Posts Tagged ‘interrogation techniques’

Torture Images From Set Of Standard Operating Procedure Retell Story Of Abu Ghraib

May 8, 2009

Huffington Post Contributors |  Nubar Alexanian and Katharine Thomas   | The  Huffington Post, May 7, 2009

Photographs by Nubar Alexanian

Text by Katharine Thomas

One of President Obama’s first executive decisions in office was to prohibit the use of interrogation techniques previously sanctioned by the Justice Department under the Bush administration.


Memos released on April 16, 2009 describe in detail “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on terrorism suspects. While many American’s have heard the controversy surrounding the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, few have clear depictions of what these techniques look like.

These photographs were created on the set of Standard Operating Procedure, a film by Errol Morris that tells the story of what happened at Abu Ghraib.

These images are accurate reenactments of events that took place in the prison. They are intended to make visible the idea of torture and to provoke the observer to imagine what it is like to be tortured.


In a memo to John Rizzo, Assistant Attorney General, Jay S. Bybee, wrote “…The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view inflict “severe pain or suffering…The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering.”


Some individuals who did not believe that waterboarding constituted torture changed their opinions after experiencing the procedure for themselves. Writer and political observer Christopher Hitchens was challenged to undergo waterboarding. After the experience Hitchen’s is quoted as saying, “if waterboarding does not constitute torture, there is no such thing as torture.”


Story continues below

ad_spec = {
“zone_info”: “;politics=1;world=1;entry_id=199121;@yimages=1;@ypolitics=1;@yus-news=1;@yworld=1;abu-ghraib=1;abu-ghraib-abuse=1;abu-ghraib-documentary=1;abu-ghraib-photos=1;abu-ghraib-torture=1;advocacy=1;bush-administration-torture=1;bush-torture=1;bush-torture-memos=1;cia-torture=1;errol-morris-abu-ghraib=1;foreign-affairs=1;guantanamo-torture=1;images=1;iraq-war-wire=1;torture=1;torture-memos=1;torture-photos=1;war-wire=1;waterboarding=1”,
“ord”: 1241796547,
“tile”: 3,
“width”: 300,
“height”: 250,
“el_id”: “ad_300_250_inline”,
“class_name”: “ad_block ad_wide”,
“type”: “iframe”
// –>

Waterboarding typically refers to a procedure in which a cloth is placed over an individual’s nose and mouth and water is poured over the face for a period less than a minute. The technique simulates the experience of drowning. The gurney that the individual is strapped to may be put at an incline with the head below the lungs to prevent the water from going into the lungs and actually drowning the individual.


In addition to coercive techniques such as waterboarding, the Office of Legal Council prescribed the use of conditioning techniques. These were a set of ongoing conditions intended to show detainees that they had “no control over basic human needs.” This included forced nudity, dietary manipulation, and sleep deprivation.


Un-muzzled dogs were used to intimidate detainees. In one case, a detainee suffered from multiple bite wounds.


Dog handlers reportedly had a contest to see who could make the most prisoners urinate out of fear of the dogs.


One of the infamous images documented by soldiers at Abu Ghraib shows a hooded man standing on a box. The detainee’s hands were attached to wires. He was told that he if he stepped off the box he would be electrocuted.


Cement bags were often used as hoods to cover detainee’s faces, one of many techniques used to make them feel out of control.


Detainees were routinely shackled in uncomfortable positions and left for hours. Stress positions and sleep deprivations were used to soften the detainees for interrogation.


This image shows military personnel playing “grab ass” in the interrogation room with a hooded detainee. Sexual abuse and the licentious behavior of military personnel are documented in photographs taken by the soldiers themselves.


This photograph was taken from a monitor attached to a film camera positioned underneath a fifty-gallon drum with a glass bottom. It shows the face of an individual whose head is being held under water.


In describing water torture techniques used in the Philippine-American war, Lieutenant Grover Flint said, “his sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown.”

Britain Tries to Block CIA Rendition Case

May 5, 2009
by William Fisher |,  May 05, 2009

British High Court judges are expected to rule this week on whether a document by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency can be publicly disclosed, thus opening the courthouse door to a lawsuit charging that the British government was complicit in facilitating the rendition of a British resident by the CIA, which tortured and secretly imprisoned him at Guantánamo Bay.

Lawyers acting for David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, last week made a last-ditch attempt to block the release of the CIA information, which reportedly shows what British authorities knew about the mistreatment of British resident Binyam Mohamed.

The information is a seven-paragraph summary of CIA documents, described earlier by Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones as containing nothing which could “possibly be described as ‘highly sensitive classified U.S. intelligence.’”

In a ruling earlier this year, the High Court judges said: “Indeed we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials … relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.”

However, David Mackie, a senior government lawyer, told the two judges that Miliband had been told by Obama administration officials that the disclosure of the seven paragraphs “could likely result in serious damage to UK and U.S. national security.”

The claim was made despite Obama’s recent decision to release detailed information about CIA interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.

Lawyers for Mohamed say Obama’s action means it is highly unlikely that the president would object to the disclosure of the CIA summary.

This latest move in the long-running case in the High Court comes as a federal appeals court in the U.S. gave the legal green light to a case brought there by five men including Mohamed and another British resident, Bisher al-Rawi, who say they were tortured under the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.

The five former Guantánamo Bay detainees are suing Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan for allegedly providing flights to secret prisons overseas, where the abuse is said to have happened.

In what may become a landmark decision, a federal appeals court recently ruled that the “state secrets privilege” – routinely used by the government to block lawsuits against its officials – can only be used to contest specific evidence, but not to dismiss an entire suit.

The ruling, which was hailed by human rights advocates, came in connection with a lawsuit against a company known as Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the government’s “extraordinary rendition” program during the administration of former President George W. Bush.

“This is a tremendous step forward,” said Mohamed’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, director of the Britain-based legal charity Reprieve, referring to the decision in the U.S. case.

“Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi [another plaintiff] and perhaps many others are one step closer to making the CEOs of these companies stop and think before they commit criminal acts for profit,” he told IPS.

Reprieve’s renditions investigator Clara Gutteridge said: “It is inconceivable that Jeppesen acted alone. People in the highest echelons of the U.S. – and in some cases the UK– governments have authorized illegal rendition flights and must also be held accountable.”

The U.S. suit charges that Jeppesen knowingly participated in the rendition program by providing critical flight planning and logistical support services to aircraft and crews used by the CIA to forcibly “disappear” the five men to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. Jeppesen is a subsidiary of aerospace giant Boeing. The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

During the Bush administration, the government intervened when the case first came before a lower court in 2007, successfully asserting the “state secrets” privilege to have the case thrown out in February 2008. On appeal, the administration of President Barack Obama followed the same road as its predecessor. The appeals court has now reversed that decision.

But lawyers for the men who brought the case also sounded a note of caution. “This historic decision marks the beginning, not the end, of this litigation,” Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, told IPS. Wizner argued the case for the plaintiffs.

The U.S. appeals court ruling means that the government can assert the “state secrets” privilege for specific pieces of evidence, but not to end a case before it begins.

That means that the privilege is primarily an evidentiary privilege, a definition civil libertarians have long sought. The State Secrets Protection Act, now pending in Congress, would turn that definition into law.

The Obama administration now has three options. It can do nothing, which will mean the case will finally go before a U.S. court. It can ask the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case. Or it can appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

If the case goes to trial, the government can still argue that disclosing anything about Jeppesen’s relationship with the United States government would jeopardize national security secrets. But now it can no longer simply “assert” that privilege; it will have to convince a judge by arguing the point in court.

(Inter Press Service)

RIGHTS-US: Senate Report Casts Grim Light on Bush Era

April 24, 2009

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service News

NEW YORK, Apr 22 (IPS) – Pentagon interrogators continuously ramped up their abusive techniques against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq and Afghanistan in a vain attempt to establish a link between the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. on Sep. 11, 2001.

This is among the principal conclusions of a long-awaited report released Tuesday by the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

The report also concluded that health professionals played a key role in helping the U.S. Defence Department to introduce waterboarding and other illegal interrogation techniques months before these practices were “justified” by Justice Department lawyers and approved by their superiors in the administration of former President George W. Bush.

The report says that the Defence Department was using harsh interrogation techniques long before they were “justified” by Justice Department lawyers and approved by their Bush administration superiors.

The report quotes a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist as saying that the Bush administration put “relentless pressure” on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence an al Qaeda-Hussein link.

This kind of information would have provided a foundation for one of Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003, the report says. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Hussein’s regime.

The report says that senior Bush administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, were all aware of the development and use of the abusive interrogation techniques.

Despite warnings from military personnel that the use of these techniques on Guantanamo detainees could backfire, 15 specific techniques were sanctioned by Rumsfeld on Dec. 2, 2002, the report said.

What followed was “an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely”, it said.

The report said, “That these techniques had been endorsed became known by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, setting the stage for the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.”

The report also notes that the use of brutal interrogation techniques started in early 2002, up to eight months before Justice Department lawyers approved the use of waterboarding and nine other harsh methods, Senate investigators found.

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the committee chairman, said, “The report represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse – such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan – to low-ranking soldiers.”

Claims that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorised acts of a “few bad apples” were simply false, he said.

“A few bad apples” is how Rumsfeld described the low-level soldiers shown in photos around the world abusing detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Several of these military personnel were convicted and sentenced to prison terms, but a series of Pentagon investigations found no evidence that prisoner abuse was a policy that came from the Pentagon’s civilian leadership.

“The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots.” He said it shows a paper trail going from Rumsfeld’s authorisation of abusive interrogation techniques “to Guantánamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.”

Human rights advocates hailed the Levin report. Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said, “Once again, we are presented with clear-cut evidence that the Bush administration’s highest ranking officials were not only complicit in the use of torture, but were actively engaged in its implementation. It is now time to act on this evidence.”

The report also documents how a secretive military training programme called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) became the foundation of the interrogations by both the Pentagon and the CIA.

SERE was developed many years ago as a way to give U.S. military personnel some sense of the treatment they might face if they were captured by China, the Soviet Union or other Cold War adversaries.

The committee’s report notes that the CIA also drew on the SERE programme for harsh methods it used in secret overseas jails for Qaeda suspects. The CIA has said it used waterboarding, a method of near-drowning used in the SERE programme, on three captured terrorism suspects in 2002 and 2003.

Cheney and others who advocated the use of sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions, and waterboarding insist they were legal. On Tuesday, Cheney asked the Justice Department to declassify and release documents he says will show that these techniques produced valuable intelligence.

Media accounts also report that a secretive government contractor played a key role in developing the Bush administration’s interrogation methods. The company, Mitchell Jessen & Associates, is named after the two military psychologists who founded it, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Beginning in 2002, they trained interrogators in brutal techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and pain. The psychologists, based near Spokane in the state of Washington, reportedly “reverse-engineered” the tactics taught in SERE training for use on prisoners held by the U.S.

The declassified torture memos released last week reportedly relied heavily on their advice. In one memo, Justice Department attorney Jay Bybee wrote, “Based on your research into the use of these methods at the SERE school and consultation with others with expertise in the field of psychology and interrogation, you do not anticipate that any prolonged harm would result from the use of the waterboard.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a not for profit advocacy group, is calling for the psychologists who justified, designed, and implemented torture for the CIA and Department of Defense to” lose their professional licenses and to face criminal prosecution.”

“Long before Justice Department lawyers were tasked to justify torture, U.S. psychologists were busy actually perpetrating it,” said Steven Reisner, PhD, advisor on psychological ethics at PHR. “These individuals must not only face prosecution for breaking the law, they must lose their licenses for shaming their profession’s ethics.”

He told IPS, “The conclusion that these interrogation techniques cause no lasting harm is the equivalent of psychological malpractice.” He said the proponents of these techniques “cherry-picked the research to reach a foregone conclusion. How can you compare U.S. soldiers who volunteered for SERE training, and could have stopped their interrogations at any time, with the effects on a prisoner who has been ‘disappeared’, is in fear for his life, and believes he will never see his family again?”

He added that the CIA’s own research into the effects of SERE training showed that it produced “extreme and lasting effects to the point of psychosis.”

In October 2008, the American Psychological Association approved a landmark measure banning members from taking part in interrogations of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan and all of the secret CIA black sites. The American Medical Association has passed a similar measure.

The Armed Services Committee report was released amid growing calls for an independent inquiry into abusive interrogation techniques and the people responsible for them. Proposals range from a “truth commission” to the appointment of an independent prosecutor by the Obama Justice Department.

President Obama has consistently said he is more inclined to look forward rather than backward. Earlier this week, he visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and told agency employees there would be no prosecutions of operatives who carried out the abusive interrogation techniques because they believed they were acting in accordance with legal rulings from the Justice Department.

But a day later, he said he would not oppose either an independent commission investigation or appointment of a special prosecutor. He left these decisions to Congress and to the Attorney General, Eric Holder.

Obama attacked from all sides over CIA memos

April 18, 2009

Former Bush aides condemn release of sensitive documents / Human rights groups criticise immunity given to interrogators

By David Usborne in New York | The Independent, UK, Apr 18, 2009

Mr Obama said no one who had used discredited techniques would be prosecuted


Mr Obama said no one who had used discredited techniques would be prosecuted

The White House was engulfed by a maelstrom of anger yesterday after its decision to release memos from the Bush era providing legal cover for “enhanced” interrogation techniques in secret CIA prisons. At the same time, it made promises to protect those who implemented them from prosecution.

The act of releasing the memos with almost no blacking out of sensitive sections was attacked by two senior former Bush aides. Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey, who served respectively as CIA director and US attorney general, said their publication “was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy”.

Perhaps more controversial was the decision to couple their publication with assurances from Barack Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, that no one who carried out interrogations using the now disavowed techniques, including forcing detainees to stand naked for hours and slamming them against walls, would face prosecution.

Some deemed the decision as fitting a pattern that Mr Obama has set, which involves honouring his campaign promises – in this case to lift the veil of secrecy on the way the “War on Terror” was waged by his predecessor – while rarely going as far as some of his supporters wanted or expected.

If Mr Obama had hoped to draw a line under the shame of how the CIA treated terror suspects at secret overseas prisons, he has failed. Even if he and Mr Holder can guarantee immunity for CIA interrogators, an inquiry is still likely to be opened by members of Congress. Nor is it clear they could be protected from prosecution under international laws.

Among those expressing their dismay at the legal immunity was a former Guantanamo detainee now living in Egypt. “All of us in Guantanamo never had hope or faith in the American government,” said Jomaa al-Dosari, a Saudi released last year. “We only ask God for our rights, and to demand justice for the wrongs we experience in this life.”

Human rights groups also deplored giving immunity to those who practised interrogation, which critics say amounted to illegal torture. “The release of CIA memos on interrogation methods by the US Department of Justice appears to have offered a get-out-of-jail-free card to people involved in torture,” Amnesty International said.

“It is one of the deepest disappointments of this administration that it appears unwilling to uphold the law where crimes have been committed by former officials,” said the Washington-based Centre for Constitutional Rights. The Centre argued that it was not just the interrogators who should face scrutiny, but those directing them.

“Whether or not CIA operatives who conducted water boarding are guaranteed immunity, it is the high-level officials who conceived, justified and ordered the torture programme who bear the most responsibility for breaking domestic and international law, and it is they who must be prosecuted,” it said.

The memos, written by senior Justice Department experts in 2002 and 2005, were designed to give the CIA reassurance that the so-called “enhanced” techniques would pass legal muster.

The decision to release them did not come easily to Mr Obama, who waited weeks as debate raged both within the White House and between the various agencies involved. While the Justice Department broadly backed their publication, the CIA did not, for fear their contents would aid terror organisations.

All the information in the memos, set out by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, was categorised as top secret and should have remained so, argued Mr Mukasey and Mr Hayden in a joint article published in The Wall Street Journal.

How Bush’s Tortured Legal Logic Won

April 17, 2009

Robert Parry |, April 17, 2009

Almost as disturbing as reading the Bush administration’s approved menu of brutal interrogation techniques is recognizing how President George W. Bush successfully shopped for government attorneys willing to render American laws meaningless by turning words inside out.

The four “torture” memos, released Thursday, revealed not just that the stomach-turning reports about CIA interrogators abusing “war on terror” suspects were true, but that the United States had gone from a “nation of laws” to a “nation of legal sophistry” – where conclusions on law are politically preordained and the legal analysis is made to fit.

You have passages like this in the May 10, 2005, memo by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel:

“Another question is whether the requirement of ‘prolonged mental harm’ caused by or resulting from one of the enumerated predicate acts is a separate requirement, or whether such ‘prolonged mental harm’ is to be presumed any time one of the predicate acts occurs.”

As each phrase in the Convention Against Torture was held up to such narrow examination, the forest of criminal torture was lost in the trees of arcane legal jargon. Collectively, the memos leave a disorienting sense that any ambiguity in words can be twisted to justify almost anything.

So, a “war on terror” prisoner could not only be locked up in solitary confinement indefinitely based on the sole authority of President Bush but could be subjected to a battery of abusive and humiliating tactics, all in the name of extracting some information that purportedly would help keep the United States safe – and it would not be called “torture.”

Some tactics were bizarre, like feeding detainees a liquid diet of Ensure to make “other techniques, such as sleep deprivation, more effective.” The memo’s sleep deprivation clause, in turn, allowed interrogators to shackle prisoners to an overhead pipe (or in some other uncomfortable position) for up to 180 hours (or seven-and-a-half days).

While shackled, the prisoner would be dressed in a diaper that “is checked regularly and changed as necessary.” The memo asserted that “the use of the diaper is for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee, and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique.”

Beyond the painful disorientation from depriving a person of sleep while chained in a standing position for days, the Justice Department memos called for prisoners to be forced into other “stress positions” for varying periods of time to cause “the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue.”

Tiny Boxes

The detainees also could be put into small, dark boxes where they could barely move (and in the case of one detainee, Abu Zubaydah, could have an insect slipped into his box as a way of playing on his fear of bugs), according to the Aug. 1, 2002, memo.

“The duration of confinement varies based upon the size of the container,” the May 10, 2005, memo added, with the smaller space (sitting only) restricted to two hours at a time and a somewhat larger box (permitting standing) limited to eight hours at a time and 18 hours a day.

Then, there were various slaps, grabs and slamming a prisoner against a “flexible” wall while his neck was in a sling “to help prevent whiplash.”

Prisoners also were subjected to forced nudity, sometimes in the presence of women, according to the May 10 memo.

“We understand that interrogators are trained to avoid sexual innuendo or any acts of implicit or explicit sexual degradation,” the memo said. “Nevertheless, interrogators can exploit the detainee’s fear of being seen naked.

“In addition, female officers involved in the interrogation process may see the detainees naked; and for purposes of our analysis, we will assume that detainees subjected to nudity as an interrogation technique are aware that they may be seen naked by females.”

Another approved technique was “water dousing” in which a detainee is sprayed with water that can be as cold as 41 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 20 minutes. Slightly warmer water could be used to douse a prisoner for longer periods of time.

Both the 2002 and 2005 memos permitted the “waterboard,” a technique that involves covering a prisoner’s face with a cloth and pouring water on it to create the panicked sensation of drowning. The interrogators also were authorized to prevent a detainee from trying to “defeat the technique” by thrashing about or trying to breathe from the corner of his mouth.

“The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee’s nose and mouth to dam the runoff, in which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water,” the May 10 memo reads. “In addition, you have informed us that the technique may be applied in a manner to defeat efforts by the detainee to hold his breath by, for example, beginning an application of water as the detainee is exhaling.”

At least since the days of the Spanish Inquisition, waterboarding has been regarded as torture. The U.S. government prosecuted Japanese soldiers who used it against American troops in World War II. But the legal reasoning of the Bush administration’s memos transformed waterboarding into an acceptable method of interrogation.


Although the four released memos included the most famous one – from Aug. 1, 2002, which provided the initial legal cover for abusive interrogations – the three others from May 2005 may be more significant in destroying the legal cover that President Bush and his senior aides have hidden behind.

Their claim has been that they were simply operating within legal parameters set by lawyers at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is responsible for advising Presidents on the limits of their authority. In other words, professional lawyers provided objective legal advice and the administration simply followed it.

But that claim now collides with the reality that other Justice Department lawyers – from 2003 to 2005 – overturned the initial memo and resisted its reimplementation until they were ousted. In effect, the Bush administration appears to have gone lawyer-shopping for attorneys who would craft opinions that the White House wanted.

Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee signed the original Aug. 1, 2002, “torture” memo and other opinions granting expansive presidential powers (drafted by his deputy John Yoo).

However, Bybee quit in 2003 to accept President Bush’s appointment of him as a federal appeals court judge in San Francisco, and his successor as head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, withdrew many Bybee-Yoo memos as legally flawed.

Goldsmith’s actions angered the White House, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal counsel David Addington. In a 2007 book, The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith described one White House meeting at which Addington pulled out a 3-by-5-inch card listing the OLC opinions that Goldsmith had withdrawn.

“Since you’ve withdrawn so many legal opinions that the President and others have been relying on,” Addington said sarcastically, “we need you to go through all of OLC’s opinions and let us know which ones you will stand by.”

Though supported by Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Goldsmith succumbed to the White House pressure and quit in 2004. Still, despite Goldsmith’s departure, Comey and the new acting head of the OLC, Daniel Levin, resisted restoring the administration’s right to use the harsh interrogation techniques.

That didn’t occur until White House counsel Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General in 2005 and made Bradbury the acting chief of the OLC. After signing the three “torture” memos in May, Bradbury was rewarded with Bush’s formal nomination in June to be Assistant Attorney General for the OLC (although he never gained Senate confirmation).

Comey Departs

With the OLC reaffirming the administration’s interrogation techniques, Comey’s days were numbered.

Though having been a successful prosecutor on past terrorism cases, such as the Khobar Towers bombing which killed 19 U.S. servicemen in 1996, Comey had earned the derisive nickname from Bush as “Cuomey” or just “Cuomo,” a strong insult from Republicans who deemed former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to be excessively liberal and famously indecisive.

On Aug. 15, 2005, in his farewell speech, Comey urged his colleagues to defend the integrity and honesty of the Justice Department.

“I expect that you will appreciate and protect an amazing gift you have received as an employee of the Department of Justice,” Comey said. “It is a gift you may not notice until the first time you stand up and identify yourself as an employee of the Department of Justice and say something – whether in a courtroom, a conference room or a cocktail party – and find that total strangers believe what you say next.

“That gift – the gift that makes possible so much of the good we accomplish – is a reservoir of trust and credibility, a reservoir built for us, and filled for us, by those who went before – most of whom we never knew. They were people who made sacrifices and kept promises to build that reservoir of trust.

“Our obligation – as the recipients of that great gift – is to protect that reservoir, to pass it to those who follow, those who may never know us, as full as we got it. The problem with reservoirs is that it takes tremendous time and effort to fill them, but one hole in a dam can drain them.

“The protection of that reservoir requires vigilance, an unerring commitment to truth, and a recognition that the actions of one may affect the priceless gift that benefits all. I have tried my absolute best – in matters big and small – to protect that reservoir and inspire others to protect it.”

Though the full import of Comey’s comments was not apparent at the time, it now appears that he was referring to the legal gamesmanship that Bradbury and others had used to circumvent American laws and traditions to enable the Bush administration to engage in torture.

In releasing the four memos on Thursday, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder repeated their rejection of the Bybee-Yoo-Bradbury legal theories, but also stipulated that they would oppose any legal action against the CIA interrogators who abused detainees under the Bush administration’s legal guidance.

Neither Obama nor Holder spoke specifically about possible legal accountability for Bush’s compliant lawyers — or for Bush and his top aides who oversaw the torture policies and picked the lawyers. However, Obama recommended a focus on the future, not the past.

Calling the period covered by the four memos a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” Obama added that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

The lack of accountability for Bush and his lawyers, however, may mean that future Presidents will follow Bush’s lead and assign some clever legal wordsmiths the job of finding ways around criminal statutes, international treaties and the U.S. Constitution.

If legal language can be interpreted any way that a President wishes – and if the U.S. Supreme Court is stocked with like-minded judges – then laws will no longer protect anyone, whether a suspected Middle Eastern terrorist or an American citizen.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to

Barack Obama releases documents showing CIA ‘torture’ during Bush-era

April 17, 2009

April 16, 2009

Ankle handcuffs locked to the chair and floor in an interrogation room at Guantanamo Bay

(Haraz Ghanbari/AP)

Mr Obama ruled out prosecutions, saying the US needed a time of reflection, not retribution

President Obama last night released documents detailing the harsh CIA interrogation techniques that had been kept secret by the Bush Administration as he declared it was time to move beyond “a dark and painful chapter in our history”.

Four memos published yesterday showed that terror suspects had been subjected to tactics such as being slammed against walls wearing a special plastic neck collar, kept awake for up to 11 straight days, simulated drowning known as “waterboarding” and being placed in a dark, cramped box.

The CIA also approved exploiting one detainee’s fear of insects by putting caterpillars in the box with him. Others were kept naked and cold for long periods, denied food, shackled for prolonged periods or had their family threatened.

Many senior figures in the Obama Administration, as well as human rights groups, believe such practices amounted to torture.

Both the President and Attorney General Eric Holder, however, reassured CIA operatives yesterday that those involved in the interrogations would not face criminal prosecution so long as they had adhered the legal advice given to them at the time from the Justice Department. “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past,” said the President. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution.”

CIA Director Leon Panetta told employees that the interrogation practices had been approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration and that they had nothing to fear if they had followed the rules. “You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you,” he said.

The techniques were used against 14 detainees that the US considered to have high intelligence value after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks between 2002 and 2005. These included the alleged al-Qaeda mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who had initially refused to answer questions about other plots against the US.

Bush Adminstration officials believe that the “enhanced interrogations” subsequently used on him helped avert further attacks including one to crash a hijacked airliner into a tower in Los Angeles.

The memos, however, show just how much effort went into the squaring the techniques with the letter, if not the spirit, of international laws against torture. Interrogators were told not to allow a prisoner’s body temperature or food intake to fall below a certain level, because either could cause permanent damage. Passages describing forced nudity, slamming into walls, sleep deprivation and the dousing of detainees with water as cold as 41 degrees were interspersed with complex legal arguments about what constituted torture.

One memo authorised a method for combining multiple techniques, a practice that human rights lawyers claim crosses the line into torture even if any individual methods did not.

Although some sections were still redacted last night, the CIA had unsuccessfully argued for large parts of the documents to be blacked out. Gen Michael Hayden, who led the CIA during the Bush Adminstration, said: “If you want an intelligence service to work for you, they always work on the edge. That’s just where they work.” Foreign partners will be less likely to cooperate with the US because the release shows it “can’t keep anything secret.”

Mr Obama, however, said much of the information had already been widely publicised and it was important to emphasise that the programme no longer exists as it once did. Withholding the memos, he suggested, “could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States”.

The documents were disclosed to meet a court-approved deadline in a legal case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s impossible not to be shocked by the contents of these memos,” said ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “The memos should never have been written, but we’re pleased the new administration has made them public.”

CIA medics joined in Guantánamo torture sessions, says Red Cross

April 8, 2009

Leaked ICRC report claims medical staff monitored terror suspects during waterboarding

Guantánamo Bay detainee

A detainee carrying prayer beads in Guantanamo Bay. Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP

Medical personnel committed a “gross breach of medical ethics” by taking part in torture in Guantánamo, a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross document has revealed.

The 40-page confidential report, written in 2007, describes how medical staff working for the CIA monitored prisoners’ vital signs to make sure they did not drown while being subjected to waterboarding, during which water is poured over a cloth placed over a person’s nose and mouth.

Medical personnel were also said to be present when prisoners were shackled in a “stress standing position”. The detainees were “monitored by health personnel who in some instances recommended stopping the method of ill-treatment, or recommended its continuation, but with adjustments”, according to the report.

The Red Cross concluded: “The alleged participation of health personnel in the interrogation process and, either directly or indirectly, in the infliction of ill-treatment constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture and/or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment.”

As well as the monitoring of specific methods of ill-treatment, the report said, other health personnel were alleged to have directly participated in the interrogation process. One detainee alleged that a health person threatened that medical care would be conditional upon cooperation with interrogation.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, alleged to the ICRC that on several occasions the waterboarding was stopped “on the intervention of a health person who was present in the room each time this procedure was used”.

Mohammed, who pleaded guilty last year to the September 11 attacks, said he gave a lot of false information during the harshest period of his interrogation.

“Im sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US,” he told the Red Cross.

In another case, Encep Nuraman (aka Hambali) alleged that a medical person intervened to prevent further use of the prolonged stress standing position, but told him that “I look after your body only because we need you for information”.

Walid bin Attash, who had previously had a leg amputated, told the ICRC that when he was forced for days to stand with his arms shackled above his head and his feet touching the floor, a person he assumed to be a doctor would measure the swelling in his intact leg and eventually ordered that he be allowed to sit.

Florian Westphal, head of media at the Red Cross in Geneva, confirmed the authenticity of the document obtained by Mark Danner of New York Review of Books and posted on its website, but declined to comment on the contents of the report. “It is a legitimate document. It is extremely unusual for an ICRC document on detention procedures to be leaked publicly,” he said.

“We regret this as it is important for us to be able to discuss matters confidentially with governments, which gives us the credibility to influence them.”

Besides descriptions of how the men were tortured, the report conveys the impatience and frustration of the Red Cross in trying to extract information from the Bush administration. The Red Cross made its first written interventions to the US authorities in 2002, requesting information on the whereabouts of people allegedly held by the Americans in the context of the fight against terrorism.

“Despite repeated requests at various levels of the US government, the ICRC has not received a response to most of these written interventions,” the report said.

It took four years once the Red Cross first raised the issue with the Bush administration before it was given access to 14 detainees at Guantánamo, including Mohammed. The report welcomed the decision to grant access to the men, but “deplores the fact that these persons were held in undisclosed detention during a prolonged period by the US authorities and the conditions of treatment to which they were subjected during the time”.

The methods of ill-treatment alleged to have been used, the report said, included waterboarding, standing naked with arms extended and chained above the head for periods of two three days continuously, beatings by the use of a collar held around the detainees’ neck to bang heads and bodies against the wall, prolonged nudity for weeks or months and prolonged shackling.

Those who were shackled “had to urinate and and defecate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids for periods of several days”.

While the report described practices that have been repudiated by the Obama administration, an Red Cross official who wished to remain anonymous said it was “important for today’s authorities to have this information from an independent source”.

Bush’s Legacy of Torture

July 31, 2008

Truthdig, posted July 28, 2008

By Eugene Robinson

I still find it hard to believe that George W. Bush, to his eternal shame and our nation’s great discredit, made torture a matter of hair-splitting, legalistic debate at the highest levels of the United States government. But that’s precisely what he did.

Three previously classified administration memos obtained last week by the American Civil Liberties Union add to our understanding of this disgraceful episode. The documents are attempts to justify the unjustifiable—the use of brutal interrogation methods that international agreements define as torture—and keep those who ordered and carried out this dirty business from being prosecuted and jailed.

The memos don’t call it torture, of course. Heavily redacted before being surrendered to the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the documents refer euphemistically to “enhanced techniques” of interrogation. Changing the name doesn’t change the act, however. One memo, written in 2004, specifically makes clear the administration’s view that “the waterboard” is an acceptable way to extract information.

Waterboarding, a technique of simulated drowning, is considered torture virtually everywhere on earth except in the Bush administration’s archive of self-exculpatory memos, directives and opinions.

The most stunning of the memos—written in August 2002 by Jay Bybee, who was head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel—makes the incredible claim that unless a torturer has the “specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” no violation of U.S. laws against torture has occurred. Bybee, since appointed to the federal bench, wrote that the torturer needed only the “honest belief” that he was not actually committing torture in order to avoid legal jeopardy. Oh, and Bybee added that it wasn’t even necessary for that belief to be “reasonable.”

The memo notes that U.S. torture statutes outlaw the infliction of severe mental pain, as well as physical pain. It acknowledges that “the threat of imminent death” is one of the specific acts that can constitute torture. Somehow, though, the administration pretends not to understand that strapping a prisoner down and pouring water into his nose until he can’t breathe constitutes a death threat—regardless of whether the interrogator intended to stop before the prisoner actually drowned.

Perhaps that question was dealt with in the nine-tenths of the memo that was redacted before the administration handed it over to the ACLU. The memo never would have been released at all if the government hadn’t been ordered to do so by a federal judge.

The whole thing would be laughable if it were not such a rank abomination. No government obeying the law needs a paper trail to absolve its interrogators of committing torture. Conversely, a government that produces such a paper trail has something monstrous to hide.

It is not difficult to avoid violating federal laws and international agreements that prohibit torture. Just don’t torture people, period. The idea that there exists some acceptable middle ground—a kind of “torture lite”—is a hideous affront to this nation’s honor and values. This, perhaps above all, is how George Bush should be remembered: as the president who embraced torture.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, as he left office, Bush issued some sort of pardon clearing those who authorized or carried out “enhanced techniques” of interrogations from any jeopardy under U.S. law. International law is something else entirely, however, and I imagine that some of those involved in this sordid interlude might want to be careful in choosing their vacation spots. I’d avoid The Hague, for example.

Barack Obama has stood consistently against torture. John McCain, who was tortured himself as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has denounced torture as well—and, although he voted against restraining the CIA with the same no-exceptions policy that now applies to military interrogators, he has been forthright in saying that waterboarding is torture, and thus illegal. On Inauguration Day, whoever wins, this awful interlude will end.

The clear and urgent duty of the next president will be to investigate the Bush administration’s torture policy and give Americans a full accounting of what was done in our name. It’s astounding that we need some kind of truth commission in the United States of America, but we do. Only when we learn the full story of what happened will we be able to confidently promise, to ourselves and to a world that looks to this country for moral leadership: Never again.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)

© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

%d bloggers like this: