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Context of 'April 23, 2009: Cheney’s Daughter Denies Interrogation Tactics Constitute Torture Because of Their SERE Derivation'

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According to a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report (see April 21, 2009), the Pentagon begins asking the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for assistance in developing a set of procedures for “harsh interrogations”—torture—to be used against suspected terrorists captured by US soldiers and intelligence operatives. JPRA has “reverse-engineered” a training program, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE), which trains US soldiers to resist torture techniques if captured by an enemy, to produce harsh techniques to be used in interrogating suspected terrorists. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Methods Already in Use - Military interrogators have already begun using the methods inflicted on them during SERE training on their prisoners, and SERE instructors—often having no training in interrogation procedures and no experience with other cultures—have been reassigned as interrogators. [Savage, 2007, pp. 216] The JPRA program will result in the personal approval of 15 “harsh” techniques by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The policies will be adopted by US interrogators in Afghanistan, at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and at Guantanamo. [New York Times, 4/21/2009] In a June 2004 press conference, General James T. Hill, the commander of the US Southern Command (SOCOM), which oversees the Guantanamo detention facility, will say that US officials tapped the “SERE School and developed a list of techniques.” Hill will say that he was reassured by Pentagon officials that the techniques were “legally consistent with our laws.”
Methods Devised to Produce Propaganda, Not Reliable Information - Trained interrogators are, in the words of reporter Charlie Savage, “aghast at this policy.” Savage will write that unlike many Pentagon officials, Special Forces troops, and even SERE instructors, they know full well where SERE techniques originated: from the techniques used by Chinese and North Korean interrogators to torture and brutalize US soldiers during the Korean War. The Koreans and Chinese were experts at coercing American captives to “confess” to “war crimes” and other offenses; those confessions were used for propaganda purposes. “After the war,” Savage will write, the captured soldiers “all told the same story: Chinese interrogators, working with the North Koreans, had put them through a series of sustained torments” identical to those used in SERE training “until their minds had bent and they had made the false confessions.” The stories led to the concept of Chinese “brainwashing” techniques made famous by such books and films as The Manchurian Candidate. In 1963, the CIA concluded that the techniques were virtually useless at producing reliable intelligence, but worked very well in coercing victims to say whatever interrogators wanted them to say. “[U]nder sufficient pressure subjects usually yield but their ability to recall and communicate information accurately is as impaired as the will to resist.” Savage will write, “Neither SERE trainers, who run scenarios by following the instructions in basic military manuals, nor their Special Forces trainees understood that the coercive techniques used in the program were designed to make prisoners lose touch with reality so that they will falsely confess to what their captors want to hear, not for extracting accurate and reliable information.” Colonel Steve Kleinman, the former head of the Air Force’s strategic interrogation program, will later comment: “People who defend this say ‘we can make them talk.’ Yes, but what are they saying? The key is that most of the training is to try to resist the attempts to make you comply and do things such as create propaganda, to make these statements in either written or videotaped form. But to get people to comply, to do what you want them to do, even though it’s not the truth—that is a whole different dynamic than getting people to produce accurate, useful intelligence.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 216-217]

Entity Tags: Steve Kleinman, Central Intelligence Agency, Charlie Savage, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Senate Armed Services Committee, James T. Hill

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, draft a paper on the use of harsh interrogations to break suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. Mitchell, a retired Air Force psychologist, and Jessen, the senior psychologist in charge of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)‘s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, will soon begin consulting for both the Pentagon and a variety of US intelligence agencies on the harsh methods—torture—they advocate. Jessen proposes an interrogation program similar to those later adopted by the CIA and Pentagon. His proposal recommends creating what he calls an “exploitation facility,” off-limits to outside observers including journalists and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the agency detailed to ensure that captives in the custody of other nations are being treated properly in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In the “exploitation facility,” interrogators would use such tactics as sleep deprivation, physical violence, and waterboarding to break the resistance of captured terrorism suspects. JPRA officials will later add their own suggestions to Jessen’s initial list, including sexually provocative acts by female interrogators and the use of military dogs. Most of these techniques are considered torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, James Elmer Mitchell, US Department of Defense, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Instructors from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which oversees the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, conduct a training seminar for intelligence officials. JPRA officials, including senior psychologist Bruce Jessen, have proposed a set of interrogation procedures that amounts to torture (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002), and the JPRA instructors are now training CIA and other agency officials in those procedures. Two JPRA legal advisers tell the group that such harsh interrogation methodologies are already deemed acceptable, even though the Justice Department has not yet issued such approval (see August 1, 2002). The lawyers tell the seminar participants, “They [interrogators] could use all forms of psychological pressure discussed, and all the physiological pressures with the exception of the ‘water board.’” The lawyers say that waterboarding might also be permitted, but interrogators “would need prior approval.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2009] During the seminar, CIA agents are given two days of training in waterboarding (see July 1-2, 2002). In 2009, the media learns that Jessen and his partner, James Mitchell, are paid $1,000 a day for the training (see April 30, 2009).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Elmer Mitchell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bruce Jessen, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo. The contents and the recipient remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later determine the memo deals with the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. In early May, Bradbury determined that none of the CIA’s past or present interrogation methods violated either federal or international standards (see May 10, 2005). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; New York Times, 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Policies Driven from Top - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “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.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Carl Levin, Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Armed Services Committee, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, defends the Bush administration’s practices of torture by denying that anything authorized by the administration was, in fact, torture. Cheney, interviewed on MSNBC, is responding to the issues raised by the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009). “The tactics are not torture, we did not torture,” she says. To bolster her denial, Cheney says that the tactics are not torture because they were derived from training methods employed in the SERE program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). “Everything that was done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training,” Cheney says. “We did not torture our own people. These techniques are not torture.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress notes that in the May 30, 2005 torture memo (see May 30, 2005), then-Justice Department official Steven Bradbury wrote, “Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.” [Think Progress, 4/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, Senate Armed Services Committee, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledges that President Bush knew of the torture program as performed under his administration. However, he again says that in his view the practices employed by the US on enemy detainees did not constitute torture (see December 15, 2008). He also reiterates earlier claims that by dismantling Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, the Obama administration is making the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks (see January 22, 2009, January 22, 2009, January 23, 2009, February 2009, March 17, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 20, 2009, April 21, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, and April 26, 2009), and reiterates his claim that classified documents will prove that torture was effective in producing actionable intelligence (see April 20, 2009).
Claims Documents Prove Efficacy of Torture - Cheney says: “One of the things that I did six weeks ago was I made a request that two memos that I personally know of, written by the CIA, that lay out the successes of those policies and point out in considerable detail all of—all that we were able to achieve by virtue of those policies, that those memos be released, be made public (see April 22, 2009). The administration has released legal opinions out of the Office of Legal Counsel. They don’t have any qualms at all about putting things out that can be used to be critical of the Bush administration policies. But when you’ve got memos out there that show precisely how much was achieved and how lives were saved as a result of these policies, they won’t release those. At least, they haven’t yet.” Host Bob Schieffer notes that Attorney General Eric Holder has denied any knowledge of such documents, and that other administration officials have said that torture provided little useful information. Cheney responds: “I say they did. Four former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency say they did, bipartisan basis. Release the memos. And we can look and see for yourself what was produced.” Cheney says the memos specifically discuss “different attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped. It talks [sic] about how the volume of intelligence reports that were produced from that.… What it shows is that overwhelmingly, the process we had in place produced from certain key individuals, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida (see After March 7, 2003), two of the three who were waterboarded.… Once we went through that process, he [Mohammed] produced vast quantities of invaluable information about al-Qaeda” (see August 6, 2007). Opponents of Bush torture policies, Cheney says, are “prepared to sacrifice American lives rather than run an intelligent interrogation program that would provide us the information we need to protect America.”
Bush Knew of Torture Program - Cheney also acknowledges that then-President Bush knew of the torture program, saying: “I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew—he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.” Cheney concludes by saying that he would be willing to testify before Congress concerning the torture program and his administration’s handling of its war on terror, though he refuses to commit to testifying under oath. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/10/2009; CBS News, 5/10/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, George W. Bush, Obama administration, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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