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

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

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 (see note at end of post re links). 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.

While few bloggers paid attention to the September 6 DoD briefing (except one noted reporter, as I’ll note later), most likely that was because President Bush had one of his infrequent news conferences the same day, and this one was a blockbuster. Bush acknowledged the existence of a secret CIA prison network. He also announced he was ordering the transfer of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 13 other “high-value detainees” 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. 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 notice the confluence of events that day. In an article for Salon.com, journalist Mark Benjamin, who had been covering the torture beat for awhile, noted 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.” Benjamin quoted Kimmons approvingly, describing the AFM as “humane” and in accord with the views of “conventional senior generals.”

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 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.

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 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.” Of course, no one from DoD wants to refer to this GC, 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.

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

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.”

According to the Civilian convention, for which any prisoner, “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,” which definition being part of Common Article 3 the U.S. government accepts for those captured in their “war on terror,” spies and saboteurs have “forfeited rights of communication.” Does this mean one can lock them up and throw away the key? The Civilian convention goes on:

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, does it?

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, had noted that unlawful enemy combatants were “not entitled to the same protections under Geneva” as prisoners of war. But in his very next sentence, Kimmons 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. For in that 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 allow the core program of coercive interrogation as laid down by the CIA’s Kubark manual, using the Army Field Manual and Appendix M as their primary device. 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, of 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.

Tale of a Broken Link

I had wanted to go back and review the entire foreign press briefing again, but, as described below, the webpages for it were gone. I tried to use the handy Wayback Machine, but it apparently was never logged or entered there. (UPDATE: Edger at Docudharma has successfully negotiated the Wayback Machine when I apparently couldn’t. The URL for the State Department briefing is here, via a cache of the page. The State Department webpages themselves are still gone, and I’ve left the old links in for documentary purposes. So please read the following keeping that in mind. Big H/T to Edger!)

As this story “goes to press,” I discovered that the link to the transcript of the State Department/Kimmons/Stimson briefing for the foreign press, hosted at State Department servers, is now defunct. A search of the site brings up old links to the appropriate html file, but the file itself is gone. The file I used was titled thus (found only now through a Google cache, where it was listed along with other foreign press briefings):

–09/07/06  Department of Defense Directive on Detainee Operations, the Release of the Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collection and an Update on Military Commissions; Cully Stimson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs; Foreign Press Center Briefing; Washington, DC — Official Transcript

I should note this does not appear to be a global deletion of State Department files by date, as a different State Department document, that is, yet another briefing to the foreign press earlier on the same date (9/7/06) as the Kimmons/Stimson briefing, this time with State Department Legal Advisor John Bellinger, is available on State Department servers under the title “Press briefing on detainee issues and military commission legislation.”

The difference between these two briefings? While the foreign press asked good hard questions during the Bellinger briefing, none concerned specifics about the Army Field Manual — no embarrassing questions about “separation” or sensory deprivation.

Yet, I cannot conclude there is any grand conspiracy regarding any missing webpages, since, upon looking, there appear to be plenty of other missing or scrubbed files from the Bush years, through 2008. Is this routine house-cleaning, or something else? I honestly don’t know. I only know that the transcript to the briefing was there a few months back, and I apologize to readers for quoting and reporting upon an event that one cannot now fact-check for accuracy.

Also posted at Invictus

5 comments

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    • Valtin on January 29, 2009 at 7:10 am
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    I can’t write a decent comment right now. Too frustrated, too blue, too bristling with disgust for most of the human race.

    • Edger on January 29, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    you’re looking for:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20060921214009/http://fpc.state.gov/fpc/71958.htm

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