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Profile: George Brent Mickum

George Brent Mickum was a participant or observer in the following events:

Captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), after recovering somewhat from three gunshot wounds inflicted during his capture, is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand, presumably the revamped Vietnam War-era base in Udorn. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In late 2006, after being transferred to Guantanamo, Zubaida will tell representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross the story of his interrogation in Thailand (see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Zubaida becomes what CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later call “a test case for an evolving new role… in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects” (see September 17, 2001).
New Tactics To Be Used - Officials from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program are involved in Zubaida’s interrogations. SERE officials have prepared a program of so-called “harsh interrogation methods,” many of which are classified as torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture (see December 2001 and July 2002). A 2009 Senate report (see April 21, 2009) will find: “At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA [the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency] assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high-level al-Qaeda operative.” Further investigation will prove that the person whose name will be redacted is, indeed, Zubaida. According to a June 20, 2002 memo, the SERE officials’ participation in the Zubaida interrogation is “training.” JPRA psychologist Bruce Jessen, one of the authors of the JPRA torture methodology (see January 2002 and After), suggests that “exploitation strategies” be used against Zubaida. Jessen’s collaborator on the torture proposal, James Mitchell, is present for Zubaida’s torture; Mitchell plays a central role in the decision to use what the CIA calls an “increased pressure phase” against Zubaida. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
First Weeks Shackled and Sleep-Deprived - Zubaida will begin his narrative after his initial, and successful, interrogation by FBI agents (see Late March through Early June, 2002). He spends the first weeks of his captivity shackled to a chair, denied solid food, and kept awake. In Zubaida’s words: “I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle. I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time. The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise. The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks. During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.” In 2009, author Mark Danner will write: “One can translate these procedures into terms of art: ‘Change of Scenery Down.’ ‘Removal of Clothing.’ ‘Use of Stress Positions.’ ‘Dietary Manipulation.’ ‘Environmental Manipulation.’ ‘Sleep Adjustment.’ ‘Isolation.’ ‘Sleep Deprivation.’ ‘Use of Noise to Induce Stress.’ All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and ‘counter-resistance’ carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the [proposed regulations say], for example, that ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is ‘not to exceed four days in succession,’ that ‘Dietary Manipulation’ should include ‘no intended deprivation of food or water,’ that ‘removal of clothing,” while ‘creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence,’ must be ‘monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.’ Here we are in a different place.”
CIA Team Moves In - The first weeks of Zubaida’s captivity are maintained by a small team of FBI agents and interrogators, but soon a team from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center takes over. As Kiriakou will later recall: “We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information.… These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.” After the initial period of captivity, Zubaida is allowed to sleep with less interruption, stretched out naked and shackled on the bare floor. He is also given solid food for the first time in weeks—rice. A female doctor examines him and asks why he is still naked; he is, he will recall, “provided with orange clothes to wear.” The clothes only last a day, though: “[G]uards came into my cell,” Zubaida will recall. “They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.”
Alternating Harsh and Lenient Treatments - For the next few weeks, Zubaida’s treatment veers from abusive to almost lenient. Mostly he is kept naked and confined to his cell, often suffering from intense cold in the frigid air-conditioned environment. One official later tells the ICRC that often he “seemed to turn blue.” Clothing is provided, then taken away. Zubaida will tell ICRC officials: “When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair.” For a time he is given a mattress to sleep on; sometimes he is “allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.” A month goes by with no interrogations. He will recall: “My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played 24 hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.” Then, “about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before.” Danner will write that he isn’t sure if the wild swings in procedures are intentional, meant to keep Zubaida off-guard, or, as he will write, “resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled ‘alternative set of procedures’ that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, ‘friendly’ governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now ‘reverse-engineered’ the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture.” Danner notes that some CIA documents going back to the 1960s advocate subjecting the captive to sensory deprivation and disorientation, and instilling feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness. The old CIA documents say that captives should be kept in a state of “debility-dependence-dread.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Justice Department's 'Ticking Bomb' Scenario - The August 2002 “golden shield” memo from the Justice Department (see August 1, 2002) will use what is often called the “ticking bomg scenario”—the supposition that a terror attack is imminent and only torture can extract time-critical information from a terrorist detainee to give US officials a chance to stop the attack—to justify Zubaida’s torture. According to CIA reports, Zubaida has information regarding “terrorist networks in the United States” and “plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas.” But Brent Mickum, who later becomes one of Zubaida’s attorneys, will say that he believes the Justice Department memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used. “If torture occurred before the memo was written, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal,” Mickum will note. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Interrogations Continue in June - Sometime in June, Zubaida will once again be interrogated (see June 2002).

Entity Tags: Mark Danner, John Kiriakou, James Elmer Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, George Brent Mickum, Geneva Conventions, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Joseph Margulies.Joseph Margulies. [Source: PBS]Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University, and lawyer George Brent Mickum write of their plans to meet with Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as part of his legal defense team. The lawyers write: “Zubaydah’s world became freezing rooms alternating with sweltering cells. Screaming noise replaced by endless silence. Blinding light followed by dark, underground chambers. Hours confined in contorted positions. And, as we recently learned, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding. We do not know what remains of his mind, and we will probably never know what he experienced.” What exactly the CIA did to Zubaida may never be determined, as the agency destroyed the videotapes of his interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). Zubaida’s subsequent confessions to FBI agents are essentially meaningless, the lawyers assert, because his will and mind were already irrevocably broken by the time of the FBI interviews. The lawyers hope to piece together what Zubaida knew and what was done to him, although they are not confident they will be given the documentation necessary to find out what they want to know. They fear that, if they are not able to learn the truth of Zubaida’s participation with al-Qaeda and the interrogation methods he was subjected to, then in his and others’ cases, the truth will be “only what the administration reports it to be. We hope it has not come to that.” [Washington Post, 2/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama bin Laden, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph Margulies, George Brent Mickum

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s body, shortly after he died.Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s body, shortly after he died. [Source: Public domain]Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former manager of a training camp for militants in Afghanistan, dies at Al Saleem jail in Libya. Al-Libi was captured and handed over to the US in 2001 (see December 19, 2001), and later provided information falsely linking Iraq and al-Qaeda while being tortured in Egyptian custody (see February 2002). The story of his death is broken by a Libyan newspaper named Oea, and picked up by media around the world. However, Newsweek will point out that Oea has “close ties to the [Libyan] government,” as it is owned by a son of Libyan dictator Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Workers with Human Rights Watch visited al-Libi at the prison on April 27, and spoke to him briefly, finding him reasonably well. Hafed al-Ghwell, a leading critic of the al-Qadhafi regime, will comment, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.” Apparently, sometimes a prisoner is reported to have committed suicide, but when the family gets the body back, there is a bullet hole in its back or signs of torture. George Brent Mickum, a US lawyer representing al-Libi’s former partner in the training camp, US-held detainee Abu Zubaidah, says he had recently begun efforts through intermediaries to arrange to talk to al-Libi. “The timing of this is weird,” Mickum says. “My gut feeling is that something fishy happened here and somebody in Libya panicked,” adds al-Ghwell. [Newsweek, 5/12/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says: “I would speculate that he was missing because he was such an embarrassment to the Bush administration. He was Exhibit A in the narrative that tortured confessions contributed to the massive intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war.” After the Bush administration used al-Libi’s claims of links between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government to justify the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Libi withdrew the claims. [Washington Post, 5/12/2009] In October 2009, in a video posted on an Islamist website, al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri will claim the US government “handed him over to the agents of al-Qadhafi to continue torturing him and kill him.” [Reuters, 10/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Tom Malinowski, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Human Rights Watch, Ayman al-Zawahiri, George Brent Mickum, Hafed al-Ghwell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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