Monday, April 27, 2009

Torture timeline -- April 2002 ... or earlier?

We saw last week that CIA was meeting with NSA as early as May 2002 to seek authority to torture prisoners. An excellent Newsweek item on Ali Soufan, the FBI agent whose interrogation of Zubaydah was cut short by CIA torturers, pushes the timeline back further:
As Soufan tells the story, he challenged a CIA official at the scene about the agency's legal authority to do what it was doing. "We're the United States of America, and we don't do that kind of thing," he recalls shouting at one point. But the CIA official, whom Soufan refuses to name because the agent's identity is still classified, brushed aside Soufan's concerns. He told him in April 2002 that the aggressive techniques already had gotten approval from the "highest levels" in Washington, says Soufan. The official even waved a document in front of Soufan, saying the approvals "are coming from Gonzales," a reference to Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel and later the attorney general. (A lawyer for Gonzales declined to comment.)

What this document was--and what, exactly, it authorized--is unclear. Soufan notes that, at that point, there had not been any talk in his presence of waterboarding, the most extreme of the techniques. But, as he later told Justice Department investigators, Soufan considered the methods he witnessed to be "borderline torture." A CIA spokesman declined to comment on what Soufan may have been shown, but wrote in an e-mail to NEWSWEEK: "The Aug. 1, 2002, memo from the Department of Justice wasn't the first piece of legal guidance for the [interrogation] program." "There are still gaping holes in the record," says Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who spearheaded the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that forced the disclosure of the Justice memos. The ACLU is now suing for further disclosures.
If May 2002 is when CIA went to NSA with its story of imminent attack, and if that was a cover story for torturing an Iraq-Qaeda link out of the prisoners, then pressure on CIA from Cheney/Rumsfeld would have happened sometime before May.

The article also supports the inference that Gitmo officials knew there were more effective methods than torture, but chose to ignore that:
Soufan became a teacher for other interrogators. McFadden says that in early 2002, Soufan flew to Guantánamo to conduct a training course. He gave a powerful talk, preaching the virtues of the FBI's traditional rapport-building techniques. Not only were such methods the most effective, Soufan explained that day, they were critical to maintaining America's image in the Middle East. "The whole world is watching what we do here," Soufan said. "We're going to win or lose this war depending on how we do this." As he made these comments, about half the interrogators in the room--those from the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies--were "nodding their heads" in agreement, recalls McFadden. But the other half—CIA and military officers—sat there "with blank stares. It's like they were thinking, This is bullcrap. Their attitude was, 'You guys are cops; we don't have time for this'."
If you haven't got time to do it right, do you have time to be indicted for war crimes?

One more piece of the puzzle: James Mitchell, ardent advocate of reverse-engineering SERE into a torture program, a man who had never himself conducted an actual interrogation, appears to have made Soufan's acquanintance:
... the tenor of the Abu Zubaydah interrogations changed a few days later, when a CIA contractor showed up. Although Soufan declined to identify the contractor by name, other sources (and media accounts) identify him as James Mitchell, a former Air Force psychologist who had worked on the U.S. military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training--a program to teach officers how to resist the abusive interrogation methods used by Chinese communists during the Korean War. Within days of his arrival, Mitchell--an architect of the CIA interrogation program--took charge of the questioning of Abu Zubaydah. He directed that Abu Zubaydah be ordered to answer questions or face a gradual increase in aggressive techniques. One day Soufan entered Abu Zubadyah's room and saw that he had been stripped naked; he covered him with a towel.

The confrontations began. "I asked [the contractor] if he'd ever interrogated anyone, and he said no," Soufan says. But that didn't matter, the contractor shot back: "Science is science. This is a behavioral issue." The contractor suggested Soufan was the inexperienced one. "He told me he's a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works." Mitchell told NEWSWEEK, "I would love to tell my story." But then he added, "I have signed a nondisclosure agreement that will not even allow me to correct false allegations."
Oh, by all means, let's release him from that.

... Okay, gotta get to work, but Emptywheel ratchets back the clock to "December 2001 or January 2002":
In December 2001 or January 2002, a retired Air Force SERE psychologist, Dr. James Mitchell, [redaction that I bet talks about a CIA contract] asked his former colleague, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, Dr. John "Bruce" Jessen, to review documents describing al Qaeda resistance training. The two psychologists reviewed the materials, [half line redacted], and generated a paper on al Qaeda resistance capabilities and countermeasures to defeat that resistance. * * *

[classification redaction] Mr. Witsch stated that he worked with Dr. Jessen to develop a set of briefing slides for the [acronym redacted] training. The Department of Defense provided the Committee with slide presentations that appeared to have been produced by JPRA for the March 8, 2002 training. Mr. Witsch testified that the two slide presentations (1) [half line redacted--elsewhere this appears unredacted as Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training: Contingency Training for (redacted) Personnel] Based on Recently Obtained Al Qaeda Documents" and (2) "Exploitation" -- appeared to be the same as those used by JPRA in the March 8, 2002 training.
Emptywheel (whose bracketed comments those are) ties this to Jane Mayer's reporting of
a CIA officer who could not be identified, whom a colleague at the Agency described as "a nobody--a pocket-protector-wearing Joe Molecule" who was "in charge of the shrinks on the science side," [who] turned to the former SERE school psychologists. Having retired from the military and been sidelined from the war on terror, Mitchell and Jessen were eager to get involved. "Mike knew these guys," the source working with the intelligence community recounted," and when his colleagues were wimps, he said they would fit the bill."
Torture was not an ad hoc response to uncooperative prisoners. It was something planned for from 9/12/2001, if not sooner. Around the same time that Cheney and Rumsfeld were conceiving the Iraq War.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, urged President Bush to consider bombing Iraq almost immediately after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, says a former senior aide.

Richard Clarke, the White House counter-terrorism coordinator at the time, has revealed details of a meeting the day after the attacks during which officials considered the US response. Already, he said, they were certain al-Qa'ida was to blame and there was no hint of Iraqi involvement. "Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq," Mr Clarke said. "We all said, 'No, no, al-Qa'ida is in Afghanistan.'"

But Mr Clarke, who is expected to testify on Tuesday before a federal panel reviewing the attacks, said Mr Rumsfeld complained in the meeting that "there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq." A spokesman for Mr Rumsfeld last night said he could not comment immediately.
More to come on all this, one suspects.

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