Readings — From the September 2008 issue
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From the minutes of a Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting, held October 2, 2002, at Guantánamo Bay. The minutes, which paraphrase comments and questions from the meeting, were released June 17 as part of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on interrogation methods. The meeting began with a presentation about techniques that American soldiers are taught to resist in case of capture, based on the work of the military’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) and the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program. At the time, Jonathan M. Fredman was a CIA lawyer. Dave Becker was an officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver was a staff judge advocate for the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay. The other participants, whom the Defense Department declined to identify specifically, were members of the Guantánamo general staff.
Ltc. Phifer: Harsh techniques used on our service members have worked and will work on some. What about those?
Maj. Leso: Force is risky and may be ineffective due to the detainees’ frame of reference. They are used to seeing much more barbaric treatment.
Col. Cummings: We can’t do sleep deprivation.
Ltc. Diane Beaver: Yes, we can—with approval. We may need to curb the harsher operations while the Red Cross is around. It’s better not to expose them to any controversial techniques. We must have the support of the Department of Defense.
Dave Becker: We have many reports from Bagram about sleep deprivation being used.
Beaver: True, but officially it is not happening. It is not being reported. The Red Cross is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention.
Jonathan M. Fredman: The CIA is not held to the same rules as the military. In the past, when the Red Cross has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD has “moved” them away from the attention of the Red Cross. Upon questioning as to their whereabouts from the Red Cross, the DOD has repeatedly responded that the detainee merited no status under the Geneva Convention. The CIA has employed aggressive techniques on less than a handful of suspects since 9/11. 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. Any of the techniques that lie on the harshest end of the spectrum must be performed by a highly trained individual. Medical personnel should be present to treat any possible accidents. The CIA operates without military intervention. When the CIA has wanted to use aggressive techniques in the past, the FBI has pulled its person nel from the theater. In those rare instances, aggressive techniques have proven very helpful.
Beaver: We need documentation to protect us.
Fredman: Yes, if someone dies while aggressive techniques are being used, regardless of cause of death, the backlash would be severely detrimental. Everything must be approved and documented.
Becker: Law-enforcement personnel will not participate in harsh techniques.
Beaver: There is no reason why law-enforcement personnel can’t participate in these operations.
[At this point a discussion ensued about whether or not to videotape the aggressive sessions, or any interrogations at all.]
Becker: Videotapes are subject to too much scrutiny in court. We don’t want the law- enforcement people in aggressive ses sions anyway.
Beaver: Law enforcement’s choice not to participate in these sessions is more ethical and moral as opposed to legal.
Fredman: The videotaping of even legal techniques will look “ugly.” The Torture Convention prohibits torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. The United States did not sign up for the second part because of the Eighth Amendment, but we did sign the part about torture. This gives us more license to use controversial techniques.
Beaver: Does SERE employ the “wet towel” technique?
Fredman: 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 (e.g., insects, snakes, claustrophobia). The level of resistance is directly related to the person’s experience.
Maj. Burney: Whether or not significant stress occurs lies in the eye of the beholder. The burden of proof is the big issue. It is very difficult to disprove someone else’s post-traumatic stress disorder.
fredman: Those techniques need involvement from interrogators, psych, medical, legal, etc.
Becker: Would we get blanket approval or would it be case by case?
Fredman: The CIA makes the call internally on most of the techniques found in the BSCT paper and this discussion. Significantly harsh techniques are approved through the Department of Justice.
Phifer: Who approves ours?
Fredman: Does the Geneva Convention apply? The CIA rallied for it not to.
Phifer: Can we get DOJ opinion on these topics on paper?
Beaver: Will it go from DOJ to DOD?
Phifer: Can we get to see a CIA request to use advanced aggressive techniques?
Fredman: Yes, but we can’t provide you with a copy. You’ll probably be able to look at it. An example of a different perspective on torture is Turkey. There they say that interrogation at all, or anything you do that results in the subject betraying his comrades, is torture.
Beaver: In the BSCT paper it says something about “imminent threat of death.”
Fredman: The threat of death is also subject to scrutiny, and should be handled on a case-by-case basis. Mock executions don’t work as well as friendly approaches, like letting someone write a letter home, or providing them with an extra book.
Becker: I like the part about ambient noise.