Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torture Is Not Just A CIA Issue

It would behoove all of us to remember, as the SASC report shows, that torturing detainees didn't originate with the CIA at GITMO. It actually started with the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soon afterward, the first alarms began to sound. Jerald Ogrisseg, an Air Force SERE psychologist, warned JPRA chief of staff Daniel Baumgartner that waterboarding detainees was illegal. In Oct 2002, Lieut. Colonel Morgan Banks, an Army SERE psychologist, warned officials at Gitmo of the risks of using SERE techniques for interrogation, pointing out that even with the Army's careful monitoring, injuries and accidents did happen. "The risk with real detainees is increased exponentially," he wrote.

But by then, the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) had already issued two legal opinions, signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, declaring that the techniques did not amount to torture. JPRA training for Gitmo interrogators was stepped up. In December 2002, with Rumsfeld's authorization, officials of the Joint Task Force at Gitmo devised a standard operating procedure for the use of many SERE techniques to interrogate detainees.

Rumsfeld would rescind his authorization in a manner of weeks, after the Navy General Counsel, Alberto Mora, raised concerns about many techniques, arguing that they violated U.S. and international laws and constituted, at worst, torture. Mora met Haynes and warned him that the "interrogation policies could threaten [Rumsfeld's] tenure and could even damage the presidency."

But even after Rumsfeld in January 2003 rescinded the authority for the use of SERE techniques at Gitmo, they remained in use in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq. Since Rumsfeld never declared these techniques illegal, military lawyers down the line were able to cite his original authorization as Pentagon policy. JPRA instructors would eventually travel to Iraq to train military interrogators there.

In the summer of 2004, the JPRA was even considering sending trainers to Afghanistan, prompting another SERE psychologist, Colonel Kenneth Rollins, to warn his colleagues by e-mail: "[W]e need to really stress the difference between what instructors do at SERE school (done to INCREASE RESISTANCE capability in students) versus what is taught at interrogator school (done to gather information). What is done by SERE instructors is by definition ineffective interrogator conduct. Simply stated, SERE school does not train you on how to interrogate, and things you 'learn' there by osmosis about interrogation are probably wrong if copied by interrogators."

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