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The interrogation and abuse of suspect Mohamed al-Khatani (sometimes spelled “al-Qahtani”—see February 11, 2008) at Guantanamo Bay begins. He is alleged to have tried to enter the US to participate in the 9/11 plot as the twentieth hijacker. He is classified as “Detainee 063.” He is subjected to 160 days of isolation in a pen flooded 24 hours a day with bright artificial light, that treatment starting well before harsher interrogation tactics begin six weeks later (see November 23, 2002). The tactics include:
He is interrogated for 48 of 54 days, for 18 to 20 hours at a stretch.
He is stripped naked and straddled by taunting female guards, in an exercise called “invasion of space by a female.”
He is forced to wear women’s underwear on his head and to put on a bra.
He is threatened by dogs, placed on a leash, and told that his mother was a whore.
He is stripped naked, shaved, and forced to bark like a dog.
He is forced to listen to American pop music at ear-splitting volume. He is subjected to a phony kidnapping (see Mid-2003).
He is forced to live in a cell deprived of heat
He is given large quantities of intravenous liquids and denied access to a toilet
He is deprived of sleep for days on end.
He is forcibly given enemas, and is hospitalized multiple time for hypothermia.
Impact - Towards the end of the extended interrogation session, Al-Khatani’s heart rate drops so precipitously (to 35 beats a minute) that he is placed under cardiac monitoring. Interrogators meticulously note his reactions to his treatment, and make the following notes at various times: “Detainee began to cry. Visibly shaken. Very emotional. Detainee cried. Disturbed. Detainee began to cry. Detainee bit the IV tube completely in two. Started moaning. Uncomfortable. Moaning. Began crying hard spontaneously. Crying and praying. Very agitated. Yelled. Agitated and violent. Detainee spat. Detainee proclaimed his innocence. Whining. Dizzy. Forgetting things. Angry. Upset. Yelled for Allah. Urinated on himself. Began to cry. Asked God for forgiveness. Cried. Cried. Became violent. Began to cry. Broke down and cried. Began to pray and openly cried. Cried out to Allah several times. Trembled uncontrollably.” In November 2002, an FBI agent describes al-Khatani’s condition, writing that he “was talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, [and] crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end.” Al-Khatani confesses to an array of terrorist activities and then recants them; he begs his interrogators to be allowed to commit suicide. The last days of al-Khatani’s interrogation session is particularly intense, since interrogators know that their authorization to use harsh techniques may be rescinded at any time. They get no useful information from him. By the end of the last interrogation, an Army investigator observes that al-Khatani has “black coals for eyes.” (Mayer 2/27/2006; Sands 5/2008)
Reaching the Threshold - In the summer of 2007, Dr. Abigail Seltzer, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma victims, reviews the logs of al-Khatani’s interrogations. Seltzer notes that while torture is not a medical concept: “[O]ver the period of 54 days there is enough evidence of distress to indicate that it would be very surprising indeed if it had not reached the threshold of severe mental pain…. If you put 12 clinicians in a room and asked them about this interrogation log, you might get different views about the effect and long-term consequences of these interrogation techniques. But I doubt that any one of them would claim that this individual had not suffered severe mental distress at the time of his interrogation, and possibly also severe physical distress.” Everything that is done to al-Khatani is part of the repertoire of interrogation techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002).
Fundamental Violation of Human Rights - In 2008, law professor Phillippe Sands will write: “Whatever he may have done, Mohammed al-Khatani was entitled to the protections afforded by international law, including Geneva and the torture convention. His interrogation violated those conventions. There can be no doubt that he was treated cruelly and degraded, that the standards of Common Article 3 were violated, and that his treatment amounts to a war crime. If he suffered the degree of severe mental distress prohibited by the torture convention, then his treatment crosses the line into outright torture. These acts resulted from a policy decision made right at the top, not simply from ground-level requests in Guantanamo, and they were supported by legal advice from the president’s own circle.” (Sands 5/2008)
Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, the top legal adviser to the Army’s interrogation unit at Guantanamo, JTF-170, writes a legal analysis of the extreme interrogation techniques being used on detainees. Beaver notes that some of the more savage “counter-resistance” techniques being considered for use, such as waterboarding (the use of which has resulted in courts-martials for users in the past) might present legal problems. She acknowledges that US military personnel at Guantanamo are bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which characterizes “cruelty,” “maltreatment,” “threats,” and “assaults” as felonies. However, she reasons, if interrogators can obtain “permission,” or perhaps “immunity,” from higher authorities “in advance,” they might not be legally culpable. In 2006, a senior Defense Department official calls Beaver’s legal arguments “inventive,” saying: “Normally, you grant immunity after the fact, to someone who has already committed a crime, in exchange for an order to get that person to testify. I don’t know whether we’ve ever faced the question of immunity in advance before.” The official praises Beaver “for trying to think outside the box. I would credit Diane as raising that as a way to think about it.” Beaver will later be promoted to the staff of the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel, where she will specialize in detainee issues. But Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora is less impressed. When he reads Beaver’s legal analysis two months later (see December 17-18, 2002), he calls it “a wholly inadequate analysis of the law.” According to Mora, the Beaver memo held that “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment could be inflicted on the Guantanamo detainees with near impunity.” Such acts are blatantly illegal, Mora believes. Mora will note that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bases his decision to approve such harsh “counter-resistance” techniques (see December 2, 2002) in part on Beaver’s memo. He will write that Rumsfeld’s decision “was fatally grounded on these serious failures of legal analysis.” Neither Beaver nor Rumsfeld will draw any “bright line” prohibiting the combination of these techniques, or defining any limits for their use. As such, this vagueness of language “could produce effects reaching the level of torture,” which is prohibited without exception both in the US and under international law. (Mayer 2/27/2006)
Written under Difficult Circumstances - Beaver later tells a more complete story of her creation of the memo. She insists on a paper trail showing that the authorization of extreme interrogation techniques came from above, not from “the dirt on the ground,” as she describes herself. The Guantanamo commander, Major General Michael Dunlavey, only gives her four days to whip up a legal analysis, which she sees as a starting point for a legal review of the interrogation policies. She has few books and materials, and more experienced lawyers at the US Southern Command, the Judge Advocate General School, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the DIA refuse to help her write the analysis. She is forced to write her analysis based on her own knowledge of the law and what she could find on the Internet. She bases her analysis on the previous presidential decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions, later recalling, “It was not my job to second-guess the president.” Knowing little of international law, she ignores that body of law altogether. She fully expects her analysis to be dissected and portions of it overridden, but she is later astonished that her analysis will be used as a legal underpinning for the administration’s policies. She has no idea that her analysis is to be used to provide legal cover for much more senior White House officials (see June 22, 2004). She goes through each of the 18 approved interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002), assessing them against the standards set by US law, including the Eighth Amendment, which proscribes “cruel and unusual punishment,” the federal torture statutes, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Beaver finds that each of the 18 techniques are acceptable “so long as the force used could plausibly have been thought necessary in a particular situation to achieve a legitimate government objective, and it was applied in a good faith effort and not maliciously or sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Law professor Phillippe Sands later observes: “That is to say, the techniques are legal if the motivation is pure. National security justifies anything.” The interrogators must be properly trained, Beaver notes, and any interrogations involving the more severe techniques must “undergo a legal, medical, behavioral science, and intelligence review prior to their commencement.” However, if all of the criteria are met, she “agree[s] that the proposed strategies do not violate applicable federal law.” Sands points out that her use of the word “agree” indicates that she “seems to be confirming a policy decision that she knows has already been made.”
'Awful' but Understandable - Sands later calls her reasoning “awful,” but understands that she was forced to write the memo, and reasonably expected to have more senior legal officials review and rewrite her work. “She could not have anticipated that there would be no other piece of written legal advice bearing on the Guantanamo interrogations. She could not have anticipated that she would be made the scapegoat.” Beaver will recall passing Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington in a Pentagon hallway shortly after she submitted the memo. Addington smiled at her and said, “Great minds think alike.” (Sands 5/2008)
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair meet at the White House to discuss Iraq. Also present at the meeting are Blair’s foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning; his aid Matthew Rycoft; his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell; US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Dan Fried; and Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card. (Sands 2005; McSmith 2/2/2006; Gibbon 2/2/2006; van Natta 3/27/2006)
Bush Says US Going to War with or without UN Resolution - Blair presses Bush to seek a second UN resolution that would provide specific legal backing for the use of force against Iraq. According to the minutes of the meeting, Bush says that “the diplomatic strategy [has] to be arranged around the military planning” and that the “US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would ‘twist arms’ and ‘even threaten.’” But if such efforts fail, Bush is recorded saying, “military action would follow anyway.” Bush also tells Blair that he hopes to commence military action on March 10. Blair does not demur and offers Britain’s total support for the war, saying that he is “solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam.” Notwithstanding, he insists that “a second Security Council resolution would provide an insurance policy against the unexpected, and international cover, including with the Arabs.” According to Bush, the question that needs to be addressed is what should they cite as evidence that Iraq is in breach of its obligations under UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). The minutes of the meeting will indicate that there is concern that inspections have failed to provide sufficient evidence of a material breach.
Suggested Provocation of Iraq - “The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colors,” the minutes report. “If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.” (Sands 2005; Gibbon 2/2/2006; MSNBC 2/2/2006; Norton-Taylor 2/3/2006; van Natta 3/27/2006) The Times of London later notes that this proposal “would have made sense only if the spy plane was ordered to fly at an altitude within range of Iraqi missiles.” In this case, the plane would be far below the 90,000 foot altitude it is capable of operating at. (Bennett and Evans 2/2/2006; Gibbon 2/2/2006)
Bush Suggests Use of Defector - In addition to the U2 idea, Bush says it is “possible that a defector could be brought out who would give a public presentation about Saddam’s WMD, and there was also a small possibility that Saddam would be assassinated.” At one point during the two-hour meeting, Bush says he thinks “it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups.” (Sands 2005; van Natta 3/27/2006) Author Phillippe Sands will later ask, “Why would the US president and the British prime minister spend any time concocting ways of proposing a material breach if they knew they could prove Saddam had weapons of mass destruction?” (Rich 2006, pp. 190)
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; Sands 5/2008)
Law professor Phillippe Sands interviews Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the key architects of the Iraq invasion. (Sands 5/2008) Feith is joining the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a lecturer. (DeParle 5/25/2006) Feith discusses his great pride in his part in the administration’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions’ restrictions on interrogating prisoners (see February 7, 2002). Feith says that Geneva merely got in the way of the US doing what it needed to do with regards to the detainees. Since al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives did not function under Geneva, he argues, the US did not need to, either. Feith says that between his arguments and the contempt the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon held for the military officers who stood by the Geneva restrictions, the decision was made to set Geneva aside when circumstances warranted. It was never a matter of questioning Geneva’s status as international law, but deciding to whom and in what circumstances the conventions apply.
Catch 22 - Sands writes that according to Feith’s (and eventually the administration’s) rationale: “Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva’s own terms Taliban fighters weren’t entitled to POW status, because they hadn’t worn uniforms or insignia. That would still leave the safety net provided by the rules reflected in Common Article 3—but detainees could not rely on this either, on the theory that its provisions applied only to ‘armed conflict not of an international character,’ which the administration interpreted to mean civil war. This was new. In reaching this conclusion, the Bush administration simply abandoned all legal and customary precedent that regards Common Article 3 as a minimal bill of rights for everyone.… I asked Feith, just to be clear: Didn’t the administration’s approach mean that Geneva’s constraints on interrogation couldn’t be invoked by anyone at Guantanamo? ‘Oh yes, sure,’ he shot back. Was that the intended result?, I asked. ‘Absolutely.… That’s the point.‘… As he saw it, either you were a detainee to whom Geneva didn’t apply or you were a detainee to whom Geneva applied but whose rights you couldn’t invoke.”
Impact on Interrogations - When asked about the difference for the purpose of interrogation, Sands will write: “Feith answered with a certain satisfaction, ‘It turns out, none. But that’s the point.’ That indeed was the point. The principled legal arguments were a fig leaf. The real reason for the Geneva decision, as Feith now made explicit, was the desire to interrogate these detainees with as few constraints as possible.” Reflecting on that time, Feith says with obvious relish, “This year I was really a player.” Sands asks Feith if he ever worried that the Geneva decision might have eroded the US’s moral authority. Feith’s response is blunt: “The problem with moral authority [is] people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the _ssholes, to put it crudely.” (Sands 5/2008)
Law professor Phillippe Sands begins a series of interviews with the former staff judge advocate for the US Army in Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver. She is the author of a legal analysis that was used by the Bush administration to justify its extreme interrogation techniques (see October 11, 2002). Sands describes her as “coiled up—mistreated, hung out to dry.” She is unhappy with the way the administration used her analysis, and notes that she was guided in her work at Guantanamo by personnel from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. She believes that some of the interrogation techniques were “reverse-engineered” from a training program called SERE—Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape—though administration officials have denied this. Several Guantanamo personnel were sent to Fort Bragg, SERE’s home, for a briefing on the program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, Mid-April 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, July 2002, July 2002, July 2002, and August 1, 2002). Military training was not the only source of inspiration. Fox’s television drama 24 came to a conclusion in the spring of 2002, Beaver recalls. One of the overriding messages of that show is that torture works. “We saw it on cable,” Beaver remembers. “People had already seen the first series. It was hugely popular.” The story’s hero, Jack Bauer, had many friends at Guantanamo, Beaver adds. “He gave people lots of ideas.” She recalls in graphic terms how excited many of the male personnel became when extreme interrogation methods were discussed. “You could almost see their d_cks getting hard as they got new ideas,” she will say. “And I said to myself, You know what? I don’t have a d_ck to get hard—I can stay detached.” The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service refused to become involved in aggressive interrogations, she says (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and December 17, 2002). (Sands 5/2008)
Former Bush defense official Douglas Feith claims he had nothing to do with the Bush administration’s torture policies. Feith makes his remarks in response to a recent announcement that a Spanish court would consider filing criminal charges against him and five other former Bush officials “over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo.” Appearing on Fox News, Feith says he never approved any torture policies: “I’m being criticized for a position that I never advocated. And so the facts are just wrong.” Feith says he merely gave President Bush “advice” and had no role in “directing” torture policy: “But there’s also a broader point of principle here, which is what the Spanish authorities are considering doing is indicting people, former US government officials for giving advice to the president. And the idea that a foreign official can disagree with advice given to the president, they’re not talking about action. And they’re not even talking about directing people to take action. They’re talking about people who were advising the president on policy and legal questions. This is an effort to intimidate US government officials.” (Khanna 3/31/2009) But Feith has bragged before of his influence on Bush administration torture policies, telling British author and law professor Phillippe Sands that he played a key role in ensuring that Geneva Convention policies did not apply to detainees (see Early 2006).
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