Dianne FeinsteinDear Senator Feinstein,

I read your January 30 letter in the New York Times critical of an op-ed article by former Army interrogator Matthew Alexander in the 21 January issue of the Times. Alexander’s article, “Torture’s Loopholes“, labeled certain interrogation techniques allowed in the current version of the Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collection (AFM) as “actions that no right-thinking person could consider humane.” In particular, Mr. Alexander noted that the Army Field Manual allows, in its Appendix M, for unlimited solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and “monstering”, a form of extended interrogations lasting up to 40 straight hours.

In your letter, you disagreed with this assessment, indicating that the manual used “noncoercive, rapport-based techniques to get detainees to talk.” You wrote:

The Army Field Manual remains the best standard for conducting interrogations. It governs not by prohibiting harsh techniques, but by affirmatively authorizing 19 specific techniques that can be used to elicit information. Anything outside those specific techniques — including use of stress positions — is, by omission, unauthorized.

However,  in your letter you also recognized the use of an “alternative technique of ‘separation’ [that] allows harsher treatment than the rest of the Army Field Manual” (emphasis added). Despite the fact that the administration’s special task force on interrogations approved the use of the AFM without changes last August, you indicate that the administration is working to review the use of the “separation” technique. That’s the first I’ve heard of that, and if true is good news.

But the bulk of your letter to the Times indicates that you support the AFM standard. It also presents a picture of both the manual and the “technique” of separation that has been promoted by the Department of Defense, and in its particulars is untrue.

For instance, the separation “technique” is not a technique at all. As I wrote in an article at AlterNet in January 2009:

Appendix M, titled “Restricted Interrogation Technique — Separation,” misrepresents itself from the very beginning….

What kind of procedures, which the manual avers cannot be used on regular prisoners of war (who are covered by the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War), make up this special interrogation “technique,” separation? In fact, it includes the following: solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, and the likely use of sensory overload, temperature or environmental manipulation, and any number of other techniques permitted elsewhere in the AFM, such as “Emotional Pride Down.” As at Guantanamo and at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, a “multidisciplinary” team implements the program, including a behavioral science consultant (likely a psychologist).

Some of the AFM’s abusive techniques appear outside the offending Appendix M. For instance, the use of the Fear Up technique allows for the identification of “a preexisting fear or creates a fear within the source… [and] then links the elimination or reduction of the fear to cooperation on the part of the source.” The previous version of the AFM, one which was in effect at the time of the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, warned that the use of Fear Up had “the greatest potential to violate the law of war.” That version only allowed for “the exploitation of a source’s pre-existing fear during the period of capture and interrogation.” The Obama administration-approved 2006 version allows for the creation of new fears. This is a psychological manipulation that moves that technique into the area of war crimes.

There were other changes to the current version of the AFM as well. One particularly pernicious modification concerned the use of drugs in interrogations. The instructions now allowed greater latitude for drugs that cause disruption of the senses and temporary psychosis. The Obama administration-approved AFM only prohibits “drugs that may induce lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.” The pre-2006 AFM had specifically prohibited “chemically induced psychosis,” but this language has been dropped in the current AFM.

The changes in the Army Field Manual have been sharply criticized by numerous human rights groups, including Physicians for Human Rights, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, ACLU, The Constitution Project, and others. Even so, the Department of Defense and its supposed “experts” on interrogation have clung to the Bush-era Army Field Manual, and despite your indication otherwise, have demonstrated no inclination to change that policy. Recently, the Public Affairs Office at Guantanamo confirmed that it uses Appendix M techniques in some of its interrogations.

The procedures by which the examination of interrogation techniques by U.S. forces are being evaluated have zero transparency. We do not know what experts are being consulted, nor can we examine their suggestions or critiques. Given the recent history of the widespread use of coercive interrogation techniques throughout both intelligence and Department of Defense centers of operation, and the ongoing use of some of these techniques, the public trust in the processes by which these issues are being examined within government agencies, including the Interrogations Special Task Force, is essentially zero.

We need an open, public investigation of these issues. You indicate that a “highly skilled team to interrogate ‘high-value detainees'” will soon be operational. What would such a team look like? What interrogation techniques will they be allowed to use? What is the process of “review” currently underway in the Obama administration on matters related to the AFM? What has the Senate Intelligence Committee done in relation to these issues?

The use of the AFM goes to the heart of the continuing scandal that surrounds the use of torture by the United States. The AFM allows the use of techniques that violate the Geneva Conventions, U.S. law, and international treaties, such as the Convention Against Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory. Your defense of the Army Field Manual is wrong, or misguided. I hope that you reassess this position as soon as possible. We cannot have the chairperson of a congressional committee that exists in a watchdog capacity upon the intelligence agencies of this country be someone who supports the use of illegal and abusive interrogation techniques by those same agencies.

Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D.
San Francisco, CA

Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist who has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, previously wrote regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter, as well as at The Guardian, Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. He is the author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo, a new book examining declassified files on treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp.