The Genesis of Torture

Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a 63-page set of documents that illuminates how the Pentagon developed, selected and approved its list of coercive interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay.

As Joby Warrick reports in today's Post, the documents clarify the role that the CIA (and senior government officials such as DoD General Counsel William "Jim" Haynes) played. "If the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong," CIA lawyer Jonathan Friedman proclaimed in a working group meeting that led to the development of this DoD memo on approved interrogation techniques.

Even more significant, the documents show how the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency ("JPRA") helped develop interrogation techniques, borrowing extensively from the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape ("SERE") courses. (Mark Benjamin provides a detailed timeline in Salon for precisely how this unfolded.) These techniques -- which include waterboarding, confinement to small boxes, and stress positions, among others -- were developed to mimic the interrogation practices of our worst enemies, such as the North Koreans and the North Vietnamese. It speaks volumes that they were adopted by the U.S. at Gitmo.

Some of the things that struck me while reading the documents last night:

Tabs 2 and 3 confirm Jane Mayer's reporting on the use of SERE practices as an interrogation template -- both at Gitmo and elsewhere by the CIA. There wasn't a lot of hard evidence to support this narrative though, and many chalked up the similarities between the Gitmo and SERE techniques to coincidence or chance. For instance, in Philippe Sands's new book, retired JAG officer Diane Beaver and retired Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey recount a somewhat hazy process by which tactics made their way into memo form. Both hint that personnel from the CIA and other agencies were placed at Gitmo to seed ideas. The memos released yesterday, however, indicate that there was a much more deliberate effort to share the SERE/JPRA community's tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs in military parlance) with the interrogation community at Gitmo. (Tab 16 shows this link too.)

Tab 4 discusses the military's psychological assessment of personnel during SERE training. Taken by itself, this is a sign that the military cares about its personnel and wants to avoid "crushing the spirit of the students." But in the interrogation context, this memo reads uncomfortably like Mengele or Cold War-era research on torture.

In the October 2002 meeting described in Tab 7, FBI agents report talk of "wet towel" treatment during interrogations, despite the fact that waterboarding was explicitly not authorized by Haynes and Rumsfeld at that point. So it appears that DoD personnel at Gitmo took the initiative to use SERE techniques before they were approved by higher HQ. These meeting notes also confirm the presence and role of CIA personnel. And they strongly suggest that the Justice Department memoranda authored in Washington -- but previously thought to have not reached Gitmo -- were probably shared with Gitmo lawyers and intelligence personnel in some manner. This connects those memoranda with the one that then-Lt. Col. Beaver authored, which ultimately made its way to Rumsfeld's desk in December 2002.

Tab 19 further documents the relationship between SERE training and the interrogation practices at Gitmo. But at some point, probably around the time of Abu Ghraib and the post-scandal investigations of all Defense Department detention and interrogation operations, there comes a break. Tab 24 contains a memo by the head of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency that comes pretty darn close to refusing any future orders to participate in interrogations. The uniformed military seems to be trying to correct its course. But by that point, three years had passed and it may have been too late to undo the damage wrought by the Pentagon's torture policies.

By Phillip Carter |  June 18, 2008; 10:34 AM ET  | Category:  Torture
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this means that the President's assertion that we do not torture was clearly a lie.

it also means that Lynndie England was NOT acting without prior authority.

and SHE sits in jail.

round 'em up, starting with Addington and Yoo

Posted by: pv | June 18, 2008 12:03 PM

We either repudiate this practice by taking those who authorized illegal tactics and pu thtem in jail, or we can never say that these practices are wrong for the North Koreas or Iranians. Its time to take back the moral high ground. Its time to take back America from those who released the sadists. Its also time to ask Bush, point blank, whether he authorized torture and if not who is he going to fire first for having authorized torture. Its time for grown-ups to run this great nation.

Posted by: Fate | June 18, 2008 12:20 PM

It is hard to imagine under what circumstances the interrogation policies of the USA could be allowed to be subverted to match those of North Korea and North Vietnam. If we allow the arguments of fear and security, false arguments postulated by weaklings, we not only have let the terrorists win, but we have damaged ourselves beyond recognition. It is indeed time to take back the nation and hold those responsible accountable under the law.

Posted by: AgentG | June 18, 2008 1:03 PM

No one is going to a god d--- thing about this. But huff and puff about it. Bush et al, civilian and military, should be formally investigated, and prosecuted, depending on the results of the investigation. But nothing will happen. Big thunder...little--if any---rain. We're going to hear about 'looking forward, looking to the future, America has soooo many problems, digging this all up, in a formal, criminal, investigation, is just too much a luxury now. But boy would we like to' and rot like that.

Posted by: jonst | June 18, 2008 1:47 PM

"No one is going to a god d--- thing about this. But huff and puff about it. Bush et al, civilian and military, should be formally investigated, and prosecuted, depending on the results of the investigation. But nothing will happen. Big thunder...little--if any---rain. We're going to hear about 'looking forward, looking to the future, America has soooo many problems, digging this all up, in a formal, criminal, investigation, is just too much a luxury now. But boy would we like to' and rot like that."

Sad but true.

Posted by: Andy | June 18, 2008 2:09 PM

The next time some one slams a airline into building into and kills thousands of Americans don't start asking questions on why the dots weren't connected and why nothing was done about it. From my experience living in the Middle East they have no regards for our rules or moral convictions and will only use them against us. Remember what Bin Laden said.. we have no stomach to fight and are weak.. that's is why they will win in the end!!

Posted by: MOON | June 18, 2008 2:14 PM

These crooks in office are no better than that lot the world tried as war criminals at Nuremburg. If Goering could plead "lack of memory" and still be convicted, why shouldn't the same fate await Bush & his circle of thugs?

Posted by: Orbiter Dictum | June 18, 2008 2:21 PM

Moon, is your point that we should jettison our rules and moral convictions so we can sink to bin Laden's level?

Posted by: Dragonfly | June 18, 2008 2:25 PM

Based on a number of citations appearing in other articles, seminar agendas, etc. that I came across on Google, Mr. (Torture is a question of perception) Fredman was published, in the CIA publication, Studies in Intelligence. The citation in one of the articles was as follows - - Jonathan Fredman, "Covert Action, Loss of Life, and the Prohibition on. Assassination," Studies in Intelligence (1997), pp. 15-25 - - although one other citation to the article gave it a 1996 vintage. I would love to see a copy of the indicated article. Who knows, Mr. Fredman may have been saying the the Church Committee inspired prohibition of assassination was pointlessly squeamish, and certainly, if you think assassination is ok, some torture that may or may not lead to death (if you're doing it incorrectly, I guess) would hardly be something to worry about. Hopefully somebody else reading the comments will be able to find the Fredman article and provide some more definitive information on how to find it.

Posted by: RPEwing | June 18, 2008 2:26 PM

We need to conduct War Crimes trials and if found guilty, Bush, Cheney, etc.should be publicly hung by the neck until dead. Preferably in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol

Posted by: BigDog | June 18, 2008 2:49 PM

The next time some one slams a airline into building into and kills thousands of Americans don't start asking questions on why the dots weren't connected and why nothing was done about it. From my experience living in the Middle East they have no regards for our rules or moral convictions and will only use them against us. Remember what Bin Laden said.. we have no stomach to fight and are weak.. that's is why they will win in the end!!

Posted by: MOON | June 18, 2008 2:14 PM

From all of the evidence it should be clear to even someone like you that our own government has stooped to the level of our enemies by "disregarding our rules and moral convictions." But General Taguba says it even better:

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Posted by: pmorlan, Kentucky | June 18, 2008 3:07 PM

bich moan oh my god bich moan oh my god.
this is has been going on for months.
do something about it demand impeachment!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2008 3:27 PM

Trial hell...storm the appropriate offices and round them up...I've got a lot of new rope and can tie pretty good knots. It's time to hang these people now...this country needs a morale booster.

Posted by: frings | June 18, 2008 3:44 PM

I wonder if anybody will ask McBush about how he feels that the debriefings he gave about his torture in North Vietnam, instead of illustrating how heinous and cowardly the enemy was, are now serving as a primer for how the US tortures its prisoners. He used to say, before his electoral madness, that what sustained him was the knowledge that we were the good guys. I wonder if the Gitmo, Abu Gharib, Bagram, etc.. folks feel the same?

Posted by: docotr t | June 18, 2008 3:59 PM

Hey MOON, shouldn't diss the Israelis like that, they are our allies.

Posted by: doctort | June 18, 2008 4:07 PM

Interestingly, Moon, to Iraqi culture a show of force such as America has been giving them with Shock & Awe, torture, etcetera, *labels us as weak*. Weak people try to impress you by shouting and screaming at you or trying to dominate you.

Good intelligence is gotten by building relationships. Always has been.

In trying to oust so-called bad people by use of their own methods, we only become the new generation of tyrants.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2008 4:16 PM

From my understanding we did have information before airplanes started hitting buildings. The problem was that the information was spread around agencies that did not share intelligence with one another.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2008 4:24 PM

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Posted by: tom | June 18, 2008 4:24 PM

"From my experience living in the Middle East they have no regards for our rules or moral convictions and will only use them against us."

Therefore, we can do the same, huh? If so, what differentiates "us" from "them?"

Posted by: tom | June 18, 2008 4:27 PM

Assignment for some dedicated volunteer with a thorough knowledge of who is who in this whole mess: Identify the principles, both for and against torture as policy, by their background, means of entry into the mix (that is, did they come in as career civil servants or where they brought in by Bush and Cheney?)

It is quite important that those of us who really don't know the inside players on sight find out, because, if it turns out that the Career Government stood against the policies as best they could, and that the pro torture gang is entirely the self appointed experts from George's small circle of friends, it really indicts the Republican Party, and in this case if that is so, The Republican Party needs to be held accountable.

ALL of it.

Posted by: | June 18, 2008 5:38 PM

MOON: Since the administration had excellent warning that something was afoot, and deliberately refused to listen to a non trivial number of experts yelling look out, even if the country accepted torture under certain circumstances as acceptable, George et al wouldn't have arrested any one to torture (they didn't arrest Atta, and a bunch of people were calling for his detention) anyway.

9/11 didn't happen because the FBI was prevented from using brutal interrogation techniques to drag information out of the potential hijackers, it happened because the FBI was prevented from questioning the hijackers, period.

Mohammed Atta and friends, under arrest, would have likely bragged that the U. S. didn't know who they were dealing with, and in the process spilled the whole plot. George didn't want them arrested because if they had been arrested, he wouldn't have gotten his excuse for war.

Sorry, your premise is as worthless as your conclusion. Future 9/11's will be prevented only if we want to listen to the LEGAL operators who try to get our attention.

We NEVER needed torture, just competent counter terror work.

George's people haven't ever tried that approach.

Posted by: | June 18, 2008 5:48 PM

It makes me shudder at the level that the current administration has brought this country to. How can I be proud of this? We need to remove these b#$tARDs and improve this country to what it once was.

Posted by: phorse | June 18, 2008 7:26 PM

My question: Is there still a problem, or are we just getting worked up over old news? Have we already fixed the problems?

How many of these offenses occurred before 2004, and how many after? Every document Phil quotes above is from 2004 and earlier.

I know that before 2004 there was very poor training and even less control, as evident in the Abu G photos. But are we working ourselves up over something that happened 4 years ago, or do we believe these practices continue today?

I know from my own experiences before and after 2004, that as a result of Abu G, interrogation practices are tightly controlled today. And all students in JPRA and SERE schools are required to sign a statement binding them by law not to use techniques used in SERE training against detainees.

This is an important debate, don't get me wrong. But is it still a problem today in DoD or are we digging up old dirt that no longer reflects reality today (as nasty as that dirt is)?

Posted by: bg | June 18, 2008 7:26 PM

bg, the answer to your question is simple. A crime is a crime, regardless of whether it only happened in the past or is still continuing to happen. The proper way to deal with a crime, regardless of whether it is ongoing, is to conduct a thorough investigation and then, if the investigation reveals the identity of the culprit(s), prosecute those who committed the crime.

To the extent that there have been some corrective actions taken to lessen the likelihood that the crime will be repeated, that is a good thing. However, if society fails to take any action to punish those who are known to have committed a crime, it is unlikely that those corrective actions will remain in force, because society essentially will have invited others to commit the same crime in the future by letting them know that there is no penalty for breaking the law.

Posted by: taikan | June 18, 2008 7:49 PM

It would appear that among all of these DoD types involved names of Joint Command Generals and Admirals are not included. GITMO is a Navy town. None of this passed thru the hands of Naval Academy graduates? Were they not involved in things that occurred under their commands? Were not those men from the classes of the 60's and 70's in key positions of the military chain that sought relief from the Conventions of Geneva, the Oaths of Office and old honor codes from the Severn and Hudson Rivers?

There is more to this story. We shall hear more I am sure.

Posted by: Bill Keller | June 18, 2008 7:55 PM

pv (the first poster) makes a good point. The information, including the documents referred to in the report, appears to corroborate testimony by those prosecuted for abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other locations that they were following orders. Although the Nuremburg trials established that "following orders" isn't a valid excuse for violating the laws of war, to the extent the memoranda written by John Yoo and others provided a legal excuse for certain actions, they should have been provided by the prosecution to counsel for the defendants in each of those trials as potentially exculpatory evidence.

Posted by: taikan | June 18, 2008 7:55 PM


Agreed, a crime is a crime, no matter when it occurred.

My point is not to down play what happened. My point, and my question above, is this: Is it still happening? Have the proper safeguards been put in place to prevent from happening again.

Whether or not there should be criminal prosecution, that goes down the slippery slope of what is torture, who knew what, when, etc. If we are going to prosecute, will the prosecution be done for reasons you state (deter future problems), or is it simply political. Sometimes, it feels like it is more a matter of politics than legalities or even ethics.

Posted by: bg | June 18, 2008 8:22 PM

Torture, to me, falls into a special category of crimes. Rape, torture, child abuse. These are acts of cowards and are dishonorable in every instance.

That McCain would flip-flop on torture and embrace the Bush policy of its use is the best indication that the John McCain that was a hero is no longer.

Posted by: steve boyington | June 18, 2008 8:43 PM

It is shameful. The President, in our name, has been breaking international laws, holding innocent men in prison without hearing and without redress, and it now seems, has been allowing the torture of human beings. We need to stand for something. Do you not think that the Arab nations consider this double-talk and flat out lying to be respectable? I love my Country -- but the Country I love wouldn't allow this to go without punishment. No, it's not time to move forward, it's not time to look ahead. It is time to stop, look at it all, hold those that are guilty accountable, and show the world that we are a nation that values human rights, dignity, freedom and the rule of law. The law applies to everyone -- no matter who you are or how much money you have. The Founding Fathers would be aghast at this perversion.

Posted by: Peter | June 18, 2008 11:21 PM

I believe that if we do not prosecute "whomever" is responsible for war crimes that the European Courts can legally indict and try those individuals. I think that if the country of citizenship does not punish the perpetrators then the World Court is obligated to...

Posted by: Ruth | June 18, 2008 11:34 PM

I have disagreed with a lot of things that those in power in this country have done. However, even though I very strongly opposed both the Vietnam war and the Iraq war, I have never before felt ashamed of my country. A country that tortures prisoners, is a country that has lost the moral high ground. Our Constitution has been ignored, disrespected, and contradicted. I am ashamed of America.

Posted by: Arjuna9 | June 19, 2008 12:29 AM

And all the facts were available on torture and no one in this totalitarian, corrupt, and incompetent mis-administration even bothered to look!

Posted by: ghostcommander | June 19, 2008 1:07 AM

For those who like good fiction, I just finished reading "Ghost," by Robert Harris (Fatherland, etc.). The protagonist is a ghost writer hired to do the memoirs of the former British prime minister (written in 2007 and set in the present), a man totally committed to the "war on terror" and also a steadfast ally of the U.S.

In the course of the book, the prime minister comes under scrutiny by the International Criminal Court (ICC), based on allegations of war crimes. The book all takes place in the U.S., which is where the former PM has to stay because he's afraid the U.K., which has signed up for the ICC, might have no choice but to hand him over to the court. OTOH, the U.S., which is among the handful of nations that haven't signed up to the ICC, welcomes him with open arms.

Check it out.

Posted by: Publius | June 19, 2008 8:34 PM


"The next time some one slams a airline into building into and kills thousands of Americans..."

But the chimp in the White House DID know, or should have "connected the dots", as you put it, that this scenario was about to happen.

August 6, 2001. Presidential Daily Briefing (Aug 6 PDB) "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S"

The chimp told the Intelligence guys something along the lines of "OK, you've CYA" and then proceeded to ignore the information in the briefing.

Have some more Kool-Ade, my friend.

But be warned: the spigot is just about tapped out and running dry.


Posted by: osmor | June 20, 2008 12:16 AM


You are concerned that the current wave of criminalization smacks of politics.

But, as you stated, you do agree that a crime is a crime.

At this point in time, it makes sense to round up the criminals. If they happen to be mostly Republicans, then so be it. After all, it is mostly Republicans who have been breaking the laws, and are only just now starting to face justice. After all, a crime is a crime, no matter when it happened.

Perhaps you're concerned because your Republicans are not very adept at evading justice?

AND, what is that nonsense you spouted about "...that goes down the slippery slope of what is torture.."

Good, God, man, do you really not know what torture is????!!!!

Jeezus Keerist, my country has actually become the purveyors of torture.


Posted by: osmor | June 20, 2008 12:28 AM

It seems to me that if the Gitmo detainees had been held in, say, Afghanistan, until such time as some kind of evidence had been assembled against them, they could have been moved onto US territory for trial when desired. From my deep study of the history of prison camps (mostly Hogan's Heroes) I suspect that during other wars prisoners were held without legal recourse until the end of hostilities. I suppose those were actual declared wars, however. Of course it the US were being invaded we would presumably not give prisoners access to the courts. It doesn't help that some prisoners have been in Gitmo by mistake for six years--it also underlines the lack of a speedy trial for those against whom there is evidence. It would be ironic if Bushian zeal fatally compromised trials such as KSM's. It seems to me that any defendant could plausibly claim to have been tortured, when there is now a clear chain of command authorizing it as well as abundant evidence that it has occurred. The conditions of captivity are so bad that they required setting up a pocket court system where show trials could be held and evidence extracted through torture would be accepted. Tragic yet stupid. Over the long term terrorism will be defeated if Western culture is accepted and valued by others. And that will only happen if we actually stand for enlightened society by acting according to our professed values.

Posted by: scientist1 | June 20, 2008 8:25 PM

It appears that now that the SC has affirmed habeas rights in Gitmo, the "solid evidence" the government was claiming needs a bit of cleaning up

Posted by: Butch | June 21, 2008 4:25 PM

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