Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic has received confirmation of the existence of the secret torture center at Bagram Air Base that the Washington Post, New York Times, and BBChave been reporting on. [Ambiner has a picture of the facility here.] He reports that the center is run, not by the Joint Special Operations Command, aws previously reported, but by the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC) in course of proving intelligence services for task Force 714. For those with long memories, DCHC is essentially where the Defense Department stuffed the old Counterintelligence Field activity (CIFA) after the latter was “disbanded” due to several major scandals.
It isn’t clear if it really makes a difference if the “black prison” is run by JSOC or DCHC. After all Task Force 714 is itself a JSOC special ops force:
McRaven runs a secretive detachment of Special Forces known as Task Force 714 — once commanded by McChrystal himself — that the NSC staffer described as “direct-action” units conducting “high-intensity hits.” In an email, Sholtis said that because Task Force 714 was a “special ops organization” he “can’t go into much detail on authorities, etc.” But the NSC staffer — who called McRaven “McChrystal Squared” — said Task Force 714 was organized into “small groups of Rangers going wherever the hell they want to go” in Afghanistan and operating under legal authority granted at the end of the Bush administration that President Obama has not revoked.
As Ambinder reports, the Defense Department now admits that this secret Afghan prison uses interrogation techniques from the Army Field Manual’sinfamous Appendix M. This appendix authorizes abusive techniques, including sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and “environmental manipulation [think freezing someone or blinding light] that often amount to torture.
Perhaps most disturbingly, Ambinder reports that there is a Top Secret Special Action Program authorizing DCHC interrogations. As Jeff Kaye pointed out in an emptywheel comment, if only Appendix M-based techniques — which are covered by the Army Field Manual — are used, why the need for a special SAP? Thus, we must wonder what, exactly, DCHC is doing at Bagram and other sites. Whatever it is, it isn’t something they want us, the public, to know about.
For those who think that President Obama banned torture centers like this, think again. Obama’s Executive Order only banned CIA secret prisons. This administration thus intended from the beginning to maintain its torture facility, only under a Defense Department label. Obama apparently was thinking ahead.
An additional aspect of this new revelation is that the fact that the prison is run by DCHC is of special interest to psychologists. Over the years, the American Psychological Association (APA) has devoted considerable lobbying resources to maintaining Congressional funding for CIFA. Now that CIFA has been folded into DCHC in the Defense Intelligence Agency, the APA is lobbying Congress for money for “behavioral science” to support the DIA’s military intelligence activities. Here is a section from their written testimony to the US Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense regarding appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2010 budget:
APA… is concerned with maintaining invaluable human-centered research programs formerly within DoD’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) now that staff and programming have been transferred to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Within this DIA program, psychologists lead intramural and extramural research programs on counterintelligence issues ranging from models of “insider threat” to cybersecurity and detection of deception. These psychologists also consult with the three military services to translate findings from behavioral research directly into enhanced counterintelligence operations on the ground.
APA urges the Subcommittee to provide ongoing funding in FY10 for counterintelligence behavioral science research programs at DIA in light of their direct support for military intelligence operations.
APA support for CIFA and DIA is at least partly because the DCHC employs many psychologists. The APA apparently never cared what it was that these psychologists might be doing. Thus, we shouldn’t hold our breathe expecting the APA to change its position on DIA/DCHC funding now that the defense department admits that DCHC runs a detention facility using techniques like sleep deprivation that the APA itself has proclaimed unethical and amounting to either torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. After all, to the APA leadership, professional opportunities for psychology always trump professional ethics, at least in the national security sector.
The recent news brought news of two incidents in two countries where US troops killed civilians and then lied to cover up the evidence. These are but the latest of a steady stream of lies from military and Pentagon sources about the killing of civilians.
Afghanistan: Killing Pregnant Women and Government Officials
In Afghanistan, the military has finally admitted that Special Forces troops killed two pregnant Afghan women and a girl in a February raid in which Afghan government officials were also killed, according to excellent reporting by Jerome Starkey of The Times of London. They have, however, failed so far to account for their falsehoods spanning several months.
Previously the military had insisted that they killed “terrorists,” and claimed that the women were killed by knife wounds administered several hours before the raid. But now it appears that the knife wounds may have been inflicted by the Special Forces troops excavating their bullets from the dead or dying women’s bodies. As The Times‘ Starkey reported Monday:
“US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.”
Military spokespersons went further in attempting to cover up the killing by attacking Starkey, the reporter who challenged the official story. As Starkey explained:
“[T]hey [US military] have… tried hard to discredit me, personally, for bringing this to the world’s attention. In an unprecedented response to my original story about the Gardez night raid they named me individually, twice, in their denial of the cover up.
“They claimed to have a recording of my conversation which contradicted my shorthand record. When I asked to hear it, they ignored me. When I pressed them, they said there had been a misunderstanding. When they said recording, they meant someone had taken notes. The tapes, they said, do not exist.”
In this case, as in so many, one can only assume that there was a deliberate attempt to cover up US involvement in the killing. Otherwise, officials would long ago have admitted their error and, one hopes, taken action against those responsible for the combat errors and the lies that followed. One wonders, for example, who told military officials about the knife wounds? If those wounds were, in fact inflicted by Special Forces troops trying to cover their mistake, then someone is responsible for relaying this false information. Or was the information known all along to be false by those relaying this claim to the press? Were the officials just hoping that the press would tire of exploring the incident, allowing their falsehoods to stand?
Iraq: Shooting Photographers From the Air
The news also brings evidence of another civilian massacre, this time from a July 27, 2007 incident near Baghdad in Iraq. Wikileaksreleased a video apparently showing a US helicopter crew firing upon a group of Iraqis hanging out on a street corner, and on a van that stopped to carry the wounded to the hospital. Over a dozen people, including two Reuters reporters, were killed and two children in the van were wounded.
As in the Afghan incident, the military initially denied that any error had taken place. The New York Times article on the incident was entitled 2 Iraqi Journalists Killed as U.S. Forces Clash With Militias, relaying the military’s false account in the headline. The article also relayed the US account in the text:
“The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.”
In the video we see the incident from the perspective of the helicopter gunship. While those in the helicopter assumed those on the ground had weapons, there are no weapons apparent, though it is possible that one person may be armed, hardly a rare occurrence in Iraq. And, more important, there is no conflict and no shots or RPGs are fired at the Americans. Rather, there are the Reuters photographers hanging out with a relaxed group of other Iraqis making no attempt to hide until deadly fire is rained down upon them from the helicopter.
When a van pulls up, no attempt is made to identify the van or its occupants before they are blown away, with permission of an authority on the other end of the radio. Several men from the van were killed and two children
With the video, we see that the US military account, while perhaps believed by officials immediately after the incident, could not have been believed by anyone who examined the evidence.
Also apparent in the video is the glee with which the troops executed their attack, laughing as people were killed, cheering when a Bradley tank drives over a body, and blaming the Samaritans in the van who stopped to help the wounded for the wounded children:
” Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle. “ [From the transcript.]
After seeing the video, it is easy to explain why the military has for years refused Reuters permission to view it. The US military has been systematically lying, covering up the killing of over a dozen Iraqis.
In neither the Afghan nor Iraqi incidents is there reason to believe that the killings of civilians were intentional. What is more disturbing is that, in both cases, they seem to be, rather, the result of routine actions. These deaths are the expectable result of occupations by foreign troops who view the citizens of the occupied country as potential enemies. Such situations are inevitably going to lead to dehumanizing of the occupied population, who may, after all, harbor “enemies” at any moment. In Iraq, the Iraqis are called “hajis” by the occupiers. One is less careful about killing “hajis” than one would be when killing one’s peers.
These types of incidents, and the dehumanizing attitudes behind them, are facilitated by the “force protection” concept underlying the occupation. Military and political leadership know that domestic support for the occupation cannot be sustained if US casualties grow too rapidly. Thus, an emphasis is put on protecting US troops in ambiguous situations, increasing the risk to civilians.
The troops involved are less to blame than are those who sent them to occupy another people’s land. For the dangers of dehumanization in war are well known, as are its increased risk in counterinsurgency situations. Every occupation, indeed, virtually every war has its massacres. Those in charge know this while pretending otherwise to the people back home. Hence the need for lies, lies, and lies. Unfortunately, they usually get away with their deceit. And, in only a few instances is there any accountability for the lies.
Thankfully, in the two instances recently in the news, brave reporters risked personal attacks and threats to ferret out the truth. But how many such incidents can they investigate? Despite their efforts, occupation and lies will continue to exist together. While accountability for the liars should be sought, it is even more important to pull our troops out of these foreign lands they do not understand.
Note: The video was released through the intensive efforts of Wikileaks staff. Unfortunately, the Wikileaks web site has not been operating at full capacity for several months due to a financial shortage. Why not contribute to help them remain available to uncover future abuses. As the traditional investigative media collapse, we need sites like Wikileaks more than ever.
One of the strangest features of the Iraq and Afghan wars is that the military routinely lies and the press routinely report the lies as fact. I once had the idea of collecting the many dozens of US lies from the Iraq war, but realized I lacked the time and resources for such an immense task.
Here is a piece by a Times of London reporter who uncovered one of the lies in Afghanistan. Women “butchered by insurgents” were actually killed by US-led NATO forces. And the dead insurgents were, in fact, nothing of the kind, but rather government bureaucrats. Just a routine operation under occupation, and a routine lie. Only this time, thanks to a dogged, and brave, reporter, they got caught. Of course, there is no accountability for lying in pursuit of occupation. That just goes with the territory:
U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan are committing atrocities, lying, and getting away with it
Jerome Starkey recently reported for The Times of London about a night raid on Feb. 12 in which U.S. and Afghan gunmen opened fire on two pregnant women, a teenage girl and two local officials — an atrocity which NATO’s Afghanistan headquarters then tried to cover up. Now, in a blistering indictment of both NATO and his own profession, Starkey writes for Nieman Watchdog that the international forces led by U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal are rarely called to account because most reporters are too dependent on access, security and the ‘embed culture’ to venture out and see what’s happening for themselves.
By Jerome Starkey
“Tied up, gagged and killed” was how NATO described the “gruesome discovery” of three women’s bodies during a night raid in eastern Afghanistan in which several alleged militants were shot dead on Feb. 12.
Hours later they revised the number of women “bound and gagged” to two and announced an enquiry. For more than a month they said nothing more on the matter.
The implication was clear: The dead militants were probably also guilty of the cold-blooded slaughter of helpless women prisoners. NATO said their intelligence had “confirmed militant activity”. As if to reinforce the point, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, a Canadian, talked in that second press release of “criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians”.
Only that’s not what happened, at all.
The militants weren’t militants, they were loyal government officials. The women, according to dozens of interviews with witnesses at the scene, were killed by the raiders. Two of them were pregnant, one was engaged to be married.
The only way I found out NATO had lied — deliberately or otherwise — was because I went to the scene of the raid, in Paktia province, and spent three days interviewing the survivors. In Afghanistan that is quite unusual.
NATO is rarely called to account. Their version of events, usually originating from the soldiers involved, is rarely seriously challenged.
This particular raid, in the early hours of Feb 12, piqued my interest. I contacted some of the relatives by phone, established it was probably safe enough to visit, and I finally made it to the scene almost a month after unidentified gunmen stormed the remnants of an all-night family party.
It’s not the first time I’ve found NATO lying, but this is perhaps the most harrowing instance, and every time I go through the same gamut of emotions. I am shocked and appalled that brave men in uniform misrepresent events. Then I feel naïve.
There are a handful of truly fearless reporters in Afghanistan constantly trying to break the military’s monopoly on access to the front. But far too many of our colleagues accept the spin-laden press releases churned out of the Kabul headquarters. Suicide bombers are “cowards,” NATO attacks on civilians are “tragic accidents,” intelligence is foolproof and only militants get arrested.
Some journalists in Kabul are hamstrung by security rules set in Europe or America, which often reflect the least permissive times in Baghdad rather than any realistic threats in Afghanistan. These reporters can’t leave their compounds without convoys of armed guards. They couldn’t dream of driving around rural Paktia, dressed up in local clothes and squashed into the back of an old Toyota Corolla, to interview the survivors of a night raid.
Ultra risk-averse organizations go even further and rely almost entirely on video footage and still images gifted by the entirely partial combat-camera teams or the coalition’s dedicated NATO TV unit, staffed by civilian ex-journalists who churn out good news b-roll. Others lap up this material because it’s cheaper and easier than having their own correspondents in a war zone.
This self-censorship is compounded by the “embed culture,” which encourages journalists to visit the frontlines with NATO soldiers, who provide them food, shelter, security and ultimately with stories. British troops will only accept journalists who let military censors approve their stories before they are filed. Ostensibly, this is to stop sensitive information reaching the insurgents. In my three and a half years in Afghanistan, the British invariably use it as an opportunity to editorialize.
In Helmand, in August 2008, a British censor attached to the Parachute Regiment threatened to ban me from ever embedding again if I filed footage of a paratrooper firing his heavy machine gun without wearing body armor. This had nothing to do with operational security and everything to do with health and safety, domestic UK politics (reference kit shortages and soldiers’ well-being), and ultimately “arse-covering” within the military.
To my eternal shame, I backed down. Embeds were my livelihood. I swapped the clip for something a combat camera team provided. But I was blacklisted for more than a year all the same — for arguing.
The Americans are just as subtle. I was thrown off a trip with the Marines Special Operations Command troops (MarSOC) last year when they realized I had written a story many months earlier linking their colleagues to three of Afghanistan’s worst civilian casualty incidents.
The platoon commander boasted that his Special Forces were “a fusion of weapons and intelligence”. Two hours later he asked me what my name was. Then he booked me on the next flight out. At least we know the weapons work.
As a freelance reporter, as I was then, the NATO blacklist was a daunting prospect. Many journalists I know here still prefer access to truth. Looking back, for me, it was the best thing that could have happened.
I have traveled from the north east corner of Afghanistan to the capital of Helmand province, and every major city in between, independently. I plan hard and take local security advice, and I am lucky that my newspaper supports me.
NATO however, is continuing to fight back. Challenge them and they will challenge you. They have admitted that the dead women were not bound and gagged, but rather had been wrapped in ritual preparation for burial. But NATO still insits the women were killed before, not during, the firefight. They have also admitted the two dead men were not the intended target of the raid. But they have also tried hard to discredit me, personally, for bringing this to the world’s attention. In an unprecedented response to my original story about the Gardez night raid they named me individually, twice, in their denial of the cover up.
They claimed to have a recording of my conversation which contradicted my shorthand record. When I asked to hear it, they ignored me. When I pressed them, they said there had been a misunderstanding. When they said recording, they meant someone had taken notes. The tapes, they said, do not exist.
Since then the United Nations and the New York Times have both corroborated my findings. The New York Times repeated the accusation of a cover-up. I take solace from the more experienced and intrepid of my colleagues who have been through all this before. NATO lies and unless we check them, they get away with it. If we check them, they attack us. It’s unpleasant but important. There’s no doubt in my mind that we must continue to question what the soldiers want us to know.
toward the end of the interview, Ellsberg describes a domestic situation very similar to that recently described by Seymour Hersh as a military war on Obama, a “war” that our system virtually guarantees that Obama will lose:
In a 3-part series, [part 1, part 2, part 3] Jeff Kaye adds to our picture of the development of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program by taking a closer look at the other shareholders of Mitchell Jessen, and Associates. As has been previously noted by Kaye, all of them had long connections with the SERE program and with JPRA [Joint Personnel Recovery Agency], the SERE parent agency.
Kaye cites a JPRA sources as stating that Mitchell and Jesses were not the prime actors in the initiator of the program. Rather, this source suggests, stakeholders Roger Aldrich, one of the pioneers of the SERE program, played a critical role.
Kaye also extends backwards the involvement of former American Psychological Association President Joseph Matarazzo:
David Ayers, head of Tate, Inc., was the other MJA shareholder, along with Joseph Matarazzo, yet another former president [in addition to Martin Seligman: SS] of the American Psychological Association who crossed Mitchell and Jessen’s path. Matarazzo, who Jane Mayer recently reported worked for the CIA, had been hired by Mitchell and Jessen years earlier, in 1996, along with other prominent U.S. psychologists — Charles Speilberger, Richard Lazarus, and Albert Bandura – for an internal review of SERE training procedures, according to a SERE internal document.
It is amazing how many senior psychologists seem to have been at least tangentially connected with the developers of the CIA’s torture program. And, of course, we should remember that the APA itself had Mitchell and Jessen as participants in a joint CIA-APA-Rand conference on the Science of Deception at which, accordingly to the conference description, several enhanced interrogation techniques were discussed. Someday we will understand why these and, no doubt, other prominent psychologists were so close to the SERE program and to Mitchell, Jessesn, and the other creators of the CIA torture program.
An extraordinary piece of information lies buried in a June 15, 2009 Air Force Special Operations Command Instruction (48-101) on “Aeromedical Special Operations.” This document ostensibly “establishes Mission Qualification and Mission Ready clinical medical training requirements for AFSOC operational medical personnel,” and notes “compliance with this publication is mandatory.”
While the Instruction appears to apply only to U.S. Air Force support by medical personnel, Section 5.7, in the chapter for “Medical Operations,” presents something totally different. This section describes the functions of Special Forces Psychologists (SOFPSY), who are composed of “those SERE and Aviation qualified psychologists assigned to AFSOC operational units.” These psychologists are now instructed to provide “psychological oversight of battlefield interrogation and detention,” among other functions.
The Instruction details the functions of Special Operations Psychologists, and it’s hard to believe they are talking about medical issues here. An in-depth look at what the document actually says is in order (bold emphases added):
220.127.116.11. The primary responsibility of the SOFPSY is to support AFSOC operational units and missions through battlefield interventions and consultation, and in-garrison preparation for, and reconstitution from, combat operations. They do this by providing psychological consultation and services to include:
18.104.22.168.1. Unit and individual performance enhancement.
22.214.171.124.2. Unit climate assessments.
126.96.36.199.3. Personnel selection programs.
188.8.131.52.4. Psychological oversight for SERE training.
184.108.40.206.5. Special training programs.
220.127.116.11.6. Post-mishap and combat trauma recovery and return to duty.
18.104.22.168.7. Reintegration of recovered personnel, after isolation in hostile territory.
22.214.171.124.8. Human factors expertise for mishap investigations and prevention activities.
126.96.36.199.9. Consultation to Influence Operations.
188.8.131.52.10. Adversary profiling.
184.108.40.206.11. Psychological oversight of battlefield interrogation and detention.
220.127.116.11. In garrison, SOFPSYs are usually assigned to an operations unit at the Group level. When deployed, SOFPSYs serve in unit or battle-staff positions to facilitate their consultation and liaison roles. Most services provided by the SOFPSY fall into the categories of consultation and training, and are not clinical treatment interventions. When airmen require clinical treatment services, the SOFPSY primarily serves as liaison between commanders, unit personnel and the appropriate medical service provider. Typically, they will refer individuals needing clinical mental health evaluation and/or medical treatment to medical treatment facilities.
Special Operations Command clearly doesn’t intend to use SERE psychologists for medical or clinical purposes. This blurring of medical and operational roles in a memorandum meant to document the roles of medical personnel is typical of the way in which the torture program, which utilizes medical and psychological personnel, has tried to hide its primary activities.
Democracy Now! discusses the Dasht-e-Leili massacre with journalist James Risen and Physicians for Human Rights’ Susannah Sirkin. Somewhat surprisingly, Risen emphasizes several times that investigations should focus only upon Bush administration cover-up, ignoring the possible collusion of the hundreds of US troops reported to be present at the massacre by witnesses. It almost makes me wonder if Risen is concerned that others will succeed where he failed, in elucidating the role of US troops.
I think it’s still—it’s very unclear what US personnel knew at the time. And I think the investigation should focus rather on what happened afterwards in the Bush administration.
If “it’s very unclear what US personnel knew at the time,” why shouldn’t an official investigation find out? I don’t get it.
Rachel Maddow wonders about the mysterious secret CIA program that Vice President Cheney order be kept from Congress. Unlike much of the press, she makes clear that a simple assassination of Al Qaeda leaders program would not outrage Congress like this program has.
“We, very early on, after 9/11, at the State Department, learned from our ambassadors in the field that there were teams being dispatched to their cities, to their countries, and these teams were clandestine and essentially aimed at capturing al Qaeda leaders or al Qaeda affiliates and interrogating them,” Wilkerson told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Tuesday. “So the fact that it might have gravitated over to the CIA or the CIA might have joined in, which is something that happens a lot these days with Delta Force and other special operators is no surprise to me.
“What I suspect has happened is what began to happen while I was still in the government, and that was we’re killing the wrong people,” Wilkerson added. “And we’re killing the wrong people in the wrong countries. And the countries are finding out about it, or at least there was a suspicion that the countries might find out about it, and so it was shut down. That’s my strong suspicion.”
A must view video on the Dast-e-Leili massacre and the Bush administration cover-up. Unfortunately, so far the Obama administration has decided to maintain the Bush administration cove-up, thus themselves becoming complicit in this horrific war crime. We must not let them get away with it:
In November 2001, as many as 2,000 detainees were allegedly massacred by Afghan forces jointly operating with the United States and buried in a mass grave at Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan.
And that was just the beginning.
Witnesses to the incident were tortured, killed or simply disappeared, according to US Government documents that were uncovered through a Physicians for Human Rights Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. And in the area where these detainees were allegedly buried, large portions of earth have recently been dug up and removed.
The Bush administration impeded at least three federal investigations, including one conducted by the FBI, into these alleged war crimes, according to the New York Times.
Attorney General Holder, please let the FBI finally proceed with a fair and impartial investigation.
It’s time for the United States to send a message to the world that there will be no longer be impunity for mass atrocities, especially those committed by US allies.
The American public deserves truth and accountability from its government, especially in the case of potential war crimes.
At a recent discussion at the University of Minnesota Seymour Hersh told of an executive assassination team of special forces, resorting directly to Vice President Cheney. He also talked of domestic operations by the CIA. Here are his statements:
Yuh. After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.
“Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. …
“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.
“Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.
“It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.
“In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.
“I’ve had people say to me — five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’
“But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”
You can hear the relevant part of the talk here [scroll down].