Below I reported on yesterday’s important Senate Armed Services Committee [SASC], hearing on the export of SERE techniques to Iraq. Here I’ll post Senator Carl Levin’s Opening Statement, which summarize some of the key findings from the two rounds of SASC hearings. We eagerly look forward to the completed committee report, some time before the end of the Congressional session.
In June 2008, this Committee held a hearing on the origins of aggressive interrogation techniques used against detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. At that hearing, the Committee heard how techniques such as stress positions, forced nudity, and sleep deprivation – used in military Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape or “SERE” training to teach U.S. personnel to resist abusive interrogations, and based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions – were turned on their head and authorized at senior levels of our government for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody. Today’s hearing will cover one way that those techniques made their way to Iraq.
While some have claimed that detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were simply the result of a few bad apples acting on their own, at our June hearing we heard that as far back as December 2001, senior Department of Defense officials, including from General Counsel William J. “Jim” Haynes’s office, sought out information from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD agency responsible for overseeing SERE training. We heard how, when he later reviewed a request from Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) to use techniques similar to those used in SERE training, Mr. Haynes ignored strong concerns from the military services that some of the techniques were illegal, cut short an effort by the Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct a legal and policy review of the techniques, and recommended that the Secretary of Defense approve most of them for use against detainees. In December 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld approved Mr. Haynes’s recommendation, sending the message that stripping detainees, placing them in stress positions, and using dogs to intimidate them was acceptable. Policies authorizing some of those same abusive techniques in Afghanistan and Iraq followed the Secretary’s decision. We’ll hear this morning how one military commander in Iraq sought and obtained interrogation support from JPRA, an agency whose expertise, again, is in teaching soldiers to resist abusive interrogations conducted by our enemies.
We’ll hear from Colonel Steven Kleinman, the former Director of Intelligence at the JPRA’s Personnel Recovery Academy and retired Colonel John R. Moulton II, former Commander, JPRA. Both witnesses have been cooperative with the Committee’s inquiry and I thank them for their appearance here today.
Some new information and recently declassified documents [PDF] provide further insight into the extent to which SERE resistance training techniques influenced detainee interrogations conducted by U.S. personnel and the role of senior officials in approving policies authorizing the use of those techniques against detainees.
At our June 17th hearing, we heard that the Department of Defense General Counsel’s office, led by Jim Haynes, sought advice from JPRA as far back as December 2001. Specifically, in mid-December 2001, Deputy General Counsel for Intelligence Richard Shiffrin solicited information from JPRA on detainee “exploitation.” JPRA Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baumgartner responded to Mr. Shiffrin’s call with a six page fax. An unclassified fax cover sheet addressed to Mr. Shiffrin and dated December 17, 2001 [TAB 1] states that the document provided JPRA’s “spin on exploitation” and that if the General Counsel’s office needed “experts to facilitate this process” that JPRA stood “ready to assist.” That December 2001 call from Mr. Shiffrin appears to have been JPRA’s first foray into “offensive” interrogation operations, but other efforts soon followed.
On April 16, 2002, Dr. Bruce Jessen, who was then the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, circulated a draft “exploitation plan” to JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton and other senior officials at the agency. Emails exchanged between Dr. Jessen and Colonel Moulton [TAB 2] suggest that JPRA intended to seek approval of the exploitation plan.
Also in the spring of 2002, the CIA sought approval from the National Security Council (NSC) to begin an interrogation program for high-level al-Qaida detainees. In a written response to questions I sent her in July 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was then the National Security Advisor to the President, responded on September 12th that, in 2002 and 2003 there were meetings at the White House where specific CIA interrogation techniques were discussed. [TAB 3] I also asked Secretary Rice whether she attended meetings where SERE training was discussed. Secretary Rice responded that that she recalled being told that U.S. military personnel were subjected in training to “physical and psychological interrogation techniques.” Her legal advisor at the time, John Bellinger, said in his September 12th written answers to my questions that he was present in meetings at the White House or the Eisenhower Executive Office Building “at which SERE training was discussed.” [TAB 4]
Secretary Rice also wrote in her September 12th response that John Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended and that the Department of Justice’s advice on the program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.” She wrote that CIA’s interrogation program was reviewed by NSC Principals and that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld participated in that review. Secretary Rice said that when CIA sought approval of the interrogation program she asked Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet to brief the Principals and asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to “personally advise NSC Principals whether the program was lawful.” Mr. Bellinger, her Legal Advisor, wrote that he asked CIA lawyers to seek legal advice not only from the OLC, but also from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, headed at the time by Michael Chertoff.
The meetings referred to by Secretary Rice and Mr. Bellinger were not meetings between low-level bureaucrats. These were the most senior officials in the United States government, advisors to the President, meeting in the White House.
Mr. Bellinger said that some of the legal analyses of proposed interrogation techniques that were prepared by the Department of Justice referred to “the psychological effects of military resistance training” and that during the 2002-2003 timeframe, he “expressed concern that the proposed CIA interrogation techniques comply with applicable U.S. law, including our international obligations.”
At our June 17th hearing, the Committee heard that in July 2002, prompted by a request from DoD General Counsel Jim Haynes, Deputy General Counsel for Intelligence Richard Shiffrin called JPRA and asked for a list of physical and psychological pressures used in SERE training. In response to that request, on July 26, 2002, JPRA provided a list of techniques that included stress positions, waterboarding, slapping, sleep disruption, and sensory deprivation. The JPRA list also made reference to a section of the JPRA manual that talks about “coercive pressures,” like treating a person like an animal. Mr. Shiffrin testified that part of the reason the General Counsel’s office sought the information was its interest in reverse-engineering the techniques for use offensively in detainee interrogations.
At that hearing we also heard that in October 2002, Major General Michael Dunlavey, the Commander at Guantanamo, requested authority to use some of the same SERE resistance training techniques that had been on the list JPRA provided to Mr. Haynes’s office in July.
The military services registered serious concerns about the legality of some of the techniques in Major General Dunlavey’s request and Rear Admiral Jane Dalton, who was the Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that she initiated a broad based legal and policy review of the request. But, at Mr. Haynes’s request, her review was cut short by General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff. Mr. Haynes subsequently recommended that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approve most of the techniques in Major General Dunlavey’s request. Again, on December 2, 2002 Secretary Rumsfeld approved Mr. Haynes’s recommendation, authorizing the use of aggressive interrogation techniques at GTMO, including stress positions, instilling fear through the use of dogs, and removal of clothing.
At the June 17th hearing, we heard from then-Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora about concerns he raised in December 2002 and January 2003 with Mr. Haynes about interrogations at GTMO. We learned from John Bellinger, the NSC legal advisor, in his September 12th response to my questions, that on several occasions, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz raised concerns with him about allegations of detainee abuse at GTMO. Mr. Bellinger wrote to me that he, in turn, raised these concerns “on several occasions with DoD officials.” In her September 12th response, Secretary Rice wrote that Mr. Bellinger also advised her “on a regular basis regarding concerns and issues relating to DoD detention policies and practices at Guantanamo.” She wrote that as a result she convened a “series of meetings of NSC Principals in 2002 and 2003 to discuss various issues and concerns relating to detainees in the custody of the Department of Defense.”
At our last hearing, I described how aggressive techniques authorized by the Secretary of Defense for use at GTMO made their way to Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of those same techniques were authorized by senior military commanders. For instance, on September 14, 2003 Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the Commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq, authorized the use of dogs, stress positions, and other aggressive techniques in interrogations.
In the summer of 2003 the Commander of a special mission unit Task Force in Iraq went further. He contacted JPRA for help with interrogations. Again, JPRA’s expertise is in training soldiers to resist abusive interrogations by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions. In response to the Commander’s request, and with explicit approval from the U.S. Joint Forces Command, JPRA’s higher headquarters, JPRA sent an interrogation support team to Iraq. Colonel Kleinman was the team leader during that visit.
Here’s some of what we know about the Iraq trip from unclassified or declassified sources. The Task Force’s request for JPRA “interrogator support” was submitted through official channels and was approved by JFCOM on August 27, 2003. JPRA put together a three person team to support the request. On September 4, 2003, just as the JPRA team was arriving in Iraq, Lieutenant General Robert Wagner, the Deputy Commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, JPRA’s senior command, sent an email to Colonel Moulton, the JPRA Commander, about the trip asking, what in JPRA’s “charter places JPRA in the business of intelligence collection?” [TAB 5] Again, just a week earlier, JFCOM had approved the trip. Colonel Moulton replied to Lieutenant General Wagner’s email that “there is nothing in our charter or elsewhere that points us toward the offensive side of captivity conduct” and that JPRA was “well aware of the problems associated with crossing the Rubicon into intel collection (or anything close).”
A second email from Colonel Moulton, however, sent on September 9, 2003 to the JFCOM Director of Operations, stated that “recent history (to include discussions and training with [DIA], USSOCOM, CIA) shows that no DoD entity has a firm grasp on any comprehensive approach to strategic debriefing/interrogation. Our subject matter experts (and certain SERE psychologist) currently have the most knowledge and depth within DoD on the captivity environment and exploitation.” While Colonel Moulton’s email said that JPRA was “NOT looking to expand our involvement to active participation” he noted that JPRA’s “potential participation is predicated solely on the request of the Combatant Commander.”
A recently declassified summary of a 2005 interview with Colonel Moulton [TAB 6] and Colonel Moulton’s prepared statement for today’s hearing both describe conversations he had with Colonel Kleinman while the JPRA team was in Iraq. Colonel Moulton acknowledges telling Colonel Kleinman that the JPRA team was authorized to participate in interrogations using SERE training techniques. Colonel Moulton said he granted that authority only after seeking approval from JFCOM. Colonel Kleinman has said that he objected to the use of SERE training techniques during the trip and that he told Colonel Moulton both that those techniques were inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions and that granting authority for the team to use them was an illegal order. This morning we will hear both Colonel Moulton’s and Colonel Kleinman’s account of those conversations and events that occurred during that trip.
Towards the end of their trip, members of the JPRA team produced a draft Concept of Operations or “CONOP” for the interrogation of detainees. Emails from Captain Daniel Donovan, U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Staff Judge Advocate, reveal some of what the CONOP proposed and what JPRA thought was acceptable.
Captain Donovan, in a September 26, 2003 email to Colonel Moulton and others at JPRA [TAB 7], raised a concern that techniques proposed in the CONOP would “not be legal under the Geneva Conventions.” A few days later in an email to JFCOM leadership [TAB 8] Captain Donovan reiterated his concern stating that “a number of the ‘interrogation techniques’ suggested by JPRA in their draft CONOP are highly aggressive (such as the ‘water board’), and it probably goes without saying that if JPRA is to include such techniques in a CONOP they prepare for an operational unit in another [area of responsibility], they need to be damn sure they’re appropriate in both a legal and policy sense.” Captain Donovan added “JPRA got its list of techniques from a DOD General Counsel Working Group Report dated 6 Mar 03, so I’m sure they felt that their list might have already been ‘blessed’ by Pentagon lawyers.”
The Working Group referred to by Captain Donovan’s email had been established at Secretary Rumsfeld’s direction in January 2003. As the Committee heard at our June 17th hearing, over the strong objections of senior military lawyers, the Working Group relied on a March 14, 2003 legal opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) written by John Yoo. The Working Group’s final report, issued on April 4, 2003, recommended several aggressive techniques including removal of clothing, prolonged standing, sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation, hooding, increasing anxiety through the use of a detainee’s aversions like dogs, and face and stomach slaps. While the final Working Group report did not mention SERE, many of the techniques it recommended were strikingly similar to techniques used in JPRA SERE training.
Captain Donovan’s email said that that the techniques approved by Secretary Rumsfeld for use at GTMO in April 2003 were not the same as those in the Working Group report and said that what the Secretary had approved was more restrictive. As we heard at our June 17th hearing, Secretary Rumsfeld’s April 2003 memo to U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), GTMO’s higher headquarters, was silent on most of the techniques in the Working Group’s report. The Secretary’s memo said that if techniques, beyond 24 that he specifically authorized, were required, SOUTHCOM should “provide a written request describing the proposed technique, recommended safeguards, and the rationale for applying it with an identified detainee.” We heard at our last hearing that one such request arrived at the Pentagon just a few months later and was approved by the Secretary.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s original December 2, 2002, authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques including stress positions, use of dogs and removing detainees clothing and his Working Group’s April 2003 recommendation of many other aggressive techniques, conveyed the message that senior officials felt that physical pressures and degrading tactics were appropriate for use during interrogations of detainees in U.S. military custody. Many of the aggressive techniques the Secretary approved in December 2002, including the three I just mentioned – stripping detainees, putting them in stress positions and using dogs to intimidate them – were used against detainees at Abu Ghraib.
But even the public disclosure of abuses at Abu Ghraib apparently did not eliminate interest in using SERE specialists to provide advice on interrogations. The Department of Defense Inspector General said in its 2006 report that it was only after a request to send a JPRA team to Afghanistan in 2004 that JFCOM finally issued guidance that the use of SERE for “‘offensive’ purposes lies outside the roles and responsibilities of JPRA.” [TAB 10]