Bush ordered abusive tactics used to seek Iraq-al Qaida link before Iraq invasion

Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 10:30 am
Interesting that the "main-stream" media are slow to put this information on their front pages. ---BBB

Report: Abusive tactics used to seek Iraq-al Qaida link
By Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON " The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.

The use of abusive interrogation " widely considered torture " as part of Bush's quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and others who advocated the use of sleep deprivation, isolation and stress positions and waterboarding, which simulates drowning, insist that they were legal.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly " Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 " according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.

A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.

"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

Excerpts from Burney's interview appeared in a full, declassified report on a two-year investigation into detainee abuse released on Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., called Burney's statement "very significant."

"I think it's obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq)," Levin said in a conference call with reporters. "They made out links where they didn't exist."

Levin recalled Cheney's assertions that a senior Iraqi intelligence officer had met Mohammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, in the Czech Republic capital of Prague just months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The FBI and CIA found that no such meeting occurred.

A senior Guantanamo Bay interrogator, David Becker, told the committee that only "a couple of nebulous links" between al Qaida and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees, the report said.

Others in the interrogation operation "agreed there was pressure to produce intelligence, but did not recall pressure to identify links between Iraq and al Qaida," the report said.

The report, the executive summary of which was released in November, found that Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other former senior Bush administration officials were responsible for the abusive interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld approved extreme interrogation techniques for Guantanamo in December 2002. He withdrew his authorization the following month amid protests by senior military lawyers that some techniques could amount to torture, violating U.S. and international laws.

Military interrogators, however, continued employing some techniques in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.

Bush and his top lieutenants charged that Saddam was secretly pursuing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in defiance of a United Nations ban, and had to be overthrown because he might provide them to al Qaida for an attack on the U.S. or its allies.

(John Walcott and Warren P. Strobel contributed to this article.)
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Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 10:55 am
Senate Report Details Torture Policy Origins
Wednesday 22 April 2009
by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report

The seeds for the Bush administration's policy of torture were planted in December 2001, nearly a year before the Justice Department issued its first legal opinion that authorized CIA interrogators to torture "war on terror" prisoners, and the creation of the policy involved senior White House officials, according to a newly declassified report released late Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

By December 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD)had already begun to solicit information on "detainee exploitation" from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), a DoD agency that trained the military to withstand interrogation methods considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions. The JPRA oversees a training program known as Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training.

"As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is 'based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years,' the Armed Services Committee report said. "The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy's SERE school, it included waterboarding."

The SERE program, however, was reverse-engineered and used against "high-value" detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. All of the methods described above, as well as several other brutal techniques, were used during the interrogations of prisoners at Guantanamo, according to four Justice Department "torture" memos released last week.

The report, released by Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is the most detailed account to date of the roles senior Bush administration and DoD officials played in implementing a policy of torture. The report is 232 pages and contains 1,800 footnotes. It is based on the testimony of 70 people and more than 200,000 pages of internal government documents. It was unanimously accepted by the committee last November and has been going through the declassification process since then.

In a statement accompanying the report, Levin said he has recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder "select a distinguished individual or individuals - either inside or outside the Justice Department, such as retired federal judges - to look at the volumes of evidence relating to treatment of detainees, including evidence in the Senate Armed Services Committee's report, and to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to establish accountability of high-level officials - including lawyers.."

Calls for Investigations

Coming on the heels of the "torture" memos, the Armed Services Committee report puts enormous pressure on the Obama administration and Congress to immediately launch a full-scale inquiry into the Bush administration's policy of torture, in violation of federal and international laws.

On Tuesday, in a departure from statements he has made since his January 20 inauguration, Obama said he was open to the idea of a 9/11-type commission to probe the Bush administration's torture policies, but he said he was concerned "about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations."

As for the possibility of prosecuting former Bush administration lawyers who drafted the memos, Obama said, "that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that."

Rumsfeld Role

Levin's report identifies former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as one of the principal architects of the program and said a Feb. 7, 2002 memorandum signed by George W. Bush suspending the Geneva Conventions for "war on terror" prisoners was directly responsible for the abuse.

The report found that "in July 2002, at the request of [DoD] General Counsel Jim Haynes's office, the [JPRA] ... provided Haynes's office a list of techniques used in SERE school and an assessment of the psychological effect of using those techniques on students."

A military behavioral scientist told the Armed Services Committee "by early October [2002] there was increasing pressure to get 'tougher' with detainee interrogations" at Guantanamo.

The behavioral scientist said he was told by the head of intelligence at Guantanamo that an interrogation memo needed to explicitly authorize "coercive techniques or it 'wasn't going to go very far.'"

"Declassified excerpts from that memo indicate that it included stress positions, food deprivation, forced grooming, hooding, removal of clothing, exposure to cold weather or water, and scenarios designed to convince a detainee that 'he might experience a painful or fatal outcome,'" the report said.

"On October 11, 2002, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the Commander of [Joint Task Force-170 at Guantanamo] requested authority to use aggressive techniques," according to the report. "Dunlavey's request was based on the memo produced by the behavioral scientists."

Dunlavey's request eventually made its way to Haynes's desk. Haynes recommended that Rumsfeld approve 15 of the interrogation techniques. Rumsfeld issued a verbal and written authorization in December 2002 allowing interrogators to use "stress positions, isolation for up to 30 days, removal of clothing and the use of detainees' phobias (such as the use of dogs)."

Rumsfeld's approval of certain interrogation methods outlined in a December 2002 action memorandum was criticized by Alberto Mora, the former general counsel of the Navy.

"The interrogation techniques approved by the Secretary [of Defense] should not have been authorized because some (but not all) of them, whether applied singly or in combination, could produce effects reaching the level of torture, a degree of mistreatment not otherwise proscribed by the memo because it did not articulate any bright-line standard for prohibited detainee treatment, a necessary element in any such document," Mora, who was forced out of his position, wrote in a 14-page letter to the Navy's inspector general.

The Armed Services Committee probe also revealed that immediately after Rumsfeld approved of the interrogation techniques, senior officials at Guantanamo "drafted a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the use of SERE techniques, including stress positions, forcibly stripping detainees, slapping, and 'walling' them."

Torture Trickles Down to Afghanistan

The Armed Services Committee report said "the influence of Secretary Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002, authorization was not limited to interrogations at [Guantanamo]."

"Newly declassified excerpts from a January 11, 2003, legal review by a Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force lawyer in Afghanistan state that 'SECDEF's approval of these techniques provides us the most persuasive argument for use of "advanced technique" as we capture possible [high value targets] … the fact that SECDEF approved the use of the… techniques at GTMO, [which is] subject to the same laws, provides an analogy and basis for use of these techniques [in accordance with] international and U.S. law.'"

"Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there," the Armed Services Committee report concluded. "Secretary Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes's recommendation that most of the techniques contained in [Guantanamo's] October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Warnings Issued

The report also for the first time highlights the numerous warnings the Bush administration received about using the SERE program in an offensive manner.

"On October 2, 2002, Lieutenant Colonel Morgan Banks, the senior Army SERE psychologist warned against using SERE training techniques during interrogations in an email to personnel at GTMO, writing that:

'[T]he use of physical pressures brings with it a large number of potential negative side effects … When individuals are gradually exposed to increasing levels of discomfort, it is more common for them to resist harder … If individuals are put under enough discomfort, i.e. pain, they will eventually do whatever it takes to stop the pain. This will increase the amount of information they tell the interrogator, but it does not mean the information is accurate. In fact, it usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain … Bottom line: the likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the delivery of accurate information from a detainee is very low. The likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the level of resistance in a detainee is very high …'"

Additionally, the Deputy Commander of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantanamo told Levin's committee in an interview in 2006 that his department "was troubled with the rationale that techniques used to harden resistance to interrogations would be the basis for the utilization of techniques to obtain information."

Newly declassified emails also reveal that in June 2004, the use of SERE tactics was considered for use at Guantanamo Bay. That prompted a SERE psychologist to warn Pentagon officials: "[W]e need to really stress the difference between what instructors do at SERE school (done to INCREASE RESISTANCE capability in students) versus what is taught at interrogator school (done to gather information). What is done by SERE instructors is by definition ineffective interrogator conduct … Simply stated, SERE school does not train you on how to interrogate, and things you 'learn' there by osmosis about interrogation are probably wrong if copied by interrogators."

The Architects

The report concluded that "members of [Bush's] Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA's interrogation program during that period."

John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, participated in several of these meetings prior to writing a legal opinion authorizing interrogators to subject detainees to waterboarding and other brutal techniques.

Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who was the national security adviser when interrogation methods were discussed, said that beginning as early as the summer of 2002, Yoo provided legal advice at "several" meetings that she attended and that the Department of Justice's advice on the interrogation program "was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales."

Yoo met with Gonzales and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the August 2002 torture memos, the report said.

"Senior Administration lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, were consulted on the development of legal analysis of CIA interrogation techniques," according to the report. "Legal opinions subsequently issued by the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) interpreted legal obligations under U.S. anti-torture laws and determined the legality of CIA interrogation techniques.

"Those OLC opinions distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws, rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and influenced Department of Defense determinations as to what interrogation techniques were legal for use during interrogations conducted by U.S. military personnel."

Rice told Levin that when the CIA sought approval of the interrogation program she asked Tenet to brief the principals and asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to "personally advise NSC Principals whether the program was lawful."

John Bellinger, Rice's legal adviser, told Levin that he asked CIA lawyers to seek legal advice not only from the OLC, but also from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, headed at the time by Michael Chertoff.

Chertoff reportedly advised the CIA general counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the August 1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.

In February 2005, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Homeland Security secretary, Chertoff said he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods, but never addressed the legality of specific techniques.

"Torture Memo" Author

Last June, Levin said he sent Jay Bybee, the former assistant attorney general at OLC who signed the infamous August 1, 2002 torture memo, a list of questions about the implementation of SERE methods.

"In his response to my questions, Jay Bybee said that, in July 2002 - just before those two OLC opinions were issued and about the same time Jim Haynes's office requested a list of SERE training techniques and information on the psychological effects of SERE (including waterboarding), the CIA provided OLC with an assessment of the psychological effects of SERE resistance training," Levin said last December. "Jay Bybee wrote me that the assessment provided by the CIA was used to 'inform' the August 1, 2002 OLC legal opinion. (CIA officials, including George Tenet and acting General Counsel John Rizzo declined to answer questions relating to both that assessment and the CIA's interrogation program.)

"Judge Bybee's answers provide insight into how senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques used in SERE training, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."

Bybee is now a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Last week, the Justice Department declassified his August 1, 2002, legal opinion that permitted the CIA to beat and waterboard detainees.

Abu Zubaydah's Torture

The declassified report also includes a full account about the fierce objections the FBI had toward the CIA's interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an alleged "high-value" al-Qaeda detainee, and suggests that his torture preceded an August 1, 2002 Justice Department legal opinion.

According to a Justice Department report released last year about the FBI's role in harsh interrogations, inspector general Glenn Fine said two FBI agents, identified by the pseudonyms "Thomas" and "Gibson, interviewed Zubaydah shortly after he was captured in March 2002. One of the agents even tended to Zubaydah's gunshot wounds.

The FBI claimed, according to Fine's report, that Zubaydah had provided valuable intelligence via "rapport building" interviews. However, within a few days CIA interrogators intervened. They claimed Zubaydah had been "only providing ‘throw-away information'" and adopted more aggressive tactics.

When one of the FBI agents complained to the CIA interrogators about the brutal tactics, he was told the techniques were approved "at the highest levels" of government. "Thomas" refused to participate and protested to senior FBI officials about the techniques the CIA used against Zubaydah.

According to Fine's report, "Thomas" did not see Zubaydah being waterboarded, but witnessed other methods being used against him during May 2002 that he said were "borderline torture."

Agent "Thomas's" complaints to the FBI eventually led Pasquale D'Amuro, the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism, to remove the agents from the interrogations, according to Fine's report. D'Amuro told Fine that he brought the agents' complaints to FBI Director Robert Mueller and "stated that his exact words to Mueller were 'we don't do that' and that someday the FBI would be called to testify and he wanted to be able to say that the FBI did not participate in this type of activity."

According to Fine's report, John Rizzo, the CIA's acting general counsel, refused to allow investigators from the Office of Inspector General to question Zubaydah in January 2007. Fine said Rizzo's refusal to allow investigators access to Zubaydah was "unwarranted" and "hampered" the probe.

Fine said Rizzo told the inspector general's office that he refused the request because Zubaydah "could make false allegations against CIA employees."

At the time of Fine's request, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had obtained access to Zubaydah and 13 other "high-value" detainees and concluded that their treatment "constituted torture." The ICRC sent its report to Rizzo on February 14, 2007.

However, neither the ICRC's report nor Fine's include specific dates about the "enhanced" techniques used against Zubaydah.

According to Fine's report, "Gibson" said he "remained at the CIA facility until some time in early June 2002, several weeks after 'Thomas' left, and that he continued to work with the CIA and participate in interviewing Zubaydah."

When he returned to the FBI headquarters in June 2002 to meet with officials about Zubaydah "Gibson" said he had no "moral objection" to the techniques being used against Zubaydah because they were "comparable" to the "harsh interrogation" techniques he "himself had undergone ... as part of the U.S. Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training."

According to documents Levin's committee obtained from the Department of Justice, Daniel Levin, the former head of OLC, indicated that in 2002 "in the context of the Zubaydah interrogation, he attended a meeting at the National Security Council (NSC) at which CIA techniques were discussed."

Daniel "Levin stated that a DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney gave advice at the meeting about the legality of CIA interrogation techniques. Levin stated that in connection with this meeting, or immediately after it, FBI Director Mueller decided that FBI agents would not participate in interrogations involving techniques the FBI did not normally use in the United States, even though OLC had determined such techniques were legal," according to questions directed to Rice by Senator Levin.

Daniel Levin was forced to resign in 2004 when Alberto Gonzales became attorney general because he objected to waterboarding.

In her responses to Senator Levin's questions regarding Zubaydah's interrogation, Rice said she had "general recollection that FBI had decided not to participate in the CIA interrogations but I do not recall any specific discussions about withdrawing FBI personnel from the Abu Zubaydah interrogation."
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 03:29 pm
Senate report - part 1:


Senate report - part 2:
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 03:53 pm
Karpinski to Cheney:
Where were you 5 years ago?

Former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski expresses her frustration to Keith Olbermann over Bush apologists who are defending "hard interrogation techniques" now but were silent about accountability for torture at Abu Ghraib.

Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 09:52 pm
thanks for the information. i know it took a lot of time to collect and post this stuff, so kudos.
Reply Fri 24 Apr, 2009 08:47 am
I hope it exposes the lies by the Bush administration.

For example, Dick Cheney, on TV, continues to claim the torture resulted in preventing an attack. The example he uses is that the leader of the 9/11 attack revealed the pending attack of the Los Angeles airport, which they were able to prevent. Problem is that the LA plan was discovered when the terrorist was captured trying to enter the US --- one year before the waterboarding of the leader occured.

Cheney has lied so much that he can't keep track of dates and sequences anymore. Cheney is not a smart nor reliable liar. He's become a sociopath.

Reply Fri 24 Apr, 2009 09:12 am
U.S. Soldier Who Killed Herself--After Refusing to Take Part in Torture
With each new revelation on U.S. torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo, I am reminded of the chilling story of Alyssa Peterson.
By Greg Mitchell - E & P
April 23, 2009

With each new revelation on U.S. torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo (and who, knows, probably elsewhere), I am reminded of the chilling story of Alyssa Peterson, who I have written about numerous times in the past three years but now with especially sad relevance. Appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations that, no doubt, involved what we would call torture, she refused, then killed herself a few days later, in September 2003.

Of course, we now know from the torture memos and the U.S. Senate committee probe and various new press reports, that the "Gitmo-izing" of Iraq was happening just at the time Alyssa got swept up in it.

Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female soldiers killed in Iraq. A cover-up, naturally, followed.

Peterson, 27, a Flagstaff, Ariz., native, served with C Company, 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne. Peterson was an Arabic-speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at our air base in troubled Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. According to official records, she died on Sept. 15, 2003, from a "non-hostile weapons discharge."

A "non-hostile weapons discharge" leading to death is not unusual in Iraq, often quite accidental, so this one apparently raised few eyebrows. The Arizona Republic, three days after her death, reported that Army officials "said that a number of possible scenarios are being considered, including Peterson's own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian." And that might have ended it right there.

But in this case, a longtime radio and newspaper reporter named Kevin Elston, not satisfied with the public story, decided to probe deeper in 2005, "just on a hunch," he told me in late 2006 (there's a chapter about it in my book on Iraq and the media, "So Wrong for So Long"). He made "hundreds of phone calls" to the military and couldn't get anywhere, so he filed a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request. When the documents of the official investigation of her death arrived, they contained bombshell revelations. Here's what the Flagstaff public radio station, KNAU, where Elston then worked, reported:

"Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."

According to the official report on her death released the following year, she had earlier been "reprimanded" for showing "empathy" for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of that report is: "She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."

Peterson was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. "But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle," the documents disclose.

A notebook she had been writing was found next to her body. Its contents were redacted in the official report.

The Army talked to some of Peterson's colleagues. Asked to summarize their comments, Elston told me: "The reactions to the suicide were that she was having a difficult time separating her personal feelings from her professional duties. That was the consistent point in the testimonies, that she objected to the interrogation techniques, without describing what those techniques were."

Elston said that the documents also refer to a suicide note found on her body, which suggested that she found it ironic that suicide prevention training had taught her how to commit suicide. He filed another FOIA request for a copy of the actual note.

Peterson, a devout Mormon, had graduated from Flagstaff High School and earned a psychology degree from Northern Arizona University on a military scholarship. She was trained in interrogation techniques at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and was sent to the Middle East in 2003.

A report in The Arizona Daily Sun of Flagstaff -- three years after Alyssa's death -- revealed that Spc. Peterson's mother, Bobbi Peterson, reached at her home in northern Arizona, said that neither she nor her husband Richard had received any official documents that contained information outlined in Elston's report.

In other words: Like the press and the public, even the parents had been kept in the dark.

Tomorrow I will write about Kayla Williams, a woman who served with Alyssa, and talked to her about her problems shortly before she killed herself, and also took part in torture interrogations. She observed the punching of detainees and was forced to take part in one particular tactic: prisoners were stripped naked, and when they took off their blindfolds the first thing they saw was Kayla. She opted out, but survived, and is haunted years later.

Here's what Williams told Soledad O'Brien of CNN : "I was asked to assist. And what I saw was that individuals who were doing interrogations had slipped over a line and were really doing things that were inappropriate. There were prisoners that were burned with lit cigarettes."

All of this only gains relevance in light of the current debate over whether those who were "just following orders" in torture routines should be held accountable today.
Reply Sat 25 Apr, 2009 10:26 am
Harsh Tactics Readied Before Their Approval
Senate Report Describes Secret Memos
By Joby Warrick and Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods -- and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded.

Previously secret memos and interviews show CIA and Pentagon officials exploring ways to break Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, up to eight months before Justice Department lawyers approved the use of waterboarding and nine other harsh methods, investigators found.

The findings are contained in a Senate Armed Services Committee report scheduled for release today that also documents multiple warnings -- from legal and trained interrogation experts -- that the techniques could backfire and might violate U.S. and international law.

One Army lieutenant colonel who reviewed the program warned in 2002 that coercion "usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain," according to the Senate report. A second official, briefed on plans to use aggressive techniques on detainees, was quoted the same year as asking: "Wouldn't that be illegal?"

Once they were accepted, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations not only in CIA secret prisons, but also in Defense Department internment camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the committee, said the new findings show a direct link between the early policy decisions and the highly publicized abuses of detainees at prisons such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

"Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques," Levin said. "Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses."

The new findings are expected to add further pressure on the White House to authorize an independent investigation of the Bush-era interrogation policies. President Obama for the first time yesterday refused to rule out the possibility of a probe to determine whether government lawyers acted illegally in approving interrogation practices. Obama said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should determine whether they broke the law.

The report, which runs 261 pages and contains nearly 1,800 footnotes, sheds new light on the adaptation of techniques from a U.S. military program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), used to train American service personnel to resist interrogations if captured by an enemy that does not honor the Geneva Conventions' ban on torture.

The military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) has been reported to have reverse-engineered these methods to break al-Qaeda prisoners. The techniques, including waterboarding, or simulated drowning, were drawn from the methods used by Chinese Communists to coerce confessions from U.S. soldiers during the Korean War -- a lineage that one instructor appeared to readily acknowledge.

"We can provide the ability to exploit personnel based on how our enemies have done this type of thing over the last five decades," Joseph Witsch wrote in a July 2002 memo.

The report shows Pentagon officials reaching out to the military agency for advice on interrogations as early as December 2001 and finding some specialists eager to help. By late 2001, counterterrorism officials were becoming frustrated by the paucity of useful leads coming from interrogations -- a meager showing that was linked, according to one Army major, to interrogators' insistence on "establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq," the report said.

By January 2002, James Mitchell, a retired Air Force psychologist, and Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at the agency, drafted a paper on "al-Qaeda resistance capabilities and countermeasures to defeat that resistance." Both later consulted for the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, and conducted training courses on how to interrogate high-level captives, the report said.

A memo by Jessen proposed an interrogation program that closely resembled the ones adopted by the CIA and the Defense Department. It recommended the creation of an "exploitation facility" that would be off limits to outside observers, including journalists and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Inside, a team would use such tactics as sleep deprivation, physical violence and waterboarding to apply physical and psychological pressure on detainees.

Agency officials also suggested other controversial tactics that were later reported to have been used in interrogation programs, including sexually provocative acts by female interrogators and the use of military dogs to induce fear, the report said.

The school instructors conducted a training seminar for intelligence officials in early July 2002. At the seminar, two "agency legal personnel" told the group that harsh measures were already deemed acceptable, even though Justice Department approval was still a month away.

"They [interrogators] could use all forms of psychological pressure discussed, and all the physiological pressures with the exception of the 'water board,' " the lawyers were quoted as saying at the seminar. Waterboarding might also be permitted, but the interrogators "would need prior approval," the report said.

The Senate report confirms participation by SERE officials in the interrogation of Abu Zubaida, an al-Qaeda associate who was the first high-level CIA detainee and the first to be subjected to waterboarding.

"At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high level al Qaeda operative," according to the Senate report. A June 20, 2002, memo described the assistance as "training" and noted that the JPRA psychologist suggested "exploitation strategies to [redacted] officer."

Jessen, who was interviewed by Senate committee staff members in November 2007, confirmed that such a meeting took place. Mitchell, the former Air Force psychologist, was present at Abu Zubaida's interrogation and was said to have played a key role in what the CIA called an "increased pressure phase," according to former intelligence and law enforcement officials.

The report also repeats, but does not confirm, long-held suspicions that the interrogation of Abu Zubaida became coercive before the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo on Aug. 1, 2002, sanctioning the use of 10 escalating techniques, culminating in waterboarding.

Abu Zubaida, the nom de guerre of Saudi-born Palestinian Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, was captured in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand. To justify the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on him, the Aug. 1 memo invoked a ticking-bomb scenario.

The CIA told the Justice Department that there was a "level of chatter" equal to the period before Sept. 11, 2001, and said that Abu Zubaida was withholding information regarding "terrorist networks in the United States" and "plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas," according to the memo.

John A. Rizzo, a CIA lawyer, asked the Justice Department whether the use of additional interrogation techniques would violate the prohibition against torture.

Yet, the Senate report notes, weeks before the Justice Department approved harsh interrogation for Abu Zubaida, an FBI agent described the CIA's handling of the terrorism suspect as "borderline torture."

A second FBI agent present at Abu Zubaida's interrogation said he had no "moral objection" to the techniques and noted that he had "undergone comparable harsh interrogation as part of [SERE] training." Both agents had left the CIA site by early June 2002. No substantive plots were disrupted as a result of information provided during Abu Zubaida's interrogation, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.

Brent Mickum, one of Abu Zubaida's attorneys in a habeas corpus proceeding in U.S. District Court in Washington, said he believes the Justice Department's Aug. 1, 2002, memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used.

"If torture occurred before the memo was written, it's not worth the paper it's written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal," Mickum said.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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