A “primer” from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seems to encourage the use of isolation to break down prisoners in overseas prisons. Published in 2011, it advocates the use of this coercive measure to break detainees ahead of interrogations, which violates or runs contrary to FBI policy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained the “primer” through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Devon Chaffee, Legislative Council for the ACLU, says it is the first document she has seen “that’s written by an FBI agent” and “explicitly recommends that FBI agents recommend that detainees be put in isolation.”
Here is part of the primer that led the ACLU to be concerned:
…For the safety of other detainees in the facility, detainees fresh from the battlefield should be detained in individual cells until complete assessment can be made. The assessment can be considered to be complete when the decision has been made whether to release the detainee or send him to long term detention facility. Additionally, access to anything above the baseline level of treatment provided to all detainees should be strictly controlled by the assigned Interrogator. Granting this authority and control to the Interrogator places the Interrogator in a position of power that can provide an advantage when crafting an approach strategy.
Isolation of the detainee not only ensures the safety of other detainees but also prevents the individual detainee from drawing strength from the support and companionship of other detainees It also prevents collusion on cover stories between detainees. A large part of the Interrogators advantage is the natural fear of the unknown that the detainee will be experiencing. Exposure to other detainees will mitigate that fear. You may not be in a position to influence how your subject is held, but at a minimum you should know if he has been held in a communal cell prior to interrogation…
Chaffee considers this to be problematic because “isolation was component of many of the abusive interrogations that took place” after the September 11th attacks. Isolation can lead to serious abuses in interrogation. The FBI also has a policy that prohibits the “use of coercion in interrogation” and the FBI and Supreme Court have recognized that “isolation in interrogation is an indication of coercion.” [For these reasons, the ACLU sent a letter to FBI director Robert Mueller.]
The FBI would presumably contend the isolation is only done for so-called security purposes, however, additional language in the “primer” makes it clear the isolation is intended to inflict a psychological impact on detainees so they are essentially in a state of “learned helplessness” (like what the CIA has done to detainees in their custody whom they’ve tortured).
…[D]etainees should not be held in the clothing they are captured in. Detaining a subject in his own clothing could impact negatively on the health and safety of detention facility personnel and other detainees in the facility. Having the detainee change into hospital pajamas, or some other generic clothing, and flip flops has the added benefit of removing a potential source of comfort and an anchor to the world outside the detention facility. This is an important step in the process of detaching the detainee from the outside world and replacing his concern for his cause and his colleagues with a concern for his own fate…
…In order to create the optimum conditions for a productive interview, if the policy of the facility permits, consider having your detainee placed in an individual cell several days before you begin interrogation. If you are conducting law enforcement interviews in a DOD facility, a formal request from the FBI must be made to isolate a detainee. This request must be approved by the first O-6 in the chain of command.
Keep in mind that a thorough interrogation may be a multi-session, multi-day process. Having your subject return to a communal cell between sessions is completely counterproductive. A subject returning to a communal cell will feel pressure from fellow detainees based on the duration of his absence from the cell and the knowledge that he will be questioned by his peers upon his return. Isolation of your subject removes this intangible, but extremely powerful, influence from your subject. [emphasis added]
Chaffee notes, ”There are some legitimate administrative reasons why a detainee for a limited amount of time would need to be isolated, potentially at his request or for his protection from other detainees in the facility, for instance.” But, “the way that it is described and the language that is being used” suggests the isolation is being employed to “break a detainee’s will” and that to the ACLU “seems inherently coercive.”
Also, there is no need to “separate the detainee from the entire population” if collusion is suspected. Just separate the detainee from the detainee(s) he is suspected of colluding with. And, if a decision to separate detainees needs to be made, the head of the facility should make that decision. Why should an FBI interrogator be in a position to make this decision?
It is unclear if this encouragement for isolation is re-emerging in policy. However, Chaffee argues the FBI should not be asking foreign governments or other agencies to engage in conduct that the FBI agents are prohibited from engaging in, especially when this conduct could potentially lead to human rights abuses.
A final note: creating a state of “learned helplessness” in a prisoner, a concept developed by positive psychologist Martin Seligman, can deliberately make that prisoner ill.
This post by David Dobbs over at ScienceBlogs.com (a partner with National Geographic) explains that “some studies have shown ‘learned helplessness’ to be an apt model for major depression from both a behavioral and even a neurological perspective. In a sense, then, to intentionally produce it in someone by causing them pain and distress in a situation they are powerless to change is to inflict on them a mental illness.” Inducing a state of helplessness or depression in a person through isolation—which is torture—will likely make a human very ill.
Given this scientific reality, the FBI’s ‘primer’ unmistakably encourages the cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners.
- Pentagon: ‘Gitmo drugged prisoners for their sake… then interrogated’ (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- FBI Interrogation Primer Encourages Prisoner Isolation (aclu.org)
Texas Congressman Ron Paul says the US is “obsessed with” keeping Iran under illegal sanctions, while pushing for furthering the embargoes in, what he calls, an “act of war” against the Islamic Republic.
Addressing Congress on Wednesday, Paul accused Washington of “marching into a determination to have another war.”
“When you put on sanctions on a country, it’s an act of war and that’s what this is all about,” he said.
“I think this bill would be better named Obsession with Iran Act 2012,” Paul said, referring to a bill, which has been approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, targeting Iran’s energy sector.
In a statement, released by the White House, US President Barack Obama has said the existing illegal sanctions on Iran’s oil industry has been expanded “by making sanctionable the purchase or acquisition of Iranian petrochemical products.” He said that the US sanctions will apply to any financial institution that allows Iran to access the international financial system.
However, Paul said, “What we continue to be doing is obsess with Iran and the idea that Iran is a threat to our national security.”
He asserted, “The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and our CIA said they are not on the verge of a nuclear weapon. It is so similar to what we went through in the early part of this last decade, when we were beating the war drums to go to war against Iraq. And it was all a façade. There was no danger from Iraq.”
The new embargoes build on Iranian crude sanctions, signed into law in December and approved in March, that penalize other countries for buying or selling Iran’s oil. The sanctions took effect on June 28.
The US sanctions are meant to pile up pressure on Iran over its nuclear energy program, which Washington, Tel Aviv, and some of their allies claim may include a military aspect.
Iran refutes the allegation and holds that, as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the IAEA, it is entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
Standing reality on its head—at least in the eyes of most Middle Easterners—presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney declared during his recent visit to Israel that the Islamic Republic is “the most destabilizing nation in the world.” In fact, reputable surveys conducted by international and regional polling groups—see here and here—show that, by orders of magnitude, largely Sunni Arab populations see Israel and the United States as much bigger threats to their security and interests than Iran. Al Jazeera asked our colleague, Seyed Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran, to comment on Governor Romney’s remark; to see the segment, click here or on the embedded video above.
Mohammad’s observations that, given the record of American policy in the Middle East (and all the death and destruction it has caused), the United States is hardly in a position to “complain very much about Iran” and that, from an Iranian perspective, there is not a lot of difference between Romney and President Obama are well presented. His explanation why the “soft war” that the Obama Administration is currently conducting against the Islamic Republic is not that different from a “hot war” is especially eloquent. We, though, want to pick up on Mohammad’s response to the interviewer’s suggestion that it is Iranian intransigence which is blocking progress in the nuclear talks and prompting tougher sanctions:
“The Iranians have been talking. The Iranians are basically saying that ‘we are willing to negotiate.’ But the Western position is ‘you give up everything and then we’ll start talking.’ The Iranian right to enriching uranium is a right that all sovereign countries have. And the Iranian Revolution itself was partially about dignity and independence. The Iranians are not going to accept being a second-rate country. This is not the Saudi regime or the Jordanian regime. This is a country that is fiercely independent. So the Iranians will continue to enrich uranium within the framework of the NPT and international law. The United States cannot stop Iran from doing so. If the United States was reasonable and rational, if the Europeans were rational, then the Iranians would be willing to give further assurances to ease tensions. But the United States isn’t really after that, in the eyes of Iranians.”
We think that is an important statement, both of the Iranian position and of reality. We have long argued that, if Washington accepted the principle and reality of internationally safeguarded enrichment in Iran, it would become eminently possible—not to say relatively easy—to negotiate a satisfactory resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. But the United States—even under the Obama Administration—does not want to do that, for recognizing Iran’s right to enrich implies recognizing the Islamic Republic as a legitimate political entity representing legitimate national interests. We think that is unlikely to change after the U.S. presidential election in November, regardless of whether Romney or Obama wins. … Full article
- US Sanctions Policy on a Collision Course against Iran; Increasing Tensions with China (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- How the Obama Administration Is Stalling Its Way to War with Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Ron Paul: US obsessed with ‘act of war’ on Iran (presstv.ir)
And why did the US government pressure King Hamad to establish this commission and to issue this report? Because the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, and the US wants to maintain its basing rights on the island kingdom in order to protect its hegemonic position to assert its dominance and control over the Middle Eastern Arab regimes. The commission and the report would demonstrate, it was argued, the maturity of the Al-Khalifa regime and its ability to learn from its mistakes and reform its government.”
Hearings were held today, Wednesday, August 1, 2012, in the US Congress on the “Implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report” by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (named in honor of the former Democratic representative from California who died in 2008).
Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) co-chaired the hearings which took place in Room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC.
And what did they examine you ask? They purportedly examined the extent to which the government of Bahrain has implemented the BICI proposals.
And what are the BICI proposals? These are recommendations included in a report issued by a commission headed by renowned Egyptian-born international criminal law professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni in November of 2011.
And why did Bassiouni issue this report? Because he was paid by Hamad Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain, to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses during the regime crackdown on democracy protesters from February 14, 2011, when the Arab Spring rebellion commenced in Bahrain, until Saudi Arabia sent in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council’s (PGCC) so-called Peninsula Shield Forces on March 14, 2011 to “restore order.” Presumably what happened from the 14th of March, 2011 and afterward could not be attributed to the King or his hangmen and, therefore, were off-limits to Bassiouni and his investigators, even though the killings, the torture, the arrests and jailings, the beatings and harassment continue to this day-i.e. 17 months after the civil conflict erupted-as do the near-daily protests by the pro-democracy citizenry which periodically march in the streets in the hundreds of thousands to demonstrate their resolve against the monarchy.
In essence, King Hamad was strongly urged by the US Department of State and others to whitewash the murders, tortures, beatings, arrests, jailings, harassment and other crimes of his regime by establishing a commission-the so-called Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)- on June 29, 2011, headed by a distinguished jurist-i.e. Cherif Bassiouni-so as to indicate a degree of self-reflection and self-criticism in the hope that the world community would absolve him and his regime of any responsibility for maintaining an autocratic 229-year-old hereditary monarchy and allow the kingdom to return to business as usual.
And why did the US government pressure King Hamad to establish this commission and to issue this report? Because the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, and the US wants to maintain its basing rights on the island kingdom in order to protect its hegemonic position to assert its dominance and control over the Middle Eastern Arab regimes. The commission and the report would demonstrate, it was argued, the maturity of the Al-Khalifa regime and its ability to learn from its mistakes and reform its government.
When did Bassiouni issue this report? The date of the issuance of this infamous 500-page Bassiouni Report was Wednesday, November 23, 2011 when senior members of the Al-Khalifa family gathered in one of the King’s palaces, along with numerous reporters, to hear Bassiouni present a 45-minute verbal summary of his findings. Allegedly, the Report “took 9,000 testimonies, offered an extensive chronology of events, documented 46 deaths, 559 allegations of torture, and more than 4,000 cases of employees dismissed for participating in protests.” To his credit, Bassiouni rejected the regime’s completely unfounded claims that the pro-democracy protests were externally initiated by the country of Iran, and he also recommended a series of reforms designed to prevent human rights abuses from re-occurring. The Report, however, failed to place any blame on the leaders of the Al-Khalifa regime, assigning responsibility for instances of torture, excessive use of violence, and other human rights abuses to low-level functionaries.
And how did the king react to the Report? King Hamad expressed deep appreciation for Cherif Bassiouni’s efforts and vowed “to learn” from the “painful events.” The king stated that laws would be reformed to “give greater protection to the valuable right of free speech” and, bizarrely, “to expand the definition of ‘torture’ to ensure that all forms of ill treatment are sanctioned by our criminal laws.” Hamad promised to hold officials accountable and to dismiss those who were not up to their tasks. Then, the king thanked the regime’s military and the PGCC Peninsula Shield Force for restoring order.
After all of this pageantry of fine talk was uttered with the hope of great expectations, the king then finished with a tirade against the Islamic Republic of Iran for “inciting our population to engage in acts of violence, sabotage, and insurrection” with “propaganda [that] fuelled the flames of sectarian strife.” And though he acknowledged that Commission Chair Bassiouni had found no evidence of such external subversion of Bahrain’s internal affairs, the king nevertheless assured everyone that the charge was indeed true and was self-evident to “all who have eyes and ears and comprehend Arabic.”
This last rant by King Hamad thus illuminated to all endowed with reason and a scintilla of fair play that none of the BICI reforms would be implemented as intended and that the regime could now go and congratulate itself once again on pulling off an international public relations coup that would effectively exonerate the regime of any responsibility for its crimes against humanity.
In his expert testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the Honorable Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, reiterated the usual clichés expected of a US government bureaucrat when he stated that:
“For more than 60 years, the United States military has worked closely with its Bahraini counterparts. The Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, and the country serves as a pillar of our regional security strategy in the [Persian] Gulf region. The U.S. – Bahrain relationship is particularly important in the face of rising threats from Iran.”
Posner then went on to congratulate the Bahraini king. He stated:
“The BICI process was unprecedented both in its scope and the unfettered access the BICI team were granted. King Hamad deserves great credit for initiating this commission and for allowing an independent body to take a critical look at Bahrain’s human rights record and to report so extensively on its findings. We also commend the King for accepting and committing to implement the recommendations of the BICI report.”
Posner then testified that though Bahrain is a strategic partner of the United States, it is nonetheless at a “crossroads.” For example, he noted, there are “deep divisions within Bahraini society” with “[a]lmost nightly confrontations” between the protesters and the police. Posner stated that there are “reports of continuing reprisals against Bahraini citizens who attempt to exercise their universal rights to free expression and assembly.” Also, he testified, that permits for demonstrations are “often denied.” Moreover, he pointed out, the regime “has stopped granting permits for organized demonstrations in central Manama.”
Noting that the much ballyhooed “dialogue” has “broken down,” Posner remarked that “[t]here is little evidence that Bahrain is moving toward a negotiated political agreement on issues such as the powers of parliament and electoral districting.”
For its part, Posner said that the US is pursuing a two-track strategy to promote “meaningful dialogue and negotiation” with the first track focused on encouraging all actors in Bahrain to engage in dialogue while the second track encourages the government to sit down with the civil society organizations “to make progress” on issues “such as safety, health, education, labor, and policing.”
Citing “a fundamental lack of trust between the police and the people whom the police are meant to serve,” Posner recommended “genuine” dialogue to establish trust. Commending the government for certain nominal reforms, he nonetheless urged action on a “full range of other BICI recommendations” including “dropping charges against all persons accused of offenses involving peaceful political expression including freedom of assembly, prosecuting those officials responsible for the violations identified in the BICI report, and ensuring fair and expeditious trials in appeals cases” and “continuing work to professionalize and diversify Bahrain’s security forces to reflect the communities which they serve.”
Referring to several hundred pending criminal cases against protesters and noting that many protesters remain in prison after more than a year, Posner particularly condemned the regime for prosecuting 20 medical professionals whose crime was assisting not only pro-monarchy supporters but, as well, pro-democracy activists. The regime “received convictions in nine of 18 felony cases against medical professionals before the appellate court, with sentences ranging from one month to five years,” he noted. Fear and trepidation currently pervade Bahrain’s healthcare system, and Posner pointed out that many young Bahrainis “often elect not to seek treatment in public clinics and hospitals when they are injured for fear of being turned in to the police by their doctors on allegations of participating in demonstrations.” The sectarian divide promoted by the regime between Shi’as and Sunnis has created a shortage of talent in critical areas and damaged the reputation of Bahrain’s medical services as a consequence.
Posner also highlighted the inability on the part of the regime to hold accountable “those officials responsible for the violations described in the BICI report.” To date, he pointed out, “only nine policemen-five Pakistani and one Yemeni national and three Bahrainis are known to have been brought to trial for human rights violations.” Furthermore, stated Posner, “[o]ngoing violence in the streets between police and protesters points to the need for professional, integrated police and security forces that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and that adopt a community policing approach.”
Wrapping up his testimony, Posner premised his concluding statement on the fact that “President Obama has said that stable, democratic societies make the best partners and allies.” With this acknowledgment, Posner concluded: “And so while there is no single path or timetable to forging a real democracy, there are a core set of underlying principles that, as Secretary Clinton recently noted, ‘have to be enshrined not only in the constitution, not only in the institutions of government, but in the hearts and minds of the people’.”
Trying to make a monarchy act democratically is about as useless as trying to make a pig fly. Apparently Posner recognizes the futility of reforming the criminal Al-Khalifas. If so, then the Obama Administration has two options: either stick with the Khalifa monarchy and try to put out or quiet down the fire of revolution in Bahrain knowing full well that the regime will not reform itself, or quietly set the stage for a democratic regime transition in the island kingdom in order to extend US basing rights in Bahrain into the next generation. The Khalifas are betting that everything will remain the same and that, eventually, the people will quiet down and stay home.
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the United States, Colin S. Cavell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Louisiana State University in 1982, his Masters of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of New Orleans in 1987, and his Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts in February 2001. In addition to teaching political science with the Junior Statesmen Foundation Summer Program at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, Dr. Cavell has taught at the University of New Orleans in New Orleans, Louisiana, the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusett. He is the author of Exporting ‘Made in America’ Democracy.
- Familiar refrain characterizes Posner’s remarks at Congressional hearing on Bahrain (bahraincoordinatingcommittee.org)
- Bahrian’s Shia Population conitinue their Protest amid Brutal Crack down by Al Khalifa Forces (jafrianews.com)