First it was the leak of the 2003 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Manual for Guantanamo. The SOP included procedures for psychological torture and abusive conditions of detention, including long-term isolation to foster dependence upon interrogators and “enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process”. Also, prisoners were hidden from the International Red Cross.
The military assured critics that “SOPs by definition, undergo periodic review and change as situations warrant. Detention operations at JTF-GTMO have evolved significantly since 2003…”
Now Wikileaks has released a copy of the 2004 SOP, and guess what? Nothing changed, unless (mostly) for the worse! As the Washington Post notes, since the Supreme Court “prepares to hear arguments this week on the rights of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the public is getting another peek at how detainees have been treated there.”
Wikileaks has analyzed the changes from the 2003 to 2004 Guantanamo SOP, even placing copies of the relevant passages changed in a side-by-side fashion.
Nothing has changed regarding the conditions of confinement. Detainees are still placed in a minimum of 30 days total isolation upon transfer to Guantanamo. Such isolation can be extended, if approved.
Use of Isolation in Interrogations
How bad is isolation? Bad enough that Donald Rumsfeld himself felt it warranted a “caution” in his April 16, 2003 memo authorizing certain aggressive forms of interrogation, i.e., torture.
Caution: the use of isolation as an interrogation technique requires detailed implementation instructions, including specific guidelines regarding the length of isolation, medical and psychological review, and approvals for extension of the length of by the appropriate level in the chain of command. This technique is not know to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days. Those nations that believe that detainees are subject to POW protections may view use of this technique as inconsistent with the requirements of Geneva III, Article 13 which provides that POWs must be protected against acts of intimidation; Article 14 which provides that POWs are entitled to respect for their person; Article 34 which prohibits coercion and Article 126 which ensures access and basic standards of treatment. Although the provisions of Geneva are not applicable to the interrogation of unlawful combatants, consideration should be given to these views prior to application of this technique.
Rumsfeld — bureaucrat that he is — concentrates on the legal obstacles to the use of isolation. But the psychological components have been well studied for decades. The following is from a 1961 article on use of isolation for interrogations written by Lawrence Hinkle, then a psychiatrist at Cornell Medical Center, and a CIA consultant (link to quote can be found here, emphasis in quote is mine):
It is well known that prisoners, especially if they have not been isolated before, may develop a syndrome similar in most of its features to the “brain syndrome”…. They become dull, apathetic, and in due time they become disoriented and confused; their memories become defective and they experience hallucinations and delusions…. their ability to impart accurate information may be as much impaired as their capacity to resist an interrogator….
From the interrogator’s viewpoint it has seemed to be the ideal way of “breaking down” a prisoner, because, to the unsophisticated, it seems to create precisely the state that the interrogator desires: malleability and the desire to talk, with the added advantage that one can delude himself that he is using no force or coercion…. However, the effect of isolation on the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved, or deprived of sleep.
What’s Changed in 2004 SOP?
First, though, what hasn’t changed.
1. Continuation of prolonged isolation of prisoners.
2. Continuation of use of “Military Working Dogs” for “Psychological deterrence”
3. Hiding of prisoners from the International Committee of the Red Cross
4. Toilet paper is still considered a luxury or “comfort item” that can be utilized as a reward.
5. Restrictions of access to a chaplain.
Both manuals assert that detainees will be treated in accordance with the “spirit” of the Geneva conventions “to the degree consistent with military needs”, but never assert that the conventions are actually being followed at Guantanamo. Put into practice, neither manual complies with the Geneva conventions.
Changes from 2003 to 2004
1. The term “Maximum Security Unit” is changed to “Special Housing Unit” (SHU).
2. A Koran is now allowed in SHU, though not prayer bead or prayer cap.
3. New details on use of pepper spray on inmates
4. The right to read camp rules in detainees native language is eliminated.
5. SOP procedures are to be reviewed every 30 vs. 120 days
6. Access and authority of chaplains is further reduced. (The folks at Wikileaks write that this is “probably in response to the actions of James Yee, the prison chaplain who spoke out about conditions at Guantanamo Bay.”)
7. New procedures regarding release of detainees, which are to be orchestrated in part by PSY OPS (psychological operations team).
8. Soldiers are no longer required to carry a “US SOUTHCOM Human Rights Standing Orders” card on their persons at all times.
9. No dictionaries, magazines or books about English or geography.
10. Orwellian changes in language – for instance, references to suicide now called “self-harm”. Also, “hunger strikes” are now “voluntary total fasting”!
More Leaks, But One Conclusion
Wikileaks has also published today a “sensitive US military manual entitled “Detainee Operations in a Joint Environment”, which is a defense-wide instruction manual for detainee operations including rendition flights, which has yet to be been analyzed”. A quick look by this author shows that the use of psychologists and psychiatrists in Behavioral Consultant Teams (BSCTs) were endemic across the entire theater of the Global War on Terror (GWOT, as they like to call it). These BSCTs were an integral part of interrogation teams, and their use has engendered their own controversy in medical and psychology circles.
The conclusion to this brief look at another major look at U.S. government secret detention operations is simple and clear. The Pentagon’s denials around mistreatment are false. Their claims that things have changed and revelations are out of date are false. A major gulag has sprung up in our midst over the last five years, and the lack of rights attendant upon this in such centers, and an attack on rights here in the “homeland” continues unabated.
All readers should link out of this article and read Linda Greenhouse’s excellent analysis over at the New York Times on Boumediene v. Bush, which looks at the rights of “enemy combatants,” the suppression of habeas corpus, and the bogus military commissions (really kangaroo courts) set up by Bush and the Pentagon (and approved in advance by Congress) under the 2006 Military Commissions Act. I’ll let Ms. Greenhouse get the final words, so you can savor what is at stake:
Each of the three branches of government has made a series of judgments on how to strike the balance between individual liberty and national security in the post-9/11 era. This latest Supreme Court confrontation, round three of the justices’ encounter with the detainee question, reflects an extraordinary interbranch drama, played out as a series of actions and reactions that has now cycled back to where it began: the role of the federal courts.
This third round is potentially the most momentous, because at stake is whether the Supreme Court itself will continue to have a role in defining the balance or whether, as the administration first argued four years ago, the executive branch is to have the final word.