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Sgt. Joshua Claus, Racist Rape Threats, & Supposed Rapport Techniques of Interrogation

This is posted under a different title at Daily Kos and Invictus

(See note on Rachel Maddow’s claims about the use of the "Fear Up" interrogation technique at end of this article)

It is difficult to write about this outrage without descending into mere shouts of anger about the perfidy of the Obama administration and the Pentagon’s insults against justice and the first amendment. The outrageous attempts by Obama and his military subordinates to legitimate a kangaroo court aka military commissions is similar to the actions of the previously hated Bush/Cheney regime.

The first of Obama’s trials is of the former child soldier, Omar Khadr, captured after a U.S. raid on his family’s compound, and then interrogated from his hospital bed, where he was laying seriously wounded from being shot in the back and in his shoulder. His first interrogator was the notorious Sgt. Joshua Claus, later implicated and briefly imprisoned for his role in the death of the prisoner Dilawar at Bagram Prison.

The journalists who dared report Claus’s name in their reports from Guantanamo — even though Claus’ name had been reported in a number of published media over the years — were banned by the Pentagon from all further Guantanamo hearings, since Barack Obama’s Pentagon decided that now they would make Claus’s name classified. This move to erase the past and make illegal what was formerly public domain is the worst sort of dictatorial action, and typical of tyrannies around the world. If allowed to stand, it is an evil harbinger of what we can expect of this and future administrations.

The reporters banned are Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald/McClatchy; Steven Edwards of Canwest, Paul Koring of the Globe & Mail, and Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star. Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent has posted the DoD letter to the reporters. Meanwhile, other great articles reporting on the affair have been written by Scott Horton, Marcy Wheeler, Jim White, and Dan Froomkin.

To demonstrate the totally arbitrary and unfair aspect of the ban, the announcement of the ban on reporting Claus’s identity was made nearly 24 hours after the article noting Claus’s name was published. The subsequent banning of the reporters can only be understood as a deliberate and manufactured attack against the press for reporting the travesty of these military commissions. The entire affair is described in a report for McClatchy last Thursday by Nancy Youssef.

Claus, Racist Rape Threats, and Supposed Rapport Techniques of Interrogation

In the reports of Claus’s interrogation of Omar Khadr, we read the following, from Spencer Ackerman’s reporting ("Interrogator #1" was Sgt. Joshua Claus, Khadr’s primary interrogator at Bagram):

Interrogator #1 would tell the detainee, “I know you’re lying about something.” And so, for an instruction about the consequences of lying, Khadr learned that lying “not so seriously” wouldn’t land him in a place like “Cuba” — meaning, presumably, Guantanamo Bay — but in an American prison instead. And this one time, a “poor little 20-year-old kid” sent from Afghanistan ended up in an American prison for lying to an American. “A bunch of big black guys and big Nazis noticed the little Afghan didn’t speak their language, and prayed five times a day — he’s Muslim,” Interrogator #1 said. Although the fictitious inmates were criminals, “they’re still patriotic,” and the guards “can’t be everywhere at once.”

“So this one unfortunate time, he’s in the shower by himself, and these four big black guys show up — and it’s terrible something would happen — but they caught him in the shower and raped him. And it’s terrible that these things happen, the kid got hurt and ended up dying,” Interrogator #1 said. “It’s all a fictitious story.”

Besides the incredibly racist threats about "big black guys", this was also an implicit death threat, since the case presented to Khadr ends in the prisoner’s horrific death. On the stand, Claus said all he wanted was to create a "symbiotic relationship" with the young prisoner.

But Joshua Claus is not someone who would come up with the idea of forming a “symbiotic relationship” with his prisoner, and even less likely to have made such a conceptual leap at age 21.

In fact, the use of terms like "symbiotic relationship" is closely associated with the formation of a highly dependent relationship, similar to the Stockholm Syndrome, i.e., attempting to create a relationship of close psychological allegiance, in order to exploit [their terminology] the prisoner for information or other purposes. It is an orthodox strategy employed by the intelligence services, and is often the reality behind the polite mask of creating a “rapport” with the prisoner.

For those who might remember, fostering of a Stockholm syndrome in a prisoner was a primary attribute of the alternate CITF interrogation plan for Al Qahtani in Guantanamo. (Michael Gelles of NCIS is briefly noted as speaking of this in the SASC report.) I wrote about this kind of interrogation motive in an article at Firedoglake December.

Ironically, the focus on Claus and First amendment rights, and the outrageousness of administration censorship pulls us away from considering who was conducting policies for government detention and interrogation/torture policies to begin with. The “court” (a word in the instance of the Guantanamo Military Commissions one can only say aloud with gall and vomit in one’s mouth) is duly constituted to do one thing: legitimate the invasions and actions of the U.S. government, including its prisoner and torture policies.

If the lions of the press should happen to read this, then consider this: if you had a semblance of integrity, you would assemble a boycott of the next White House briefing in protest of how your colleagues were unfairly treated.

For more on the Omar Khadr story and the military commissions trial, see "Prosecuting a Tortured Child: Obama’s Guantanamo Legacy" by Andy Worthington, posted at the Future of Freedom Foundation website.

NOTE on use of "Fear Up": The interrogation technique known as "Fear Up" has been a feature of the military’s approved techniques described in the Army Field Manual for almost two decades now, at least. See a discussion of the use of this technique, and it’s dangers within this article. The core of that discussion can be summarized from a quote. Rachel Maddow, please take notice, the use of "Fear Up" was not something recently dreamed up, nor a creation of the Bush administration:

In the last version of the AFM (FM 34-52), published in 1992, the use of fear-based techniques was divided into Fear Up Harsh and Fear Up Mild, with a strong warning issued that the use of Fear Up "has the greatest potential to violate the law of war." In the contemporary version of the AFM, the division of the technique into harsh and mild categories is abandoned, while the cautionary language is weakened.

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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.