Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Torture Timeline

Bush administration officials have repeatedly claimed that high-value detainees like Abu Zubaydah were tortured only after the August 1st, 2002 memo from the OLC that gave legal sanction to numerous coercive interrogation techniques. But that timeline simply isn't plausible, as stories like this make clear:

In April 2002, four months before the Justice Department issued its first “torture” memo, an FBI special agent who participated in the interrogation of the first “high-value” detainee captured after 9/11 reported that his treatment by the CIA amounted to “borderline torture,” according to a long forgotten report issued by the Department of Justice last year on the FBI’s role in detainee interrogations.

In recounting how the FBI agent verbally objected to the interrogation methods used against the detainee, Abu Zubaydah, sometime in April or May of 2002 Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in his report that the CIA had told another FBI agent, identified by the pseudonym “Gibson," who was present for the interrogation that the techniques were approved "at the highest levels" of government.


Fine’s report would appear to seriously undercut assertions by Bush administration officials that “enhanced interrogation” techniques were applied to "high-value" detainees only after the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a memorandum in August 2002 authorizing the CIA to use 10 brutal methods in an attempt to extract information from prisoners about plans to attack the U.S.

There has been speculation for some time that Zubaydah's torture preceded the Justice Department's legal opinion. That question came up during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last year and former Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Michael Mukasey were both asked about it but said they did not know.


According to Fine’s report, “Thomas” did not see Zubaydah being waterboarded but witnessed other methods being used against him that he said were “borderline torture.”

Agent “Thomas’s” "communicated his concerns about the CIA [interrogation] methods" to the Pasquale D'Amuro, the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, in a telephone conversation in May 2002, according to Fine’s report. D’Amuro told Fine that he brought the agents' complaints to FBI Director Robert Mueller and "stated that his exact words to Mueller were 'we don't do that' and that someday the FBI would be called to testify and he wanted to be able to say that the FBI did not participate in this type of activity."


According to Fine's report, D'Amuro decided to remove the agents from the interrogations after "Thomas" communicated his concerns in the May 2002 telephone conversation. But "Gibson" said he was not immediately ordered to leave and “remained at the CIA facility until some time in early June 2002, several weeks after 'Thomas' left, and that he continued to work with the CIA and participate in interviewing Zubaydah.”

When he returned to the FBI headquarters in June 2002 to meet with officials about Zubaydah “Gibson” said he had no "moral objection" to the techniques being used against Zubaydah because they were “comparable” to the “harsh interrogation” techniques he “himself had part of the U.S. Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training.”

Likening the methods used to interrogate Zubaydah’s before to those applied to U.S. military personnel at a SERE facility is the clearest evidence yet that Zubaydah’s was tortured using techniques that were not yet approved in the Aug. 1, 2002 Bybee memo.

In his op-ed today, FBI interrogator Ali Soufan reveals that he was one of the agents who participated in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah prior to the CIA's taking over of the process. Soufan says he objected to the harsher techniques, a revelation which would seem to correlate with the actions of Agent "Thomas" in Fine's report as detailed above. But Soufan clearly says that "Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August." Soufan is unclear in his op-ed about when he objected to these techniques, but Fine's report makes it clear that Agent "Thomas" objected in early May 2002, implying that at least some level of "enhanced interrogation" techniques were being employed before the August 1st OLC memo was ever drafted.

But that's not the only evidence that detainees in U.S. custody were tortured prior even to the OLC memos authorizing enhanced interrogation techniques. A Tunisian detainee originally captured in in the wake of 9/11 has filed suit against the federal government, alleging he was tortured by agents of the CIA in late 2001:

According to the lawsuit, Alhami was arrested in Iran in November 2001 and taken to Afghanistan to three CIA "dark sites" where "his presence and his existence were unknown to everyone except his United States detainers" and his name was not included on any publicly available list of detainees.

Beginning in December 2001, Alhami was tortured repeatedly, the lawsuit claims.
The methods were varied: At different times Alhami was stripped naked, threatened with dogs, shackled in painful "stress" positions for hours, punched, kicked and exposed to extremes of heat and cold. The suit also alleges Alhami's interrogators sprayed pepper spray on his hemorrhoids, causing extreme pain.

The lawsuit doesn't claim Alhami was waterboarded, a technique that simulates drowning.

The torture continued after Alhami was transferred to the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2003, where he currently is held, according to the suit.

Now it's most interesting to that Alhami is filing suit now, in the wake of the release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report and the OLC memos last week. The article says the allegations were "pieced together from Alhami's recollections, declassified documents and information from human rights organizations." Would those declassified documents be the recently declassified OLC memos? I'd sure like to know.

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