|The debate over the Bush administration's torture policies just got ratcheted up about 1,000 notches yesterday, when reporters, digging through the incredibly important Levin Report, discovered the following bombshell: the torture program may not have been about preventing another terror attack at all. It may, in the end, have been about trying to elicit false confessions from high value detainees that would produce "evidence" of a (non-existent) link between al-Qaida and Iraq. From McClatchy:
A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that [Dick] Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.
"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.
"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."
It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.
"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.
"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."
Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
The Red Chinese-style push (the Chinese used waterboarding to elicit false confessions from American G.I.'s during the Korean war, and then we adapted their techniques, using the military program that trained our soldiers to resist the communist interrogators) to get confessions out of Zubaida and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was approved not just by Cheney and Rumsfeld, but also by Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's National Security Advisor. From NBC News:
Rice gave a key early green light when, as President George W. Bush's national security adviser, she met on July 17, 2002, with the CIA's then-director, George J. Tenet, and "advised that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaida," subject to approval by the Justice Department, according to the timeline.
Still don't believe that we were using torture the same way the Maoists did? Salon reports:
Top Rumsfeld aides were already laying the groundwork for torture barely two months after the 9/11 attacks, and just weeks into the war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon's general counsel's office contacted the military agency that runs the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape programs -- schools where U.S. personnel and contractors are taught how to resist abuses that prisoners of war have been through before -- in December 2001 to find out how the SERE training could help interrogators break al-Qaida suspects. Military officials at the time told top Pentagon aides that the SERE techniques produced "less reliable" information.
By the spring of 2002, Cabinet-level Bush aides -- including Rumsfeld, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, then-CIA Director George Tenet and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft -- began evaluating the CIA's plans to set up an interrogation program at Guantánamo using tactics developed by the SERE schools. The Justice Department's memos giving legal cover for the techniques were written that summer. In October 2002, military commanders at Guantánamo asked the Pentagon to okay the techniques. Uniformed military lawyers had decided they needed approval from Rumsfeld, because otherwise what was being proposed would be illegal. "It would be advisable to have permission or immunity in advance" before carrying out the interrogations, wrote a staff lawyer at the Guantánamo base, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver. Her analysis found the tactics would constitute a "per se violation" of military law, the report says.
Meanwhile, the SERE trainers who taught the CIA how to torture people (when they themselves had no experience in interrogation -- only in training soldiers to resist interrogation) wound up as contractors in Iraq, making money on the Iraq war that they were essentially hired to foment:
On April 16, 2003, Rumsfeld authorized 24 techniques at Guantánamo including sleep deprivation, messing with detainees' diets and pretending the interrogators were from a different country -- one where torture was even more acceptable -- in order to scare them into cooperating. And he told commanders to ask him for permission to use additional techniques.
From there, it was only a matter of time before the tactics spread. "The techniques -- and the fact that the Secretary had authorized them -- became known to interlocutors in Afghanistan," the Senate report says. Rumsfeld's memos authorizing dogs in Guantánamo quickly arrived at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. SERE school trainers, who had developed the interrogation techniques at Gitmo, started showing up in Afghanistan and Iraq. The techniques became standard operating procedure.
Meanwhile, we now have definitive proof that the grunts from West Virginia weren't "bad apples" who cooked up the dog leash and naked stacking policies on their own:
The report, the executive summary of which was released in November, found that Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other former senior Bush administration officials were responsible for the abusive interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld approved extreme interrogation techniques for Guantanamo in December 2002. He withdrew his authorization the following month amid protests by senior military lawyers that some techniques could amount to torture, violating U.S. and international laws.
Military interrogators, however, continued employing some techniques in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.
You begin to see why President Obama reversed course, surely knowing that now, he cannot just "look forward."
BTW, there's also a question of whether the SERE training was given to foreign nationals. A Spokane, Washington blogger who ordinarily focuses on crime posted this, back in 2007:
The torture program was not about terrorism. It was about invading Iraq. This relentless neocon and Cheney/Halliburton obsession with toppling (and bumping off) former CIA asset Saddam Hussein, and turning his country into a cash cow.
Fairchild AFB is home to a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Program. SERE Programs train soldiers, seaman, airmen, CIA operatives, and others–including foreign nationals–in resistance techniques. However, they also provide military and other government torturers, trainers, foreign nationals, contractors (aka US government mercenaries employed by corporations such as Blackwater, CACI International, Titan Corp, and SAIC) and psychologists, among others, the opportunity to develop, refine, practice and polish their torture techniques.
In their must-read June 29, 2007 Spokesman-Review article, reporters Karen Dorn Steele and Bill Morlin reveal that “the SERE program is used by the Army at Fort Bragg, where Green Berets train, and at the U.S. Air Force Survival School near Spokane, where thousands of other trainees are instructed annually.” Using first-hand reporting and research as well as reporting from sources such as the New Yorker and Salon.com, Dorn Steele and Morlin reveal the role of Spokane area psychologists and businesses in the U.S. government’s reverse-engineering of torture resistance training.
These techniques of torture–witnessed at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other U.S. facilities around the world–have been employed by the U.S. government, military, intelligence agencies, contractors and foreign agents with the express purpose of breaking human beings as part of the global U.S. “war on terror”. That so-called “war on terror” has produced worldwide denunciations of U.S. preemptive attacks, massacres of civilians, torture, disappearances, use of “depleted” uranium, and other actions which are illegal under international standards and laws.
Fairchild’s SERE Program — The premiere Air Force SERE program
In fact, not only is Fairchild home to a SERE program, it is home to an even more exclusive and secret program, SERE/JPRA (Joint Personnel Recovery Agency). This unclassified Department of Defense (DOD) memo shows that the SERE/JPRA site at the PRA White Bluff Site at 11604 W. NEWKIRK ROAD, SPOKANE, WA 99224 was the host in May 2007 of the DOD SERE Conference and the DOD SERE Psychology Conference.
As the memo shows, foreign government representatives from the U.S. government’s Iraq “coalition” partners participated in the two conferences as did three representatives from each of the FBI, DEA, and CIA. In point of fact, the facility has all the markings of a CIA facility such as those at Warrenton, VA and other locations in the U.S. (compare the similarity between the facility maps by clicking the respective links above).
On September 16, 2002, a prior SERE Psychologist Conference was hosted by the Army Special Operations Command and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency at Fort Bragg for JTF-170 (the military component responsible for interrogations at Guantanamo) interrogation personnel. The Army’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team from Guantanamo Bay also attended the conference. Joint Personnel Recovery Agency personnel briefed JTF-170 representatives on the exploitation and methods used in resistance (to interrogation) training at SERE schools. The purpose was the reverse engineering of interrogation resistance to design more “effective” torture techniques. (See “Shrinks and the SERE Techniques at Guantanamo“)
Read the Levin report for yourself:
Senate report, part 1
Senate report, part 2
Labels: Bush adminstration, Iraq war, the torture presidency, torture