Profile: Steven Loring
Steven Loring was a participant or observer in the following events:
A new interrogation unit arrives at the Bagram Collection Point (BCP), the improvised interrogation and holding facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The unit is headed by Lieutenant Carolyn Wood (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003), who leads a 13-man unit from the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg, NC. Wood’s unit is augmented by six Arabic-speaking reservists from the Utah National Guard. Many in the group, consolidated under Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, are counterintelligence specialists with no background in interrogation. Only two of the soldiers have ever questioned actual prisoners. The training they receive is ad hoc and minimal. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, will later tell investigators, “There was nothing that prepared us for running an interrogation operation” like the one at Bagram. Nor are the rules of engagement clear. The platoon uses the standard interrogations guide, Section 34-52 of the Army Fleld Manual, and an order from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to treat prisoners “humanely” and, when possible, within the strictures of the Geneva Conventions. But when President Bush determines in February 2002 that the Conventions do not apply to Taliban and al-Qaeda captives (see February 7, 2002), the interrogators decide they “could deviate slightly from the rules,” in the words of Utah reservist Sergeant James Leahy. “There was the Geneva Conventions for enemy prisoners of war, but nothing for terrorists,” Leahy will tell Army investigators. And the detainees, senior intelligence officers say, are to be considered terrorists until proved otherwise. One group of soldiers is later dubbed “the Testosterone Gang”; they decorate their tent with a Confederate flag, spend large amounts of time bodybuilding, and quickly earn a reputation as some of the most brutal of the soldiers at Bagram. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Dilawar. [Source: CBS]Dilawar, an Afghan farmer turned taxi driver who was detained by US troops on December 5 (see December 5-9, 2002), is found dead in his cell at Bagram. Earlier that day, he was taken to the interrogation room for what will be his last interrogation. An interpreter will later describes him with legs uncontrollably jumping and numbed hands; Dilawar had been chained by his wrists to the top of his cell for four days and suffered repeated beatings from guards. He is agitated and confused, crying that his wife is dead and complaining of being beaten by his guards. Interpreter Ali Baryalai will later tell investigators, “We didn’t pursue that.”
Making Sure the Prisoner is Hydrated - Dilawar is interrogated by two MPs, Specialists Glendale Walls and Joshua Claus. Though Walls is the lead interrogator, the more aggressive Claus quickly takes control of the proceedings. “Josh had a rule that the detainee had to look at him, not me,” the interpreter will tell investigators. “He gave him three chances, and then he grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him towards him, across the table, slamming his chest into the table front.” Both Walls and Claus slam Dilawar against the wall when he tries and fails to kneel; he begins to either fall asleep or pass out. Baryalai will later state, “It looked to me like Dilawar was trying to cooperate, but he couldn’t physically perform the tasks.” As Baryalai will later tell investigators, Claus grabs Dilawar, shakes him, and tells him that if he does not cooperate, he will be shipped to a prison in the United States, where he would be “treated like a woman, by the other men” and face the wrath of criminals who “would be very angry with anyone involved in the 9/11 attacks.” Dilawar asks for a drink of water, and Claus responds by taking a large plastic water bottle and, instead of giving Dilawar the water, punching a hole in the bottom of the bottle. As Dilawar fumbles with the bottle, the water pours over his orange prison garb. Claus then snatches the bottle back and begins spraying the water into Dilawar’s face. As Dilawar gags on the spray, Claus shouts: “Come on, drink! Drink!” A third interrogator, Staff Sergeant Christopher Yonushonis, enters the room and, as he will recall, finds a large puddle of water, a soaking wet Dilawar, and Claus standing behind Dilawar, twisting up the back of the hood that covers the prisoner’s head. “I had the impression that Josh was actually holding the detainee upright by pulling on the hood,” Yonushonis will recall. “I was furious at this point because I had seen Josh tighten the hood of another detainee the week before. This behavior seemed completely gratuitous and unrelated to intelligence collection.” When Yonushonis demands an explanation, Claus responds, “We had to make sure he stayed hydrated.”
Dies While Chained to the Ceiling - An interrogator, presumably Yonushonis, promises Dilawar that he can see a doctor after the interrogation session concludes, but Claus tells the guards not to take him to a doctor. Instead, Claus tell the guards to chain him to the ceiling again. “Leave him up,” one of the guards will later quote Claus as saying. Dilawar dies while chained up; hours later, an emergency room doctor sees Dilawar’s body already dead and stiffening. Yonushonis reports the abusive interrogation to his superior officer, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, but Dilawar is already dead.
Autopsy Report: Legs 'Pulpified' - An autopsy will find Dilawar’s death caused by “blunt force injuries to the lower extremities.” At a pre-trial hearing for one of the guards involved in Dilawar’s abuse, a coroner will say the tissue in the prisoner’s legs “had basically been pulpified.” Major Elizabeth Rouse, another coroner and the one who termed Dilawar’s cause of death to be “homicide,” will add, “I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus.” Walls and Claus will both be charged with assault and maltreatment of a prisoner. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Changes Implemented - After Dilawar’s death, the second in a matter of days (see November 30-December 3, 2002), some changes are implemented at Bagram. A medic is assigned to work the night shift. Interrogators are prohibited from physical contact with the detainees. Chaining prisoners to fixed objects is banned, and the use of stress positions is curtailed. Yonushonis will not be interviewed until August 2004, when he contacts an agent of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command on his own initiative to discuss his knowledge of Dilawar’s death. “I expected to be contacted at some point by investigators in this case,” he will say. “I was living a few doors down from the interrogation room, and I had been one of the last to see this detainee alive.” Of the last interrogation, Yonushonis will tell investigators, “I remember being so mad that I had trouble speaking.” He also adds one extra detail: by the time Dilawar was interrogated the final time, “most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent.” [New York Times, 3/4/2003; Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004; New York Times, 5/20/2005]
The New York Times obtains a copy of a classified file of the Army criminal investigation into a number of detainee deaths at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The report focuses on two Afghan detainees, Mullah Habibullah (see October 2004 and November 30-December 3, 2002) and a taxi driver known as Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), both of whom were in essence tortured to death; other detainees are also covered in the report. The Army report follows up on the official inquiry conducted in late 2004 (see October 2004).
Torture to Extract Information, Punish Detainees, and Alleviate Boredom - The Times writes: “Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths. In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.” One female interrogator has what a colleague in a sworn statement calls a taste for humiliation; that interrogator is described as having stood on the neck of one prostrate detainee, and having kicked another detainee in the genitals. Another statement tells of a shackled prisoner being forced to kiss the boots of his interrogators. A third tells of a detainee forced to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water. Overall, the Army report concludes that many of the tactics used by interrogators and guards amounts to criminal assault. Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita says: “What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone’s standard for humane treatment. We’re finding some cases that were not close calls.” Seven soldiers, all interrogators and guards of low rank, have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter; two others received reprimands, and 15 others named in the original report were cited as bearing probable criminal responsibility in the deaths. One of the interrogators charged with assaulting Dilawar, Sergeant Selena Salcedo, says: “The whole situation is unfair. It’s all going to come out when everything is said and done.”
Many Interrogators Redeployed to Iraq; Bagram Tactics Used at Abu Ghraib - The Army criminal investigation was conducted slowly. During the course of the investigation, many of the Bagram interrogators, including their operations officer, Captain Carolyn Wood, were redeployed to Iraq (see Mid-March 2003). Wood took charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison and, according to Army inquiries, began using tactics “remarkably similar” to those employed at Bagram (see July 15, 2003 and (Early August 2003)). She received the Bronze Star for her actions (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003).
Serious Disparities between Investigative Results and Personnel Statements - In the aftermaths of the deaths, military officials made a number of unsupported claims. The deaths of both Dilawar and Habibullah were originally listed as due to natural causes even as military coroners ruled the deaths homicides. The American commander in Afghanistan at the time, Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, said that he had no indication that the deaths were caused by abuses carried out by US soldiers; the methods used in the detainees’ interrogations were, McNeill said, “in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques.”
Poorly Trained Interrogators - The report focuses on one group of poorly trained interrogators from the Army’s 519th Military Intelligence Brigade (see July 2002). After Bush’s decree that terror suspects have no rights under Geneva, the interrogators began pushing the envelope of acceptable interrogation techniques. They began employing “stress positions” that cause pain and suffering but not, presumably, actual injury. They began experimenting with longer and longer periods of sleep deprivation. One of the more popular methods is called in military jargon “Fear Up Harsh,” or as one soldier called it, “the screaming technique.” The technique is based on verbally and physically intimidating detainees, and often degenerates into screaming and throwing furniture. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, sometimes tried to curb his interrogators’ excesses, but, contradictorily, often refused to countenance “soft” interrogation techniques, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. Sergeant James Leahy recalled, “We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren’t our friends and could not be trusted.” One of Loring’s favorites was Specialist Damien Corsetti, nicknamed “Monster,” a tall, bearded interrogator Loring jokingly nicknamed “the King of Torture.” One Saudi detainee told Army investigators that during one session, Corsetti pulled out his penis, shoved it in the Saudi’s face, and threatened to rape him. (The earlier investigation found cause to charge Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner, and indecent acts; no charges were filed. Corsetti was fined and demoted for brutalizing a female prisoner at Abu Ghraib.) By August 2002, the 519th interrogators, joined by a group of reservists from a military police company, were routinely beating their prisoners, and particularly favored the “common peroneal strike,” a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg just above the knee. The MPs later said that they never knew such physical brutality was not part of Army interrogation practices. “That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg,” one of the MPs, Sergeant Thomas Curtis, later told investigators.
'Timmy' - Specialist Jeremy Callaway told investigators of one Afghan prisoner with apparently severe emotional and mental problems. The detainee would eat his own feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. He quickly became a favorite target for some of the MPs, who would repeatedly knee him in the legs and, at least once, chained him with his arms straight up in the air. The MPs nicknamed him “Timmy” after an emotionally disturbed child in the “South Park” animated television show. According to Callaway, one of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character. Eventually, “Timmy” was sent home. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Jeremy Callaway, James Leahy, Dilawar, Daniel K. McNeill, Damien Corsetti, Carolyn A. Wood, Lawrence Di Rita, Mullah Habibullah, New York Times, Steven Loring, US Department of Defense, Selena Salcedo, Thomas Curtis
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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