CommunityMy FDL

Could Durham’s CIA “Investigation” Lead to Understanding Migration of Torture Techniques?

photo: takomabibelot via Flickr

With the news that John Durham has decided to finally open criminal, and not just “preliminary,” investigations into the deaths of two prisoners held by the CIA (apparently Manadel al-Jamadi and Gul Rahman) the CIA can now “exhale,” as Spencer Ackerman describes it. The CIA’s sigh of release is related to the fact that of at least 101 cases of CIA abuse only two might be prosecuted. Spencer quotes outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta:


“On this, my last day as Director, I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us,” Panetta wrote to the CIA staff on Thursday. “We are now finally about to close this chapter of our Agency’s history.”

Ackerman also quoted the new CIA director, General David Petraeus: “During his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Petraeus issued a public plea to take the ‘rear view mirrors off the bus’ and drop any inquiries into CIA torture. He also suggested that the CIA might return to abusive interrogations in “special cases” of imminent danger…”

Petraeus was approved for his new CIA position on a unanimous Senate vote. No one in Congress bothered to ask about his affiliation with former “Salvador option” specialist James Steele, or his activities in relation to the training of Iraq security forces, at the same time as U.S. forces were given a “fragmentary order” (FRAGO 242) which told U.S. forces not to interfere with the torture of prisoners they were handing over to these same Iraqi security forces. FRAGO 242 was a direct contravention of U.S. treaty obligations under the Convention Against Torture not to turn prisoners over to forces that would likely torture them.

But this is America, and it appears most of the reporting class, both mainstream and of the more alternative, “blogging” sort, have taken to heart the no-accountability plea of the Obama administration, and never bothered to ask why Petraeus was given such a free ride re questions about torture and other abuse under his command noted above, or his association with the operations of terror groups like the Wolf Brigade. (I plan to write more about this later.)

Comparing the 2002 OLC Memos with Later CIA Iterations of its “Techniques”

But not everyone is letting things slide. Marcy Wheeler is taking a closer look at the new information that we can glean from the Durham investigations. One thing she notes, which she has covered before, is how the techniques used on Rahman were never approved by the Yoo/Bybee memos. The water dousing and exposure to extreme cold were techniques noted in a 2004 letter written by the CIA General Counsel to the OLC’s Jack Goldsmith, a follow-up request concerning the CIA’s “Legal Principles Applicable to CIA Detention and Interrogation of Al-Qa’ida Personnel,” otherwise known as the Bullet Points memo, and the earlier OLC memos . But did someone vet some of these techniques, at another time and place, for a different agency… at DoD perhaps?

I think it’s worth noting that the Bullet points memo cited 17 techniques (it’s really 16, though) the CIA relied upon, and it would be worth comparing those techniques in general with the ten approved torture techniques in the 2002 Yoo/Bybee memo.

Yoo/Bybee, 2002:
1. Attention grasp
2. Walling
3. Facial hold
4. Facial slap (insult slap)
5. cramped confinement
6. wall standing
7. stress positions
8. sleep deprivation
9. insects placed in a confinement box (really, the use of phobias)
10. the waterboard

— I’d note, as I have before, that some of these techniques were really omnibus in nature, particularly “sleep deprivation”, which included within its definition (from the Bradbury 2005 memo, which avers, however, to how “sleep deprivation” was already being used), “sleep deprivation, forced sleep deficit was combined, as we can see, with shackling, forced positions and forced standing, humiliation, manipulation of diet, sensory overload, and possibly other torture procedures.” (quote is from my article)

Now, let’s look at the Bullet Point document (4/28/2003), written (PDF) it appears by John Yoo and Jennifer Koester, with duplicated items from August 2002 asterisked; all others are “new” and presumably unapproved (though more on that in a moment).

1. Isolation
2. Sleep deprivation*
3. “reduced caloric intake (so long as the amount is calculated to maintain the general health of the detainee)”
4. deprivation of reading material
5. “loud music or white noise (at a decibel level calculated to avoid damage to the detainee’s hearing)”
6. the attention grasp*
7. walling*
8. the facial hold*
9. the facial slap (insult slap)*
10. the abdominal slap
11. cramped confinement*
12. wall standing*
13. stress positions*
14. sleep deprivation [this is a duplication in the list of #2, but is listed twice in the bullet point list, so is included here]
15. the use of diapers
16. the use of harmless insects* [though changed from the more precise use of insects in a confinement box from Yoo/Bybee 2002]
17. the waterboard*

On March 2, 2004, as Marcy Wheeler has noted, “CIA General Counsel Scott Muller [wrote] to Jack Goldsmith asking for reaffirmation of several legal documents, including [the] Legal Principles document, released with redactions”. (PDF to Muller’s letter)

Muller added some new techniques to the Bullet Points document, including pouring, flicking, or tossing of water (“water PFT) and “water dousing” (using water from a bucket or water hose). “Both water PFT and water dousing are used as part of the SERE training provided to US military personnel,” Muller wrote, noting later in his letter, “there are virtually no health or safety concerns with water PFT as part of an approved interrogation plan.”

Muller explains, too, that “[a] medical officer is present to monitor the detainee’s physical condition during the water dousing session(s), including any indications of hypothermia. Upon completion of the water dousing session(s), the detainee is moved to another room, monitored as needed by a medical officer to guard against hypothermia, and steps are taken to ensure the detainee is capable of generating necessary body heat and maintain normal body functions.”

These explanations about safeguards, written over a year after Rahman’s death, appear to be a cover for Rahman’s death, as evidently there were no safeguards used there. Or perhaps, Rahman was an experimental case, much as Zubaydah was when it came to other torture techniques (“walling” and waterboarding, for instance).

Gul Rahman died of hypothermia (and likely other torture) on November 20, 2002, shackled after a session of water dousing in a cold room in the CIA’s infamous Salt Pit prison. Was there a medical monitor present? We have reason to believe that CIA doctors were at all the black sites, so what were they doing on November 20, 2002?

CIA and DoD Techniques Compared

As we have seen, by April 2004, the number of CIA known techniques have escalated to 18 (or 19, given the replication of “sleep deprivation” in the original list, which is, as I will suggest below, a typo, as most likely the second mention of sleep deprivation is really meant to be “sleep adjustment”).

Finally, I think it’s worth looking at the techniques approved for DoD by Rumsfeld on April 16, 2003, after the infamous “Working Group” review. I’m not going to list them all. They were divided into categories of severity. One of the techniques that led to the Working Group review was “Exposure to cold weather or water (with appropriate medical monitoring”) in Jerald Phifer’s October 11, 2002 memo to the Commander of Guantanamo’s Joint Task Force 170 .

The DoD techniques, approved around the same time as the CIA’s Bullet Point list, included (the list below is not definitive, but meant to compare/contrast with those above):

1.  “Incentive/Removal of Incentive: Providing a reward or removing a privilege. ‘above and beyond those that are required by the Geneva Convention, from detainees. [Sounds very much like “deprivation of reading material” in the Bullet Point document, though could be more related to sensory deprivation]
2. “Fear Up Harsh: Significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee.”
3. “Pride and Ego Down: Attacking or insulting the ego of a detainee, not beyond the limits that would apply to a POW.”
4. “Futility: Invoking the feeling of futility of a detainee.”
5. “Mutt and Jeff: A team consisting of a friendly and harsh interrogator. The harsh interrogator might employ the Pride and Ego Down technique. [Caution: Other nations that believe that POW protections apply to detainees may view this technique as inconsistent with Geneva IIt, Article 13…]”
6. “Dietary manipulation: Changing the diet of a detainee; no intended deprivation of food or water; no adverse medical or cultural effect and without intent to deprive subject of food or water…” [bold emphasis added]
7. Environmental manipulation, including “adjusting temperature”
8. Sleep Adjustment, refers to shifting hours of sleep, i.e., playing around with circadian rhythms, “NOT sleep deprivation” [this may account for the confusion in the Bullet Points document, which appears to draw on approvals made for DoD, whatever the nature of those approvals).
9. False Flag
10. Isolation [which includes a host of caveats, including possible violations of Geneva III, Articles 13, 14, 34 and 126]

Savvy readers will remember that this was a ratcheting down of earlier DoD-approved techniques (Dec. 2002), that also included deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, stress positions, inducing stress by manipulation of detainee’s fears (IPCRESS for those who remember that book/movie), 20 hr. interrogations, and hooding, among others.

It appears, from a pursuit of how the torture techniques migrated, that there was a good deal of synergy going on between DoD, CIA, and likely Special Forces. I’d point out that in the Muller letter to Goldsmith, there are some redactions, one of them concerns a redacted technique, one that is associated with SERE.

Like other approved interrogation techniques, [approximately sixteen character spaces redacted] is used as part of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training provided to US personnel.

The implication is that some other SERE technique was approved and the technique is being ported over from DoD. I believe the redacted technique could be “exposure to cold”, which would fit the redacted area, and speaks to a technique otherwise unremarked in the Bullet Points document, but which was obviously used by CIA, as it was by DoD (under the rubric “environmental manipulation”).

It’s additionally worth noting there were psychologists and psychiatrists around who moved between all these agencies. Some techniques were apparently never written down or approved, but certainly used, particularly those that played on sexual humiliation or other cultural or religious sensitivities and vulnerabilities.

Factoring in the Experiments Angle

It would be a mistake to think that the documents will provide a full story of what occurred. This is especially true when it comes to considering what kinds of experimentation were actually being conducted on the detainees. Jason Leopold and I have written about the unprecedented use of the antimalarial mefloquine on all incoming detainees (see here, here, and here).

Another possible experiment may have surrounded the use of dietary manipulation, and the Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research’s study on The Guantanamo Diet noted, “The detainees’ weight varies so wildly that many have been obese briefly and underweight and malnourished at other times…. Professor Denbeaux concluded, “The most compelling question is how can the detainees’ weight swing from obese to under nourished when the medical staff is in complete control of all food intake.”

I’m looking into the latter issue, but will note that dietary manipulation, which shows up in the Bullet Point document as “reduced caloric intake”, as well as DoD docs,  is allowed so far as I can perceive in the current Army Field Manual (FM 2-22.3). The latter states “Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care” is “prohibited,” but I think, as in the caveat on dietary manipulation above, re the detainee’s “general health” that there is a lot of room for leeway, i.e., what is considered “necessary”? Note the use of the word “intended” as regards “dietary manipulation” in the April 2003 list of DoD “techniques.”

The list of AFM prohibited techniques is followed immediately by the following statement: “While using legitimate interrogation techniques, certain applications of approaches and techniques may approach the line between permissible actions and prohibited actions. It may often be difficult to determine where permissible actions end and prohibited actions begin.”

No kidding.

Previous post

Will Cyrus Vance Turn His Head & Walk Away From DSK?

Next post

Justice Mistakes Microphone For Slender Defenseless Woman's Neck

Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco, where he works with adults and couples in psychotherapy. He worked over 10 years professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus. He has published previously at Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record.