Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Blueprint for Torture

The revelations that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by the Americans during the Bush Administration have taken the world's media by storm.  While the specific details are shocking, they are not surprising when we look back at what happened between 2002 and 2012, particularly when we look back to April 2002 when Donald Rumsfeld announced the capture of al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah, a "high value detainee" and made the following comment:

"We intend to get every single thing out of him to try to prevent terrorist acts in the future."

Thanks to Truthout, back in 2012 we had an idea of what Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld was referring to when he stated that the captive "...will be properly interrogated by proper people who know how to do these things.".  As we found out, there is one key document that was used back in 2002 that provided the CIA, the Justice Department and key members of the Bush II Administration with a blueprint for "enhanced interrogation techniques".  This instruction manual goes by the rather innocuous-sounding moniker "Pre-Academic Laboratory (PREAL) Operating Instructions.  It was released by the Department of Defense in April 2012 under a Freedom of Information Act request.

As background, the PREAL manual was prepared by the Department of Defense and was used by instructors to teach United States military personnel in the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape or SERE courses how to withstand interrogation if they were captured by the enemy during wartime.  PREAL was designed to "...give students the most reliable mental picture possible of an actual peacetime governmental detention experiences (sic).".  Students were exposed to stressors that they may encounter during a real-life detention situation.  When reading through the manual, we find a blueprint or step-by-step guide of what took place during the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists.  Here's an example page that provides us with the reasoning behind the laboratory:

Note that in the first round of interrogation, students were to be exposed to the "humiliation and degradation of a strip and body cavity check" in the presence of an observer whose duty it was to make a student feel degraded, an isolation experience including sleep deprivation and exhaustion and exposure to self-inflicted punishment.  It is interesting to note that a female was to observe male students and a male was to observe female students during the body cavity check; this proved to be quite useful in the case of Muslim detainees.  In the second round of interrogation, the students were exposed to the stress of watching another detainee receive abuse for their lack of cooperation with an interrogator.  During the laboratory, the students were to be kept in a situation where they were completely under the control of and dependent on their captor.  Students were not allowed to move under their own power and were to be hooded when moved.  As we now know, there are several key differences when comparing the laboratory to the real world life of detainees undergoing interrogation.  For example, prior to the laboratory, students were given a name that they could use when a real-world, non-laboratory event occurred such as a real-life medical emergency.  In addition, students were to be given water on a regular basis, they were only held in cramped confinement for a maximum of 20 minutes and they were not exposed to water-boarding.

Physical contact with students forms an important part of the role-playing process; these have the purpose of producing the a realistic situation to which the student will resist.  It is key that physical pressures not be overused or the student could become vulnerable to the effects of "learned helplessness".  Here is a list of authorized physical pressures:

It is interesting to note that the situations during the laboratory are so intense that instructors are given directions on how to deal with open defiance from their students.  Defiance most often results from students that are overwhelmed by the training as shown here:

This document was shared with former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and the members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee in early 2002, the same month that the CIA took over Abu Zubaydah's interrogation from the FBI.  Attendees included NSA Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft.  Porter Goss, successor to George Tenet was also present.  The Principals Committee ensured that George W. Bush was not present, granting him deniability although he did admit that he was aware of the situation in 2008

In looking at the details of the PREAL manual, we can see that with rather simple reverse engineering, we have a guidebook for the torture of enemy combatants.  It's interesting to note that when the interrogation techniques that are used during SERE training are introduced, they are clearly stated as being employed by nations that were in violation of the Geneva Convention which states:

"Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, 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, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

            (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

            (b) taking of hostages;

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; 


  1. American exceptionalism means everybody except us.

  2. Wow, regardless of whether the waterboarding and all that other stuff amounts to torture, its undeniable that the Geneva Convention was broke via (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment. What is the penatly for breaking the Geneva Convention?? I honestly don't know that is real question.

    1. No one will be penalized, since no official arm of the US government has clean enough hands to act. Certainly not the Justice Department, which approved the torture.