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Profile: Michael Gelles

Michael Gelles was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

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

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]

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

The Congressional Quarterly reports on a growing body of evidence that indicates US interrogators are using mind-altering drugs on prisoners suspected of terrorist ties. The evidence is not yet conclusive, but reporter Jeff Stein writes: “There can be little doubt now that the government has used drugs on terrorist suspects that are designed to weaken their resistance to interrogation. All that’s missing is the syringes and videotapes.”
Connection to Yoo Memo - The idea that the US might be using hallucinogenic or other drugs on detainees in Guantanamo and other US detention facilities was bolstered by the recent revelation of another “torture memo,” this one written in 2003 by then-Justice Department lawyer John Yoo (see March 14, 2003). Yoo wrote that US interrogators could use mind-altering drugs on terror suspects as long as the drugs did not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.” Yoo first rationalized the use of drugs on prisoners in earlier “torture memos” (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002).
Criticism - Stephen Miles, a bioethicist and author of a recent book detailing medical complicity in US torture of suspected terrorists, notes: “The new Yoo memo, along with other White House legal memoranda, shows clearly that the policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs was being laid. The recent memo on mood-altering drugs does not extend previous work on this area. The use of these drugs was anticipated and discussed in the memos of January and February 2002 by [Defense Department, Justice Department], and White House counsel using the same language and rationale. The executive branch memos laid a comprehensive and reiterated policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs.” Jeffrey Kaye, a clinical psychologist who works with torture victims through Survivors International, says plainly: “Yes, I believe [drugs] have been used. I came across some evidence that they were using mind-altering drugs, to regress the prisoners, to ascertain if they were using deception techniques, to break them down.”
Varieties of Drugs and Placebos Being Used? - It is well known that US military personnel often use sedatives on shackled and hooded prisoners on “rendition” flights from Middle Eastern countries to Guantanamo. There is no hard evidence to support claims that US interrogators are using hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD on detainees. However, Michael Caruso, who represents suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002), filed a motion last year asserting that his client “was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.” Caruso had no proof to back up his claim.
KUBARK - Stein notes that a 1963 CIA interrogation manual, code-named KUBARK, advocated the use of placebos as well as real drugs on prisoners. And Michael Gelles, a psychologist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Institute who has spoken out against the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo, says that he never saw anything related to drugs. “I never saw that raised as an issue,” he says. Hallucinogens such as LSD do not make subjects tell the truth. According to KUBARK, “Their function is to cause capitulation, to aid in the shift from resistance to cooperation.”
Winging It - In July 2003, the CIA, the RAND Corporation, and the American Psychological Association hosted a workshop that explored the question of using drugs to “affect apparent truth-telling behavior” (see June 17-18, 2003). After 9/11, top Bush administration officials pushed military commanders for quick intelligence but, according to a recent study, the interrogators unsure how to use harsher methodologies (see December 2006) and began “mak[ing] it up on the fly.”
Guantanamo - Guantanamo staff judge advocate Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver says that some of the interrogators drew inspiration from the popular TV drama 24 (see Fall 2006). Beaver makes no mention of drugs being used, but Ewe Jacobs, the director of Survivors International, says she may not have seen or heard about their use. “The Guantanamo camps were isolated from one another,” he says. What happened in one part of the facility may not have been known in other areas. Miles adds, “I suspect that most of the use of interrogational drugs was by CIA and Special Ops interrogators, and thus still remains classified.”
Credibility Issues - As with victims of the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program from the 1960s and 70s, when unwitting subjects were dosed with hallucinogenic drugs and their reactions catalogued and observed, the detainees who may have been forcibly given such drugs will likely not be believed by many. Absent hard evidence, many will consider the detainees either “looney,” in Stein’s words, or liars. Few believe that Padilla was drugged. And, Stein concludes, “Even fewer will believe the other prisoners, a number of whom are deranged from prolonged interrogation—if they ever get out.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Ewe Jacobs, Diane E. Beaver, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), American Psychological Association, Jeff Stein, John C. Yoo, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, Jeffrey Kaye, Stephen Miles, RAND Corporation, Michael Caruso, Michael Gelles, Survivors International

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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