August 04, 2005

Homicidal Interrogations: Did Interrogators Believe Tactics Were Geneva-Compliant?

A must-read by Josh White in the WaPo.

When Army efforts produced nothing useful, detainees would be handed over to members of Operational Detachment Alpha 531, soldiers with the 5th Special Forces Group, the CIA or a combination of the three. "The personnel were dressed in civilian clothes and wore balaclavas to hide their identity," according to a Jan. 18, 2004, report for the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

If they did not get what they wanted, the interrogators would deliver the detainees to a small team of the CIA-sponsored Iraqi paramilitary squads, code-named Scorpions, according to a military source familiar with the operation. The Jan. 18 memo indicates that it was "likely that indigenous personnel in the employ of the CIA interrogated MG Mowhoush..."

More:

...On Nov. 24, the CIA and one of its four-man Scorpion units interrogated Mowhoush, according to investigative records. "OGA Brian and the four indig were interrogating an unknown detainee," according to a classified memo, using the slang "other government agency" for the CIA and "indig" for indigenous Iraqis.

"When he didn't answer or provided an answer that they didn't like, at first [redacted] would slap Mowhoush, and then after a few slaps, it turned into punches," Ryan testified. "And then from punches, it turned into [redacted] using a piece of hose."

"The indig were hitting the detainee with fists, a club and a length of rubber hose," according to classified investigative records.

Soldiers heard Mowhoush "being beaten with a hard object" and heard him "screaming" from down the hall, according to the Jan. 18, 2004, provost marshal's report. The report said four Army guards had to carry Mowhoush back to his cell.

Two days later, at 8 a.m., Nov. 26, Mowhoush -- prisoner No. 76 -- was brought, moaning and breathing hard, to Interrogation Room 6, according to court testimony.

Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. did a first round of interrogations for 30 minutes, taking a 15-minute break and resuming at 8:45. According to court testimony, Welshofer and Spec. Jerry L. Loper, a mechanic assuming the role of guard, put Mowhoush into the sleeping bag and wrapped the bag in electrical wire.

Welshofer allegedly crouched over Mowhoush's chest to talk to him.

Sgt. 1st Class William Sommer, a linguist, stood nearby.

Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Williams, an intelligence analyst, came to observe progress.

Investigative records show that Mowhoush "becomes unresponsive" at 9:06 a.m. Medics tried to resuscitate him for 30 minutes before pronouncing him dead.

Dreadful, of course, but here's the really scary part:

In a preliminary court hearing in March for Williams, Loper and Sommer, retired Chief Warrant Officer Richard Manwaring, an interrogator who worked with Welshofer in Iraq, testified that using the sleeping bag and putting detainees in a wall locker and banging on it were "appropriate" techniques that he himself used to frighten detainees and make them tense.

Col. David A. Teeples, who then commanded the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, told the court he believed the "claustrophobic technique" was both approved and effective. It was used before, and for some time after, Mowhoush's death, according to sources familiar with the interrogation operation.

"My thought was that the death of Mowhoush was brought about by [redacted] and then it was unfortunate and accidental, what had happened under an interrogation by our people," Teeples said in court, according to a transcript.

I think Marty Lederman has it right when he writes:

It's possible that many military (and other) interrogators have come to believe that the techniques used in Iraq comply with Geneva. How is that possible? Here's the key quotation from today's story: "It was a time when U.S. interrogators were coming up with their own tactics to get detainees to talk, many of which they considered logical interpretations of broad-brush categories in the Army Field Manual, with labels such as 'fear up' or 'pride and ego down' or 'futility.'" In other words, the interrogators convinced themselves that these techniques were described in Army Field Manual 34-52a Manual that has, since the 1960's, defined the interrogation techniques that are acceptable within the military even for POWs who are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

My read so far of the voluminous paper trail with respect to this specific issue (and I am well aware I still owe interested readers a major report on my overall conclusions)--is quite similar to Marty's speculations above. What is even more interesting is how the senior leadership contributed--likely in material fashion I'd say from my review so far--to the climate whereby interrogators actually really thought they were acting in compliance with supposedly Geneva compliant Army Field Manual practice. All this said, and I know I say this a lot, but more detail on this will have to wait (I am writing this past 1 AM and my time is severely limited)--detail that will focus particularly at the Lt Gen Sanchez and above level.

Don't miss John Cole on this either--who helps explain (as does Gary Farber)--just how this story, shall we say, got out and about a bit more than it might have done.

Posted by Gregory at August 4, 2005 05:47 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I'm not well read on this topic but one think that irks me is all the focus on detainees in the press (and now here) goes to the issue of whether we are or are not violating Geneva or otherwise mistreating our prisoners.

We are in a war so how comfortable a Zarqawi terrorist is while in confinement isn't exactly my top priority (although I recognize the importance of respecting international convention and our own values). Winning the war and doing so in a way that preserves the safety of our forces and our values is paramount. Our combat operations make a lot of people squeemish so I'm not necessarily concerned if our interrogation techniques do as well.

I'd like to see some serious discussion from an expert (any here on BD?) about what the state-of-the-art for interrogation techniques are and to what degree fear, pain, abuse, fatigue, disorientation, etc. are necessary to achieving the best results. That will then inform our discussion as to whether adhering to Geneva strictly (or loosely) at all impairs our interrogation efforts.

I will say that rendition (the transfer of a detainee from US forces to another group) for torture is no moral improvement (although perhaps a legal one). Again, I'd love to see a more honest policy adopted.

Posted by: POTUS B at August 4, 2005 03:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It seems to me that what you are seeing is a lot of front-line soldiers being put under tremendous pressure to deliver intelligence without any guidance as to what is permissible. Meanwhile, the higher authorities, up to and including the White House, washes their hands of this and lets the subordinates take the rap.

POTUS B raises the question of whether we should be concerned about the techniques at all. That's an interesting point, but one we can't really address until the Pentagon and the WH acknowledge that what is going on is, if not meeting their technical definition of torture, uncomfortably close to it. Obviously, how you feel about this is largely going to depend on how you feel about the war. If you think that the war is justified and that these captives are insurgents and terrorists trying to undermine Iraqi democracy--and by extension American interests--then I guess you could justify virtually any interrogation method. I'm not losing sleep over Saddam's henchman being treated badly--maybe turnaround is fair play. I think it's naive to believe that wars are going to be conducted with decorum and observation of all the niceties, especially a war involving insurgents. So, again, the question comes down to whether this war makes sense.

Posted by: Marc Schneider at August 4, 2005 03:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Marc, to clarify, its not that I don't care; we MUST care, but I think the issue is more complex than simply "are we violating Geneva" or are we mistreating the detainees. Second, I disagree with the notion that your position on this SHOULD be driven by your view of the war. Far from it, the correct approach should be independent of any one particular engagement. I'm pretty unhappy with the war but very undecided about what the right detainee/interrogation policy should be. I think its pretty clear that we've messed up in this area (Abu Graib) already so some clarification is clearly needed. But the discussion should not just be about law (Geneva) or morality (torture) but also effectiveness of methods and national priorities.

Posted by: POTUS B at August 4, 2005 03:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Marc,

You say "I'm not losing sleep over Saddam's henchman being treated badly".

Does it concern you that many (if not most) of the detainees are not Saddam's henchmen in any meaningful sense? Or would you simply lump this in the "you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs" category?

Posted by: Mads Kvalsvik at August 4, 2005 04:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Djerejian: You have been on this issue more consistently than almost anyone else, and are clearly not driven by animus against the Bush administration. But it is not credible to bring the Geneva conventions into the picture; I do not think it can be seriously argued that they apply.

You have promised a few times in the past to articulate a proposal on what treatment is permissible for enemies not protected by the Geneva convention, but it seems you have been sidetracked into chronicling the latest horrors instead.

These are, indeed, shameful disasters for the United States; and the wheels of justice are, indeed, grinding forward, though more slowly than either of us might like. But our debate about them is being held in a vacuum, between Geneva protection for roving terrorists on the one hand, and anything-goes brutality on the other.

Until you write that proposal, there's nothing to say that's not mere repetition.

Posted by: sammler at August 4, 2005 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sammler: Pls explain why "it is not credible" to discuss Geneva in the context of IRAQI POWs?

Posted by: jack at August 4, 2005 05:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It was a time when U.S. interrogators were coming up with their own tactics to get detainees to talk, many of which they considered logical interpretations of broad-brush categories in the Army Field Manual, with labels such as 'fear up' or 'pride and ego down' or 'futility.'"

Absolute nonsense. There can be no mistaken what those technques allow or forbid. An interrogator who does not know the limit of the techniques would never made it through the interrogator course.

The question in my mind is are those people qualified interrogators? According to our Intelligence Oversight Law, only trained and qualified interrogators are allow to conduct interrogation. No other MOS are allowed to conduct interrogation including ODA. It is in violation of US laws.

What we have here maybe more than violation of Geneva Convention, but a violation of Intel Oversight as well.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at August 4, 2005 05:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I, too, thought that at some point Greg was going to write about just what he considered "abuse" and "torture". Now, I am a transactional lawyer, so I understand full well that things get put aside when you've got a fire-drill of a deal. But this post just reinforces my impression that Greg considers any interrogation technique harsher than "pretty please tell us" to be abuse and/or torture. Yes, yes, we shouldn't beat or smother to death Iraqi generals (not that I lose too much sleep over the death of someone Saddam gave "execution authority"). But putting a detainee into a wall locker and banging on it (according to Greg, the "really scary part")? Please. So I hope that Greg's deal will be done soon - for his sake even more than his readers'! - and he'll further enlighten us.

Posted by: Al at August 4, 2005 05:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let me make an observation here, one that is not intended as support for one view or another on such issues as the scope of Geneva in Cuba or Iraq or the effectiveness of specific interrogation practices.

Prior to the fall of 2001 it had been almost three decades since the American military and intelligence communities had been tasked with gathering time-sensitive intelligence from large numbers of detainees on foreign soil. The experience gained at that time in Afghanistan could not have been more than marginally useful to those personnel assigned to Iraq and required to deal with a much larger population of detainees -- something that had not been expected or planned for by the political or military leadership.

One problem this created is the large number of service personnel (and some civilian officials) required to participate in interrogation and supervision of detainees, and review of procedures for same, who had very little time to learn what they were supposed to do -- what was effective, where the red lines were, what could and could not be allowed. Careful reading of Josh White's article for the Post confirms that interrogation techniques were often made up on the fly.

It also suggests another hazard of reliance on underprepared personnel, that being confusion of mission. In the case that White documents, much of the Iraqi general's interrogation was conducted by men drawn from a unit of Iraqi exiles. I don't think it is speculating too much to say that these men may have known or at least heard more about the Iraqi general in question than their American handlers. White's description of his interrogation at their hands is consistent as much with retribution as an effort to extract useful intelligence, especially in view of the fact that this unit had not been formed or trained originally for interrogations at all.

Now, again, this is just an observation. My personal inclination when faced with unfamiliar situations is to adhere to orderly procedures unless this is manifestly impossible. But though such procedures could have been devised quickly, on paper, in this case, assuring compliance with them throughout the large body of personnel suddenly required to deal with detainees of various kinds is much easier said than done.

Posted by: JEB at August 4, 2005 07:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Terrorists aren't covered by the Geneva convention. Therefore the question of "is their treatment Geneva-compliant" is a non-sequitor.

We can (and should) discuss whether their treatment is an outrage. But "Geneva-compliant" is irrelevent.

Posted by: Lee Willis at August 4, 2005 07:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Per M-D's comment upthread, Jon Holdaway makes some interesting comments at the Intel Dump site: http://www.intel-dump.com/archives/archive_2005_07_31-2005_08_06.shtml#1123180566

Posted by: JEB at August 4, 2005 07:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There seems to be slippage in the commentary on this story between
the idea that "clautrophobic" confinement might have been considered authorized, as the quote from Col Teeples indicates, and the idea that beating a detainee with pipes and a rubber hose was considered authorized. You can make an argument that the first could be true, but I don't see how anyone could have considered the second to be so. If you can do that you can do anything, and the very idea of interpreting some manual makes no sense.

Posted by: rd at August 4, 2005 08:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JEB,

Combatant commanders such as Brigade or Regimental Commander have no authority to authorize interrogation techniques. The only person who can do that is the G2X who is the person in charge of all divisional level HUMINT activity. The chain of command for HUMINT activity is seperate and distinct from the line units.

According to US Army doctrine, any technique other than "direct questioning" must be approved by the G2X. The lead interrogator must have the interrogation plan in writting, submit it to the G2X, and only when the plan is approved, can he proceed. This is clear US doctrine.

Any combatant commander who exceeded his authority and violated intelligence oversight law must be prosecuted. This is a serious violation of US law.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at August 4, 2005 08:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is anyone surprised that torture/beatings are outsourced to indigenous personnel?

Units are tasked with extracting vital information. Prisoners know that there is nothing really that the Americans can do to make them talk, press coverage internationally has led them to realize that even smearing say red ink on them is verboten.

So, interrogators given responsibility but no authority chuck the problem over the wall to locals, and pretend not to see beatings, torture, etc.

That being said this doesn't look systemic (otherwise a lot more folks would have died) but limited to (once again) poorly led and supervised units with little training.

This is from the SEAL trial right? JAG tried to nail a SEAL and pretty unusual, he was found not guilty on all counts during Court Martial.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at August 4, 2005 10:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

al: you misread what I thought was the "really scary part". Pls re-read the post more carefully for context.
generally: can someone pls explain to the humble proprietor why the GVA conventions don't apply to Iraqi POWs? I'm confused...

best, greg

Posted by: greg at August 5, 2005 03:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You are being disengenious Greg - clearly what is meant is that the Geneva convention does not apply to the terrorists ( insurgents, whatever ) being caught in Iraq today

They did apply to Iraqi POW's captured in March 2003

In fact - Sammler did not mention "Iraqi POW's" - it was Jack in response who mentioned that catagory

I expect you do understand why Geneva does not apply to AQ captured anywhere

We may choose to treat them in a Geneva like fashion - but they have no rights under any treaty

Please tell me you understand this

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at August 5, 2005 02:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ref: Greg's question on Iraqi detainees. We need a military lawyer or perhaps MD can address: how does DoD interpret Geneva when it comes to determining if detainees qualify? Is the question relevant to interrogation procedures in effect?

Pogue, your answer provides no illumination whatsoever. If you can clarify, please do.

MD, you seem to be the most credible commentator on this topic. What is your take on my questions above:

"I'd like to see some serious discussion from an expert (any here on BD?) about what the state-of-the-art for interrogation techniques are and to what degree fear, pain, abuse, fatigue, disorientation, etc. are necessary to achieving the best results. That will then inform our discussion as to whether adhering to Geneva strictly (or loosely) at all impairs our interrogation efforts."

Posted by: POTUS B at August 5, 2005 06:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

POTUS B,

Even among experts, there are disagreement on the limit and boundary of the Geneva Convention. But the concensus is that physical pain is unproductive as a method to extract information. It is only good for confession.

However, psychological pressure works. The detainee has to be under some form of mental stress. It has to be in manner that the detainee see the interrogator as a savior (but not an enemy). If the detainee see the interrogator as an enemy, it is actually counter-productive.

This is however easier said than done. It takes considerable amount of time and patience to break a detainee - even longer for detainee of strong will such as religious fanatic. Interrogation is an art, it requires the interrogator to know the detainee very well (habit, personality, fear and hopes).

It is in my opinion that we can stay well within the Geneva Convention guideline and still conduct fruitful interrogation - even against the most stubborn detainee. However, to do so requires skilled interrogators. Here lies the problem. There is a chronic shortage of interrogators in the US Military, and the shortage is most severe when it come to the older and more experience interrogators. Most of the interrogators (including myself) are fairly inexperience. I only have less than a hundred interrogation sessions under my belt - most of them against farily easy detainees.

The interrogation of MG Mowhoush should have been done by experts, not amateurs. The case is a perfect example of what happened when you send a boy to do a man job.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at August 5, 2005 07:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

POTUS B,

Even among experts, there are disagreement on the limit and boundary of the Geneva Convention. But the concensus is that physical pain is unproductive as a method to extract information. It is only good for confession.

However, psychological pressure works. The detainee has to be under some form of mental stress. It has to be in manner that the detainee see the interrogator as a savior (but not an enemy). If the detainee see the interrogator as an enemy, it is actually counter-productive.

This is however easier said than done. It takes considerable amount of time and patience to break a detainee - even longer for detainee of strong will such as religious fanatic. Interrogation is an art, it requires the interrogator to know the detainee very well (habit, personality, fear and hopes).

It is in my opinion that we can stay well within the Geneva Convention guideline and still conduct fruitful interrogation - even against the most stubborn detainee. However, to do so requires skilled interrogators. Here lies the problem. There is a chronic shortage of interrogators in the US Military, and the shortage is most severe when it come to the older and more experience interrogators. Most of the interrogators (including myself) are fairly inexperience. I only have less than a hundred interrogation sessions under my belt - most of them against farily easy detainees.

The interrogation of MG Mowhoush should have been done by experts, not amateurs. The case is a perfect example of what happened when you send a boy to do a man job.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at August 5, 2005 07:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This kind of thing is inevitable when one starts creating new categories of prisoners-of-war whose treatment is not subject to the Geneva Conventions.

The victim wasn't even "captured" --- he was "detained" when by the US military he showed to ask about some relatives who were being "detained". He was a civilian who was suspected of being involved in the insurgency--- and that is all it took for him to be tortured an murdered.

Its not surprising that in a war zone in a completely alien environment, the question of acceptable interrogation techniques becomes muddied to the point where torture and murder is possible when "suspected insurgent" is confused with "suspected terrorist" and "terrorist" means you aren't eligible for the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions. This is just a part of the "slippery slope" that the Bush administration pushed us down by creating the bogus "illegal combatant" category in order to avoid complaince with the Geneva Conventions.

But what disturbs me about this story is not the fact that the US military is involved in torture and murder --- we already knew that, and knew that it was inevitable, given Bushco's tacit authorization of torture for "illegal combatants". What is most disturbing is the knee-jerk efforts to cover up this murder, and attribute it to natural causes----and the apparent lack of concern with regard to that coverup.

It is becoming abundantly clear that the Medical Corps have been completely corrupted by this war, and the Bush administration----not only are they involved in aiding and abetting the torture of prisoners, they are covering up for the murder of prisoners who have been tortured.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at August 6, 2005 01:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

P.Lukasiak: I don't think the problem is that we have "created new categories of prisoners-of-war" -- I think the problem is that we have failed to do so.

First, Geneva convention protections cannot be made to apply. These protections are explicitly for uniformed combatants captured on the field. In theory, we could say that we will grant that same level of protection to anyone we hold in custody -- that is not about Geneva compliance, but would represent the formation of a new US policy. [A bad policy, as it would ipso facto give no extra protection to true uniformed soldiers.]

We have only one category -- non-Geneva-protected -- and no real rules about what can be done to people in that category. What is needed is an explicit categorization recognizing how all these prisoners may differ, and guidelines on how they should be treated that are decent enough to survive the light of day.

Posted by: sammler at August 8, 2005 09:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

POTUS, look up "Dark Art" by Mark Bowden.

Good reading on the subject.

Posted by: Cutler at August 9, 2005 04:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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