It's not exactly news that U.S. personnel wantonly tortured detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but a newly released Army document shows an Army psychologist discussing the torture in unusually stark terms: "The only way to extract information was more physical pain."
The document, which was posted two weeks ago on the Department of Defense's Freedom of Information Act web site [pdf] but seems to have been noticed by only one blog, is the transcript of an interview with an unnamed member of a Guantanamo Bay "Behavioral Science Consultation Team." BSCTs—or "biscuits"—were teams of military psychologists tasked with helping interrogators understand, and more efficiently torture, detainees. The interview was conducted as part of a 2005 Army investigation into claims of abuse at Guantanamo known as the Schmidt-Furlow report [pdf], which found "no evidence of torture or inhumane treatment" in interrogations, despite recounting what the report calls the "degrading and abusive treatment" of the "20th hijacker" Mohammed al-Qahtani.
But according to the biscuit team member, who observed Qahtani's interrogation, an unnamed Defense Intelligence Agency civilian in charge of Qahtani's interrogation believed in the purposeful application of physical pain as an interrogation technique: "[Redacted] believed that the only way to extract information from 'difficult' detainees was with more physical or psychological pain."
Qahtani's interrogation included forced stress positions, threats to his family, exposure to vicious dogs, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, and sexual humiliation by female interrogators.
The Schmidt-Furlow report arose after FBI interrogators objected to the Army's abusive tactics on Qahtani. According to the biscuit team member's interview, the FBI agents' initial complaints were met with mockery from the prison's commander, Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who responded to concerns about abuse with this chestnut: "We've got more teeth than they have ass." Miller was later detailed to Iraq, where he applied Guantanamo Bay's interrogation philosophy to Abu Ghraib.
Asked by an investigator whether he or she believed abuse occurred at Guantanamo, the psychologist replied: "That is a hard question to answer. I do believe it is possible for some of the detainees to have some kind of long term or unintended difficulties because of the interrogation policies, but I did not see detainees being subjected to pointless cruelty." In other words, their cruelty had a point.
The psychologist's open admission that Guantanamo interrogators sought to inflict pain—as opposed to "disorient" or "frighten" or any of the other rationalizations frequently offered by torture advocates who perversely claim that physical pain was a side-effect of their tactics—comports with the Kafka-esque definition of legitimate interrogation practices drawn by the Bush Administration, which found that only the intentional infliction of "pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure" constitutes torture. So intentionally inflicting run-of-the-mill pain doesn't count.
But the psychologist's claim that Guantanamo victims could suffer "long term or unintended difficulties because of the interrogation policies," oddly enough, does offer evidence that the Army tortured them even under the Bush Administration's impossible-to-meet definition. In the famous "organ failure" memo [pdf], former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee argued that for "purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture" under the law, it must result in "significant psychological harm of significant duration" and be caused by "threats of imminent death" or torture directed at the detainee "or a third party."
Qahtani's interrogators deliberately inflicted "physical [and] psychological pain" on him. One way they did that was by threatening his family with physical harm. And an Army psychologist who witnessed this treatment concluded that it could result in "long term or unintended difficulties" (indeed, Qahtani was talking to "non-existent people" within weeks of the start of his interrogation). That all adds up to criminal torture even under Bybee's twisted logic.
One other great detail from the interview: "At the end of [Qahtani's] intensive interrogation effort, the commanding general of the camp, Gen. Miller, came down to the interrogation site at [redacted] to present awards to individuals involved with the execution of this particular interrogation." Cruelty with a point.
The full memo is below: