New York Times Covers Up for “Confused” US Military Torturers
By David Walsh
www.wsws.org, 19 June 2008
That month the office of Defense Department general counsel William Haynes inquired into a program aimed at training American military personnel to resist interrogation if captured, known as Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE). In response, Haynes was sent an extensive list of interrogation methods, ranging from facial slaps to waterboarding, “degradation” and “sensory deprivation.” It was a shopping list, in short, of techniques of physical and psychological torture. A number of these cruel methods were introduced into Guantánamo, and later, US-run prisons in Iraq.
Among the material released Monday are minutes of a meeting on “Counter Resistance Strategy” that took place October 2, 2002 at Guantánamo attended by 10 military and intelligence agency officials. Central to the 70-minute meeting was a discussion of “methods to overcome resistance” by detainees, which rapidly became an exchange of ideas about various methods of physical and psychological torture, their respective effectiveness and how to hide their usage from the International Red Cross and other prying eyes.
In an article published Tuesday, Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane of the New York Times, as the headline of their piece indicates, claim to find that the “Notes Show Confusion on Interrogation Methods.” In the course of their article, the authors make this remarkable assertion, “The minutes of the October 2002 meeting give an extraordinary glimpse of the confusion among government lawyers about both the legal limits and the effectiveness of interrogation methods.”
A reading of the meeting’s entire record suggests, on the contrary, that the officials involved were not the slightest bit “confused.” They fully intended to bend or break the rules on abuse and torture of detainees—that’s why the meeting had been convened; underscoring that fact, the participants were very concerned about avoiding detection and possible legal action.
Only a week earlier, a high-level delegation had paid a visit to Guantánamo, including Haynes; David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney; CIA General Counsel John Rizzo; Michael Chertoff, current secretary of Homeland Security and then assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice, and others.
According to The Consortium Report web site, “In his new book, Torture Team, Philippe Sands writes that the Washington gang came down, in part, to learn how the military was treating a suspect named Mohammed al-Qahtani. ‘They wanted to know what we were doing to get to this guy,’ recalled [Major General Michael] Dunlavey. [Lieutenant Colonel Diane] Beaver said that the message was loud and clear: do ‘whatever needed to be done.’ In Sands’ words, ‘a green light from the very top—from the lawyers for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the CIA.’” The Times article makes no mention of this.
Moreover, there is also a clear connection between the inquiry by Haynes a little over two months earlier and the October 2 meeting, because the latter begins with a presentation by a Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), made up of psychologists who assist in military interrogations, consisting of a Major Burney and Major John Leso, on SERE psychological training.
A discussion ensues about “harsh techniques.” The BSCT report continues: “Psychological stressors are extremely effective (i.e., sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time).”
A “Colonel Cummings” intervenes: “We can’t do sleep deprivation.” Beaver, the top military lawyer at Guantánamo, responds, “Yes, we can—with approval.” Amnesty International classifies sleep deprivation for any prolonged period of time as a form of torture.
Dave Becker of the Defense Intelligence Agency comments:
CIA lawyer John Fredman, the guest of honor, speaks up. “The CIA is not held to the same rules as the military,” he argues. “In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD [Department of Defense] has ‘moved’ them away from the attention of ICRC. Upon questioning from the ICRC about their whereabouts, the DOD’s response has repeatedly been that the detainee merited no status under the Geneva Convention.”
Fredman then launches into a deceitful, self-serving discussion of torture and the laws on torture. “Under the Torture Convention, torture has been prohibited by international law, but the language of the statutes is written vaguely. Severe mental and physical pain is prohibited. The mental part is explained as poorly as the physical. Severe physical pain is described as anything causing permanent damage to major organs or body parts. Mental torture is described as anything leading to permanent, profound damage to the senses or personality. It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”
Fredman goes on:
Beaver comments, “We will need documentation to protect us.”
“Yes,” agrees Fredman, “if someone dies while aggressive techniques are being used, regardless of cause of death, the backlash of attention would be severely detrimental. Everything must be approved and documented.”
Should the sessions be videotaped, the participants wonder out loud? Becker of the DIA says, “Videotapes are subject to too much scrutiny in court.” The CIA’s Fredman agrees: “The videotaping of even totally legal techniques will look ‘ugly.’”
He goes on, sophistically, to assert,
The participants go on to talk about the “wet towel” technique, known more widely as “waterboarding.”
Fredman says, “If a well-trained individual is used to perform this technique it can feel like you’re drowning. The lymphatic system will react as if you’re suffocating, but your body will not cease to function.
It is very effective to identify phobias and use them (i.e., insects, snakes, claustrophobia). The level of resistance is directly related to a person’s experience.”
Major Burney comments,
Beaver raises the subject of creating an “imminent threat of death.” Fredman replies, cold-bloodedly, “The threat of death is also subject to [legal] scrutiny, and should be handled on a case by case basis.”
We go into these details because the Times’ superficial article omits many of them and the authors rely on the fact that most of their readers will not have the opportunity to read the original document.
A memo written three weeks after the October 2 meeting, from the deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force, Mark Fallon, reads: “This looks like the kinds of stuff Congressional hearings are made of.” Fallon notes that Beaver’s comments “give the appearance of impropriety” and that “Other comments ... seem to stretch beyond the bounds of legal propriety.”
Fallon goes on,
A series of military lawyers, rendering their opinions in November 2002, concluded that a number of the measures proposed were prohibited by law. An Air Force lawyer suggests that “Some of these techniques could be construed as ‘torture.’” Another argues that the severest techniques may constitute “criminal conduct.”
Fallon’s chief legal adviser, Sam McCahon, writes:
Taken as a whole, how does this process constitute “confusion” on the part of the officials present at the October 2 meeting, as the New York Times suggests? The Haynes-Rumsfeld-Cheney faction sought out and put in practice, quite consciously and “with malice aforethought,” barbaric techniques of torture, illegal under US and international law.
The Times, as it has throughout the so-called “global war on terror,” retreats before, apologizes and covers up for the most predatory, brutal elements in the American ruling elite.
By STEPHEN SOLDZ, BRAD OLSON, STEVE REISNER, JEAN MARIA ARRIGO and BRYANT WELCH
In 2006, Time magazine released the interrogation log of Guantanamo detainee 063, Mohammed al-Qahtani. This log demonstrated that al-Qahtani had been systematically tortured for six weeks in late 2002 and 2003. The log also alleged that psychologist and APA member Maj. John Leso was present at least several times during these episodes. The APA said nothing about this alleged participation of an APA member in documented torture. It is at least 23 months since ethics complaints were filed against Dr. Leso and still the APA has remained silent.
Leso attended Johns Hopkins University, where he was enrolled in the ROTC. Upon complettion of his undergraduate degree Leso was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Leso received his PhD in Psychology from SUNY, in Albany New York, in 1995.
In 2003 Leso was a staff Psychologist at the Walter Reed Medical Center, in Maryland, one of the US military's largest medical facilities.
On August 24, 2005 a newsletter from the Albany University Psychology Department stated:
... Such was the "counseling" at the behest of Major John Francis Leso, New York psychologist license number 013492, chair of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team at Gitmo in 2002, and identified in the log as being present at the interrogation. Leso is also an active member of the American Psychological Association (APA), which has gone to unusual lengths to deny his affiliation even as APA has weakened its ethical stand against torture.
Dr. Leso is pivotal in that his complicity in torture at Gitmo debunks each fabrication APA has proffered to justify psychologists' involvement in the torture of detainees. Most recent past-president of APA, Gerald Koocher attempted to justify psychologists' participation in torture by stating "many psychologists are behavioral scientists, and as such aren't Leso." But Dr. Leso is not a behavioral scientist. John was commissioned as a second lieutenant from the Johns Hopkins ROTC program as an undergraduate and was granted an educational delay to complete his doctorate in counseling psychology in 1995 at SUNY Albany (NY), far removed from any training as a behavioral scientist. Indeed, in June of 2002, a mere four years after receiving his license as a psychologist he was promoted to Chief of the Clinical Psychology Service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. One would have assumed he was focused on caregiving and treatment of veterans in this position, though given the recent revelations regarding the quality of care at Walter Reed, perhaps Koocher was correct. Five months later, Dr. Leso was immersed in torturing. ...