Islamic State Recruiter in Afghanistan Was “Substantially Exploited” at Guantanamo

Many outlets are reporting on the disclosure earlier this week that there appears to be active recruiting for Islamic State taking place in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Here is AP as carried by ABC News:

Afghan officials confirmed for the first time Monday that the extremist Islamic State group is active in the south, recruiting fighters, flying black flags and, according to some sources, even battling Taliban militants.

The sources, including an Afghan general and a provincial governor, said a man identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf was actively recruiting fighters for the group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.

The article notes that the Taliban is not taking this development lightly and that there are reports that up to 20 people had died up to that point in skirmishes between the Taliban and those swearing allegiance to IS.

But Mullah Rauf is not just any random figure in Afghanistan. As the article notes, he was once a prisoner at Guantanamo.

In their profile of him this week, the Washington Post had this to say about Rauf:

Rauf is also known as Abdul Rauf Aliza and Maulvi Abdul Rauf Khadim. According to a military document released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, he turns 34 in February and was listed as detainee 108 at Guantanamo Bay. He was transferred to Afghanistan’s control in 2007.

The report on him released by WikiLeaks said he was associated with several known Taliban commanders, but claimed to be a low-level soldier. In interviews with U.S. officials, he was cooperative, but his responses were vague or inconsistent when asked about the Taliban leadership, according to the report. Nonetheless, Rauf was assessed not to be a threat, and was recommended for transfer out and continued detainment in another country.

That Wikileaks document on Rauf can also be read here at the New York Times. This particular paragraph in the report caught my eye:

Rauf exploited

The document from which this is taken is dated October 26, 2004. The parenthetic note from the analyst begins “Detainee is substantially exploited”. In the context of Guantanamo, the issue of prisoner exploitation is a very important topic. A groundbreaking post by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye in 2011 provides crucial context by what this aside from the analyst means for Rauf’s detention: Read more

SCOTUS and the Designated Strip Seach Observers

I spent most of yesterday digging through the PREAL document Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye liberated the other day (more on that later). Like Harper’s Scott Horton, reading it closely just after SCOTUS made it legal to strip search people arrested of offenses as minor as leash law violations made me see the Court’s decision not as a legitimate means to keep jails safe, but as a way to make it easier to cow select classes of our population. Horton writes,

Just as the Florence decision was being prepared, the Department of Defense released a previously classified training manual used to prepare American pilots for resistance to foreign governments that might use illegal and immoral techniques to render them cooperative. Key in this manual are the precise practices highlighted in Florence. Body-cavity searches are performed, it explains, to make the prisoner “feel uncomfortable and degraded.” Forced nudity and invasion of the body make the prisoner feel helpless, by removing all items that provide the prisoner with psychological support. In other words, the strip search is an essential step in efforts to destroy an individual’s sense of self-confidence, well-being, and even his or her identity.

For me, it wasn’t so much PREAL’s description of strip searches themselves in the context of SERE training, with the manual’s explicit statement that searches serve to humiliate, degrade, and erode identity. Rather, it was the job description for one designated role at the SERE fake jail, that of the “body cavity check (BCC) observer.” The BCC observer’s sole role in the SERE training is to stare at prisoners during their intake strip search.

The role of this observer is to view the students while the BCC is being conducted. You do not conduct the actual BCC; the searchers will do this. You are there to observe and make the student feel uncomfortable and degraded. The observer will not have any verbal interaction with the student. Just act solemn and unimpressed.

Government psychologists have devised not just the strip searches themselves to degrade SERE trainees, they’ve ensured there will always be someone staring during the process (and while the PREAL contradicts itself on this and many topics, it calls for opposite sex observers).

Just act solemn and unimpressed and our cultural hangups about nudity will do the rest.

Remember, SERE is supposed to be a good thing. It trains our warriors to withstand the procedures our enemies use to break down their humanity if they’re captured. Except that we’ve rolled out the procedures not just for use against our own war captives, but for use in county jails across the country. SCOTUS just sanctioned the use of these intentionally dehumanizing procedures for the most minor violations of societal rules. (And don’t forget that–as Glenn Greenwald pointed out–the Obama Administration argued for strip searches as well.)

Now, all a local cop has to do to make a selected person feel the dependency wrought by humiliation is trump up some minor charge and whisk the (usually) young black male to the jail for a strip search. It won’t stop there, either. To justify this procedure, Kennedy points to three dangerous traffic stops, implicitly inviting invasive searches there, too.

We’ve long known these procedures of control are about imposing dependency (the word PREAL uses). But if there were any doubt, read how the military creates a fictional space designed to strip people of their humanity–compare it with the world around us.

The US Training Manuals al Qaeda Used

Back in April 2009, I wrote a post outlining how purported al Qaeda training manuals formed the basis of Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell’s torture program.

The SASC Report on Detainee Treatment reveals that some information collected from al Qaeda–and not DOD’s attempts to find methods to interrogate detainees–is one key to discovering how we got in the torture business. The SASC report reveals (as Valtin has been pointing out for some time) that DOD first contacted JPRA–the unit that oversees SERE–for “information about detainee ‘exploitation’” on December 17, 2001. But there’s another reference that suggests James Mitchell–one of the two retired SERE psychologists who reverse-engineered SERE and oversaw the first interrogations–was already on the job. In the section, “JPRA Collaboration with Other Government Agencies” (meaning, CIA), this reference appears:

[classification redaction] In December 2001 or January 2002, a retired Air Force SERE psychologist, Dr. James Mitchell, [redaction that I bet talks about a CIA contract] asked his former colleague, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, Dr. John “Bruce” Jessen, to review documents describing al Qaeda resistance training. The two psychologists reviewed the materials, [half line redacted], and generated a paper on al Qaeda resistance capabilities and countermeasures to defeat that resistance.

Note, the “December 2001 or January 2002” date comes from an interview of Jessen, not directly from Mitchell. It’s not clear anyone has asked when Mitchell got the al Qaeda documents–but by the time Jessen was interviewed on July 11, 2007, DOD had already sent out notice to preserve all documents relating to Mitchell, so he was already under legal scrutiny at the time Jessen gave these dates.

In a section describing a DIA training session Jessen and Joseph Witsch did, it’s clear the al Qaeda documents form the basis for the training.

[classification redaction] Mr. Witsch stated that he worked with Dr. Jessen to develop a set of briefing slides for the [acronym redacted] training. The Department of Defense provided the Committee with slide presentations that appeared to have been produced by JPRA for the March 8, 2002 training. Mr. Witsch testified that the two slide presentations (1) [half line redacted–elsewhere this appears unredacted as Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training: Contingency Training for (redacted) Personnel] Based on Recently Obtained Al Qaeda Documents” and (2) “Exploitation” — appeared to be the same as those used by JPRA in the March 8, 2002 training. Dr. Jessen told the Committee that he did not recognize the slides as those that he presented [redacted] but that the vast majority of the slides were consistent with what he would have taught at the training session.

While the discussion of the slides connected with the al Qaeda documents is heavily redacted, it appears that these slides already attached techniques or objectives to interrogating al Qaeda detainees.

[classification redacted] The “Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training” presentation described methods used by al Qaeda to resist interrogation and exploitation and [half line redacted]. The presentation also described countermeasures to defeat al Qaeda resistance, including [~five lines redacted]. Mr. Witsch testified to the Committee that the countermeasures identified in the slides were “just an interpretation of what we were doing at the time and what we constantly did when we trained SERE students.”

So just to review. By “December 2001 or January 2002,” Mitchell already had documents presumably captured from al Qaeda, and he and Jessen proceeded to use those documents to develop a training session on interrogation (one they offered to both DIA and CIA). And al Qaeda’s resistance training–as much as SERE’s program–drove what “countermeasures” Mitchell and Jessen were recommending to the CIA and DIA.

In the comments to that thread, we discussed reports–including from Lawrence Wright’s Looming Tower–that al Qaeda member Ali Mohammed had taken training manuals from Fort Bragg.

He managed to get stationed at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Even though he was only a supply sergeant, Mohammed made a remarkable impression, gaining a special condemnation from his commanding offier “for exceptional performance” and winning fitness awards in competition against some of the most highly trained soldiers in the world. His awed superiors found him “beyond reproach” and “consistently accomplished.”


The American army was so respectful of his views that it asked him to help teach a class on Middle East politics and culture and to make a series of videotapes explaining Islam to his fellow soldiers. According to Mohammed’s service records, he “prepared and executed over 40 country orientations for teams deploying to the Middle East.” Meantime, he was slipping maps and training manuals off base to downsize and copy at Kinko’s. He used these to write the multivolume terrorist training guide that became al-Qaeda’s playbook. (205)

Which is just one reason this comment from Abu Faraj al-Libi’s Gitmo Detainee Assessment Brief so interesting.

(S//NF) Detainee said prior to 11 September 2001, al-Qaida gained its knowledge of guerrilla warfare tactics from reading translated US military manuals stored in what he described as the group’s vast Afghanistan-based library.

It seems to confirm AQ got its manuals–via some means–from American manuals. And while this reference mentions just “guerrilla warfare tactics,” presumably those tactics would include counter-interrogation strategies like the SERE program taught at Ft. Bragg. While I didn’t get this when I wrote my post in April 2009 (back then I said Mitchell and Jessen didn’t so much use SERE as al Qaeda’s own tactics), this may suggest Mitchell and Jessen used SERE techniques precisely because that’s what al Qaeda used.

I said this was interesting for a couple of reasons. As I noted in that earlier post, Mitchell and Jessen had a series of slides that talked not just about resistance to interrogation, but also resistance to exploitation. And as Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye emphasized several weeks ago, exploitation (that is, recruitment for other purposes, such as propaganda or spying) is at the core of SERE (and therefore, the program Mitchell and Jessen developed from it).

[A]s Jessen’s notes explain, torture was used to “exploit” detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to “collaborate” with government authorities. Jessen’s notes emphasize how a “detainer” uses the stresses of detention to produce the appearance of compliance in a prisoner.


“The Jessen notes clearly state the totality of what was being reverse-engineered – not just ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but an entire program of exploitation of prisoners using torture as a central pillar,” [retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns, who provided these notes] said. “What I think is important to note, as an ex-SERE Resistance to Interrogation instructor, is the focus of Jessen’s instruction. It is exploitation, not specifically interrogation. And this is not a picayune issue, because if one were to ‘reverse-engineer’ a course on resistance to exploitation then what one would get is a plan to exploit prisoners, not interrogate them. The CIA/DoD torture program appears to have the same goals as the terrorist organizations or enemy governments for which SV-91 and other SERE courses were created to defend against: the full exploitation of the prisoner in his intelligence, propaganda, or other needs held by the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents. Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press.” [my emphasis]

Mind you, all we know for sure from al-Libi’s statement is that he told his interrogators that the al Qaeda manuals derived from American ones. That doesn’t necessarily mean al Qaeda used manuals on the SERE program, nor does it change the importance of reporting that Mitchell and Jessen designed this torture program so as to use detainees for propaganda and recruitment purposes.

But al-Libi’s confirmation sure does make these connections more likely.

David Passaro Threatened to Expose the SERE-Torture Tie

As I said in my last post on David Passaro, the only CIA guy to be prosecuted for detainee abuse, Passaro knew (or learned, in anticipation of his indictment) how to defend himself against charges stemming from torture. As I’ll show here, he was trying to expose the tie between SERE and the government’s torture program in spring 2004, long before it became public.

Passaro Prepared to Deal with Criminal Charges

As his pre-indictment lawyer described, from the time he received a target letter in February 2004 until he was arrested in June, he continued to work–with security clearance–at Fort Bragg, collecting information that might be helpful to his defense.

[H]e was gathering documents and information he felt would be helpful to his defense, which he would deliver to me, and in the event of his being charged, would see were delivered to me.


David continued to meet with me regularly on the matter, to assemble material helpful to his defense, and to take steps to raise funds to retain counsel if he were indicted.


Despite [knowing that an indictment was imminent, Passaro] continued to report daily to his top secret Fort Bragg post, continued to meet with [Beaver] on a weekly basis, continued to try and raise money for his defense and continued to accumulate documentary evidence to assist me in his defense.

During this period, Passaro’s lawyer tried to get discovery from the government; DOJ lawyers told him that they wouldn’t turn over information unless and until Passaro was indicted, and at that point, it would be subject to CIPA.

The Government Tried to Prevent Passaro from Using What He Knew

It appears that, after the indictment, the government worked quickly to prevent Passaro from using any of the information he had collected. The week after the indictment, the government moved to get a protective order, protecting not just classified documents, but also “any information or document … that refers to national security or intelligence matters.” More troubling, the day after the hearing on the protective order, the government got a warrant to seize a briefcase Passaro had. Passaro had said publicly that the briefcase included “legal materials.” But it took 11 months for the government to even ask the judge to check whether two manila folders inside the briefcase were protected by attorney-client privilege.

Clearly, it seems, the government was worried about that Passaro might use information he already knew.

In the months after the government moved (in June) and got (in August) this protection order, they stalled on both getting Passaro’s lawyers security clearances and on turning over any evidence to him.

Then, all of a sudden, in October, they changed their minds. When, on October 5, Passaro plead not guilty, the Court expressed some concern that the delay on clearances was impinging on Passaro’s right to a speedy trial. A week later, at a hearing on the matter, the government announced that they had decided that the trial was not a big fight over classified information after all, but instead a simple assault case. They claimed they could try it without classified information.

Passaro Used Two (Plus) of John Yoo’s Favorite Torture Defenses

And Passaro’s immediate response was, best as he could, to act on the information he had. In the first several months of November, Passaro’s legal team initiated two of the legal strategies they would try to take to the Supreme Court.

Jurisdiction: Remember that post I did showing how Jennifer Koester and John Yoo, in the early months of 2003 (that is, before Wali’s death), put together a set of Legal Principles that–among other things–said the only two crimes a CIA person conducting detainee interrogations could be convicted of were Torture and War Crimes?

CIA interrogations of foreign nationals are not within the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States where the interrogation occurs on foreign territory in buildings that are not owned or leased by or under the legal jurisdiction of the U.S. government. The criminal laws applicable to the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction therefore do not apply to such interrogations.

Passaro argued a version of that (bmaz will elaborate in a later post), saying that the Asadabad base was outside of the maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the US, and therefore any crimes there couldn’t be prosecuted.

Public Authority Defense: This is a defense that argues that an illegal act was undertaken in response to a request from an agency of the government–a defense particularly useful to CIA people who are routinely asked to do things that violate US law. It’s slightly different from a Commander-in-Chief defense (though Passaro would try a version of that, before too long), but Passaro did invoke Bush’s authority as part of this defense. More importantly, he invoked the whole regime of authorization for torture as part of his defense (remember, the Bybee One memo was leaked in the weeks before Passaro was indicted).

Both of these defenses, notably, invoked the kind of Get Out of Jail Free Card that John Yoo and David Addington envisioned when they crafted the Bybee Memo in July 2002. Passaro knew how to say that CIA interrogators couldn’t be held responsible for crimes committed during CIA interrogations.

But Passaro did more than that. He also asked for a bunch of damning information that struck at the core of the Bush Administration’s torture regime.

Passaro Knew the Torture Program Was Based on SERE

Read more

Boxes and Burials in the CIA’s Torture Plans

In this post, I’m going to test a hypothesis that OLC may not have included “cramped confinement” in its torture plans until it removed “mock burial.” If I’m right, it means after having been told OLC would not approve mock burial, OLC and CIA instead just renamed what they were doing as “cramped confinement” so as to get it past those in DOJ who were opposed to allowing the US to use mock burial in its torture program.

This is a weedy post even by my standards. But the key points are:

  • Many of the discussions about which techniques OLC was approving appear to have taken place orally, not in written form
  • The one written document we know exists–a JPRA Physical Pressures document–was an attempt made during the key three days of the Bybee Memo process to pretend that JPRA sanctioned waterboarding (at least) as it either already had been used or would be used on Abu Zubaydah, rather than as the Navy used it in training
  • The section on small box confinement also seems to have been created in response to this process, meaning it is possible that JPRA adjusted both the name and the description of the technique to provide JPRA sanction for mock burial as it had been done on AZ

The OPR Report’s list of torture techniques is neither the original nor the final list of planned torture techniques

The OPR Report includes a list of torture techniques Mitchell and Jessen proposed to use with Abu Zubaydah that includes both cramped confinement and mock burial, which seems to suggest that the CIA tried to get both approved at once. But the OPR Report provides absolutely no explanation for the source or the date of its list (on PDF 41) of the torture techniques. It says simply:

The CIA psychologists eventually proposed the following twelve EITs to be used in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah:

In addition to the use of the word “eventually” in this description, there’s further evidence this list is not the first incarnation of the torture techniques requested. That’s because this description of sleep deprivation…

Sleep deprivation: The subject is prevented from sleeping, not to exceed 11 days at a time;

Includes this footnote:

As initially proposed, sleep deprivation was to be induced by shackling the subject in a standing position, with his feet chained to a ring in the floor and his arms attached to a bar at head level, with very little room for movement.

Compare that with the description of sleep deprivation as it appears in the Bybee Two memo.

Sleep deprivation may be used. You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual’s ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep, to motivate him to cooperate. The effect of sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep. You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive Zubaydah of sleep for more than eleven days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours, from which no mental or physical harm resulted. [my emphasis]

The description in the OPR Report for this torture technique, at least, matches what appears in the Bybee Two memo.

Also note the admission (which I had never noticed before) that CIA had already subjected AZ to sleep deprivation but don’t worry, AZ was A-Okay as a result.

you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours

Though their admission to 72 hour sessions of sleep deprivation doesn’t accord with AZ’s memory of his first several weeks in the black site, which describe being kept awake for weeks at a time (perhaps 11 days?), using the shackling technique that OLC would go on to eliminate from their description of sleep deprivation:

I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by hands and feet for what I think was the next 2 to 3 weeks.


I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water on my face.

From all this we can make several educated assumptions about the list included in the OPR Report. First, it includes the torture techniques as ultimately incorporated in the torture memos; this is not the list that CIA first brought to OLC. Moreover, we know that the description of sleep deprivation, at least, was watered down to hide the most appalling aspects of the technique that, even though they weren’t described, had already taken place.

Oh, and they were probably lying about the one detail they admitted to, how long they had subjected AZ to sleep deprivation.

But we already knew that.

That said, we know the OPR Report’s list isn’t the final list, either. The OPR Report list still shows, in unredacted form, diapering as a technique. We have no idea when or why that we eliminated from the list. And we know the redacted 12th technique is mock burial, which was eliminated some time after July 24, 2002, though we don’t know when, specifically, that happened. Note that the description of that 12th technique–mock burial–continues onto PDF page 43, so the description of it may include more detail on how it was eliminated from the list.

In other words, at best, this is an interim list. The list may simply reflect the final form that each torture technique request had before it was either incorporated into the Bybee Two memo or eliminated from the list.

Read more