Today’s Must Read

Yesterday we learned about the CIA’s larger involvement in developing torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay — techniques previously thought to have been developed primarily by the military.

In an epic eight-hour, three-panel hearing, the Senate Armed Services Committee examined dozens of documents and grilled former Pentagon officials involved in developing the interrogation methods introduced in 2002.

(Among several good articles on the hearings, a good place to start isSpencer Ackerman’s article at the Washington Independent.)

Key to the hearings were the minutes of a meeting between CIA counter-terrorism lawyer Jonathan Fredman and a group of military and intelligence officials who convened at the base in Cuba to discuss the use of harsher interrogation techniques on detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The techniques derived from a training regimen U.S. Special Forces troops used prepare troops to withstand torture –Survival Evasion Resistance Escape, or SERE.

The SERE program — first introduced to many by a 2005 article by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer — is not an interrogation program. Nor is it an intelligence-collection program. Instead, it’s an obscure program across the different military services’ special-forces wings that teaches troops how to withstand torture if captured. Instructors subject students — under the rigorous watch of psychologists and physicians — to various torture techniques, including waterboarding, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and sensory manipulation. Waterboarding “is an overwhelming experience that induces horror, triggers a frantic survival instinct,” Malcolm Nance, a former Navy SERE instructor who was himself waterboarded, testified to Congress in November. “As the event unfolded, I was fully conscious of what was happening: I was being tortured.”

On July 25, 2002, the Defense agency that oversees the SERE program, known as the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, or JPRA, was contacted by a representative of Pentagon General Counsel William Haynes for information about SERE practices for the “exploitation process” — that is, getting detainees to cooperate with their interrogators. The next day, JPRA’s chief of staff, Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Baumgartner, sent Haynes a lengthy memorandum explaining how the program worked.

. . . Baumgartner’s memorandum was not the last time SERE techniques were introduced into the interrogation bloodstream. On the week of Sept. 16, 2002, JPRA officials invited a contingent of senior Guantanamo-based officers to a briefing session at Ft. Bragg, N.C. Haynes and his legal counterparts at the Central Intelligence Agency, Justice Dept. and the vice president’s office visited Guantanamo the following week for an update on interrogations. The minutes of that meeting record that the commander of the detention facility “did take Mr. Haynes and a few others aside for private conversations.”

Just the week after that, a senior CIA lawyer, Jonathan Fredman, instructed Guantanamo officers on various SERE-pedigreed torture methods, including waterboarding. “If the detainee dies,” Fredman said, “you’re doing it wrong.” In response, the chief Guantanamo Bay attorney, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, said, “We will need documentation to protect us.”

The Washington Post today emphasized that the meeting records, specifically Feldman’s statements, revealed the CIA’s larger involvement in advising on the torture techniques, the creation of which was previously thought to fall mainly under the purview of the Defense Department.

Baumgarten and Beaver testified about their involvement:

Before the Senate panel, Baumgartner said he did not realize that Haynes wanted to use SERE techniques on enemy combatants. “I had no idea how it would be used,” he testified. “When tasked by my higher headquarters… I can’t really turn around and tell the flag officers and the senior executive service people no.”

Beaver testified today for the first time since Haynes declassified her guidance in mid-2004. She said she intended for the techniques to be used under supervised and restricted circumstances. It turned out that not a single other military lawyer submitted written guidance in support of the SERE-derived techniques. “In hindsight,” Beaver told the Senate panel, “I can only conclude that others chose not to write on this issue in order not to be linked to it. For me, that was not an option.”

Meanwhile, Haynes attempted to distance himself from the policy.

Haynes, who retired from the Pentagon in April, after his nomination to the federal judiciary foundered, pled ignorance. “No, sir, I don’t remember it at the time,” Haynes said when asked if he had received Baumgartner’s memorandum. “But I saw it a long time ago… it’s possible I saw it at the time.”

Pressed by Levin on how he could not have seen a memorandum concerning terrorism detentions and interrogations, Hayes replied, “the recipient is the Office of the Secretary of Defense General Counsel, which [was] not my precise title.”

For more coverage, also see Ackerman’s live blog of the hearing as it took place.