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Profile: Daniel J. Dell’Orto

Positions that Daniel J. Dell’Orto has held:

  • Department of Defense (DoD) Principal Deputy General Counsel

Daniel J. Dell’Orto was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Pentagon orders a broad assessment of the intelligence-gathering efforts at Guantanamo in response to complaints about the low quality of intelligence that has come from the Guantanamo prison thus far. Officials at the Pentagon and Guantanamo believe the detainees are being uncooperative, and that new interrogation techniques are needed. A senior official formerly stationed at Guantanamo will later recall: “As time went on, people wanted to do more. The detainees were resistant. They knew we weren’t going to torture them. So we needed to come up with a Plan B for the small group of people who wouldn’t talk and who we thought did have intelligence.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004] This view is shared with the lawyers at the Pentagon. The Principle Deputy to Department of Defense General Counsel Daniel J. Dell’Orto will also say at a later date: “As we come through the summer of 2002, a couple of things become apparent: One, some of these people have been trained in counter-interrogation techniques, resistance techniques. We have found, by that time, on the battlefield, the al-Qaeda training manual… In that manual is a chapter devoted to resisting our techniques. Those techniques are published. They’re unclassified. The [Army] field manual [34-52, dealing with interrogations] is out on the street for anyone to look at. And if you look at the document, the training manual, you’ll see how they go and prepare their fighters to resist our techniques.” [White House, 7/22/2004] The assessment will lead to technical improvements, such as changes to the intelligence databases, and the development of a 30-day course for interrogators and analysts at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, nicknamed “Terrorism 101.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004] The training, according to a Pentagon report, is “developed in response to requirements surfaced during interrogation operations at JTF-GTMO, specifically to prepare reserve interrogators and order of battle analysts for deployment to JTF-GTMO.” [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Daniel J. Dell’Orto

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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

Military legal experts at Guantanamo, particularly from the Navy, inform the Office of General Counsel that they have concerns about the interrogation techniques being used there. It’s “not clear whether it is the techniques that are being used, the techniques that have been requested, or somebody’s speculation about a change in techniques at Guantanamo,” the Pentagon’s Principal Deputy General Counsel Daniel J. Dell’Orto will later say at a press briefing in June 2004. [Washington File, 6/23/2004; New York Times, 8/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Daniel J. Dell’Orto

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes reportedly meets with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss concerns over the use of interrogation techniques at Guantanamo that were approved by Rumsfeld in December (see December 2, 2002). Rumsfeld, according to Dell’Orto, calls Gen. James T. Hill and suspends the use of the category two and the single category three technique. [Washington File, 6/23/2004]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Donald Rumsfeld, James T. Hill, Daniel J. Dell’Orto

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signs a memo on interrogation methods approving 24 of the 35 techniques recommended by the Pentagon working group (see April 4, 2003) earlier in the month. The new set of guidelines, to be applied to prisoners at Guantanamo and Afghanistan, is a somewhat softer version of the initial interrogation policy that Rumsfeld approved in December 2002 (see December 2, 2002). [Roth and Malinowski, 5/3/2004; Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Age (Melbourne), 5/13/2004; Washington Post, 5/13/2004; Los Angeles Times, 5/22/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004; Wall Street Journal, 6/7/2004; MSNBC, 6/23/2004; Truthout (.org), 6/28/2004] Several of the techniques listed are ones that the US military trains Special Forces to prepare for in the event that they are captured by enemy forces (see December 2001 and July 2002). [New York Times, 5/13/2004]
Two Classes of Methods - The list is divided into two classes: tactics that are authorized for use on all prisoners and special “enhanced measures” that require the approval of Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The latter category of methods includes tactics that “could cause temporary physical or mental pain,” like “sensory deprivation,” “stress positions,” “dietary manipulation,” forced changes in sleep patterns, and isolated confinement. [Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Washington Post, 5/13/2004] Other techniques include “change of scenery down,” “dietary manipulation,” “environmental manipulation,” and “false flag.” The first 18 tactics listed all appear in the 1992 US Army Field Manual (FM) 34-52, with the exception of the so-called “Mutt-and-Jeff” approach, which is taken from an obsolete 1987 military field manual (1987 FM 34-52). [USA Today, 6/22/2004] The approved tactics can be used in conjunction with one another, essentially allowing interrogators to “pile on” one harsh technique after another. Categories such as “Fear Up Harsh” and “Pride and Ego Down” remain undefined, allowing interrogators to interpret them as they see fit. And Rumsfeld writes that any other tactic not already approved can be used if he gives permission. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “In other words, there were no binding laws and treaties anymore—the only limit was the judgment and goodwill of executive branch officials. ” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181] The use of forced nudity as a tactic is not included in the list. The working group rejected it because its members felt it might be considered inhumane treatment under international law. [Associated Press, 6/23/2004]
Result of Discussions among Pentagon Officials - The memo, marked for declassification in 2013 [Truthout (.org), 6/28/2004] , is the outcome, according to Deputy General Counsel Daniel Dell’Orto, of discussions between Rumsfeld, William J. Haynes, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and General Richard Myers. [Washington File, 6/23/2004] One US official explains: “There are very specific guidelines that are thoroughly vetted. Everyone is on board. It’s legal.” However in May 2004, it will be learned that there was in fact opposition to the new guidelines. Pentagon lawyers from the Army Judge Advocate General’s office had objected (see May 2003 and October 2003) and many officials quietly expressed concerns that they might have to answer for the policy at a later date (see (April 2003)). [Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Washington Post, 5/13/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard B. Myers, William J. Haynes, Ricardo S. Sanchez, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Department of Defense Principal Deputy General Counsel Daniel Dell’Orto writes to Senator Patrick Leahy and confirms that earlier Pentagon statements (see June 25, 2003) about the treatment of detainees bind the entire executive branch. But he fails to answer specific questions about interrogation guidelines and adds that articles reporting improper treatment of detainees “often contain allegations that are untrue.” [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Leahy, Daniel J. Dell’Orto

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Attempting to stem the flow of bad publicity and world-wide criticism surrounding the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and similar reports from Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, accompanied by Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, give a lengthy press conference to discuss the US’s position on interrogation and torture. Gonzales and Haynes provide reporters with a thick folder of documents, being made public for the first time. Those documents include the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see November 27, 2002), and the list of 18 interrogation techniques approved for use against detainees (see December 2, 2002 and April 16, 2003). Gonzales and Haynes make carefully prepared points: the war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, is a different kind of war, they say. Terrorism targets civilians and is not limited to battlefield engagements, nor do terrorists observe the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules. The administration has always acted judiciously in its attempt to counter terrorism, even as it moved from a strictly law-enforcement paradigm to one that marshaled “all elements of national power.” Their arguments are as follows:
Always Within the Law - First, the Bush administration has always acted within reason, care, and deliberation, and has always followed the law. In February 2002, President Bush had determined that none of the detainees at Guantanamo should be covered under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). That presidential order is included in the document packet. According to Gonzales and Haynes, that order merely reflected a clear-eyed reading of the actual provision of the conventions, and does not circumvent the law. Another document is the so-called “torture memo” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). Although such legal opinions carry great weight, and though the administration used the “torture memo” for months to guide actions by military and CIA interrogators, Gonzales says that the memo has nothing to do with the actions at Guantanamo. The memo was intended to do little more than explore “the limits of the legal landscape.” Gonzales says that the memo included “irrelevant and unnecessary” material, and was never given to Bush or distributed to soldiers in the field. The memo did not, Gonzales asserts, “reflect the policies that the administration ultimately adopted.” Unfortunately for their story, the facts are quite different. According to several people involved in the Geneva decision, it was never about following the letter of the law, but was designed to give legal cover to a prior decision to use harsh, coercive interrogation. Author and law professor Phillippe Sands will write, “it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall.” Sands interviewed former Defense Department official Douglas Feith about the Geneva issue, and Feith proudly acknowledged that the entire point of the legal machinations was to strip away detainees’ rights under Geneva (see Early 2006).
Harsh Techniques Suggested from Below - Gonzales and Haynes move to the question of where, exactly, the new interrogation techniques came from. Their answer: the former military commander at Guantanamo, Michael E. Dunlavey. Haynes later describes Dunlavey to the Senate Judiciary Committee as “an aggressive major general.” None of the ideas originated in Washington, and anything signed off or approved by White House or Pentagon officials were merely responses to requests from the field. Those requests were prompted by a recalcitrant detainee at Guantanamo, Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had proven resistant to normal interrogation techniques. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, and fears of a second attack mounted, Dell’Orto says that Guantanamo field commanders decided “that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” Thusly, a request was processed from Guantanamo through military channels, through Haynes, and ultimately to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved 15 of the 18 requested techniques to be used against al-Khatani and, later, against other terror suspects (see September 25, 2002 and December 2, 2002). According to Gonzales, Haynes, and Dell’Orto, Haynes and Rumsfeld were just processing a request from military officers. Again, the evidence contradicts their story. The torture memo came as a result of intense pressure from the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. It was never some theoretical document or some exercise in hypothesizing, but, Sands will write, “played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantanamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.” Gonzales and Haynes were, with Cheney chief of staff David Addington and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the authors of the torture memo), “a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse,” in Sands’s words. Dunlavey was Rumsfeld’s personal choice to head the interrogations at Guantanamo; he liked the fact that Dunlavey was a “tyrant,” in the words of a former Judge Advocate General official, and had no problem with the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld had Dunlavey ignore the chain of command and report directly to him, though Dunlavey reported most often to Feith. Additionally, the Yoo/Bybee torture memo was in response to the CIA’s desire to aggressively interrogate another terror suspect not held at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Sands will write, “Gonzales would later contend that this policy memo did ‘not reflect the policies the administration ultimately adopted,’ but in fact it gave carte blanche to all the interrogation techniques later recommended by Haynes and approved by Rumsfeld.” He also cites another Justice Department memo, requested by the CIA and never made public, that spells out the specific techniques in detail. No one at Guantanamo ever saw either of the memos. Sands concludes, “The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves. A key question is whether Haynes and Rumsfeld had knowledge of the content of these memos before they approved the new interrogation techniques for al-Khatani. If they did, then the administration’s official narrative—that the pressure for new techniques, and the legal support for them, originated on the ground at Guantanamo, from the ‘aggressive major general’ and his staff lawyer—becomes difficult to sustain. More crucially, that knowledge is a link in the causal chain that connects the keyboards of Feith and Yoo to the interrogations of Guantanamo.”
Legal Justifications Also From Below - The legal justification for the new interrogation techniques also originated at Guantanamo, the three assert, and not by anyone in the White House and certainly not by anyone in the Justice Department. The document stack includes a legal analysis by the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which gives legal justifications for all the interrogation techniques. The responsibility lies ultimately with Beaver, the three imply, and not with anyone higher up the chain. Again, the story is severely flawed. Beaver will give extensive interviews to Sands, and paint a very different picture (see Fall 2006). One Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist, Mike Gelles (see December 17-18, 2002), will dispute Gonzales’s contention that the techniques trickled up the chain from lower-level officials at Guantanamo such as Beaver. “That’s not accurate,” he will say. “This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo—no way.” That view is supported by a visit to Guantanamo by several top-ranking administration lawyers, in which Guantanamo personnel are given the “green light” to conduct harsh interrogations of detainees (see September 25, 2002).
No Connection between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib - Finally, the decisions regarding interrogations at Guantanamo have never had any impact on the interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales wants to “set the record straight” on that question. The administration has never authorized nor countenanced torture of any kind. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized and had nothing to do with administration policies. Much evidence exists to counter this assertion (see December 17-18, 2002). In August 2003, the head of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, visited Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, accompanied by, among others, Diane Beaver (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). They were shocked at the near-lawlessness of the facility, and Miller recommended to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme US commander in Iraq, that many of the same techniques used at Guantanamo be used in Abu Ghraib. Sanchez soon authorized the use of those techniques (see September 14-17, 2003). The serious abuses reported at Abu Ghraib began a month later. Gelles worried, with justification, that the techniques approved for use against al-Khatani would spread to other US detention facilities. Gelles’s “migration theory” was controversial and dangerous, because if found to be accurate, it would tend to implicate those who authorized the Guantanamo interrogation techniques in the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. “Torture memo” author John Yoo called the theory “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.” But Gelles’s theory is supported, not only by the Abu Ghraib abuses, but by an August 2006 Pentagon report that will find that techniques from Guantanamo did indeed migrate into Abu Ghraib, and a report from an investigation by former defense secretary James Schlesinger (see August 24, 2004) that will find “augmented techniques for Guantanamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” [White House, 7/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Daniel Dell’Orto.Daniel Dell’Orto. [Source: US Department of Defense]Shortly after the Supreme Court rules that the Geneva Conventions apply to detainees suspected of terrorist affiliations (see June 30, 2006), the Bush administration publicly agrees to apply the Conventions to all terrorism suspects in US custody, and the Pentagon announces that it is now requiring all military officials to adhere to the Conventions in dealing with al-Qaeda detainees. The administration says that from now on, all prisoners in US custody will be treated humanely in accordance with the Conventions, a stipulation that would preclude torture and “harsh interrogation methods.” Until the ruling, the administration has held that prisoners suspected of terrorist affiliations did not have the right to be granted Geneva protections (see February 7, 2002). Lawyer David Remes, who represents 17 Guantanamo detainees, says, “At a symbolic level, it is a huge moral triumph that the administration has acknowledged that it must, under the Supreme Court ruling, adhere to the Geneva Conventions. The legal architecture of the war on terror was built on a foundation of unlimited and unaccountable presidential power, including the power to decide unilaterally whether, when and to whom to apply the Geneva Conventions.” But in the wake of the ruling the administration is pressuring Congress to introduce legislation that would strip detainees of some of the rights afforded them under the Conventions, including the right to free and open trials, even in a military setting. “The court-martial procedures are wholly inappropriate for the current circumstances and would be infeasible for the trial of these alien enemy combatants,” says Steven Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Bradbury and Daniel Dell’Orto, the Defense Department’s principal deputy attorney general, have repeatedly urged lawmakers to limit the rights of detainees captured in what the administration terms its war on terrorism. Dell’Orto says Congress should not require that enemy combatants be provided lawyers to challenge their imprisonment. Congressional Democrats have a different view. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “I find it hard to fathom that this administration is so incompetent that it needs kangaroo-court procedures to convince a tribunal of United States military officers that the ‘worst of the worst’ imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay should be held accountable” for crimes. “We need to know why we’re being asked to deviate from rules for courts-martial.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, US Department of Defense, Patrick J. Leahy, Al-Qaeda, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, David Remes, Geneva Conventions, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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