With all the debate and controversy over the Obama administration’s policies on torture, no one had asked the military, and in particular those running America’s “terror” prisons, if they had been using the Army Field Manual’s Appendix M. But recently the Guantanamo’s Public Affairs Officer, Lt. Commander Brook DeWalt, confirmed Appendix M interrogations were taking place at Guantanamo.
This issue has more than intrinsic interest, as the administration has now announced that it is pursuing moving over a hundred Guantanamo “detainees” to a prison in Illinois. (The actions of Umar Abdulmutallab on a Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day has thrown a monkey-wrench into the “closing” of Guantanamo, but the plans are ultimately to move the remaining Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S.) Will that include the transfer of Appendix M interrogations, and other abusive elements of the AFM protocol?
In an telephone interview on Dec. 11, Lt. Commander DeWalt explained that while “not routine,” Appendix M interrogations are conducted at Guantanamo “as authorized,” “in accordance with DOD directives and U.S. law.” He would not go into operational specifics. Officer-In-Charge of the 4th Public Affairs Detachment (Guantanamo Forward), Lt. Col. James Crabtree, who was also contacted, declined to be declined to elaborate when asked about more specific dates of operational usage. Appendix M is the portion of the 2006 revised Army Field Manual that covers “unlawful enemy combatants” who don’t meet the U.S. government’s criteria for Geneva treatment as prisoners of war.
Obama doesn’t want to call them illegal combatants anymore, so the government doesn’t call them anything, except people with lesser rights. Famously, President Obama has proclaimed, as did his predecessor, that he was against torture, and was banning it in his administration. As a result, the Obama administration closed down the CIA secret black site prisons, though not, as it turns out, all secret black site prisons. Obama also rescinded the torture memos drafted by, with the help of Dick Cheney’s legal counsel David Addington, Justice Department attorneys Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury.
Levin, and replaced them with an interrogation policy oriented around the Bush-era Army Field Manual (AFM), whose latest incarnation was the brainchild of Donald Rumsfeld’s assistant, Stephen Cambone. At first, the new AFM was supposed to have a secret annex, so the “worst of the worst” could be grilled in U.S. military prisons, and not have any bleeding hearts or Al Qaeda types getting wind of what was going on. Instead, the government decided to publish the Appendix M annex openly, and when there was no subsequent protest, and the politicians dutifully saluted, the new torture policy was ready to go.
Appendix M was certainly not the old “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but it wasn’t exactly not them either. The new AFM was supposed to be better than the old one, like any new product, but in fact, old prohibitions against abusive interrogation techniques were removed, and in some cases, the techniques formally reintroduced. An example of the latter is sleep deprivation, which used to be explicitly proscribed, but is now part of Appendix M procedure. “Fear Up” procedures are strengthened, and exploitation of phobias allowed. Modes of sensory deprivation are introduced. The ban against drugs that cause serious derangement of the senses or temporary psychosis is replaced by a ban against drugs that cause “permanent damage.” Stress positions are, notably, not explicitly banned.
A behavioral science consultant (most likely a psychologist) and other medical personnel are part of a “multidisciplinary team” that monitors the Appendix M interrogation. The use of such medical and psychological personnel has been heavily criticized by ethicists from those professions, and by professional organizations, such as Psychologists for Social Responsibility, as the need for medical-behavioral monitoring is linked to the presence of abuse. In addition, psychologists in particular have been implicated in helping plan the interrogation themselves, particularly in ferreting out the prisoner’s psychological weaknesses and fears.
Battling for the Public’s Impression of the Army Field Manual
From time to time, the implications of actually using the AFM has theatened to break through the right-wing monopoly of discussion about government interrogation policy. Consider this exchange, last May, between NBC’s Chuck Todd and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:
Q What is he going to say to those who make the argument, which has been made, he’s actually just changing rhetoric, he’s not changing policy that much? With Guantanamo, you’re essentially calling for a way of moving Guantanamo. You’re just changing the name.
MR. GIBBS: Well, ask that question of some of our severe detractors on this and see if you get agreement on that. I actually don’t think that’s the case. I think what the — the decision that the President made on military commissions is something that’s envisioned that’s much different than what was passed in Congress and signed by the President in late September and early October in 2006.
I think, as we’ve talked about here, enhanced interrogation techniques are something that this President has outlawed as part of the actions of this administration. I don’t think those are —
Q Yet the fine print, there’s open to interpretation about what different techniques could be used.
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q In the argument that there’s definitely some words in there that one could interpret that it’s —
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I don’t think you’re — let me understand — I don’t think you’re intimating that the Army Field Manual would allow one to do —
Q There have been some interpretations that there are —
MR. GIBBS: I can assure you that’s not how the Army interprets the Army Field Manual, and I assume that generals in the Army and the military that are in charge of ensuring that the procedures of the military are in line with the laws of this country — I don’t think you’re intimating that people in the Army are inferring different things about their own field manual, because I know that’s not the case.
Gibbs appears to think that the military can be trusted to ensure “the procedures of the military are in line with the laws of this country,” eviscerating the idea of Congressional oversight. What Todd calls “fine print” in the Army Field Manual — “open to interpretation” — others have called torture or abuse.
The President of the National Lawyers Guild Marjorie Cohn has stated that portions of the AFM protocol, especially the use of isolation and prolonged sleep deprivation, constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is illegal under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, has stated that portions of the AFM are “deeply problematic” and “would likely violate the War Crimes Act and Geneva,” and at the very least “leave the door open for legal liability.” Physicians for Human Rights and the Constitution Project have publicly called for the removal of problematic and abusive techniques from the AFM.
The Center for Constitutional Rights wrote last year:
Appendix M of the Army Field Manual… allows the use of techniques such as prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners. These techniques, especially when used in combination as permitted by the AFM, constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and in some cases, torture. These techniques have caused documented, long-lasting psychological and physical harm and were condemned by a bipartisan congressional report released last month, as well as by the Bush-appointed head of the military commissions at Guantanamo.
“In some cases, torture.” As bmaz pointed out almost exactly one year ago, when Guantanamo Convening Authority judge Susan Crawford dismissed charges against Guantanamo prisoner Mohamed al-Qahtani, telling Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that the U.S. tortured al-Qahtani:
Crawford has exposed to bright sunlight the lie that is Barack Obama’s, and other politicians’, simple minded reliance on the Army Field Manual as cover for their torture reform credentials. Interrogators can stay completely within the Army manual and still be engaging in clear, unequivocal torture under national and international norms, laws and conventions.
President Obama’s Interrogation Policy and Appendix M
For quite some time, some have strongly suggested that the progressive community take up the centrality of abusive interrogations, as enumerated in the Army Field Manual, most particularly, in the latter’s “Appendix M.” The failure to do so, goes the argument, would have serious repercussions for civil liberties, not to mention the struggle for accountability over past use of torture.
As torture proper moves from offshore U.S. military and CIA/Special Operations prisons to the territory of the U.S. “homeland,” civil liberties activists and commentators must make their protest against the use of torture techniques in the Army Field Manual heard in the White House. The truth about the use of cruel, inhumane, and degrading interrogation techniques must drown out the obfuscatory fear-mongering from the Cheneyesque right-wing, who babble about how the AFM is inadequate for use by intelligence agencies in the “Terrorist War.”
Some progress has been made in the past year on this issue, and as evidenced by Stephen Rickard’s article at Huffington Post late last August. Rickard is Director at the Washington Office of the Open Society Institute. He noted that the new AFM never explicitly banned the use of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques of the old Bush administration.
It strains credulity to think this was an accident. Language in the old [1992 Army Field] Manual clearly banned wall standing and other stress positions. It was deleted [in the 2006 Manual]. The old Manual called sleep deprivation “torture.” That was deleted. Rather than banning the use of cold, the 2006 Manual only prohibits causing “hypothermia” consistent with OLC limits on using cold. The 2006 Manual prohibits “beatings … or other forms of physical pain.” But it doesn’t flatly ban assaults, which is critical because the OLC memos argue at great length that the authorized physical assaults — slapping, grabbing, walling and others — were intended to cause shock and not “pain.” The 2006 Manual does not ban using water or cramped confinement.
It is hard to understand why the use of torture techniques in the current Army Field Manual has not become a bigger issue than it has. But there has been a plethora of issues and leftover crises from the Bush years, such that it’s not surprising that some important causes have not yet broken through into public consciousness.
Last August, the Obama administration unveiled its new studied policy on interrogations, proclaiming that “the Army Field Manual provides appropriate guidance on interrogation for military interrogators and that no additional or different guidance was necessary for other agencies.”
But the Washington Post story by Anne Kornblut that reported on the new policy continued the media’s practice of misrepresenting what’s in the AFM:
Using the Army Field Manual means certain techniques in the gray zone between torture and legal questioning — such as playing loud music or depriving prisoners of sleep — will not be allowed. Which tactics are acceptable was an issue “looked at thoroughly,” one senior official said. Obama had already banned certain severe measures that the Bush administration had permitted, such as waterboarding.
Kornblut did reveal one telling piece of information about where all this interrogation business is headed:
Still, the Obama task force advised that the group develop a “scientific research program for interrogation” to develop new techniques and study existing ones to see whether they work.
How would such a “scientific research program” operate? Who would run it? How would such a program ethically study such questions as the efficacy of interrogations? Up until now, no one is discussing these matters, as societal disinterest or disinclination to take up these vital questions — questions made more salient because of the violent history of torture over the past nine years — prevents the issue from gaining traction in the competition for public evaluation. In addition, the inclusion of a “scientific research program for interrogation” conjures up memories of the decades-long U.S. military/CIA research program into mind control, hypnotism, use of LSD and other drugs in interrogation, and other dire practices associated with programs such as the CIA’s Artichoke and MK-ULTRA.
The fight to remove Appendix M and other offending policies from the Army Field Manual goes right to the heart of the struggle against militarism. Making the problems with the AFM known is part of the campaign to secure accountability for torture; that is, we can start by stopping torture from taking place now. Progressives should demand a rescission of Appendix M and other offending portions of the Army Field Manual, as well as a complete moratorium on the use of renditions for interrogation, another policy Obama has carried over from the Bush years.
Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist living in Northern California and a regular contributor The Public Record, has been blogging at Daily Kos since May 2005, and maintains a personal blog, Invictus. E-mail Mr. Kaye at sfpsych at gmail dot com.