Déjà vu on Interrogation “Reform”: McCain/Feinstein Amendment Won’t Stop Torture
“There’s truth that lives and truth that dies…” – Leonard Cohen
In a bizarre mixture of the sincere and the insincere, an amendment proposed by a bipartisan group of senators to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is being touted as all but ending torture by the U.S. — if it passes.
According to an article in The Intercept, “Human rights and transparency organizations are applauding the effort.” But is there really anything here to celebrate?
If you read The Intercept article all the way to the end, there’s mention that a group of medical experts found the Army Field Manual “permits techniques that are ‘recognized under international law as forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.’” So why is there applause?
Mark Fallon, the former deputy commander of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo, and currently Chair of the Research Committee of President Obama’s inter-departmental High-value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), told Jason Leopold at Vice News the amendment “mandates and advocates the use of science and evidence-based research so we can be more effective during interrogations.” Furthermore, there would be “a review of the Army Field Manual [AFM] to ensure we are only using best and lawful techniques” during interrogation.
Constitutional scholar David Cole writes at the Just Security website that he supports the amendment, which is jointly sponsored by Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Reed and Susan Collins. Cole adds that others support it, too, including “David Keene, former President of the National Rifle Association and editorial page editor of the Washington Times…”
Newsweek posted an article by Rupert Stone this week, titled “Beyond Torture: The New Science of Interrogating Terrorists,” which includes a long discussion of the importance of putting interrogation on a science-centered base.
Stone’s article goes into more detail than others about problems concerning “the current version of the Army Field Manual [which] still offers a back door to some of the brutal tactics authorized after 9/11.” Stone is of course talking about Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, which allows theoretically indefinitely extended amounts of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation upon so-called “unlawful enemy combatants.” The interrogation methods of Appendix M are so severe, they require at times physician and/or psychologist in attendance to implement (shades of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program!).
But problems with the Army Field Manual do not start or end with Appendix M. The main section of the manual includes coercive methods of interrogation, including psychological techniques to induce fear, to tear down the ego and self-esteem of prisoners, to tear down their resistance to interrogation by inducing “hopelessness and helplessness,” and allowing use of drugs on prisoners, so long as the drugs don’t cause “lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.”
But Fallon and others, like veteran interrogator and Col. (ret.) Steven Kleinman, believe that the review mandated by the amendment will take care of the problems sometime in the future. Meanwhile, they urge passage of the amendment now. Kleinman told Newsweek, “Passing strongly worded legislation that would stand as a bulwark against torture… is the single most important step we must take.” (Both Fallon and Kleinman have impeccable anti-torture credentials.)
According to The Hill, this view is echoed by Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First, who said of the senators’ amendment, “This is how a strong democracy deals with its mistakes — we examine what we did, and take the necessary steps to make it right.”
Meanwhile, in my email box, I have a plea from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The mailing promises the “introduced legislation… could permanently end CIA torture.” It asks I call my senators now, even as a group of seven human rights and civil liberties organizations, have released a statement, including ACLU and Physicians for Human Rights, supporting the amendment.
The entire campaign around the whole Feinstein-McCain amendment has an unreal quality. It arose all of a sudden. There’s no real period of public discussion about it. The interpretation of the amendment itself is via sanitized sources we are supposed to trust. It’s presented as a slam dunk issue for those who oppose torture. You’d have to be an ingrate to oppose such a good thing.
“Pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday”
Where have I heard this all before? When the current Army Field Manual was released in September 2006, there was the same near-universal acclaim, the same pious intonations by human rights groups, the same spate of articles in the mainstream press. But nine years later — though many news outlets still downplay or simply eliminate reference to it — we know the 2006 version of the Army Field Manual contained forms of ill-treatment that the UN, reviewing torture policies by the United States, recently condemned.
I analyzed the PR campaign to sell the current version of the Army Field Manual in an article at Alternet in 2009. I pointed out how when the Army Field Manual was released in 2006, we had the same gushing praise and platitudes from the press.
The Washington Post bragged that the then-new Army Field Manual “repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”
Human rights groups chimed in. As reported by the Post, Tom Malinowski, then Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (but previously a Senior Director of the Clinton White House National Security Council), stated, “This is the Pentagon coming full circle… This is very strong guidance.”
Recently, Malinowski was tapped by the Obama administration to answer the United Nations in their questions about ill-treatment in Appendix M. In 2007, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he praised the AFM for using using “professional, humane interrogation methods.”
Over and over I read how the Army Field Manual had “safeguards,” “oversight,” was a big “step-forward.” Amnesty International’s advocacy director called the AFM “an important return to the rule of law…. It is an important public statement.”
But it was no such thing.
Similar misrepresentations take place today. In Cole’s piece at Just Security, for instance, he claims that the Office of Legal Counsel memos authorizing torture memos, “written between 2002 and 2007, have all been rescinded and rejected.”
But that’s not true. One of them was not, and tellingly, it was the one dealing with the Army Field Manual and Appendix M.
“You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is”
Let’s examine the text of the Feinstein-McCain amendment (download PDF) and see if the promises of its supporters holds any water.
“An individual… shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3”
Okay. We see that the existing Army Field Manual, including use of techniques and “approaches” such as “Fear Up,” “Futility,” “Ego Down”, “False Flag” and “Separation” will continue to be the law of the land. The “Separation” or Appendix M approach is really an omnibus set of abusive techniques that includes use of solitary confinement, sleep and sensory deprivation, and environmental or dietary manipulation.
I asked via FOIA for DoD to produce examples of requests to use Appendix M, as is described by the Army Field Manual. DoD said it could not find any documents pertaining to that. So much for transparency and safeguards.
For 14 months I have had an outstanding FOIA requesting materials related to review of Appendix M by the Office of Secretary of Defense. I asked because the Army Field Manual itself states, “The Office of the Secretary of Defense will review these activities periodically in accordance with DOD Directive 3115.09.” That FOIA is still pending. But if the partisans of the Feinstein-McCain amendment believe that DoD or the government will do any better in producing oversight material upon request to the public or press, I have a fine bridge in Brooklyn to sell them.
The Feinstein-McCain amendment states that “a thorough review” of the AFM is to be conducted at least one year after the enactment of the Authorization Act, and then every subsequent three years “to ensure that Army Field Manual 2-22.3 complies with the legal obligations of the United States and reflects current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use of threat of force.”
The “thorough review” is to be conducted by “the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Attorney General, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of National Intelligence.” In other words, the Executive Branch is to have total control over assessments of compliance of Army Field Manual practice with so-called “evidence-based, best practices for interrogation.” What that really means is that there will be no “checks and balances” oversight here.
The model for such review would be DoD’s 2009 Review of Department Compliance with President’s Executive Order on Detainee Conditions of Confinement (PDF), which produced a wildly unrealistic picture of Guantanamo as consistent with Geneva norms of humane treatment. At the time there were continuing hunger strikes, as prisoners were savagely beaten by teams of guards. By June 2009, yet another detainee was found dead in a cell in the GTMO Behavioral Health Unit, where prisoners were observed every three minutes, supposedly dead by his own hand, having been driven insane by what the autopsy report called “conditions of confinement.”
The highly-regarded researcher of the Guantanamo camp, Andy Worthington, called the 2009 review “a bitter joke.” There’s no reason not to expect the same from the Feinstein-McCain Amendment’s proposed AFM reviews.
Interestingly, however, it’s worth noting that the the Central Intelligence Agency appears to be frozen out of the proposed review process.
“People writing songs that voices never share”
“Not less than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the interagency body established… shall submit to the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, and other appropriate officials [could this be the CIA?] a report on current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force…. The report required… may include recommendations for revisions to Army Field Manual 2-22.3 based on the body of research commissioned by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.”
While HIG experts like Fallon and Kleinman may take umbrage in such verbiage — indeed, it’s flattering to see your own research touted as something of governmental importance — there is nothing mandated in this language, at least as regards any updating or change in techniques or approaches in the Army Field Manual.
“The report… may include recommendations,” and nothing is said about any recommendations being enforced. Indeed, we already have public members of the HIG on record as being against some of the abuse in the Army Field Manual, and still nothing changes.
One of those associated, Col. Kleinman, was on record as recently as 2011 as stating in an article, “The Obama Administration has made a good-faith attempt to bring standards to American interrogation practices by issuing an Executive Order that extended the relevant U.S. Army Field Manual’s directives to all government-wide interrogation efforts.” That “good-faith attempt” included making via Executive Order Appendix M the law of the land.
Kleinman is on-record as criticizing the current AFM as being unscientific. He wrote a paper that supposedly elaborates on that with another current HIG official, psychologist Susan Brandon, and two other researchers. But according to Stone’s Newsweek article, the 2010 review of AFM techniques was not publicly released for fear it “could have jeopardized the HIG’s relationship with the military.” If releasing a critical article is too dicey for critics of DoD’s Army Field Manual, what can one expect from any future reviews led by the Secretary of Defense?
Meanwhile, Brandon is under a cloud of controversy recently for her participation in activities with the American Psychological Association in regards to allegedly facilitating torture.
Brandon helped organize a workshop with the APA, CIA and Rand Corporation back in 2003 that looked at, among other things, “what pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior,” and “sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors.” One of her workshop discussion questions asked, “How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?”
In 2005, Brandon was an “observer” at an APA meeting that met to consider ongoing use of psychologists in national security investigations. She reportedly helped write the part of the report from the meeting that spoke to issues bearing on national security research, just the sort of research, it seems, that the HIG is either doing or proposing when it comes to interrogations. One of those research projects on “false confessions,” as recently reported at Bloomberg, left some participants “angry,” and one woman who “dissolves into tears.”
Hence, there are ethical questions about the kinds of research being done, what can be accomplished in such research, and the fact that even if some kind of “evidence-based” interrogation protocols that don’t involve “force” are suggested by research and then DoD-led review, there’s no mandate or promise in the new legislation that it will ever be implemented.
Indeed, there is nothing in the new legislation that calls for the removal of Appendix M.
“Into the night, shadows fall”
A most interesting section of the amendment, unique in its hypocrisy and unstated cover for torture, concerns the FBI and other Federal law enforcement agencies:
“Nothing in this subsection shall preclude an officer, employee, or other agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other Federal law enforcement agency from continuing to use authorized, non-coercive techniques of interrogation that are designed to elicit voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force, threats, or promises.”
Anyone familiar with the work of the FBI, or other Federal agencies will find this presentation of “non-coercive” agents never threatening suspects something of a fairy tale.
A few years ago, I reported the case of Petty Officer Daniel King, who the Naval Criminal Investigative Service coerced into a false confession of treason, and with the assistance of a Navy psychologist, drove to such a degree of desperation he tried to kill himself. (See here and here.)
But the FBI probably has a lot more charges of abuse than most other Federal law enforcement agencies. None of these charges have been bigger than those surrounding the massive FBI investigation into the July 2010 World Cup bombings in Kampala, Uganda.
The FBI interrogated a number of prisoners from Kenya and other East African countries who were renditioned to Uganda. It was the largest foreign FBI investigation since the USS Cole attack in 2000. A 2011 report by Ian Cobain at The Guardian detailed accusations of abuse by FBI agents involved in the investigation.
A more recent case of FBI malfeasance and complicity in torture is the case of Yonas Fikre, a 36-year-old Eritrean-born American who charges the FBI had pressured him to collaborate with them, and when placing him on a no-fly list failed, had him “arrested, interrogated and tortured for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates,” according to a report in The Guardian.
The issue of FBI torture deserves a lot more public examination, and in a subsequent article I plan to go into much more detail on the World Cup bombing case.
“Always something happening and nothing going on”
The issue of torture by proxy or liaison-country cover is also important, and was a major factor in the scandal surrounding extraordinary rendition, where CIA and DoD prisoners were turned over to U.S.-friendly intelligence agencies in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and other nations, where they were terribly tortured.
More recently, there are similar charges surrounding the World Cup bombing case, but better reported in the U.S. was Jeremy Scahill’s 2011 report at The Nation concerning CIA-run black sites in Somalia. Ostensibly under the control of Somalia’s National Security Agency, the sites were used to train Somali intelligence agents, while CIA interrogators are given direct access to prisoners held in the Somali secret detention sites.
In fact, as a recent FOIA release of a 1963 CIA interrogation manual shows, use of “liaison” or “host’ countries as cover for torture is very old practice, honed during the Cold War.
It is a fact that the CIA chief of interrogations in the early years of its post-9/11 rendition and torture program was previously known (and supposedly chastised) for using a 1983 torture instruction manual — “Human Resource Exploitation” — the U.S. had distributed to Latin American police and intelligence forces for the purposes of instruction in torture. Nothing could better illustrate how the use of proxy or “host” countries for torture is on a continuum with the worst of the CIA’s torture program.
But it is not the CIA or FBI alone who act this way. During the U.S.-instigated Iraq War, the Department of Defense notoriously issued a “Fragmentary Order” (FRAGO 242) that had U.S. armed forces turn prisoners over to Iraq security forces, even though they knew they would be tortured. In many cases, the Iraq security forces themselves had been trained by the U.S.
Nothing in the Feinstein-McCain amendment speaks to this long-practiced method of torture by proxy used by U.S. intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies.
“Everybody knows the deal is rotten”
It is highly unlikely that most Americans will hear anything negative about the Feinstein-McCain Amendment, except perhaps from right-wing types who lust for the good old days of CIA’s “enhanced” torture brutality. But for the record, this amendment does nothing to stop torture.
Despite all the caveats and evidence I’ve gathered here, the truth is almost none of it will reach the ears or eyes of American citizens. But then, only the simulacrum of a reasonable debate on this policy is expected. The Establishment of respectable citizens, who make up human rights organizations and government-academic merry-go-round that employs them, has already spoken. The consensus has already been drawn.
But that doesn’t mean the amendment is worth a damn. While no one is held accountable for disgusting and barbaric forms of torture, from driving people insane with music and bright lights, to holding them in solitary for years, to waterboarding or water immersion, to injecting blood thinner drugs into them so they can be forced to maintain body positions for hours on end, and much more worse (“rectal feedings”? no, anal rape)… while no one is held accountable for this, an anemic and mostly window-dressing reform is dressed up as something significant and sold by hucksters. Backing them are those sincerely anti-torture individuals and groups who still trust the usual authorities to do the right thing.
But none of that can hide what this amendment is: fraud, trickery, deception, the most meretricious sort of sham. The fact that some of those supporting the amendment are sincere and good individuals doesn’t change a thing.