The inside story of how the CIA, Pentagon and US government conspired to torture, by Mark Fallon.
Reviewed by Noel Hamel, February 2018.
This book is a truly shocking exposé of depravity at the heart of the United states, the Bush Whitehouse, the United States military and in particular the Pentagon and Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld.
The United States’ face it shows the world, and to which many look up, is a sham which conceals a criminal meanness to rival the world’s worst. The institutionalised torture and gratuitous ill-treatment and harm wantonly committed by its military is depraved, immoral and illegal. Its excuses simply sickening.
No one, least of all a leading democratic state can excuse barbaric and sadistic behaviour by reference to others’ behaviour or events. Choices about how to behave are our own and we stand accountable for them.
The nation which stood beside others after the defeat of fascism in 1945 and helped codify the moral, just and humane standards we all aspire to and which grant us all equal rights to just and fair treatment, has shown itself no better than some of the very worst faced during World War II.
It is my contention that the cause of international human rights has been set back more than six decades and is in urgent need of overhaul.
This tells the story of how wars of aggression against Afghans and Iraqis following 9/11 were used as cover for calculated sadism and for gratuitously inflicting pain and suffering on huge numbers of innocent people purposelessly. It was deliberate and orchestrated from the very top.
Mark was an ethical intelligence officer who believed he could assist his country in addressing the issue of terrorism and help eradicate it. Instead he found himself working in an environment where calculated sadism was liable to help promote terrorism and instability. It is to the UK’s eternal shame that it assisted and supported this endeavour and helped to sell it to the public as a worthy and just cause.
Mark’s story, beginning with the USS Cole attack in 2000, takes us on a journey through subsequent terrorism and military response, embracing Guantanamo and the War-on-Terror.
There are points I disagree with. I believe the assertion that the attacks of 9/11 were an act of warfare is mistaken. They were a crime. Branding them warfare indelibly colours ensuing debate. Motives and purpose ascribed to the nucleus of fanatics around Osama bin Laden are, at very least, debateable. Nihilism is an attitude of mind, not a strategy. Any views about supposed intention behind the crimes are hypothetical and debateable.
Effects and consequences are less uncertain. Debate about the contribution made to the latter by the USA response to 9/11 is considerably advanced by this book.
Earlier aims of the fanatical cult were to provoke changes in government and public attitudes in the Islamic world that would align more closely with their vision of what Islamic states should conform to. Their barbaric violence against ordinary Muslims did not trigger revolution nor convince their target audiences, the populations of Islamic states, to embrace their vision – as they had hoped. Deciding that a pervasive influence by the USA and the West caused that rejection, their warped logic directed them to attack the World Trade Centre irrespective of consequence. The world was horrified, including the Taliban, their hosts in Afghanistan.
The US government and military were in a daze immediately after 9/11. It dawned on the collective mind that having the most advanced military was no defence. Feelings of helplessness fostered panic and anger. The demand for retaliation was overwhelming yet the perpetrators were dead and only Osama bin Laden self-identified as having any responsibility. There was a determination that what was described as ‘global terrorism’ should be eradicated; and a conviction there had to be a way.
Questions were asked. There was a realisation of absolute ignorance. How to get answers? Torture and psychological techniques, experimented with at the time of the Korean war, were dusted off. Academics and psychologists, aware of the uselessness of physical torture to produce reliable intelligence, debated ‘enhanced’ prisoner interrogation techniques believed capable of causing “learned helplessness”, enabling access to minds, (techniques contrary to Geneva Conventions). There ensued debate and argument about which measures might produce intelligence, and about what constituted torture. Mark believed that authorities would settle for a measured, humane approach aligned with international law and the US constitution. An independent panel proposed aims and recommendations for responding to 9/11which included differentiating between mainstream Islam and fanatics, driving a virtual wedge between terrorists and potential support. And cutting off Saudi petro-dollar funding. Things looked to be shaping up not unreasonably.
Then lawyers, politicians and others, including Dick Cheney, the CIA and the Pentagon got on the case. A haunting prospect of biological or nuclear attack was hyped whilst the nation was in shock and continuing recovery from ground zero was nightly beamed into households. In the febrile atmosphere Congress granted George Bush full powers to wage war against the Taliban, (who had no connection to 9/11,) and the CIA was instructed to capture al-Qaida leaders and interrogate them, using the harshest measures. Parts of the book are redacted including a memo George Bush signed, dubbed “the gloves came off memo.”
A military order set the tone for Mark’s subsequent working environment. There was a sense of urgency to forestall further attacks. Captives were to be tried for violations of the laws of war. Military commissions would not conform to civil court standards. Bush and his lawyers would determine which non-US citizens were suspected of, were associated with others guilty of, or were guilty of terrorist acts harmful to the USA. In haste the net was cast very wide. There was no place for time consuming investigation or enquiry. Opinion and belief were king and all was to be handled by the Department of Defence. The FBI, with its methodical, humane and efficient interrogation machinery was stood down.
Guantanamo, seized by the US in 1898 remained a legal outlier convenient for the military and, since the 1960s particularly, a running sore with Cuba, separated by the world’s second largest minefield. In the 1990s Haitian refugees were housed in makeshift constructions. After the Afghan invasion randomly kidnapped Muslim prisoners began to accumulate chaotically. Where to house them, interrogate them and how? Gitmo, as it is called, is not US territory and theoretically not under US jurisdiction so it was decided to imprison them there. The camp was to hold the “worst of the worst.” Gitmo was an untried dedicated intelligence-gathering zone and Mark believed there was a role for skilled FBI and Naval Intelligence, though Naval Intelligence was viewed with scepticism. Experience with USS Cole had taught him of the difficulties posed by cultural difference which only a rapport-based approach could bridge. The CIA and the military hadn’t the skill, knowledge or training, and playing tough doesn’t cut it. The task was to find al-Qaida terrorists and get intelligence.
Mark began building a unit of skilled and knowledgeable ‘interviewers’. He was optimistic and ambitious for success of the mission to root out terrorism; a beacon of intelligence-gathering for the War-on-Terror. The key was patience and subtle, well considered probing. Interrogators were drilled in this strategy before dispatch to Gitmo. Though prisoners deemed guilty of violations of the laws of war were not be “prisoners of war” entitled to protection by Geneva Conventions, but it was clearly understood abuse of detainees was criminal and should be reported.
After 11/1/2002, 100 kidnapped prisoners began arriving a month. Their housing in searing heat resembled dog pens but animals were better treated. It presented a bizarre image with watchtowers and rings of oppressive razor wire. Arrangements were only temporary, Mark was told. His staff quickly discovered the dog pens didn’t hold genuine terrorist suspects. Meanwhile the army kept rounding up more, often in exchange for financial rewards to war-lords and disreputable characters on the make. People of concern, stretching back years, were conspicuously absent.
Leaflets distributed in Afghanistan said:
“Get wealth and power beyond your dreams … you can receive millions of dollars helping anti-Taliban forces catch Taliban and al-Qaida murderers. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.”
At $5000 a head, some kidnapped victims were crammed into shipping containers, risking suffocation and longing to be handed over to the US army; expecting liberation as unquestionably innocent victims of human trafficking. Little did they know what awaited. The army interrogation was insanely dysfunctional with trivia like beards and Casio watches considered suspicious. Gratuitous ill-treatment was rife. Mark was disillusioned. The dog pens rapidly filled up with kidnap victims who didn’t belong, clogging the system. From Rumsfeld down everyone knew prisoners should be released. The bureaucracy was stifling. Army captains could kidnap prisoners and extraordinarily rend them around the world, but only the US President could release one.
As Mark was trying to stem the flow of prisoners a new Joint Task Force was formed, JT-170, with overall responsibility for intelligence-gathering under “Operation Enduring Freedom”. JT-160 had responsibility for prisoner ‘care’ and handling. Critical Rumsfeld appointees had no human intelligence background. Dunlavey, the new two-star in charge at Gitmo, was obsessively authoritarian and blind to anything other than harsh treatment. He seemed a bit unstable and a figure of fun, but a figure of fun with authority, making sure everyone knew he was in charge. Lack of any useful intelligence-gathering raised questions.
Saudi prisoner, al-Qahtani, number 063, the 20th hijacker, under Mark’s methodical and humane questioning, revealed information key to understanding the 9/11 operation. Unfortunately, intelligence success caught Dunlavey’s eye and henceforth he insisted upon giving inexperienced and ignorant JT-170 interrogators preference in interrogations. Assistance, advice and cooperation were declined. Prisoner’s supposed al-Qaida interrogation-resistance training was blamed for lack of productivity. Interrogation became more rigorous and harsh to compensate, ultimately leading to the famous “enhanced interrogation techniques” for which Rumsfeld was chief cheerleader.
In response to lack of useful intelligence from prisoners, most with simply none to give, General Dunlavey created his own psychological training team, some without expertise and some who trained GIs to resist torture in captivity. It was an unfortunate development leading to abuses and attempts to ‘break’ prisoners in the vain hope of useful result. The team drew up a list of categories of ill-treatment:
No 1, for uncooperative prisoners was “mildly adverse” such as threatening prisoners with indefinite imprisonment.
No 2, intended for prisoners thought to conceal information relevant to US security: hooding, shackling to the wall, dietary manipulation, ie: starving for 12 hours.
No 3, for resistant prisoners with evidence of resistance to revealing important security information: solitary confinement, physical and verbal abuse, 20-hour interrogations indefinitely, exposure to cold, mock executions and shackling to the floor.
The above examples were preliminary proposals. Later practice included confiscation of blankets, Korans and other facilities and repeated unnecessary cell searches and other humiliations. More extreme was continuous loud noise, white noise, bright lights, sleep deprivation, and threats of injury or rape of family members.
More extreme still was shackling to the ceiling on tip-toe, water-boarding and variations of humiliation and sexual torture. Pressure was on to implement harsher treatment at Gitmo and the 3 categories came under scrutiny. Some lawyers argued all were legal provided they were not administered sadistically, without practical purpose. Of course, they weren’t legal and others said so but when the head of Southern Command, General Hill, gave his approval opposition was muted.
The CIA customarily used torture overseas and at black sites. It was not held to the same standards as the military. The CIA made extravagant claims of intelligence breakthroughs from rendition and torture which often turned out to be false leads. Dunlavey though, eagerly lapped up the idea of torturing prisoners.
JT-170’s un-productively encouraged less constraint. JT-160 merged with 170 to coordinate harsher treatment in both cells and interrogation. Gitmo was designated “America’s Battle Lab” – a green light for experimentation on prisoners. Determined to crush resistance, Dunlavey had high hopes of intelligence breakthroughs to enhance his image. In September 2002 a host of prominent torture-supporting lawyers descended on Gitmo. They heard Dunlavey argue for more aggressive treatment of prisoners. Dunlavey got tacit approval to do “whatever it takes”. Mark opposed ill-treatment and was frozen out. More lawyers followed and reassured JT-170 that harsher techniques were perfectly legal.
Fortunately, al-Qahtani, the 20th 9/11 hijacker, was interviewed by a talented FBI agent who had earlier questioned Abu Zabaydah, revealing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be the 9/11 mastermind. Dunlavey wanted to send al-Qahtani for torture to Egypt or Jordan. Getting information about al-Qaida in Iraq, he reasoned, would enhance his career and save lives since the US was set to invade and topple Saddam Hussein. Al-Qahtani’s rendition wasn’t approved but some in the chain of command were in favour. Meanwhile Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, Whitehouse lawyers, published their redefinitions of torture. Acts, cruel, inhuman and degrading and inflicting pain short of extreme pain were said to be acceptable; not torture and not illegal. There was sudden increased interest in ill-treatment. Abu Zabaydah was an early victim of “enhanced interrogation”. He was horribly tortured secretly on Polish soil, lost an eye and later awarded $100,000 at Polish government expense. Supposed connections between al-Qaida and Iraq obsessed interrogators. al-Libi was thought to have information. He was subjected to appalling treatment and rendered to Egypt for unspeakable torture until he disclosed supposed al-Qaida and Iraq connections – most likely a story told to relieve the pain; pure fiction. The flood gates were opened for victims to be rendered for torture overseas.
October 2002 saw Dunlavey’s authoritarianism replaced by General Geoffrey Miller’s totalitarianism, totally opposed to rapport-building. With no experience his attitude was to show prisoners that Gitmo “had teeth”, accelerate Dunlavey’s ‘torture’ programme and introduce new techniques like 30 days isolation for new prisoners, the use of stress positions and five-hours standing; with Rumsfeld’s blessing. He put his stamp on Gitmo with the motto: “honour bound to defend freedom”. “Rewards and Penalties” were introduced to induce cooperation and punish lack of it. Gitmo became an experiment to test psychological theories and control of human behaviour in custody. Mark fought against “enhanced interrogation” to no effect.
Al-Qahtani became a focus of special interest and though the text describing his treatment is redacted it can be said he was at times stripped, shaved, exposed to dogs, put on a leash and interrogated by a woman flaunting her sexuality. Clearly this wasn’t all since “Rewards and Penalties” supported interrogation with punitive measures, and ‘enhanced techniques’ were used. Gitmo gave Mark access to logs through his work, so he knew the details. Similar techniques were used elsewhere, including Bagram, where two captives died from beatings and cold. Medical professionals started advising if torture was going too far or should continue.
Mark took evidence to bosses and lawyers at the Navy general council. Concerned senior staff took the issue to senior Pentagon lawyers. Following chunks of redacted text, the story resumes with instructors teaching Gitmo staff to inflict pain effectively. Al-Qahtani revealed no more but his torture made trial impossible since the abuse and abusers would be exposed in court. Mark reported back to superiors, (one of whose family suffered Nazi persecution). Risking all, he pursued the issue again. Rumsfeld suspended the programme. However, a phoney working group investigated, and in April 2003 reported, based on John Yoo’s analysis, that physical injury, impairment of bodily functions and death were illegal. “Enhanced interrogation” was not. Rumsfeld was satisfied.
General Miller, continued “Battle Laboratory” experiments turning to Mohamedou Ould Slahi who had been rendered and tortured by the CIA for 8 months. A CIA-reject for lack of evidence, he was turned over to the military. CIA-tortured-rejects were often transferred to military custody. It was a customary way to avoid too much stink about treatment and trading of human beings, often seized off the street. Slahi was of no high value but a ‘second look’ was decided on. Mark investigated possible charges of financial crime relating to alleged events associated with al-Qaida. Colonel Miller had other ideas. An interrogation regime, more extreme than al-Qahtani’s was drawn up. Further failure only encouraged harsher treatment using sexual assault, degradation and religious humiliation, approved by Rumsfeld. Slahi published GUANTANAMO DIARY, describing darkened isolation and food torture with both too little and massive excess, and sleep deprivation together with shouting and other abuses including lights, temperature extremes, mock executions and threats against his family. No useful intelligence resulted. In October 2003 Mohammed Jawad was given similar treatment. Threatened with death for him and his family, he ‘admitted’ throwing a grenade. During prolonged dark confinement he had hallucinatory episodes. Gitmo doctors advised proceeding with enhanced treatment to break him. By Christmas 2003 he was banging his head against the wall, attempting suicide.
All the abuse, torture and violence produced no intelligence. Undeterred Miller applied for consent for more … and by devious means he got it. Things had come to a head when Office of Legal Counsel lawyer, Jack Goldsmith, advised that John Yoo’s advice was not reliable. Rumsfeld didn’t approve Miller’s request so Miller got approval from a deputy who was not in the loop … and thus torturing at Gitmo continued into 2004. Torture became standard; it was institutionalized.
The invasion of Iraq on a false pretext ripped the heart out of the country leaving a wasteland of devastation and chaos where nothing functioned, everyone suffered and anarchy and terrorism flourished where it hadn’t. al-Qaida in Iraq was a product. Abu Ghraib was another. The sadistic dictator, Saddam Hussein established the prison’s reputation but ‘liberation’ brought unwelcome publicity for US torture. Fictitious reports of Weapons of Mass Destruction emanated from the CIA and partners-in-crime inflicting sadistic torture on victims, al-Libi and Abu Zabaydah. Concerned at failure to find weapons of mass destruction the focus turned to interrogation of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Captain Carolyn Wood in charge of interrogation had previously served at Bagram. Guidance was: “The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees. Colonel Bolz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.” Captain Wood simply adopted the by-now standard operating procedures refined at Gitmo and Bagram.
Torture tactics became more extreme in the Iraq theatre of war and sensible military personnel who criticised it were given a hard time. The torture persisted and was encouraged by a visit from General Miller of Gitmo, on Rumsfeld’s instruction. Torture went global and violent physical contact with prisoners was routine. Miller encouraged the use of dogs and further escalation. Miller sent several officers from Gitmo to help with the implementation of torture and in April 2004 Rumsfeld promoted Miller to overall command of detention operations, giving him control of military police as well.
A big difference between Gitmo and Iraq was containment of information of illegal activity. It was only a matter of time. Released Gitmo prisoners already reported abuse there but the bigger story was picked up by the press, human rights groups and was reported by soldiers on leave, also by local communities in Iraq. A trickle became a wave and then a torrent that washed around the globe. There were deaths and suicides. Criminal investigations began as former prisoners and witnesses came forward. Would sufficient people care this time?
In January 2004 the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs surfaced and investigation was unavoidable. Six GIs were arrested in February but it took till April to reach US TV screens and demonstrate that the US brutally tortured prisoners. It was gruesome, graphic and utterly sickeningly degraded. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon lost control of the agenda but attempted damage limitation. In May 2004, before a congressional committee, Rumsfeld apologised for mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners on behalf of the USA and the military; but not on behalf of himself. By May 2004 Mark realised that there had never been any intention to bring detainees to lawful justice at all; just to imprison and humiliate and torture. An entire torture culture had been deliberately fostered and disseminated around the globe; but those responsible would do anything to wriggle out. Mark believed he had been duped. His sober, responsible investigative unit had been a decoy. Concluding there had effectively never been a realistic hope of bringing terrorists to justice, disillusioned he resigned.
In March 2004 a report to the armed services committee stated there was no connection between the administration and the torture which was therefore not condoned. It was not true of course and despite giving evidence Mark’s testimony was ignored. The administration shuffled the pack of senior officials so that complaint was stymied and incriminating evidence of war crimes was obscured or eradicated. But the truth was deferred, not covered up.
In 2006 the Supreme Court confirmed that Geneva Conventions did apply to all prisoners. The USA Military Commissions Act outlawed torture and abuse, and the UN said that human rights had been breached. It said Guantanamo should close and all the torture investigated and everyone involved, at whatever level, be tried.
Defence department counterintelligence was disbanded in 2008. The Department of Justice reported on the use of enhanced interrogation but key establishment figures cold-shouldered it. In December the Senate Armed Services Committee reported on abuses and named names, including Donald Rumsfeld and lawyers who systematically perverted the law to ‘legitimise’ torture.
In 2014 the Senate Report on Torture meticulously laid all the facts bare. At launch events were described as a stain on the USA and as having frustrated the possible recovery of actionable intelligence, possibly exposing the United States to preventable attack as well as severely damaging its image round the world. The conclusions are damning. The CIA activity is condemned for lack of integrity, for illegality, barbarity and failure in its central mission to gather intelligence. CIA fessed up in a letter which got less coverage.
18 known guilty parties survived enquiry and remain in various senior roles or are comfortably retired.
The American Psychological Association was relentlessly pursued. Its directors eventually resigned. The constitution now forbids involvement in national security interrogations. None of the guilty members were struck off or prosecuted.
Donald Rumsfeld has survived numerous legal challenges though the European Court of Human rights charge remains outstanding for treatment of Khalid El-Masri, German citizen seized and tortured due to mistaken identity. Rumsfeld is comfortably retired in New Mexico.
The Abu Ghraib whistle-blower was harassed and threatened with death after Donald Rumsfeld publicly named him. His family was forced to move. He was named a “Person of the Year” and awarded a Kennedy Courage Medal in 2005.
Al-Qahtani wasn’t tried as his admitted torture made evidence inadmissible. He remains in Guantanamo to this day – described as too dangerous to release.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi wrote “Guantanamo Diaries” from his cell. It became a best seller. On release in 2016 it was admitted that he never posed a threat and his 14-year detention had been because of fear he would report his abuse.
Mohammed Jawad, a teenager when captured, was released in 2009 after six years. All charges were dropped. Afterwards he criticised war and violence as simply leading to more. The advice of the medic advising he be tortured whilst hallucinating was described as extremely chilling.
Gul Rahman froze to death. His interrogators were said to have shown poor judgement. Most of the text is redacted.
John Walker Lindh, captured in Afghanistan, accepted a plea bargain to avoid trial and revelations of ill-treatment. He should be released in 2019.
Alberto Mora fought for years inside the Pentagon to stop torture. He works at Harvard University Kennedy Human Rights Centre and was awarded a Kennedy Courage Medal. Studies show that the barbarity and torture was an effective recruiting tool for terrorists and suicide bombers responsible for many deaths; and US citizen Nick Berg’s beheading was said to be retribution for Abu Ghraib.
The 6500-page Torture Report remains classified till 2028 and mostly unread. All except one copy in Obama’s library have been ordered destroyed.
Daesh has claimed various barbaric acts are either inspired by or in revenge for US barbarity.
Guantanamo remains, housing 41 prisoners, many “forever prisoners” whose severe torture is too embarrassing to reveal in court. It costs $11million annually per prisoner. Trump says it must remain. Many senior figures have said it should close including Bush and Obama. Principle architects, Cheney and Rumsfeld served Richard Nixon and learned their craft together. There was a clear incentive for officials to make false intelligence-gathering success claims. There is always incentive for authority to close ranks and cover up wrong-doing to protect its image.
The United Nations reminds us that it remains a duty for anyone witness to torture and abuse to report it; and torture is a crime for which everyone responsible must be tried.
Mark continues to work to bring the issues to public attention. He believes the CIA covenant opened the way for abuses but much important text is here redacted. There remains much work to be done to educate the public and recover lost moral ground.
The abomination of Guantanamo is confirmation of the West’s critics’ charges of hypocrisy, dishonesty, prejudice, racism, arrogance, brutality and injustice.
Donald Trump threatens waterboarding and worse and proposes Guantanamo stay open, even threatening to fill it up again.
Noel Hamel, long-time peace campaigner, 12-year campaigner against Guantanamo and torture, human rights campaigner.
The most distressing aspect of the whole story is the indifference of the US public to it. Backed by a quasi-religious belief (“In God We Trust”) in the State, the average American simply cannot see the degradation which the post-war generations (“baby-boomers” and later) have institutionalised , not just in this area of sadism, but throughout the various levels of government. Racism underlies much of what is done and thought in the US and , in essence, fascism rules (that is, private, corporate interests control the State and use their media power to stifle dissent; at the same time, no organised opposition offers a real alternative to the Establishment). The reviewer points out the rush to treat 9/11 as an act of war, a seemingly crazy decision, but significant and indicative of the deceit of the “security” forces and the Bushites. As if they welcomed a chance to increase the military budgets and ,especially, the surveillance mechanisms over their own citizens. In our own small way, of course, the UK has followed where our great American cousins have led, with flagrant exploitation of “security”, providing “jobs for the boys” and maintaining a semi-hysterical tone in public discourse (cf. the current egregious nonsense over Mr Corbyn and the commie spy) I am convinced that “our” MI5/6 etc etc are as devious and as unaccountable as their US counterparts , so this book could serve as a warning to us too.