Connecting CIA Torture to Abu Ghraib

By blurring the lines between terrorism and combat - and by linking the
9/11 rationale to groups only tangentially connected to al-Qaeda - the
Bush administration spread the policy of harsh interrogations far
beyond terror suspects who worked directly for Osama bin Laden, newly
released Justice Department memos reveal.

Most significantly, the Bush administration let the interrogation
policy spill over into U.S.-occupied Iraq, where ambushes of American
and allied troops were regarded as the legal and moral equivalent of
terrorist attacks against civilians on U.S. soil, one of the memos, dated May 30, 2005, makes clear. That belief, in turn, appears to have set the stage for the Abu Ghaib prison abuse scandal.

The memo - written by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice
Department's Office of Legal Counsel - describes the criteria for
identifying a "high value" detainee who would be a candidate for
"enhanced interrogation techniques." While describing the supposedly
restrictive nature of the criteria, Bradbury actually reveals how broad
the category was.

Such a
detainee is someone "who, until time of capture, we have reason to
believe: (1) is a senior member of al-Qai'da or an al-Qai'da associated
terrorist group (Jemaah Islamiyyah, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Zarqawi
Group, etc.), (2) has knowledge of imminent terrorist threats against
the USA, its military forces, its citizens and organizations, or its
allies; or that has/had direct involvement in planning and preparing
terrorist actions against the USA or its allies, or assisting the
al-Qai'da leadership in planning and preparing such terrorist actions;
and (3) if released, constitutes a clear and continuing threat to the
USA or it allies," the memo states.

In other words, an Iraqi insurgent allegedly linked to Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who led a particularly violent faction
of the Iraqi war against U.S. occupation, could qualify for harsh
interrogation if he might know about future attacks on American or
allied troops inside Iraq.

Though terrorism is classically defined as acts of violence directed
against civilians to achieve a political goal, the Bush administration
broadened the concept to include attacks by Iraqis against U.S. or
allied soldiers occupying Iraq. So, for instance, a suspected Iraqi
insurgent who might know about the location of roadside bombs would
fall under these criteria.

Since the Bush administration blamed Zarqawi for much of the violence
against U.S. forces in Iraq, that would have opened the door for rough
treatment of any number of captured Iraqis. Indeed, that is what some
of the prison guards at Abu Ghraib claimed to have thought they were
doing, softening up Iraqi detainees for questioning by U.S.
intelligence interrogators.

Whistleblower's Testimony

The Justice Department memos also buttress the testimony of former Army
Sgt. Sam Provance, who served as a military intelligence officer at Abu
Ghraib for four months starting in September 2003 and was the only one
in such a position to blow the whistle on the cover-up that sought to
focus blame for the scandal on low-level military police.

"While serving with my unit in Iraq," Provance said in a statement
submitted to Congress, "I became aware of changes in the procedures in
which I and my fellow soldiers were trained. These changes involved
using procedures which we previously did not use, and had been trained
not to use, and in involving military police (MP) personnel in
'preparation' of detainees who were to be interrogated.

detainees were treated in an incorrect and immoral fashion as a result
of these changes. After what had happened at Abu Ghraib became a matter
of public knowledge, and there was a demand for action, young soldiers
were scapegoated while superiors misrepresented what had happened and
tried to misdirect attention away from what was really going on."

As a computer expert working the night shift, Provance came to know
many of the interrogators, including a female who "told me detainees
were routinely stripped naked in the cells and sometimes during
interrogations (she said one man so shamed had actually made a loin
cloth out of an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) bag, so they no longer allowed
him to have the MRE bag with his food).

said they also starved them or allowed them to only have certain items
of food at a time. She said they played loud music - 'Barney I Love
You' being the interrogators' favorite. ... She said they used dogs to
terrify and torment the prisoners. She also said they deprived them of
sleep for long periods of time."

Provance said these strategies were "all part of a carefully planned
regimen that had been introduced after the arrival of the teams from"
the Guantanamo Bay prison facility where detainees from the "war on
terror" had been concentrated.

Provance also recounted a conversation at the Camp Victory dining
facility where one military intelligence guard "told an entire table
full of laughing soldiers about how the MP's had shown him and other
soldiers how to knock someone out and to strike a detainee without
leaving marks. They had practiced these techniques on unsuspecting
detainees, after watching, he had participated himself."

What is striking about Provance's account in retrospect are the
similarities between the CIA techniques approved by the Bush
administration and the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, including
the notorious photographs of naked Iraqis paraded in front of female

In both cases,
nudity -- especially in front of women -- was used to degrade the
prisoners; their diets were manipulated to weaken their resolve (the
CIA fed its detainees Ensure); they were deprived of sleep (the CIA
hung prisoners by their wrists and used icy water to keep them awake
for a week or more); their personal fears were exploited; and they were
roughed up in ways designed not to leave marks (the CIA used a
technique called "walling," slamming prisoners repeatedly into a false
wall that made a loud noise).

There were some differences, too. While the Abu Ghraib photos revealed
prisoners being piled up in fake sexual positions, the CIA program
included the near-drowning experience of "waterboarding" against three
"high-value detainees," including its use 266 times against two
detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Hiding the Evidence

Perhaps the most significant difference, however, was that photographs
of the Abu Ghraib abuses reached the public, while the CIA destroyed 92
videotapes of its interrogations of detainees. Because the Abu Ghraib
photos got out, President George W. Bush and other senior officials
decided to denounce the humiliating treatment as disgraceful.

shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they
were treated," Bush said. "Their treatment does not reflect the nature
of the American people."

Eventually, 11 enlisted soldiers, who were guards at Abu Ghraib, were
convicted in courts martial. Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. received the
harshest sentence - 10 years in prison - while Lynndie England, a
22-year-old single mother who was photographed holding an Iraqi on a
leash and pointing at a detainee's penis, was sentenced to three years
in prison.

Superior officers
were cleared of wrongdoing or received mild reprimands. For his
whistleblowing about the systemic problem at Abu Ghraib, Sgt. Provance
was threatened with prosecution and saw his military career destroyed.

The consequences for American troops in Iraq were also unpleasant. The
Abu Ghraib scandal fueled the Iraqi insurgency in a war that has
claimed the lives of more than 4,200 U.S. soldiers.

The link between the Abu Ghraib abuses and the U.S. death toll was
described by a lead U.S. interrogator in Iraq, who used the pseudonym
"Matthew Alexander" for a Washington Pos Outlook article on Nov. 30, 2008.

a U.S. Air Force special operations officer, said it was his team's
abandonment of those harsh tactics that contributed to the tracking
down and killing of the murderous al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Zarqawi in
June 2006.

"Alexander" said he
arrived in Iraq in March 2006, amid the bloody civil war that Sunni
extremist Zarqawi had helped provoke a month earlier with the bombing
of the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by
Iraq's majority Shiites.

the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an
elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi," he wrote.
"What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was
still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model.
... These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often
resulted in torture and abuse.

refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended
that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I
taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on
building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and
using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information."


By getting to know the captives and negotiating with them, his team
achieved breakthroughs that enabled the U.S. military to close in on
Zarqawi while also gaining a deeper understanding of what drove the
Iraqi insurgency, "Alexander" wrote.

the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes
changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda
evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as
Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite
militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have
some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq.

surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as
they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide
them with arms and money," the interrogator wrote, noting that this
understanding played a key role in the U.S. military turning many
Sunnis against the hyper-violent extremism of Zarqawi's organization.

added that the new interrogation methods "convinced one of Zarqawi's
associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June
8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where
Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders."

From hundreds of interrogations, "Alexander" said he learned that the
images from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were actually getting
American soldiers killed by drawing angry young Arabs into the Iraq War.

and abuse cost American lives," the interrogator wrote. "I learned in
Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were
the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of
torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in
Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried
out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks
on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties
in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the
fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S.
soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be
definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the
number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

"How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

Nevertheless, in a series of "exit interviews," Vice President Dick
Cheney - and to a lesser degree President Bush - defended their actions
that included sanctioning brutal methods of interrogation." [See's "Cheney Defends Waterboarding Order."]

That argument continues to this day with Bush's defenders continuing to
insist that the harsh methods were successful.

In an interview
with Fox News on Monday, Cheney complained that the Obama
administration had released the Justice Department memos on
interrogations, "but they didn't put out the memos that showed the
success of the effort."

Cheney then said, "I've now formally asked the CIA to take steps to
declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American
people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and
how good the intelligence was."

Full disclosure also might include how the CIA practices influenced
interrogators in Iraq to apply similar methods on suspected Iraqi
insurgents, a reality that not only damaged America's image around the
world but may have contributed to the deaths of many U.S. soldiers.

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