11.9.01

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Cheney, Once Again, Defends CIA Harsh Interrogation Techniques

In Post-9/11 Domestic Anti-Terrorism Efforts, Torture on August 31, 2009 at 9:37 am

A sharp defense:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday sharply criticized the Obama administration’s decision to investigate the abuse of prisoners held by the Central Intelligence Agency as he delivered a forceful defense of the full range of interrogation techniques used by intelligence officers.

Broadcast just six days after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appointed a federal prosecutor to examine the abuse of detainees, Mr. Cheney described the use of waterboarding and other coercive methods — including threatening detainees with a gun and a drill — as legal and crucial elements of the counterterrorism war.

“I knew about the waterboarding, not specifically in any one particular case, but as a general policy that we had approved,” said Mr. Cheney, who noted that neither a gun nor a drill had actually been used on detainees. “The fact of the matter is the Justice Department reviewed all those allegations several years ago…  The judgment was made then that there wasn’t anything that was improper or illegal,” said Mr. Cheney, who was speaking in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

Mr. Cheney said he also supported officers who strayed outside Justice Department rules and used unauthorized interrogation techniques, saying they did so to keep Americans safe. And he warned that Mr. Holder’s investigation would demoralize intelligence officers and discourage them from working aggressively to protect the nation.

Mr. Cheney described the inquiry as an “intensely partisan, politicized look back at the prior administration” intended to placate the left wing of the Democratic Party. “It’s clearly a political move,” he said. “I mean, there’s no other rationale for why they’re doing this.”

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CIA Document Shows Bush Administration Strictly Controlled Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

In Secret Prisons, Torture on August 26, 2009 at 9:00 am

Safety and legality were uppermost in the minds of CIA interrogators as they put detainees in small boxes, employed sleep deprivation and doused them with cold water for 20 minutes at a time:

Two 17-watt fluorescent-tube bulbs — no more, no less — illuminated each cell, 24 hours a day. White noise played constantly but was never to exceed 79 decibels. A prisoner could be doused with 41-degree water but for only 20 minutes at a stretch.  The Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program operated under strict rules, and the rules were dictated from Washington with the painstaking, eye-glazing detail beloved by any bureaucracy.

The first news reports this week about hundreds of pages of newly released documents on the C.I.A. program focused on aberrations in the field: threats of execution by handgun or assault by power drill; a prisoner lifted off the ground by his arms, which were tied behind his back; another detainee repeatedly knocked out with pressure applied to the carotid artery.

But the strong impression that emerges from the documents, many with long passages blacked out for secrecy, is by no means one of gung-ho operatives running wild. It is a portrait of overwhelming control exercised from C.I.A. headquarters and the Department of Justice — control Bush administration officials say was intended to ensure that the program was safe and legal.

Managers, doctors and lawyers not only set the program’s parameters but dictated every facet of a detainee’s daily routine, monitoring interrogations on an hour-by-hour basis. From their Washington offices, they obsessed over the smallest details: the number of calories a prisoner consumed daily (1,500); the number of hours he could be kept in a box (eight hours for the large box, two hours for the small one); the proper time when his enforced nudity should be ended and his clothes returned.

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Obama Administration to Continue Rendition Flights

In Civil Liberties, Guantanamo Bay, Rendition, Secret Prisons, Torture on August 25, 2009 at 11:23 am

Promising strict supervision, the Obama administration will continue rendition of detainees to third country parties:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.

The announcement, by President Obama’s Interrogation and Transfer Policy Task Force, seemed intended in part to offset the impact of the release on Monday of a long-withheld report by the C.I.A. inspector general, written in 2004, that offered new details about the brutal tactics used by the C.I.A. in interrogating terrorism detainees.

Though the Obama administration previously signaled that it would continue the use of renditions, some civil liberties groups were disappointed because, as a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama had strongly suggested he might end the practice. In an article in Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2007, Mr. Obama wrote, “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people.”

Mr. Obama continued, “This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” In January, the president ordered secret prisons run by the C.I.A. to be shut down.

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Justice Department Releases CIA Report on Treatment of Detainees in Secret Prisons

In Civil Liberties, Post-9/11 Domestic Anti-Terrorism Efforts, Secret Prisons, Torture on August 25, 2009 at 11:15 am

The long awaited report released:

WASHINGTON —The Justice Department released a long-secret report Monday chronicling abuses inside the Central Intelligence Agency’s overseas prisons, showing how interrogators choked a prisoner repeatedly and threatened to kill another detainee’s children.

In response to the findings, Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr. chose John H. Durham, a veteran prosecutor from Connecticut who has been investigating the C.I.A.’s destruction of interrogation videotapes, to determine whether a full criminal investigation of the conduct of agency employees or contractors was warranted. The review will be the most politically explosive inquiry since Mr. Holder took over the Justice Department in February.

The decision was a significant blow to the C.I.A, and Mr. Holder said he would be criticized for undercutting the intelligence agency’s work. He said that he agreed with President Obama’s oft-expressed desire not to get mired in disputes over the policies of former President George W. Bush, but that his review of reports on the C.I.A. interrogation program left him no choice.

Read the report here.

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President Obama’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group

In Post-9/11 Domestic Anti-Terrorism Efforts on August 24, 2009 at 6:16 pm

President Obama creates a group in charge of interrogating high vaue detainees, and for the first time since the creation of the CIA, the FBI will have jurisdiction over international terrorist interrogations:

President Obama has approved the establishment of a special unit of terrorist interrogators based out of the FBI, senior administration officials said Monday. The move comes in the wake of criticism of questionable CIA interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding and the transfer of detainees to countries where torture is common. A 2004 CIA report detailing the use of unauthorized interrogation methods — including the threatened use of a gun and an electric drill — is expected to be made public Monday.

The decision to place the FBI, rather than the CIA, in charge of the interrogations of suspected terrorists represents a major shift in U.S. national security policy. 

The change is based on the recommendation of an interrogation task force established by Obama shortly after taking office in January.

The interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group will be overseen by the National Security Council and “draw on interrogators from defense, intelligence and law enforcement,” a senior administration official said.

The group will be tasked in part with ensuring that future interrogations comply with restrictions outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual. The manual provides “adequate and effective means” of conducting interrogations, the administration officials said, though they left open the possibility of adding new methods based on the latest scientific research regarding “best practices” for interrogation. “There will be full transparency” regarding any new techniques that might be allowed as a result of such research, one of the officials said.

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“We are still responding to 9/11”: Post-Traumatic Stress Due to 9/11 Exposure Increased Over Time

In Health Issues on August 24, 2009 at 9:19 am

According to a recent study:

The number of people who have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being directly exposed to the World Trade Center attacks has increased over time, according to a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, based on a survey of 50,000 people conducted five to six years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Overall, 19 percent of those surveyed in 2006-7 said they had developed post-traumatic stress symptoms in the five to six years after the attack, up from 14 percent in the first survey done of the group, two to three years after the attack. The increase was seen across the board — in rescue workers, office employees, residents and passers-by — but the sharpest jump was reported in the rescue workers.

The 19 percent overall rate in the second survey is roughly four times the rate of post-traumatic stress syndrome typically seen among American adults. Of the 19 percent, 9.5 percent had not reported symptoms in the earlier survey.

The study, “Asthma and Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms 5 to 6 Years Following Exposure to the World Trade Center Terrorist Attack,” is one of the longest-running studies of post-traumatic stress in civilians. “There are very few studies that have looked at one-time major disaster and looked at the course of mental health over time,” said Dr. Lorna E. Thorpe, a deputy New York City health commissioner who was the senior writer of the study. The research is a collaboration between the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most studies of civilians disasters — mass shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing and Hurricane Katrina, for example — end at three years, but studies of combat veterans do continue longer, Dr. Thorpe said.

Even though military combat is a different experience from one-time disasters, “Our findings are very consistent with combat veterans,” she said. Stress symptoms may increase over time because repercussions from the original event — such as job loss or health problems — may add to the strain, she said.

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Holder’s Justice Department Recommends Re-Opening CIA Abuse Cases

In Civil Liberties, Torture on August 24, 2009 at 9:11 am

According to a recent Justice Department report:

The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person officially briefed on the matter.   The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been released.

When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider. With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the issue at the expense of his own agenda.

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Former DHS Director Ridge: White House Tried to Pressure Him to Raise Terror Alert Level before 2004 Election

In Post-9/11 Domestic Anti-Terrorism Efforts on August 20, 2009 at 8:09 pm

A stunning claim by the former director of Homeland Security:

Former US homeland security chief Tom Ridge charges in a new book that top aides to then-president George W. Bush pressured him to raise the “terror alert” level to sway the November 2004 US election.Then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and attorney general John Ashcroft pushed him to elevate the color-coded threat level, but Ridge refused, according to a summary from his publisher, Thomas Dunne Books.

“After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector,” Ridge is quoting as writing in “The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege … And How We Can Be Safe Again.”

Some of Bush’s critics had repeatedly questioned whether the administration was using warnings of a possible attack to blunt the political damage from the unpopular Iraq war by shifting the debate to the broader “war on terrorism,” which had wide popular appeal.

Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, was the first secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security that the US Congress created in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes.

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How The Secret Prisons in Europe Were Built

In Rendition, Secret Prisons, Torture on August 13, 2009 at 9:35 am

A profile of Kyle D. Foggo:

In March 2003, two C.I.A. officials surprised Kyle D. Foggo, then the chief of the agency’s main European supply base, with an unusual request. They wanted his help building secret prisons to hold some of the world’s most threatening terrorists. Mr. Foggo, nicknamed Dusty, was known inside the agency as a cigar-waving, bourbon-drinking operator, someone who could get a cargo plane flying anywhere in the world or quickly obtain weapons, food, money — whatever the C.I.A. needed. His unit in Frankfurt, Germany, was strained by the spy agency’s operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Mr. Foggo agreed to the assignment.

“It was too sensitive to be handled by headquarters,” he said in an interview. “I was proud to help my nation.”

With that, Mr. Foggo went on to oversee construction of three detention centers, each built to house about a half-dozen detainees, according to former intelligence officials and others briefed on the matter. One jail was a renovated building on a busy street in Bucharest, Romania, the officials disclosed. Another was a steel-beam structure at a remote site in Morocco that was apparently never used. The third, another remodeling project, was outside another former Eastern bloc city. They were designed to appear identical, so prisoners would be disoriented and not know where they were if they were shuttled back and forth. They were kept in isolated cells.

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The Psychologists Behind Bush-Era Harsh Interrogation Techniques

In Civil Liberties, Post-9/11 Domestic Anti-Terrorism Efforts, Torture on August 12, 2009 at 9:26 am

The story of the architects of U.S. harsh interrogation  techniques (see also the 2007 story in Vanity Fair):

Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were military retirees and psychologists, on the lookout for business opportunities. They found an excellent customer in the Central Intelligence Agency, where in 2002 they became the architects of the most important interrogation program in the history of American counterterrorism.  They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.

But they had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough. So “Doc Mitchell” and “Doc Jessen,” as they had been known in the Air Force, helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course.

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