Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, U.S. Army, holds up a copy of the Army Field Manual, FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations as he briefs reporters on the details of the manual in the Pentagon on Sept. 6, 2006. The manual details guidelines for the interrogation of detainees in U.S. military custody.

This is second of two articles revisiting work I did on the “selling” of the Bush Administration’s rewrite of the Army Field Manual (AFM) on intelligence interrogations. As the first article showed, while beat reporters at the Pentagon knew something weird was going on with the introduction of the new AFM regulations, particularly around the use of sensory deprivation as outlined in the manual’s Appendix M, none of that information made it into the mainstream press accounts on the September 2006 introduction of the revised AFM.

In my second article from January 2009 (originally posted at Invictus), I looked at the how the foreign press interpreted the Pentagon’s introduction of the new interrogation manual. Similar to the domestic press, the foreign press quizzed Department of Defense and State Department officials about the way Guantanamo detainees and others held as “unlawful enemy combatants” were being treated according to the new regulations. They noticed that despite claims the AFM adhered to Geneva Conventions protections in regards to prisoners, “unlawful enemy combatants” were held to a different standard in Appendix M’s so-called “Separation” technique.

The Nation’s “Gold Standard” for Interrogation

Also highlighted in my 2009 article was the role of the alternative press. I specifically singled out at the time Salon.com and its torture “beat” writer, Mark Benjamin, for failing to report the truth about the Army Field Manual. In fact, to this day, Salon.com has never carried one article on Appendix M, or even a report on the many exposés in regards to the AFM and torture released by numerous human rights and legal groups.

Well, there was one mention. Glenn Greenwald, writing a 2010 article for Salon, used an extended quote from Scott Horton at Harpers magazine that mentioned “plenty of torture-lite techniques under Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.” Greenwald made no comment about Appendix M on his own, and the article itself was mainly about the otherwise important issue of indefinite detention.

But the one time Greenwald did write about the 2006 Army Field Manual, in December 2008, he got caught up in the juxtaposition of the AFM to the CIA’s waterboarding and so-called enhanced interrogation program, aligning himself with “those of us who insist that Democrats fulfill their commitment to compel the CIA’s compliance in all cases with the extant Army Field Manual.” Greenwald quoted favorably Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Dianne Feinstein, and wrote that the AFM “authorizes robust and effective interrogation techniques.”

While Greenwald is doing extremely important work on issues of government surveillance and civil liberties in general, and has shown bravery in doing so, he has failed for some reason to grasp the issues surrounding torture and the Army Field Manual.

It seems reasonable to assume that the liberal or progressive press failure to oppose torture — or rather, to see torture — in the Army Field Manual derives from reliance on or obedience to Democratic Party politicians. An example of the liberal Democrats stance on the AFM and torture was published at Salon.com in October 2007. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote an op-ed, “We must ban secretive U.S. torture.” In his column, Kennedy called the AFM “the ‘gold standard’ for responsible and effective interrogation techniques.”

Salon.com was not unique in touting the supposed benefits of the Army Field Manual, or in ignoring the criticisms made of its Appendix M, or aspects of the AFM that introduced abuse even outside the Appendix M category. The number of progressive bloggers who wrote about all this could be counted on one or two hands (Marcy Wheeler and bmaz at Emptywheel, Scott Horton, Andy Worthington, Spencer Ackerman, and Daphne Eviatar — if I left anyone out, I apologize.) Some notable anti-torture bloggers, like the Hillman Prize-winning Atlantic columnist Andrew Sullivan, simply have kept quiet and said very little or nothing about the entire issue, at least once the new AFM was put in place and sold as a big reform.

An End to Torture?

I believe many commentators, outraged by the brutal CIA program of “enhanced interrogation” torture, exemplified by the use of waterboarding, squeezing people into tiny boxes, slamming them against walls, etc., assumed that the AFM prohibition of waterboarding, hooding, nudity, etc., meant an end to torture itself. But torture is not just about brutality; it is about how to break down a human being.

Years of study about the latter by this nation’s intelligence and military researchers, assisted by top figures in medicine and behavioral science academia, led the CIA to adopt a torture program sometime between the mid-1950s and early 1960s that was based on “psychological” methods: using fear, feelings of helplessness or “futility”, and “touchless” techniques like solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and even use of drugs to break down and control prisoners. In doing this the CIA borrowed also from the military survival, resistance, evasion and escape, or SERE, programs that they were monitoring, and apparently still do monitor and do research on as late as this past decade.

Below is the updated version of the Jan. 2009 story that continued my documentation on the “selling” of the Army Field Manual. I have added notes (in brackets) where applicable to bring up to date, and more silently corrected grammar and syntax to allow for greater comprehension.

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The Foreign Press, Salon.com, and the Army Field Manual

On September 7, 2006, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson and Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) Lt. Gen. John Kimmons showed up at a State Department foreign press briefing on the then-new DoD Directive 2310.10E (on its detainee program) and the also then brand-new Army Field Manual on interrogations. Only the day before, Kimmons and Stimson had held a news briefing for U.S. reporters at the Department of Defense on the same subjects, which I covered in a recent article at AlterNet. (See updated version of this article here.)

While few bloggers paid attention to this September 6 DoD briefing (except one noted reporter, as I’ll describe later), most likely that was because President Bush had one of his infrequent news conferences that same day, and this one was a blockbuster. Bush acknowledged the existence of a secret CIA prison network [which he also at the same time said he was closing]. He also announced he was ordering the transfer of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 13 other “high-value detainees” [from the CIA black sites] to Guantánamo Bay to be put on trial.

As the Guardian UK described it:

Mr Bush’s disclosure was intended to put pressure on the US Congress to support draft legislation put forward by the White House yesterday for a system of military tribunals for the Guantánamo detainees.

The US supreme court struck down the military tribunals established by the administration for the 450 inmates at Guantánamo last June, ruling that they had no basis in US law and violated the Geneva Convention [Hamdan v. Rumsfeld].

The pressure of the Bush administration to get a military commissions process in place — to replace the one thrown out as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — resulted later that year in Congressional passage of the Military Commissions Act [of 2006]. As described by the ACLU, this infamous legislation, passed with the support of the vast majority of the GOP and certain key Democrats, eliminated “the constitutional due process right of habeas corpus for detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere.” It also:

…[gave] any president the power to declare — on his or her own — who is an enemy combatant, decide who should be held indefinitely without being charged with a crime and define what is — and what is not — torture and abuse.

With so much going on at Bush’s news conference, who would notice the goings on at DoD, with the decidedly less glamorous Kimmons and Stimson? But one reporter did. In an article for Salon.com, journalist Mark Benjamin, who had been covering the torture beat for awhile, described the “mixed messages on torture” emanating from the White House and DoD.

While Bush was defending “tough interrogation tactics” and “black site” secret prisons, the DoD spokesmen were lauding the new Army Field Manual as “designed to fit squarely within the protections of the Geneva Conventions.” [In his article,] Benjamin quoted Kimmons approvingly, describing the AFM as “humane” and in accord with the views of “conventional senior generals.”

Yet Benjamin failed to notice, or report, that the bulk of the Q&A session with reporters at that news conference concentrated on serious questions about whether the Army Field Manual allowed abuse itself, particularly in its Appendix M, which describes an omnibus “technique” called “Separation.” Appendix M allows the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and various forms of sensory deprivation on prisoners, mostly to be used with other AFM “approaches,” like “Fear Up,” “Ego Down,” and “Futility.”

The reporters grilled Kimmons and Stimson on the AFM and its use of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. But you wouldn’t know that from Benjamin, the alternative and progressive [press] reporter, whose coverage of the event was as obtuse as that of the mainstream press. (See here or here for the full story of that news conference.)

The Foreign Press Have Their Say

The same day Salon.com was publishing Benjamin’s article, and the mainstream press was assessing Bush’s news conference, Stimson and Kimmons traipsed over to the State Department to give their briefing to the foreign press on 2310.10E and the Army Field Manual. Also in attendance were Brigadier General Thomas L. Hemingway, Legal Adviser to the Appointing Authority, Office of Military Commissions, and Sandra Hodgkinson, State Department Deputy Director, Office of War Crimes Issues.

[Not long after this press conference, Hodgkinson, a former JAG attorney, moved to DoD where she served from 2007-2009 as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs. Today she is Vice President, Chief of Staff for U.S. defense contractor, DRS Technologies, "a leading supplier of integrated products, services and support to military forces, intelligence agencies and prime contractors worldwide."]

During the State Dept. news conference, Reymer Luever, from the German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung, tried to nail down Lt. Gen. Kimmons on the use of the “Separation” technique and the applicability of Geneva Common Article Three. As we will see, skepticism from the press was met with double-talk, and a misrepresentation of the situation of “unlawful enemy combatants” and Geneva protections (bold emphasis added):

QUESTION: Thank you very much General Kimmons. You mentioned the 19 interrogation techniques and the 19[th] interrogation technique [S]eparation. You mentioned that this isn’t covered by — or is an exception from the Geneva Convention. Are there other exceptions from the Convention, the new manual?

LTG KIMMONS: Well, I take issue with you that it’s an exception from the Convention. It’s the wording in the Geneva — the third Geneva Convention that causes us to place separation as a restricted technique and not to employ against prisoners of war or lawful combatants. It is the wording and the requirements of Geneva and the definition within Geneva of what is a lawful enemy combatant, what is a prisoner of war. And clearly al-Qaida and the Taliban and the people we are dealing with now in large portions, you know, of the battlefield do not fit the standard established in Geneva for prison of war or other types of lawful enemy combatants. And therefore, according to Geneva, those type of enemy combatants are not — are just like spies and saboteurs in the older days. And traditionally are not entitled to the same protections under Geneva.

“Like spies and saboteurs”? Where did Kimmons come up with that? The reference is to the Fourth Geneva Convention on “Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,” [which allows for some reduction in rights for captured suspected spies and saboteurs, which is we'll examine more below.]  Of course, no one from DoD wants to refer to the Fourth Geneva Convention, because they would have to admit that such prisoners had rights even beyond those in Common Article 3, which protect against violence, “cruel treatment and torture.” For instance, there’s Article 31:

No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.

Now, Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions does not explicitly forbid coercion. Also, Kimmons is correct that the POW Geneva convention has a higher standard for POWs, forbidding all forms of coercion upon them. Unfortunately, the GCs don’t define what is meant by “coercion.” But the CIA’s 1963 Kubark interrogation manual does.

The Purpose of Coercive Interrogations

Jennifer Elsen, in an an essay on the “Lawfulness of Interrogation Techniques Under the Geneva Conventions,” in The Treatment of Prisoners (ed. R.D. McPhee, 2006, Nova Science Publishers), pointed out that the CIA distinguished between coercive and non-coercive interrogations. Coercive interrogations were those “designed to induce regression,” producing a loss of general cognitive capacities, including the ability to deal with complex situations, or the ability to “cope with repeated frustrations.” The tools of the coercive interrogator include the induction of fatigue, pain, sleep loss, anxiety, fear, and the “deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement or similar methods.”

[As we can see, "coercive" interrogation is really torture, and the forms of that kind of torture are for the most part those which are allowed for use in the Army Field Manual. It's not an accident that Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, the Constitution Project, Human Rights First, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, and others have called for either the withdrawal of Appendix M or a rewrite of the Army Field Manual, or both.]

According to the Civilian Geneva Convention protocols, its protections include all civilians “taking no active part in hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause.” [emphasis added] During the press conference, Kimmons noted the exception for “spies and saboteurs,” equating the latter with the captured detainees. But those captured in their “war on terror” in Afghanistan and elsewhere were not spies and saboteurs. Yet, even if they were, according to the Geneva Conventions, they have only “forfeited rights of communication.” One cannot lock them up and throw away the key.

The Civilian Geneva Convention protocol continues, discussing the plight of “spies and saboteurs”:

In each case, such persons shall nevertheless be treated with humanity, and in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention. They shall also be granted the full rights and privileges of a protected person under the present Convention at the earliest date consistent with the security of the State or Occupying Power, as the case may be.

“Full rights and privileges of a protected person”… that doesn’t sound like one could be subject to coercive interrogation or torture, or spurious military commissions, does it?

Kimmons Down the Rabbit Hole on Geneva

Let’s go back to the briefing, and pick up just where we left off. Kimmons, asked if there exceptions to Geneva in the AFM, said that unlawful enemy combatants were “not entitled to the same protections under Geneva” as prisoners of war. But in his very next sentence, he continued, in an entirely different, and confusing vein:

As a matter of law here in the United States, we are going to provide the same single standard for humane treatment to all categories of detainees, both lawful and unlawful combatants.

That same legal requirement does not require us to afford additional privileges above and beyond that standard to unlawful combatants. And that’s why separation is placed — separated to it.

I’m sorry, could you repeat the second part of your question.

QUESTION: My question was are there other — what I have called exceptions from the Convention in the field manual?

LTG KIMMONS: No. In accordance, as a matter of law, only those interrogation approach techniques that are listed in — authorized by the Army Field Manual, this field manual, can be employed on any class of category of detainee across the Department of Defense.

The last statement makes no sense when compared with Kimmons remarks during his opening statement, remarks to which Mr. Luever alluded in his question above. [They don't even make sense grammatically!] For in his earlier statement, Lt. Gen. Kimmons stated (bold emphasis added):

Separation meets the standard for humane treatment, but the Geneva Conventions, specifically the third Geneva Convention, affords prisoners of war, lawful enemy combatants, additional protections above and beyond the single humane standard to which they’re entitled. It entitles them to pay, entitles them to send and receive mail and packages, and it also protects them from separation from other prisoners of war with whom they were captured without their expressed consent.

Unlawful combatants are not entitled to those additional protections and privileges above the humane standard. So Geneva — the common third — Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to all categories of detainees’ [there may be missing text in the transcript here] [S]eparation, however, is only authorized for use on a by-exception basis with unlawful enemy combatants.

Threading the eye of the needle, DoD means to say one thing one moment and another thing the next. What’s clear is that they believe Separation is not a group of techniques that can be used on regular POWs, only “unlawful enemy combatants.” But the privileges enumerated by the third Geneva Convention — Kimmons lists pay, getting mail and packages — does not include in its text, as Kimmons maintains, the right not to experience “separation,” i.e., solitary confinement, sleep and perceptual deprivation, etc.

This can all get quite confusing, but seems to boil down to this. The Pentagon, and perhaps their CIA mentors, want to slice and dice the Geneva Conventions at their will, in order to manifest the core program of coercive interrogation, as laid down by the CIA’s KUBARK manual. DoD has done this by slyly implementing that core program into the Army Field Manual and Appendix M. Because of the Abu Ghraib scandal, they want to hide or forbid all types of treatment that became notorious due to press exposure, and that includes the revelations around waterboarding. But the induction of regression, using a paradigm the CIA referred to as DDD (Dependency, Debility, Dread), is still at the core of the coercive techniques they intend to rescue for their use.

And because of the ignorance or indifference, or in some cases, collusion, of the press and politicians, it appears that they will get their way.

Postscript, January 2014

George Hunsinger, who is the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, wrote about the misrepresentation of the Army Field Manual and its Appendix M in the popular press. “It is sad to see the mainstream media display so much confusion about a heinous crime like torture,” Hunsinger wrote.

“Torture is immoral under all circumstances.  It represents an extreme and shocking form of violating the human person.  Like slavery, genocide and rape, it is never justified.”

DoD photo by R. D. Ward