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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. (Warrick and Finn 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. (Knowlton 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)

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. (Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)

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.” (Warrick and Finn 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).

Jamal Naseer, an 18-year old newly recruited Afghan soldier, dies in US custody, apparently as a result of beating and torture. Naseer dies after several days in detention at a US Special Forces “firebase,” a small, outlying military base set up to support advancing troops, at Gardez, Afghanistan. (CBS News 9/21/2004) Naseer and seven other detainees were taken into custody about a week before by Special Forces troops attempting to secure the area from the depredations of a local warlord, Pacha (or Bacha) Khan. Naseer’s brother Ahmad insists that he, his brother, and the other detainees are allies of the Americans, and never participated in Taliban- or al-Qaeda-led attacks against American forces. (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006) It is unclear why the men were detained in the first place, but Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti report that according to an Afghan intelligence report. “the action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders.” (Pyes and Mazzetti 9/21/2004) Naseer’s death will be officially recorded as resulting from “natural causes,” but fellow detainees will say that Naseer’s death was caused by abuse suffered at the hands of US Army Special Forces soldiers near Gardez. Ahmad Naseer will later describe how he and his brother were beaten and abused while in custody, subjected to electric shocks, immersed in cold water, forced to assume stress positions, thrashed with cables, suffered the forcible tearing off of their toenails, and made to lie for hours in the snow. The last time he spoke with his brother, he says Jamal was “moaning about the pain in his kidneys and back” from being repeatedly beaten. (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006) Jamal died shortly thereafter while being helped outside to relieve himself by two Afghan kitchen workers. (Pyes and Mazzetti 9/21/2004) After Naseer’s death, the unit holds a meeting to discuss the incident. The team is told that Naseer died of a sex-related infection that shut down his kidneys. According to one soldier in the meeting, the point of discussion is “to make sure everybody’s on the same sheet of paper—this is what happened to the man”—in case there’s ever an investigation. Captain Craig Mallak, medical examiner for the US armed forces, says that Naseer’s death is never reported to his office (any death of a detainee is required to be reported unless the detainee is determined to have died of natural causes). Naseer’s body is transferred to a civilian hospital where no autopsy is performed. One hospital worker who prepares the body for burial will later tell the Times that Naseer’s body was “completely black” from bruising and injuries, and was “completely swollen, as were his palms, and the soles of his feet were swollen double in size.” (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006) Asked about such injuries, Dr. Michael Baden, a prominent forensic pathologist who works for the New York State Police, says the descriptions are inconsistent with death by organ failure. “You can’t confuse those. It sounds very much like blunt trauma.” A local physician who examined the survivors later confirmed that all of the men were suffering from similar trauma, with extensive bruising and seeping, and unbandaged wounds. (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006) Eventually, Ahmad Naseer and his comrades are secretly transferred to a civilian prison in Kabul, still without any formal charges. Afghan military prosecutors immediately launch an investigation into their unexplained detention. That inquiry eventually produces a 117-page report asserting that the detainees had been tortured and that there is a “strong probability” that one of the men had been “murdered.” The report speculates that the prolonged imprisonment was intended to give the detainees’ wounds time to heal. Fifty-eight days later, all of the prisoners are released; no charges are ever filed. (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace, file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records concerning the treatment of prisoners and detainees in US custody abroad, most specifically Iraq and Afghanistan. The request is the first spark in a firestorm of legal controversies, FOIA requests, government denials, and lawsuits, as the ACLU and its partners continue to attempt to squeeze documentation out of an uncooperative administration. Although the government will continue to withhold key records, ongoing litigation results in the eventual release of over 100,000 documents, which will be used by ACLU lawyers Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh to compile the book Administration of Torture (see October 22, 2007), which will show that detainees have been (and will be) systematically tortured and abused under the orders of senior government officials. (Union 10/7/2003; American Civil Liberties Union 10/22/2007)

The Department of Defense denies expedited processing on the ACLU request (see October 7, 2003) for the release of documents.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and four other independent organizations file a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act demanding the release of information about detainees held by the United States at military bases and other detention facilities overseas. “The government’s ongoing refusal to release these records is absolutely unacceptable, particularly in light of the severity of the abuses we know to have occurred,” says Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU staff lawyer. More than seven months have passed since the initial request (see October 7, 2003) was made to the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, and the CIA for these documents. (American Civil Liberties Union 6/2/2004)

A CD is found during a routine clean-up of the office of a captain at Bagram. The CD contains half a dozen photographs showing uniformed but masked US soldiers pointing their M-4 rifles and 9-mm guns at the heads of handcuffed and hooded or blindfolded detainees. In one photo, a detainee has his head pushed against the wall of a cage. The shots were apparently taken in and around a US base in southern Afghanistan near the village of Deh Rawod, called Fire Base Tycze, between December 2003 and February 2004. The unit responsible for the photographs is the 2nd platoon of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, NY. Soldiers of this unit admit to Army investigators that similar photos were purposely destroyed after the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted. A specialist explains in a report dated July 8, 2004, “After seeing the problems they had in Iraq, I knew this was a problem and should have never been done. I realized there would be another public outrage if these photographs got out, so they were destroyed. I knew it was wrong after I [saw] the reports in the newspaper on the prison abuse scandal in Iraq.” The destruction is an apparently unit-wide effort. A staff sergeant tells a specialist to “get rid of the pictures” and a specialist says he “verbally counseled” a soldier to “get rid of” his photographs. Another says, “I realize it makes me and my unit look bad, and in no way meant for this to happen.” The destroyed pictures allegedly depicted detainees being kicked and beaten. (US Department of Army 7/8/2004 pdf file; US Department of Army 8/2/2004 pdf file; US Department of Army 8/5/2004 pdf file; US Department of Army 8/25/2004 pdf file; US Department of the Army 10/11/2004 pdf file; Serrano 2/18/2005)

Five agencies, under an agreement worked out by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, release approximately 9,000 pages of internal reports, investigations, and e-mails containing information about prisoner abuse in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The massive disclosure seemingly marks the end of a more than 13-month long effort (see October 7, 2003 and September 15, 2004) by five human rights groups to access the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents demonstrate that the abuses were far more widespread and systemic than previously acknowledged by the government. The documents include information about numerous abuses, such as threatened and mocked executions, thefts of private property, physical assaults, shocking detainees with electric guns, the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners at Guantanamo, shackling detainees without food and water, and murder. In many of the cases, the Army chose to punish offenders with non-criminal punishments rather than court-martial them. Reporting on the disclosure, the Washington Post notes, “The variety of the abuse and the fact that it occurred over a three-year period undermine the Pentagon’s past insistence… that the abuse occurred largely during a few months at [Abu Ghraib], and that it mostly involved detainee humiliation or intimidation rather than the deliberate infliction of pain.” (Smith and Eggen 12/22/2004) However, these agencies continue to secret hold back some material and in late 2005 the CIA will destroy videotapes of interrogations relevant to these requests (see November 2005).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtains 988 pages of files of investigative records from the Army Criminal Investigation Division, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. They include accounts of photographs that were destroyed (see Early July 2004) showing US troops abusing detainees in Afghanistan. “These raise the question of how many other allegations of abuse were buried in the same way,” says Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU, adding, “[M]aybe there is a whole layer of abuse that we haven’t seen.” He also claims the files show that the military investigators closed cases too quickly, often stating a lack of evidence as a reason. “What we do see here is more evidence of a pattern in which the government failed to aggressively investigate credible allegations of abuse,” he says. (Savage 2/18/2005)

Administration of Torture book cover.Administration of Torture book cover. [Source: Public domain]American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh publish the book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. In their book, Jaffer and Singh use over 100,000 pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to detail the sometimes-horrific conditions under which suspected terrorists are detained by the US government. The book spans detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The book’s central thesis is, according to the ACLU’s press release for the book, “that the torture and abuse of prisoners was systemic and resulted from decisions made by senior US officials, both military and civilian,” including President Bush himself. (American Civil Liberties Union 10/22/2007) “[T]he documents show unambiguously that the administration has adopted some of the methods of the most tyrannical regimes,” write Jaffer and Singh. Some of the prisoners “abused, tortured, and killed” were not even terror suspects, the authors show. (Juliano 10/22/2007) The book grew out of a long, difficult battle by the ACLU and several other such organizations to secure records pertaining to detainees held by the US in other countries (see October 7, 2003). The book shows a starkly different reality than the picture painted by the Bush administration’s repeated disavowals of torture, a reality established by the government’s own documentation. The administration has repeatedly claimed, for instance, that the torture and abuse so well documented at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was an isolated, unusual set of incidents that was not repeated at other US detention facilities. The documentation compiled by Jaffer and Singh prove that claim to be a lie: “This claim was completely false, and senior officials almost certainly knew it to be so.” Beatings, kickings, and all manner of abuses have routinely occurred at other detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, the book states. Autopsy reports show that numerous prisoners in US custody have died due to strangulation, suffocation, or blunt-force trauma. Documents from Guantanamo, a facility where Bush officials have repeatedly claimed that the “excesses” of Abu Ghraib were never implemented, show that Guantanamo detainees were regularly “shackled in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months.” And, perhaps most damningly for the administration, government documents show that top White House and Pentagon officials were not only well aware of the scope of the abuse months before the first pictures from Abu Ghraib were broadcast to the public, but that torture and abuse are part of the administration’s policy towards detainees. “[T]he maltreatment of prisoners resulted in large part from decisions made by senior officials, both military and civilian,” Jaffer and Singh write. “These decisions… were reaffirmed repeatedly, even in the face of complaints from law enforcement and military personnel that the policies were illegal and ineffective, and even after countless prisoners… were abused, tortured, or killed in custody.… The documents show that senior officials endorsed the abuse of prisoners as a matter of policy—sometimes by tolerating it, sometimes by encouraging it, and sometimes by expressly authorizing it.”
bullet The book presents a number of damning claims, all backed by extensive documentation, including the following: (American Civil Liberties Union 10/22/2007)
bullet General Michael Dunlavey, who oversaw prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo and considered former camp commander Brigadier General Rick Baccus too soft on the detainees (BBC 10/16/2002) , and who asked the Pentagon to approve more aggressive interrogation methods for the camp, claimed that he received his “marching orders” from Bush.
bullet Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in overseeing the interrogation of a Guantanamo prisoner named Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). Al-Khatani was “stripped naked, paraded in front of female interrogators, made to wear women’s underwear on his head, led around on a leash, and forced to perform dog tricks.” It is not clear just what being “personally involved” entails. Rumsfeld did not himself authorize such methods, but according to the investigator who documented the al-Khatani abuse session, Rumsfeld “failed to place a ‘throttle’ over abusive ‘applications’ of the ‘broad techniques’ that he did authorize….”
bullet Interrogators who used abusive ‘SERE’ (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) methods at Guantanamo did so because the Pentagon had endorsed those methods and required interrogators to be trained in the use of those methods (see December 2001).
bullet FBI personnel complained of abuses at Guantanamo; these instances of abuse were authorized by the chain of command within the Defense Department.
bullet Some of the most disturbing interrogation methodologies displayed in photos from Abu Ghraib were used at Guantanamo, with the endorsement of Rumsfeld, and that Major General Geoffrey Miller’s aggressive plan to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib was endorsed by senior Defense officials.
bullet Bush and his senior officials have always insisted that abuse and torture was limited to a few unauthorized soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Yet a Defense Department “Information Paper” shows that, three weeks before the Abu Ghraib photos appeared in the press, the US Army knew of at least 62 allegations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of which had no relation to Abu Ghraib.
bullet The Defense Department held prisoners as young as 12 years old.
bullet The Defense Department approved holding prisoners in cells as small as 3 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 18 inches high. Special Forces units held prisoners in cells only slightly larger than that. (American Civil Liberties Union 10/22/2007)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) secures an 81-page memo from March 14, 2003 that gave Pentagon officials legal justification to ignore laws banning torture (see March 14, 2003). The Justice Department memo was written by John Yoo, then a top official at the Office of Legal Counsel, on behalf of then-Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes. It guides Pentagon lawyers on how to handle the legal issues surrounding “military interrogations of alien unlawful combatants held outside the United States.” According to Yoo’s rationale, if a US interrogator injured “an enemy combatant” in a way that might be illegal, “he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” That motive, Yoo opines, justifies extreme actions as national self-defense. While the existence of the memo has been known for some time, this is the first time the public has actually seen the document. This memo is similar to other Justice Department memos that define torture as treatment that “shock[s] the conscience” and risks organ failure or death for the victim. Legal scholars call the memo evidence of “the imperial presidency,” but Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says the memo is unremarkable, and is “far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution.” The ACLU receives the document as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from itself, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations filed in June 2004 to obtain documents concerning the treatment of prisoners kept abroad. The Yoo memo is one of the documents requested. (John C. Yoo 3/14/2003 pdf file; United Press International 4/2/2008; American Civil Liberties Union 4/2/2008) According to the ACLU, the memo not only allows military officials to ignore torture prohibitions, but allows the president, as commander in chief, to bypass both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments (see April 2, 2008). (American Civil Liberties Union 4/2/2008) The Fourth Amendment grants the right for citizens “to be secure in their persons” and to have “probable cause” shown before they are subjected to “searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment mandates that citizens cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” (Cornell University Law School 8/19/2007) Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, says: “This memo makes a mockery of the Constitution and the rule of law. That it was issued by the Justice Department, whose job it is to uphold the law, makes it even more unconscionable.” (American Civil Liberties Union 4/2/2008)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responding to a recently released Justice Department memo authorizing a wide array of torture techniques against detainees in US custody (see April 1, 2008), decries both the authorization of torture as an acceptable interrogation methodology and “the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power.” ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer adds: “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” (American Civil Liberties Union 4/2/2008)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that confirm the military’s use of illegal interrogation methods on detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, are from an Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) probe. The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “These documents make it clear that the military was using unlawful interrogation techniques in Afghanistan. Rather than putting a stop to these systemic abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” In the CID reports, Special Operations officers in Gardez, Afghanistan, admitted to using what are known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques, which for decades American service members experienced as training to prepare for the brutal treatment they might face if captured (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). At least eight prisoners in custody at Gardez were beaten, burned, and doused with cold water before being placed into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in US custody (see March 16, 2003). Subsequent investigations ignored numerous witness statements describing torture; Naseer was eventually declared dead due to a “stomach ailment.” The documents also provide evidence showing that prisoners were sodomized. “These documents raise serious questions about the adequacy of the military’s investigations into prisoner abuse,” says Singh. (American Civil Liberties Union 4/16/2008)


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