SERE Techniques at GTMO (U)
(U) Following the Secretary’s December 2, 2002 authorization, senior staff at GTMO began drafting a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) specifically for the use of SERE techniques in interrogations. The draft SOP itself stated that “The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations. These tactics and techniques are used at SERE school to ‘break’ SERE detainees. The same tactics and techniques can be used to break real detainees during interrogation.” The draft “GTMO SERE SOP” described how to slap, strip, and place detainees in stress positions. It also described other SERE techniques, such as “hooding,” “manhandling,” and “walling” detainees.
(U) On December 30, 2002, two instructors from the Navy SERE school arrived at GTMO. The next day, in a session with approximately 24 interrogation personnel, the two SERE instructors demonstrated how to administer stress positions, and various slapping techniques. According to two interrogators, those who attended the training even broke off into pairs to practice the techniques.
(U) Exemplifying the disturbing nature and substance of the training, the SERE instructors explained “Biderman’s Principles” – which were based on coercive methods used by the Chinese Communist dictatorship to elicit false confessions from U.S. POWs during the Korean War – and left with GTMO personnel a chart of those coercive techniques. Three days after they conducted the training, the SERE instructors met with GTMO’s Commander, Major General Geoffrey Miller. According to some who attended that meeting, Major General Miller stated that he did not want his interrogators using the techniques that the Navy SERE instructors had demonstrated. That conversation, however, took place after the training had already occurred and not all of the interrogators who attended the training got the message.
(U) At about the same time, a dispute over the use of aggressive techniques was raging at GTMO over the interrogation of Mohammed al-Khatani, a high value detainee. Personnel from CITF and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) had registered strong opposition, to interrogation techniques proposed for use on Khatani and made those concerns known to the DoD General Counsel’s office. Despite those objections, an interrogation plan that included aggressive techniques was approved. The interrogation itself, which actually began on November 23, 2002, a week before the Secretary’s December 2, 2002 grant of blanket authority for the use of aggressive techniques, continued through December and into mid-January 2003.
(U) NSC Legal Advisor John Bellinger said that, on several occasions, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz raised concerns with him about allegations of detainee abuse at GTMO. Mr. Bellinger said that, in turn, he raised these concerns “on several occasions with DoD officials and was told that the allegations were being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.” Then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said that Mr. Bellinger also advised her “on a regular basis regarding concerns and issues relating to DoD detention policies and practices at Guantanamo.” She said that as a result she convened a “series of meetings of NSC Principals in 2002 and 2003 to discuss various issues and concerns relating to detainees in the custody of the Department of Defense.”
(U) Between mid-December 2002 and mid-January 2003, Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora spoke with the DoD General Counsel three times to express his concerns about interrogation techniques at GTMO, at one point telling Mr. Haynes that he thought techniques that had been authorized by the Secretary of Defense “could rise to the level of torture.” On January 15, 2003, having received no word that the Secretary’s authority would be withdrawn, Mr. Mora went so far as to deliver a draft memo to Mr. Haynes’s office memorializing his legal concerns about the techniques. In a subsequent phone call, Mr. Mora told Mr. Haynes he would sign his memo later that day unless he heard definitively that the use of the techniques was suspended. In a meeting that same day, Mr. Haynes told Mr. Mora that the Secretary would rescind the techniques. Secretary Rumsfeld signed a memo rescinding authority for the techniques on January 15, 2003.
(U) That same day, GTMO suspended its use of aggressive techniques on Khatani. While key documents relating to the interrogation remain classified, published accounts indicate that military working dogs had been used against Khatani. He had also been deprived of adequate sleep for weeks on end, stripped naked, subjected to loud music, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks. In a June 3, 2004 press briefing, SOUTHCOM Commander General James Hill traced the source of techniques used on Khatani back to SERE, stating: “The staff at Guantanamo working with behavioral scientists, having gone up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques which our lawyers decided and looked at, said were OK.” General Hill said “we began to use a few of those techniques … on this individual…”
(U) On May 13, 2008, the Pentagon announced in a written statement that the Convening Authority for military commissions “dismissed without prejudice the sworn charges against Mohamed al Khatani.” The statement does not indicate the role his treatment may have played in that decision.
DoD Working Group Ignores Military Lawyers and Relies on OLC (U)
(U) On January 15, 2003, the same day he rescinded authority for GTMO to use aggressive techniques, Secretary Rumsfeld directed the establishment of a “Working Group” to review interrogation techniques. For the next few months senior military and civilian lawyers tried, without success, to have their concerns about the legality of aggressive techniques reflected in the Working Group’s report. Their arguments were rejected in favor of a legal opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) John Yoo. Mr. Yoo’s opinion, the final version of which was dated March 14, 2003, had been requested by Mr. Haynes at the initiation of the Working Group process, and repeated much of what the first Bybee memo had said six months earlier.
(U) The first Bybee memo, dated August 1, 2002, had concluded that, to violate the federal torture statute, physical pain that resulted from an act would have to be “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Mr. Yoo’s March 14, 2003 memo stated that criminal laws, such as the federal torture statute, would not apply to certain military interrogations, and that interrogators could not be prosecuted by the Justice Department for using interrogation methods that would otherwise violate the law.
(U) Though the final Working Group report does not specifically mention SERE, the list of interrogation techniques it evaluated and recommended for approval suggest the influence of SERE. Removal of clothing, prolonged standing, sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation, hooding, increasing anxiety through the use of a detainee’s aversions like dogs, and face and stomach slaps were all recommended for approval.
(U) On April 16, 2003, less than two weeks after the Working Group completed its report, the Secretary authorized the use of 24 specific interrogation techniques for use at GTMO. While the authorization included such techniques as dietary manipulation, environmental manipulation, and sleep adjustment, it was silent on many of the techniques in the Working Group report. Secretary Rumsfeld’s memo said, however, that “If, in your view, you require additional interrogation techniques for a particular detainee, you should provide me, via the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a written request describing the proposed technique, recommended safeguards, and the rationale for applying it with an identified detainee.”
(U) Just a few months later, one such request for “additional interrogation techniques” arrived on Secretary Rumsfeld’s desk. The detainee was Mohamedou Ould Slahi. While documents relating to the interrogation plan for Slahi remain classified, a May 2008 report from the Department of Justice Inspector General includes declassified information suggesting the plan included hooding Slahi and subjecting him to sensory deprivation and “sleep adjustment.” The Inspector General’s report says that an FBI agent who saw a draft of the interrogation plan said it was similar to Khatani’s interrogation plan. Secretary Rumsfeld approved the Slahi plan on August 13, 2003.
Aggressive Techniques Authorized in Afghanistan and Iraq (U)
(U) Shortly after Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of his General Counsel’s recommendation to authorize aggressive interrogation techniques, the techniques—and the fact the Secretary had authorized them—became known to interrogators in Afghanistan. A copy of the Secretary’s memo was sent from GTMO to Afghanistan. Captain Carolyn Wood, the Officer in Charge of the Intelligence Section at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, said that in January 2003 she saw a power point presentation listing the aggressive techniques that had been authorized by the Secretary.
(U) Despite the Secretary’s January 15, 2003 rescission of authority for GTMO to use aggressive techniques, his initial approval six weeks earlier continued to influence interrogation policies.
(U) On January 24, 2003, nine days after Secretary Rumsfeld rescinded authority for the techniques at GTMO, the Staff Judge Advocate for Combined Joint Task Force 180 (CJTF-180), U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) conventional forces in Afghanistan, produced an “Interrogation techniques” memo. While that memo remains classified, unclassified portions of a report by Major General George Fay stated that the memo “recommended removal of clothing—a technique that had been in the Secretary’s December 2 authorization” and discussed “exploiting the Arab fear of dogs” another technique approved by the Secretary on December 2, 2002.
(U) From Afghanistan, the techniques made their way to Iraq. According to the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG), at the beginning of the Iraq war, special mission unit forces in Iraq “used a January 2003 Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which had been developed for operations in Afghanistan.” According to the DoD IG, the Afghanistan SOP had been: [I]nfluenced by the counterresistance memorandum that the Secretary of Defense approved on December 2, 2002 and incorporated techniques designed for detainees who were identified as unlawful combatants. Subsequent battlefield interrogation SOPs included techniques such as yelling, loud music, and light control, environmental manipulation, sleep deprivation/adjustment, stress positions, 20-hour interrogations, and controlled fear (muzzled dogs) …
(U) Techniques approved by the Secretary of Defense in December 2002 reflect the influence of SERE. And not only did those techniques make their way into official interrogation policies in Iraq, but instructors from the JPRA SERE school followed. The DoD IG reported that in September 2003, at the request of the Commander of the Special Mission Unit Task Force, JPRA deployed a team to Iraq to assist interrogation operations. During that trip, which was explicitly approved by U.S. Joint Forces Command, JPRA’s higher headquarters, SERE instructors were authorized to participate in the interrogation of detainees in U.S. military custody using SERE techniques.
(U) In September 2008 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Colonel Steven Kleinman, an Air Force Reservist who was a member of the interrogation support team sent by JPRA to the Special Mission Unit Task Force in Iraq, described abusive interrogations he witnessed, and intervened to stop, during that trip. Colonel Kleinman said that one of those interrogations, which took place in a room painted all in black with a spotlight on the detainee, the interrogator repeatedly slapped a detainee who was kneeling on the floor in front of the interrogator. In another interrogation Colonel Kleinman said the two other members of the JPRA team took a hooded detainee to a bunker at the Task Force facility, forcibly stripped him naked and left him, shackled by the wrist and ankles, to stand for 12 hours.