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Senate Armed Services Cmte. Tracks the Origins of Detainee Abuse

Earlier this year, the Senate Armed Services Committee held blockbuster hearings with key figures in the creation of the Bush administration’s torture policies. The hearings represented a watershed, tracing the metaphorical chain of custody for torture techniques — starting in 2001 and early 2002 — from the SERE school to Guantanamo Bay to the office of the secretary of defense, with detours through CIA. Anyone who denied that this was a concerted policy had to abandon that argument after the hearing.

Today the committee released an unclassified version of its report into the origins of torture in the Bush administration. Methodically, the committee establishes how the United States turned away from a historic commitment to the preservation of human rights in the mistaken belief that it could rely on torture to secure the country. A flavor:

A week after the visit from those senior lawyers, two GTMO behavioral scientists who had attended the [Joint Personnel Recovery Agency]-led training at Fort Bragg drafted a memo proposing new interrogation techniques for use at GTMO. According to one of those two behavioral scientists, by early October 2002, there was “increasing pressure to get ‘tougher’ with detainee interrogations.” He added that if the interrogation policy memo did not contain coercive techniques, then it “wasn’t going to go very far.”

Call it the bureaucrat-ese of evil. Here’s what I believe is a new piece of information: Instructors from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program — intended to train U.S. forces how to withstand torture — visited Guantanamo to train interrogators how to torture detainees:

On December 30, 2002, two instructors from the Navy SERE school arrived at GTMO. The next day, in a session with approximately 24 interrogation personnel, the two SERE instructors demonstrated how to administer stress positions, and various slapping techniques. According to two interrogators, those who attended the training even broke off into pairs to practice the techniques.

And here’s another — how Donald Rumsfeld specifically approved the torture of a Guantanamo detainee:

Just a few months later, one such request for “additional interrogation techniques” arrived on Secretary Rumsfeld’s desk. The detainee was Mohamedou Ould Slahi. While documents relating to the interrogation plan for Slahi remain classified, a May 2008 report from the Department of Justice Inspector General includes declassified information suggesting the plan included hooding Slahi and subjecting him to sensory deprivation and “sleep adjustment.” The Inspector General’s report says that an FBI agent who saw a draft of the interrogation plan said it was similar to Khatani’s interrogation plan. Secretary Rumsfeld approved the Slahi plan on August 13, 2003.

According to Amnesty International, Slahi was implicated in the failed “Millenium Plot” and turned himself in to authorities in Mauritania shortly after 9/11. He was then rendered to Jordan — a country known to torture — for several months before the U.S. took custody of him and transfered him to Guantanamo by the summer of 2002. Here’s what Amnesty pieced together about Slahi’s treatment before Rumsfeld’s new plan took effect:

According to Mohamedou Slahi, his FBI interrogator told him on 22 May 2003 that Slahi “was not going to enjoy the time to come”. One of the new interrogators assigned to his case was “a special guy” who was always masked so “we would never see his face”. On 17 June 2003, Mohamedou Slahi was put in “total isolation” in India Block of the Guantánamo detention facility, and “they took all of my stuff from me”. He has described his cell as built of steel from floor to ceiling with a very cold temperature setting on the air conditioner. According to the information released under the FOIA, another detainee has called this room the “freezer”. Mohamedou Slahi recalled to his ARB in 2005 that “I could not bear sleeping on the metal because of my back and you never know how much pain I could take. I could end up dead or something.” He says that he refused painkillers in protest, as what he needed was something to sleep on.

Heavily redacted documents made public under FOIA litigation contain references to this period such as “every morning the detainee was scared…”, “the detainee stated that he refused to eat food when he was humiliated”, and “the detainee was awaken [sic] every hour or two and only [sic] and forced to drink one liter of water.”(17) Although pages of further details have been censored out, the detainee would appear to be Mohamedou Slahi.

Can’t wait to read how Rumsfeld justifies this in his forthcoming memoir.

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