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Context of 'December 18, 2002: Navy, Army General Counsels Share Information about Abuse at Guantanamo'

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Two days after General Rick Baccus has been relieved from duty as the guard commander at Guantanamo (see October 9, 2002), and almost one and a half months since the writing of the Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) August memo on torture (see August 1, 2002), military intelligence at Guantanamo begin suggesting new rules of interrogation. Lieutenant Colonel Jerald Phifer, Director J2, sends a memo, to Major General Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more severe interrogation techniques. [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008] In 2009, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will write (see April 21, 2009) that Dunlavey’s request is sparked by recent reports on the use of SERE training techniques for interrogation purposes (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002). [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Three Categories of Techniques - The memo states, “The current guidelines for interrogation procedures at GTMO [Guantanamo] limit the ability of interrogators to counter advanced resistance.” Phifer proposes three categories of techniques. The mildest, which includes yelling and weak forms of deception, are included in category one. Category two techniques are more severe and require approval by an “interrogator group director.” They include the use of stress positions for up to four hours; use of falsified documents; isolation for up to 30 days; sensory deprivation and hooding; 20-hour interrogations; removal of comfort and religious items; replacing hot food with cold military rations; removal of clothing; forced grooming, including the shaving of beards; and playing on detainees’ phobias to induce stress, such as a fear of dogs. The harshest techniques, listed in category three, are to be reserved for a “very small percentage of the most uncooperative detainees” and only used with permission from the commander of the prison. These methods include using non-injurious physical contact like poking or grabbing; threatening a detainee with death or severe pain or threatening that a family member would be subjected to such harm; exposing him to cold weather or water; using a wet towel to “induce the misperception of suffocation.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008]
Desire to Extract More Information from Detainee - The request is prompted in part by military intelligence’s belief that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani has more information than the FBI has managed to extract from him. “Al-Khatani is a person in… whom we have considerable interest,” Dell’Orto will explain during a 2004 press briefing at the White House. “He has resisted our techniques. And so it is concluded at Guantanamo that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” [Washington File, 6/23/2004]
JAG Officer Concludes Tactics are Legal - The same day, a staff judge advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane E. Beaver, reviews Phifer’s proposed techniques for legality and, while making qualifications and recommending further review, concludes in a memo to Dunlavey that they are legal. Also the same day, Dunlavey sends the list of techniques to his superior, General James T. Hill, commander of the Southern Command, requesting approval for their use. Dunlavey writes: “Although [the techniques currently employed] have resulted in significant exploitable intelligence the same methods have become less effective over time. I believe the methods and techniques delineated in the accompanying J-2 memorandum will enhance our efforts to extract additional information.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file] Beaver concludes that since President Bush had decided that all the detainees “are not protected by the Geneva Conventions” (see January 18-25, 2002, February 7, 2002), all of the desired techniques are allowable because “no international body of law directly applies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 178]

Entity Tags: Rick Baccus, George W. Bush, James T. Hill, Carl Levin, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Diane E. Beaver, Michael E. Dunlavey, Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), learns disturbing information about detainees in US custody being abused at the Guantanamo detention facility. Brant is in charge of a team of NCIS agents working with the FBI at Guantanamo, called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. The task force’s job is to obtain incriminating information from the detainees for use in future trials or tribunals. Brant, an experienced law enforcement officer, finds what his task force agents tell him about interrogations at Guantanamo troubling. According to his agents, who have examined the interrogation logs, the military intelligence interrogators seem poorly trained and frustrated by their lack of success. Brant learns that the interrogators are engaging in ever-escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse, using tactics that Brant will later describe as “repugnant.” Much of his information comes from NCIS psychologist Michael Gelles, who has access to the Army’s top-secret interrogation logs at Guantanamo. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Gelles learned of the torture techniques being used at Guantanamo while reading through those logs for an internal study. He is taken aback at what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a meticulously bureaucratic, minute-by-minute account of physical torments and degradation being inflicted on prisoners by American servicemen and women.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 178] Brant will later recall that Gelles “is phenomenal at unlocking the minds of everyone from child abusers to terrorists.” Therefore, when Gelles tells Brant that he finds the logs “shocking,” Brant takes it seriously. One of the most horrific cases is that of Mohamed al-Khatani (see December 17, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Brant says that NCIS will pull its interrogators out of Guantanamo if the abuses continue, and goes to the Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, for help (see December 17-18, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 178]

Entity Tags: Michael Gelles, David Brant, Mohamed al-Khatani, Alberto Mora, Charlie Savage, Naval Criminal Investigative Service

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Rumsfeld’s handwritten note at the bottom of the memo he signs: “However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”Rumsfeld’s handwritten note at the bottom of the memo he signs: “However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” [Source: HBO]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approves General Counsel William J. Haynes’ recommendations for interrogations methods (see November 27, 2002) and signs the action memo. [Associated Press, 6/23/2004] He adds in handwriting: “However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” In signing the memo, Rumsfeld adds for use at Guantanamo Bay 16 more aggressive interrogation procedures to the 17 methods that have long been approved as part of standard US military practice. [New York Times, 8/25/2004] The additional methods, like interrogation sessions of up to 20 hours at a time and the enforced shaving of heads and beards, are otherwise prohibited under US military doctrine. [MSNBC, 6/23/2004]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), approaches Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora about the abuse of detainees in US custody at Guantanamo, abuse perhaps authorized at a “high level” in Washington. Brant is in charge of a team of NCIS agents working with the FBI at Guantanamo, called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. The task force’s job is to obtain incriminating information from the detainees for use in future trials or tribunals.
Troubling Information - Brant has learned troubling information about the interrogations at Guantanamo (see Early December, 2002). Brant had never discussed anything so sensitive with Mora before, and later recalls, “I wasn’t sure how he would react.” Brant had already discussed the allegations of abuse with Army officials, since they have command authority over the detainees, and to Air Force officials as well, but goes to Mora after deciding that no one in either branch seems to care. He is not hopeful that Mora will feel any differently.
Worried about Abuse - Brant goes to Mora because, he will recall, he didn’t want his investigators to “in any way observe, condone, or participate in any level of physical or in-depth psychological abuse. No slapping, deprivation of water, heat, dogs, psychological abuse. It was pretty basic, black and white to me.… I didn’t know or care what the rules were that had been set by the Department of Defense at that point. We were going to do what was morally, ethically, and legally permissible.” Brant had ordered his task force members to “stand clear and report” any abusive tactics that they might witness.
Mora 'Rocked' - Brant is not disappointed in Mora’s reactions. A military official who works closely with Brant will later recall that the news “rocked” Mora. The official will add that Mora “was visionary about this,” adding, “He quickly grasped the fact that these techniques in the hands of people with this little training spelled disaster.” Brant asks if Mora wants to hear more about the situation; Mora will write in a 2004 memo (see July 7, 2004), “I responded that I felt I had to.”
Second Meeting - Brant meets with Mora the next day, and shows Mora part of the transcript of the [Mohamed al-Khatani] interrogations. Mora is shocked when Brant tells him that the abuse was not “rogue activity,” but apparently sanctioned by the highest levels in the Bush administration. Mora will write in his memo, “I was under the opinion that the interrogation activities described would be unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” Mora will recall in a 2006 interview: “I was appalled by the whole thing. It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values.” Shocked, Mora will learn more from his counterpart in the Army (see December 18, 2002), and determine that the abusive practices need to be terminated.
Meeting with Pentagon Lawyer - He will bring his concerns to the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, and will leave that meeting hopeful that Haynes will put an end to the extreme measures being used at Guantanamo (see December 20, 2002). But when Mora returns from Christmas vacation, he will learn that Haynes has done nothing. Mora will continue to argue against the torture of detainees (see Early January, 2003). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, David Brant, Alberto Mora, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora, concerned about information he has learned about detainee abuse at Guantanamo (see December 17-18, 2002), calls his friend Steven Morello, the Army’s general counsel, and asks if he knows anything about the subject. Morello replies: “I know a lot about it. Come on down.”
'The Package' - In Morello’s office, Mora views what he calls “the package”—a collection of secret military documents that outline the origins of the coercive interrogation policies at Guantanamo. It begins with a request to use more aggressive interrogation tactics at Guantanamo (see October 11, 2002). Weeks later, the new head of the detention facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, pushes senior Pentagon officials for more leeway in interrogations. On December 2, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave his approval for the use of several more intensive interrogation tactics, including the use of “hooding,” “exploitation of phobias,” “stress positions,” “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli,” and other coercive methods forbidden from use by the Army Field Manual (see December 2, 2002). Rumsfeld does withhold his approval on the use of some methods such as waterboarding.
'Ashen-faced' - Morello tells Mora, “we tried to stop it,” but was told not to ask questions. A participant in the meeting recalls that Mora was “ashen-faced” when he read the package. According to Mora’s memo, Morello, “with a furtive air,” says: “Look at this. Don’t tell anyone where you got it.” Mora later says, “I was astounded that the secretary of defense would get within 100 miles of this issue.” (Morello will later deny showing Mora a copy of the memo.) Mora is similarly unimpressed by another document in the package, a legal analysis by Army lawyer Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which he says will lead to the use of illegal torture by interrogators.
'Force Drift' - Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist Michael Gelles (see Early December, 2002) joins the meeting, and tells Mora that the Guantanamo interrogators are under intense pressure to achieve results. He tells Mora about the phenomenon of “force drift,” where interrogators using coercion begin to believe that if some force achieves results, then more force achieves better results. Mora determines to take action to bring the abuse to a close (see December 20, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Steven Morello, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Alberto Mora, US Department of the Army, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Gelles, Geoffrey D. Miller, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, has learned that possibly illegal interrogation techniques are being used against Guantanamo Bay detainees (see December 17-18, 2002). After getting the authorization of Gordon England, the secretary of the Navy, Mora meets with the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, in Haynes’s Pentagon office.
Meeting with Pentagon Counsel - In 2006, Mora will recall telling Haynes in the meeting that whatever its intent, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to allow extreme interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002) is “torture.” Haynes replies, “No, it isn’t.” Mora asks Haynes to reconsider his opinions. For example, what does “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli” mean? Detention in a completely dark cell? For how long? Until he goes blind? And what does the phrase “exploitation of phobias” entail? Could it mean holding a detainee in a coffin? Threatening him with dogs, or rats? Can an interrogator drive a detainee insane? Mora notes that at the bottom of Rumsfeld’s memo, he asks why a detainee can be forced to stand for no longer than four hours a day when he himself often stands “for 8-10 hours a day.” While Rumsfeld may have intended to be humorous, Mora notes that Rumsfeld’s comment could be used as a defense argument in future terrorist trials. (In 2006, Lawrence Wilkerson will say of Rumsfeld’s comment: “It said, ‘Carte blanche, guys.’ That’s what started them down the slope. You’ll have My Lais then. Once you pull this thread, the whole fabric unravels.”) Mora leaves the office hoping that Haynes will come around to his point of view and convince Rumsfeld to withdraw the memo. He will be sharply disappointed (see July 7, 2004). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006] He later calls the interrogation practices “unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 179]
Haynes Close to Cheney's Office - Mora may not be aware that in meeting with Haynes, he is also in effect engaging the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Haynes is a protege of Cheney’s neoconservative chief of staff, David Addington. Haynes worked as Addington’s special assistant when Addington served under then-Defense Secretary Cheney in 1989, and Addington promoted Haynes to the office of general counsel of the Army. When George W. Bush took office in 2001, Haynes was awarded the position of the Pentagon’s general counsel. Addington has played key roles in almost all of the administration’s legal arguments in favor of extreme interrogation techniques and detainee policies. One former government lawyer will describe Addington as “the Octopus” because his hands seem to reach into every legal issue. Many of Haynes’s colleagues know that information moves rapidly between Haynes’s and Cheney’s offices. While not a hardline neoconservative like Addington and many other Cheney staffers, Haynes is, as one former Pentagon colleague will call him, “pliant” to serving the agenda of the vice president. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Alberto Mora, Gordon England, David S. Addington, William J. Haynes, Lawrence Wilkerson, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Dr. Michael Gelles, the head psychologist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), says that torture and coercion do not produce reliable information from prisoners. Gelles adds that many military and intelligence specialists share his view. Gelles warned of problems with torture and abuse at Guantanamo nearly three years ago (see Early December, 2002 and December 18, 2002). And he is frustrated that Bush administration officials have “dismissed” critics of coercive techniques as weaklings and “doves” who are too squeamish to do what is necessary to obtain information from terror suspects. In reality, Gelles says, many experienced interrogators are convinced that torture and coercion do more harm than good. Gelles has extensive experience with interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and notes that NCIS had interrogated Muslim terror suspects well before 9/11, including investigations into the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983).
'Rapport-Building' - The best way to extract reliable intelligence from a Muslim extremist, Gelles says, is through “rapport-building”—by engaging the suspect in conversations that play on his cultural sensitivities. Similar techniques worked on Japanese soldiers during the height of battles during World War II (see July 17, 1943). Gelles says he and others have identified patterns of questioning that can elicit accurate information from Islamist radicals, but refuses to discuss them specifically. “We do not believe—not just myself, but others who have to remain unnamed—that coercive methods with this adversary are… effective,” he says. “If the goal is to get ‘information,’ then using coercive techniques may be effective. But if the goal is to get reliable and accurate information, looking at this adversary, rapport-building is the best approach.”
Conflict between Experts, Pentagon Civilians - Gelles describes a sharp division between interrogation specialists such as himself, and civilian policymakers at the Pentagon. Many government specialists, including fellow psychologists, intelligence analysts, linguists, and interrogators who have experience extracting information from captured Islamist militants, agree with Gelles that coercion is not effective, but top civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense disagree. Coercive interrogations try to “vacuum up all the information you can and figure out later” what is true and what is not, he says. This method jams the system with false and misleading data. Gelles compares it to “coercive tactics leading to false confessions” by suspects in police custody. Many at the Pentagon and elsewhere mistake “rapport-building” techniques for softness or weakness. Just because those interrogations are not humiliating or physically painful, Gelles says, the techniques are not necessarily “soft.” Telling a detainee that he is a reprehensible murderer of innocents is perfectly acceptable, Gelles says: “Being respectful doesn’t mean you don’t confront, clarify, and challenge the detainee when he gives the appearance of being deceptive.” On the other hand, coercive techniques induce detainees to say anything to make the pain and discomfort stop. “Why would you terrify them with a dog?” Gelles asks, referring to one technique of threatening detainees with police dogs. “So they’ll tell you anything to get the dog out of the room?” Referring to shackling prisoners in “stress positions” for hours on end, Gelles adds: “I know there is a school of thought that believes [stress positions] are effective. In my experience, I’ve never seen it be of any value.” Innocent suspects will confess to imagined crimes just to stop the abuse, Gelles says.
Other Harmful Consequences - Gelles also notes that coercive techniques undermine the possibility of building rapport with the prisoner to possibly gain information from him. And, he says, unless the prisoner is either killed in custody or detained for life, eventually he will be released to tell the world of his captivity, damaging America’s credibility and moral authority. [Boston Globe, 3/31/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 217-218]

Entity Tags: Michael Gelles, Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, Naval Criminal Investigative Service

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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