Nov. 2008: Senate Armed Services Committee Report

The comprehensive review by the Senate Armed Services Committee Report (hereinafter Armed Services Report, released April, 2009) reveals that in Nov./Dec. 2001, after Administration officials suspended U.S. adherence to the Geneva Conventions, they actively sought information about “enhanced interrogation” methods and detainee “exploitation.”

“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

The Senate Armed Services Report traces the close interaction between DoD’s General Counsel’s office and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA). SERE resistance training is designed to prepare pilots and special military forces who may become captives to withstand torture techniques the Chinese Communist used against American soldiers “for the purpose of eliciting FALSE confessions [for propaganda purposes.]” Such interrogation techniques are prohibited under the Geneva Conventions.  The report shows that by early 2002, military intelligence and the CIA began training in coercive, interrogation techniques. The torture protocol, JTF GTMO ‘SERE’ Interrogation SOP (2002), was formulated after close consultations with JPRA SERE resistance trainers who reverse-engineered SERE techniques as offensive methods aimed at breaking detainees.

The Senate Armed Services Report documents in detail:

  • The close collaboration among the administration leadership who pursued the use of abusive techniques even before DoJ lawyers had issued their infamous implausible legal justification for torture in August 2002:

“Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was then the National Security Advisor, said that, “in the spring of 2002, CIA sought policy approval from the National Security Council (NSC) to begin an interrogation program for high-level al-Qaida terrorists.”

“Secretary Rice said that she asked Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet to brief NSC principals on the program and asked Attorney General John Ashcroft “personally to review and confirm the legal advice prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel. She also said that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Participated in the NSC review of the CIA’s program.”

  • The close consultations with senior administration lawyers when they were crafting a legal defense for CIA interrogation. Before he drafted the opinions, John Yoo met with Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the opinions. “In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Yoo refused to say whether or not he ever discussed or received information about SERE techniques as the memos were being drafted.”
  • The relentless pressure applied on interrogators by Vice President Dick Cheney, DoD Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Paull Wolfowitz prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. GTMO Intelligence Commander, Maj. Gen. Dunlavey, stated: The SECDEF [Secretary of Defense] said he wanted a product and he wanted intelligence now. He told me what he wanted; not how to do it…”

Maj. Paul Burney MD, and a former senior U.S. intelligence official told investigators from Army Inspector General in 2006 that these officials drove prisoner interrogation techniques into the realm of torture; they advocated the use of sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions, and waterboarding, insisting these were “legal.” They demanded that the interrogators find evidence of collaboration between al-Qaeda and the Iraq regime: “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq.” When they were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq, David Becker, GTMO Interrogation Control Chief, testified that “MG Dunlavey had advised him that the office of [  ] Wolfowitz had called to express concerns about the insufficient intelligence production at GTMO” and that on one occasion, Wolfowitz stated that “GTMO should use more aggressive interrogation techniques.”

MAJ Burney further indicated that during a “training” trip at Fort Bragg in Sept. 2002, instructors indicated “time and again” that torture produces false information; and the SERE training techniques should not be used at GTMO because they tend to get false information:

“tactics that rely on physical pressures or torture, while they do get you information, do not tend to get you accurate information or reliable information. In a written statement provided to the Armed Services Committee, MAJ Burney reiterated that point, stating that “[i]t was stressed time and time again that psychological investigations have proven that harsh interrogations do not work. At best it will get you information that a prisoner thinks you want to hear to make the interrogation stop, but that information is strongly likely to be false.” (p. 47)

It would appear that torture was applied to obtain testimony of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 – even if that testimony was false. JPRA SERE instructor and training Team Chief, Joseph Witsch strongly objected in writing to the use of SERE techniques and the involvement of JPRA trainers in actual interrogations: “We are out of our sphere when we begin to profess the proper ways to exploit these detainees… We don’t have an established track record in this type of activity…The stakes are much higher for this than what you and I have done in any activity before.” (p.48)

Furthermore, the report shows that doctors and lawyers from C.I.A. headquarters and the DoJ exercised total control over every aspect; they set the torture program’s parameters, dictating every facet of a detainee’s daily routine, monitoring interrogations on an hour-by-hour basis from their Washington offices. Likewise lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel were involved in the interrogation details. Scott Shane reported that John Yoo, the author of the discredited torture memos received a six-page FAXed copy of Abu Zubaydah’s psychological assessment months before he wrote those memos to provide a “legal” shield for those actions.