Thursday, April 16, 2009

Memos Detail Interrogation Methods Used By Bush Administration on Terror Suspects

April 16, 2009

Months after Sept. 11, 2001, a top Bush administration lawyer authorized the CIA to use interrogation techniques such as the water board, attention grab, sleep deprivation and cramped confinement, finding that the techniques could be used because there was "no specific intent to inflict severe mental pain or suffering."

Such details emerged today as the Justice Department released pages of legal memos from the Bush administration as a part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the ACLU.

The memos argued that although someone subjected to waterboarding may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the actual technique "does not in our view inflict severe pain or suffering."
"These memos provide yet more incontrovertible evidence that Bush administration officials at the highest level of government authorized and gave legal blessings to acts of torture that violate domestic and international law," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU.

The memos included an August 2002 legal opinion signed by top Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee that provided the specific authorization for waterboarding that the CIA would use against three detainees -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri -- in 2002 and 2003.

The memo, written just after the CIA had captured Zubaydah, noted that he had a fear of insects and advised the CIA that they could place the detainee in a box with an insect but that the CIA must "inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain."

Bybee revealed in the memo that the CIA was concerned because there was a "level of 'chatter' equal to that which preceded the Sept. 11 attacks" and that Zubaydah is "withholding information."

Bybee noted that the CIA wished to move to an "increased pressure phase."
Also released were three memos written in 2005 by Steven G. Bradbury, who served as principal deputy assistant attorney general in Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). These memos were written, in part, to replace the Bybee memo that the administration withdrew out of fear that the legal analysis was not solid.

Memos Deem Waterboarding Legal

However, the so called "Bradbury memos," whose existence was revealed exclusively by the New York Times in 2007, found once again that waterboarding and other techniques were not torture, and therefore legal.

Regarding waterboarding, Bradbury's wrote: "Without in any way minimizing the distress caused by this technique, we believe that the panic brought on by the waterboard during the very limited time it is actually administered, combined with any residual fear that may be experienced over a somewhat longer period, could not be said to amount to the 'prolonged mental harm'" that would cause the technique to cross the legal threshold and become illegal.

Bradbury also addressed the issue of combined techniques: "Although the insult slap, abdominal slap, attention grasp, facial hold, walling, water dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement cannot be employed during the actual session when the waterboard is being employed, they may be used at a point in time close to the waterboard, including the same day."

President Obama wrote a letter today addressed to the "Men and Women of the CIA" and told them that he had not made the decision to release the opinions "lightly," but that he felt, "The release of these memos is required by our commitment to the rule of law."

In his letter, Obama assured the members of the intelligence community that this is a "time for reflection, not retribution" and that those who "acted reasonably and relied upon legal advice from the Department of Justice" would be protected.
"The attorney general has assured me that these individuals will not be prosecuted and that the government will stand by them," the president wrote.

In 2008, Bradbury testified on the Capitol Hill about the still-secret memos and told Congress that he felt the use of waterboarding "subject to strict limitations and safeguards" was not torture.
He also counseled House members that descriptions of waterboarding that had surfaced in the public debate, including references to the Spanish Inquisition, "bear no resemblance to what the CIA did."

At the hearing, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., praised Bradbury.
"Severe interrogations are unpleasant, to be very sure," Franks said. "But Mr. Chairman, they are sometimes necessary to prevent severe consequences that potentially involve the violent deaths of thousands of innocent American citizens."
The CIA says the waterboarding technique was never used after 2003 and that the technique was suspended in 2006.

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) wrote a memo in February 2007 documenting an interview it did with Zubaydah regarding his experience with the technique called "suffocation by water."

In the report, first revealed by the New York Review of Books, Zubaydah said, "I was put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe."
The ICRC determined that the interrogation techniques "either singly or in combination, constituted torture."

Obama Under Pressure to Release Memos

Earlier this month, CIA director Leon Panetta announced that the CIA no longer operates detention facilities to detain terrorism suspects. He added that the CIA no longer employs enhanced interrogation techniques that were authorized by both the Bybee and Bradbury memos.

Attorney General Eric Holder signaled early in his tenure that, contrary to the Bush administration, he considered waterboarding to be torture.
In his confirmation hearing he told senators, "If you look at the history of the use of that technique used by the Khmer Rouge, used in the Inquisition, used by the Japanese and prosecuted by us as war crimes. We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam."

Both the Bush and Obama administrations were under heavy pressure to release the memos since it was first revealed that the OLC, which renders legal opinions to the executive branch, was producing opinions on interrogation procedures.
Administration sources say that the decision to release the documents , with mild redactions, caused controversy with some in the administration who felt that the release might damage national security.

President Obama has resisted calls by some top democrats to open some type of investigation into the Bush administration's conduct during the war on terror. The release of these documents, coupled with the leak a few weeks ago to the New York Review of Books of the ICRC report could reenergize the debate.

History of the Legal Opinions

It was in 2002 that the OLC first began getting requests from the CIA for legal guidance.
The CIA began capturing highly valued detainees such as Al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah in 2002 and was secretly holding them in foreign detention facilities abroad. CIA officers were concerned they didn't have enough guidance on which interrogation techniques would be acceptable.

In August of 2002, Bybee, then head of the OLC, signed the two legal opinions that are widely believed to be written by his deputy, John Yoo. The CIA welcomed the memos, which laid out some legal guidelines.
According to one former top CIA official, "We were desperately waiting for these memos to come out to give us clarity."

George Tenet, former head of the CIA referenced the memos in a book he authored: "Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, in situations like this you don't call in the tough guys; you call in the lawyers. It took until August to get clear guidance on what Agency officers could legally do. Without such legal determinations from the Department of Justice, our officers would have been at risk for future second guessing. "

The first memo laid out the administration's position on torture and a second gave the legal authorization for some interrogation techniques.
When the existence of the first memo was revealed by the Washington Post in June 2004, it's content caused outrage, particularly language that said torture "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

The second memo, with specific guidance on particular techniques, until today had only been released in heavily redacted form.
Both memos were later withdrawn by the Bush administration.
In December 2004, a new acting head at the OLC, Daniel Levin, released the administration's new legal position on torture.
Levin's opinion began: "Torture is abhorrent."

Levin was set to tackle the second memo on the actual techniques, but incoming Attorney General Alberto Gonzales chose a different person to head the OLC, Steven Bradbury.

By May 2005, Bradbury produced at least three more memos that were released today on interrogation procedures.
At the time, Congress was moving toward bolstering the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and the Bradbury memos said that the techniques did not violate that standard.

Today's release comes a day after Richard Armitage, a high-ranking former State Department official in the Bush administration, told Al Jazeera English, that he hoped he "would've had the courage to resign" had he known more about the interrogation of detainees.


CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described
Sources Say Agency's Tactics Lead to Questionable Confessions, Sometimes to Death
Nov. 18, 2005


Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors.

They say they are revealing specific details of the techniques, and their impact on confessions, because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen. All gave their accounts on the condition that their names and identities not be revealed. Portions of their accounts are corrobrated by public statements of former CIA officers and by reports recently published that cite a classified CIA Inspector General's report.

Other portions of their accounts echo the accounts of escaped prisoners from one CIA prison in Afghanistan.

"They would not let you rest, day or night. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Don't sleep. Don't lie on the floor," one prisoner said through a translator. The detainees were also forced to listen to rap artist Eminem's "Slim Shady" album. The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic, sources said.

Contacted after the completion of the ABC News investigation, CIA officials would neither confirm nor deny the accounts. They simply declined to comment.

The CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

"The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.

The techniques are controversial among experienced intelligence agency and military interrogators. Many feel that a confession obtained this way is an unreliable tool. Two experienced officers have told ABC that there is little to be gained by these techniques that could not be more effectively gained by a methodical, careful, psychologically based interrogation. According to a classified report prepared by the CIA Inspector General John Helgerwon and issued in 2004, the techniques "appeared to constitute cruel, and degrading treatment under the (Geneva) convention," the New York Times reported on Nov. 9, 2005.

It is "bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture's bad enough," said former CIA officer Bob Baer.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and a deputy director of the State Department's office of counterterrorism, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets."

One argument in favor of their use: time. In the early days of al Qaeda captures, it was hoped that speeding confessions would result in the development of important operational knowledge in a timely fashion.

However, ABC News was told that at least three CIA officers declined to be trained in the techniques before a cadre of 14 were selected to use them on a dozen top al Qaeda suspects in order to obtain critical information. In at least one instance, ABC News was told that the techniques led to questionable information aimed at pleasing the interrogators and that this information had a significant impact on U.S. actions in Iraq.

According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

"This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear," one source said.

However, sources said, al Libbi does not appear to have sought to intentionally misinform investigators, as at least one account has stated. The distinction in this murky world is nonetheless an important one. Al Libbi sought to please his investigators, not lead them down a false path, two sources with firsthand knowledge of the statements said.

When properly used, the techniques appear to be closely monitored and are signed off on in writing on a case-by-case, technique-by-technique basis, according to highly placed current and former intelligence officers involved in the program. In this way, they say, enhanced interrogations have been authorized for about a dozen high value al Qaeda targets -- Khalid Sheik Mohammed among them. According to the sources, all of these have confessed, none of them has died, and all of them remain incarcerated.

While some media accounts have described the locations where these detainees are located as a string of secret CIA prisons -- a gulag, as it were -- in fact, sources say, there are a very limited number of these locations in use at any time, and most often they consist of a secure building on an existing or former military base. In addition, they say, the prisoners usually are not scattered but travel together to these locations, so that information can be extracted from one and compared with others. Currently, it is believed that one or more former Soviet bloc air bases and military installations are the Eastern European location of the top suspects. Khalid Sheik Mohammed is among the suspects detained there, sources said.

The sources told ABC that the techniques, while progressively aggressive, are not deemed torture, and the debate among intelligence officers as to whether they are effective should not be underestimated. There are many who feel these techniques, properly supervised, are both valid and necessary, the sources said. While harsh, they say, they are not torture and are reserved only for the most important and most difficult prisoners.

According to the sources, when an interrogator wishes to use a particular technique on a prisoner, the policy at the CIA is that each step of the interrogation process must be signed off at the highest level -- by the deputy director for operations for the CIA. A cable must be sent and a reply received each time a progressively harsher technique is used. The described oversight appears tough but critics say it could be tougher. In reality, sources said, there are few known instances when an approval has not been granted. Still, even the toughest critics of the techniques say they are relatively well monitored and limited in use.

Two sources also told ABC that the techniques -- authorized for use by only a handful of trained CIA officers -- have been misapplied in at least one instance.

The sources said that in that case a young, untrained junior officer caused the death of one detainee at a mud fort dubbed the "salt pit" that is used as a prison. They say the death occurred when the prisoner was left to stand naked throughout the harsh Afghanistan night after being doused with cold water. He died, they say, of hypothermia.

According to the sources, a second CIA detainee died in Iraq and a third detainee died following harsh interrogation by Department of Defense personnel and contractors in Iraq. CIA sources said that in the DOD case, the interrogation was harsh, but did not involve the CIA.

The Kabul fort has also been the subject of confusion. Several intelligence sources involved in both the enhanced interrogation program and the program to ship detainees back to their own country for interrogation -- a process described as rendition, say that the number of detainees in each program has been added together to suggest as many as 100 detainees are moved around the world from one secret CIA facility to another. In the rendition program, foreign nationals captured in the conflict zones are shipped back to their own countries on occasion for interrogation and prosecution.

There have been several dozen instances of rendition. There have been a little over a dozen authorized enhanced interrogations. As a result, the enhanced interrogation program has been described as one encompassing 100 or more prisoners. Multiple CIA sources told ABC that it is not. The renditions have also been described as illegal. They are not, our sources said, although they acknowledge the procedures are in an ethical gray area and are at times used for the convenience of extracting information under harsher conditions that the U.S. would allow.

ABC was told that several dozen renditions of this kind have occurred. Jordan is one country recently cited as an "emerging" center for renditions, according to published reports. The ABC sources said that rendition of this sort are legal and should not be confused with illegal "snatches" of targets off the streets of a home country by officers of yet another country. The United States is currently charged with such an illegal rendition in Italy. Israel and at least one European nation have also been accused of such renditions.

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