect to when these sessions started, and how they interleaved with the event list of significant memoranda coming out of the Office of Legal Council in the Justice Department to justify them. But it is also interesting connecting the dots to the more widespread abuses and tortures that appear to have begun at Guantanamo, and migrated to other places, principally to Iraq, especially at Abu Ghraib, and Afghanistan, at Bagram. And, it is interesting to trace the use of psychology and psychiatry, migrating out of the SERE program and elsewhere. And it's interesting to watch how interrogation methods migrated into the show '24' and back out to the interrogation methods that propagated. Many of these migrations were charted by people before the recent revelations, principally by Jane Mayer, but also by Philip Zimbardo, and others. They look quite different now that there is a real place where people plotted the techniques, and the detail of Donald Rumsfeld no longer seems to be his own idiosyncratic management style, but a feature of the Bush administration itself.

The Road to the Torture Councils

While John Yoo remembers getting to work on his torture memos in late March of 2002, when Abu Zubaydah was captured, it would seem that there was a 'high-value detainee' who was captured and tortured before him. That would have probably been Ibn al Shaykh al-Libi, captured in late 2001 or early 2002 (first mentioned as captured by NBC on January 4, 2002). We know this, because, as Jane Mayer documents, James Mitchell, a psychologist formerly with SERE, was on the video tape advising which techniques to try on a 'high-value detainee' in mid-March 2002. Abu Zubaydah had not been captured yet. James Mitchell was citing theory from the Seligman experiment, performed in the 1960's, in which dogs lapsed into a condition of 'learned helplessness' after receiving shocks and perceiving there was no way to avoid them. The psychologist and his partner Bruce Jessen are the subject of an article by Mark Benjamin of Salon detailing how the CIA taught torture to the military. The SERE program techniques, which these two were experts in, formed the basis for the interrogation techniques adopted under Major General Geoffrey Miller, who employed psychologists and psychiatrists to create an interrogation regimen that would produce results, after taking over at Guantanamo. Benjamin notes that the Pentagon ordered all records related to Mitchell and Jessen's firm saved as possible evidence in May of 2007 after an inquiry from Senator Charles Schumer related to prisoner abuse.

So we know that these are probably the kind of people who were advising on the high value detainees at Black Sites, the CIA interrogations. Those were the interrogations that were managed from the situation room, since the CIA insisted that there be sign off from the top. The defense department, at least to date, sought no such cover. We know that Donald Rumsfeld approved of tactics for use at first at Guantanamo, and that he was also involved in the Torture Council meetings. We learned that he sought a memo of his own, similar to the 'Golden Shield' memo authored by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee, and got such legal sign off in October 2002. So it is tempting to believe that there was a slippery slope from a few high-valued al Qaeda detainees tortured at the instructions of the President and his advisors, to the wider abuses that ended up being showcased in the images from Abu Ghraib which became public in the Spring of 2004. In fact, this scenario was on display in media after the Yoo memo became public a few weeks ago.

Except that it doesn't fit all the facts. Also in Jane Mayer's piece, The Experiment, is the fact that Col. Louie (Morgan) Banks, a Ph.D. level psychologist who is also connected with SERE, was at Bagram in November 2001 to advise there. His resume, quoted in the piece, states that he "provides technical support and consultation to all Army psychologists providing interrogation support". In 2001, the 'high-valued detainees' had not been captured, the decision to put prisoners at Guantanamo Bay hadn't been made, or yet officially discussed. While Banks is emphatic that he never taught SERE tactics for use in interrogation, this indicates that professional psychological advice on how to make prisoners talk was being sought and provided to the military well before any memos 'exempting' anyone from Geneva or the U.N. Convention Against Torture had been written (in January 2002), before any torture memos had been written, and maybe before the NSC Principals had met to approve CIA tactics blow by blow.

From the CIA to Guantanamo

The dots that need to be connected to bring techniques to Guantanamo Bay are a bit more confusing. They go something like this:

The decision to move 'high-value detainees' to Guantanamo, and supposedly out of reach of both U.S. and international law was made in late 2001, early 2002, and the prisoners were sent there beginning January 11, 2002. It is not known whether they were genuinely believed to be all 'high-value detainees' at that point. That is what they were billed as, though. Meanwhile, as we mentioned above, attempts to get intelligence from prisoners using psychological techniques were already underway in Afghanistan, and note that the dates coincide with the capture of al-Libi, and with the memos declaring first al Qaeda and then the Taliban to be not eligible for any Geneva Conventions protection, not even common Article 3. During the next several months, legal documents are prepared for covering torture of the CIA prisoners, and advice from Mitchell and Jessen is among that entertained. This is the program that the Torture Council is known to have presided over. Then in the latter half of 2002, the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld in particular, and others from the White House and the Vice-President's office, become interested in getting more information from the prisoners at Guantanamo. Corresponding memos are in the process of being drawn up.

But rather than the trail being a simple transfer of interrogation methods from those used in the Black Sites, it works like this: A team of White House and Defense lawyers, including David Addington, Jim Haynes, and Alberto Gonzales, visit Gitmo, and encourage the interrogators there to come up with a list of harsher methods and submit them to the Defense department. They are compiled by a staff lawyer there named Diane Beaver, who sends them to Washington, never realizing that her name will be left on them, and that the Pentagon will use this memo to assert later that they approved the tactics because the interrogators asked for them. Then Rumsfeld, with the new legal backing obtained by Jim Haynes, approves a list of methods. The list goes back to Gitmo, but the General in charge there balks at exceeding the Geneva Conventions. So he is replaced with Geoffrey Miller, who brings in the psychologists and psychiatrists, and creates his interrogation system. But where did the list come from, then? Diane Beaver asserts that the interrogators got a lot of their ideas from the TV show '24'.

Does that mean that they came from complete fiction? Well, no. Howard Gordon, the principle writer for the series, keeps a copy of the Kubark manual on his desk, one source of inspiration. That wouldn't need to be unusual, given that there is a drive toward realism in such shows. '24' is a bit special though, the creators are a conservative and friend of Rush Limbaugh's, and collaborator of Roger Ailes named Joel Surnow, and his partner Robert Cochran is a law school graduate who believes in the "Doctrine of Necessity" justifying torture under the Constitution and making it legal to bypass the Convention Against Torture. Perhaps a whole new article like that done by the New York Times on the Military Analysts could be done with regards to ties between '24' and the government, as well. If you want to see some names, watch the conference, put together by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' wife Virginia, held at the government Ronald Reagan Center, hosted by Rush Limbaugh, and featuring, among others, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, entitled (and I kid you not): "24" and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does it Matter? The creators of the show even got a White House luncheon and a tour, which included the Situation Room, which Surnow found less exciting than the CTU room on his show. I wonder if anyone in the crowd was aware that the real tortures were drawn up and managed there, how real a tour can you get!

Matching up the chronology of '24' with the progress of torture out into the various military prisons is filled with eerie coincidences, like the instigation of a prison riot followed by disobeying orders in an abusive interrogation on Season 3 4pm - 5pm, which coincided nearly exactly with the riots endured by the Americans at Abu Ghraib, and many of the prisoner abuses there, in November of 2003. Of course, the sequence in the show was filmed well before that date, and there really isn't a connection, maybe. Jane Mayer documents that military interrogation experts complained to the producers of the show that their tactics were circulating in Iraq. As one of the experts said, “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”

The Kubark manual, which Howard Gordon consults in writing the series, is from the CIA. It was written in the 1960's, updated in 1983, and declassified in 1997, and details methods including sensory deprivation, threats and fear, threats of death to the prisoner or someone close to them, and debility, which includes exposure to extremes of heat and cold, and deprivation of food or sleep. It also documents use of pain and threats of pain, hypnosis, making the prisoner believe he has been drugged, drugging prisoners, and how to deal with a prisoner once his psyche has begun to crumble and he is regressing too a childlike state. How familiar these tactics sound!

From Guantanamo Outward

Geoffrey Miller's team is largely credited with migrating the tactics from Guantanamo to Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, the recommendations were made to Colonel Pappas in Iraq by Miller's team, which also pressured Lt. Gen. Sanchez about their use, which precipitated another round of asking the interrogators for tactics, which produced tactics that had possibly already been in use, combined with the new ones from General Miller. Miller enunciated that "You have to treat the prisoners like dogs. If...they believe that they're any different from dogs, you have effectively lost control of your interrogation from the very start...And it works. This is what we do down at Guantanamo Bay." (Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, p. 414, quoting General Janice Karpinski). Note that Seligman's dogs have reappeared. The direct involvement of professional psychologists is evident throughout, regardless of whether it is the 'high-value detainees' and the Torture Council, the initial interrogations at Bagram before Camp X-Ray existed, the CIA manual that fed '24' and subsequently informed Donald Rumsfeld's tactics list, or the final product being sold by Major General Geoffrey Miller.

And the high level involvement surfaces in the military interrogations as well. Although the military did not, apparently, follow the CIA lead and require Torture Council meetings and presidential sign-offs, although the started to in 2004 as memos began to be rescinded, apparently the people at Tier 1A in Abu Ghraib prison, who were informing the MP's on 'softening up detainees for interrogation', had periods of confusion due to Rumsfeld snowflakes that were written for Guantanamo. "I think it became confusing. I mean, we found in computers at Abu Ghraib SECDEF [Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's] memos that were written for Guantanamo, not Abu Ghraib. And that caused confusion." (Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, pp. 414-415, quoting general Paul Kern).

And that is why some believe that the situations for degenerating into abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib and Bagram were deliberate. At every step of the way, psychologists and psychiatrists whose specialty was interrogation tactics gave advice, and quoted from famous psychological experiments. The Schlesinger report contains an appendix detailing the Stanford Prison Experiment (Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, p. 401). Experts were being consulted. Pol Pots techniques were being resurrected and perfected. And even when the source was fictional, as it was for the interrogators at Guantanamo, as it is for Virginia Thomas and Rush Limbaugh, and for Antonin Scalia (although perhaps he was only thinking his way through lethal injections and pain), and Michael Chertoff, it was from psychological studies of interrogation, dating back to the 1960s, and prepared for the CIA.


Jim White said...


Thanks for assembling these varied reports into an overall picture that is more coherent and even though that makes it more chilling.

There is a genuine concern that many of the illegal activities started early in the Bush administration will never result in prosecutions because the statute of limitations will come into effect before prosecutions are carried out.

At least with regard to the crimes you are discussing here, that will not be case since war crimes have no statute of limitations. I only hope that I live long enough to see these criminals brought before an appropriate legal authority.

bamage said...

Needs to be more widely read.

How're things w/ you and GG?

Do you mind (or think he would) if I steer people here from over there?

ondelette said...


I have no problem with GG, I just had a problem with another poster there deciding who should and should not post, and drowning people out.

By all means, you can direct people here.

Annie said...

Another resource for you: Invictus blog by Valtin, a psychologist who writes about torture and the American Psychological Association.

This is great research and important to understand. Thank you for providing it here.

Karen M said...

The discussion is spreading...

TPMmuckraker has a new post up on some of the behind-the-scenes action.