Michael Hayden’s Stone Walling

As a number of outlets have reported, in his book, Daniel Klaidman describes Michael Hayden’s effort to convince Obama to approve 6 torture techniques by demonstrating some of them on David Shedd.

But [Hayden’s] most unusual prop was David Shedd, the deputy DNI for policy, plans, and requirements. Not long into his presentation, Hayden called Shedd over. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Hayden slapped Shedd’s face. Then he grabbed him by the lapels and started to shake him. He’d wanted to throw him up against the wall during this demonstration, but there were chairs in the way. Instead he explained to Obama and his aides about the interrogation technique known as “walling,” in which detainees were thrown against a flexible artificial wall that made a loud noise on impact but caused little physical pain.

These were three of the remaining six techniques that made up the harsh interrogation methods the CIA had relied on since shortly after 9/11. (The most controversial practice, the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding, had not been used since 2003.) The others were the playing of loud music, keeping the lights on in the cell twenty-four hours a day, and sleep deprivation.

According to this description, on December 9, 2008, Michael Hayden told Obama the 6 permissible torture techniques at that time were:

  • facial slap
  • attention grasp
  • walling
  • use of music
  • use of light
  • sleep deprivation

Really? That’s odd.

If I’m not mistaken, the last formal Bush OLC memo embracing torture was the July 20, 2007 memo authorizing the following six techniques:

  • facial hold
  • attention grasp
  • abdominal slap
  • facial slap
  • dietary manipulation
  • sleep deprivation

There were three more letters written after this memo approving (and in one case, extending) treatment with particular detainees: August 23, 2007, November 6, 2007, and November 7, 2007. But they appear to deal with sleep deprivation, not a new approval of walling. And yet in December 2008, Hayden said CIA was using walling.

It may be that the July 2007 memo was meaningless. After all, it relied on Bradbury’s past memos (see footnote 2), including the May 10, 2005 one where Bradbury found walling to be legal. Moreover it was issued in conjunction with (though did not mention) Bush’s Executive Order 13440, which asserted,

(b) I hereby determine that a program of detention and interrogation approved by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency fully complies with the obligations of the United States under Common Article 3, provided that:


(iii) the interrogation practices are determined by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, based upon professional advice, to be safe for use with each detainee with whom they are used;

In other words, EO 13440 lets the CIA Director decide what torture techniques are legal. And so long as you’re still clinging to the 2005 torture memos, Michael Hayden can decide that even waterboarding is legal. And Michael Hayden told the incoming Administration that walling was legal.

Notably, in Hayden’s second attempt to convince the Obama Administration to use torture–roughly January 13, 2009–he appears to have suggested that Dianne Feinstein was mischaracterizing walling.

Hayden’s advocacy of the interrogation program was just as fierce: it worked, and it was vital to America’s national security, he said. Democrats had wildly mischaracterized the techniques, including California senator Dianne Feinstein, who, he said, made walling “sound like some kind of a WWF steel-cage death match,” when in fact suspects wore neck braces to avoid getting whiplash.

There’s some further story, I suspect, about why Hayden was pitching a technique that even Steven Bradbury hadn’t included in approved techniques in July 2007.

12 replies
  1. ess emm says:

    So Hayden assaults Shedd in front of Obama. I can only imagine where to place Obama’s reaction along the continuum of Who Let This Psychopath into My Office to Perfectly Normal, Perfectly Healthy Cause We’re At War Dammit

  2. thatvisionthing says:

    Oh my God! I bet THAT was the “shocks the conscience” test I’ve been looking for, and Michael Hayden personally gave the test to Obama, and Obama didn’t say “No we can’t”? That’s Michael Hayden’s get out of jail free card, admissible in court? Makes me look at what Clifford May said in a whole new light:


    Thanks, Obama. What a human, what an uberomniconscience. Who needs juries?

  3. joanneleon says:

    You know how they have that KillTV and can watch drone strikes and SEAL missions in real time from the Situation room and probably elsewhere?

    Do they have TortureTV too?

  4. thatvisionthing says:

    The benevolence of Clifford May — we’re only throwing you against the wall because we’re trying to HELP you, with bows to Eric Holder:


    CLIFFORD MAY: I think that’s just a dreadful slander of the various attorneys we’re talking about, who did not just write, “Oh you can do anything.” They said very clearly, “Look, the American standard is what shocks the conscience. How do we define what shocks the conscience? Here’s how we define it. The idea that all these lawyers acted in bad faith, that all these lawyers said, “I’ll say whatever anybody tells me to say, it doesn’t matter,” that’s really crazy.

    Look, and most of the – I would also argue that most of the – there is a difference, it seems to me, and I guess others disagree – between what is torture, what crosses the line, and what is a coercive and harsh interrogation technique that does not constitute torture. You know, one report from ABC: “Detainees were forced to listen to rap artist Eminem’s ‘Slim Shady’ album. The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic, sources say.” Are you telling me that’s torture? I don’t think it is. I think that was within the realm of what you can do. Is sleep deprivation torture? I don’t think it is for two or three nights. I think it is for three months.

    So a good attorney would say, “Here’s how you know when you cross the line.” And that’s why there were physicians and psychologists and others there to stop the process if it became – if it went over the line into torture. That’s why the wall that was used to throw Abu Zubaydah against was a flexible wall and why there was cushioning around his neck so he couldn’t get whiplash!

    Let me just quote you one thing from Abu Zubaydah, which was in the released CIA memos. He says, “Brothers,” by which he means Al Qaeda members, “who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship.” In other words, if they talk too quickly, they would be traitors. But if they went to the end of their ability to face the hardships, then they could give you the information you need to save lives.

    So what you want to do is give them an excuse, give them reason to say, “You know what, I can’t take the hardship any more. Now I can give them the information they need and save lives.”

    Don’t forget that every method we’re talking about stops – the minute – the subject says, “I’ll tell you what you need to know.” We’re not talking about – I hope! – we’re not talking about using any of these techniques for a confession, or for revenge, or for punishment – that absolutely is a war crime, but when you’re talking about using this information, using this technique to get information to stop terrorist attacks and save lives, I think you should be able to do more than say, “You have the right to remain silent.” These are – by the way, these are not criminal defendants. As Eric Holder has said, “Geneva does not apply to them.” He said that on CNN in 2002.

  5. P J Evans says:

    These are – by the way, these are not criminal defendants. As Eric Holder has said, “Geneva does not apply to them.” He said that on CNN in 2002.

    Funny, I was under the impression that Geneva does apply to them.
    Possibly the alleged lawyers who keep saying this is harmless and not torture at all should be run through the process as if they were detainees, so they can have some idea of what they’re actually talking about.

  6. guest says:

    @bmaz: Neck braces? WTF? How does that work? “Sit still while we put this neck brace on you. We’re here to physically intimidate you and cause pain-short-of-major-organ-failure, but safety is our topmost concern.” Something tells me the neck braces are put on only after neck injuries have already occurred.

  7. Gitcheegumee says:


    Brings to mind the Gitmo detainees who were found simultaneously hanged in their own cells with their throats all missing upon autopsy..

  8. Jeff Kaye says:

    OK, so this was all reported back in October 2010, and I wrote a blog post at the time, “Slapping David Shedd, or How I Learned to Love the CIA Interrogation Program”, that discussed an earlier version of the account of Hayden’s Shedd shaking. But the earlier version was from Woodward, and the narratives are different, and that’s worth noting.

    Furthermore, while I endorse the points made about walling and about the EO re DCI’s seeming ability to ok torture, from the account given by Klaidman, I’d think you’d want to point out the importance of techniques of sensory overload (loud music, constant lights), which are not okayed in the torture memos you mention (from 2007). This is more important than the walling issue, which, for better or worse, was at least covered by Yoo and Bradbury.

    I’d note this very important statement from Bradbury from the 7/20/07 memo:

    The [CIA] program is designed to dislodge the detainee’s expectations about how he will be treated in U.S. custody, to create a situation in which he feels that he is not in control, and to establish a relationship of dependence on the part of the detainee.

    This is not spin, but the psychological core of the program, based, as I’ve repeatedly emphasized, on decades-old research showing that the induction of Debility (sleep deprivation, isolation, dietary restrictions) and Dread (the physical assaults, dislocating the expectations, humiliation) produced Dependency for the purpose of CONTROL.

    As I wrote in my earlier posting (bold emphasis added here):

    From reading this account [Woodward’s, which by the way reported Hayden talked about the use of Isolation as a technique], apart from the hilarious bit of play-acting with the ever-obliging David Shedd, it’s difficult to see what six of the EITs were retained, and what, besides waterboarding, was eliminated. For one thing, Hayden’s reply focuses on techniques that were not part of the EITs — isolation, sensory overload, and partial sensory deprivation — while demonstrating by a slap to O’Connell’s deputy that “Facial or insult slap” was still in use. [Woodward reports Shedd was “shaken” as well, but doesn’t mention “walling.”]

    Hayden then makes his play to keep “these methods” under an Obama administration, because “the very existence of the interrogation program was more important than its content.” The CIA director told the President-elect, “Terrorists would know they faced a more severe interrogation if picked up by the CIA than by the military, which used the Army Field Manual.”

    But how would the terrorists know this, when even I can’t figure out what exactly the U.S. intelligence agencies do? Woodward quotes Hayden in an unintentional moment of self-revelation. For the CIA, the form is more important that the content. The “terrorists” don’t really know, but they believe they know they can expect something terrible, something especially bad. The point of this is to engender fear. And fear is an essential component to psychological torture. It enhances the effects of sensory overload and sensory deprivation, and contributes to the psychological breakdown of the victim.

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