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Deceiving the ICRC

Larry Siems,
The Torture Report
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September 16, 2010

One of the most disturbing documents I drew from in the new “Marching Orders” section, which covers the first year of interrogation operations in Guantánamo, is this set of minutes from a “Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting” that took place at the camp on October 2, 2002.

The minutes are famous, or infamous, for the coaching that CIA attorney Jonathan Fredman offered military lawyers and interrogators that the Torture Convention is “vaguely written” and “subject to perception,” and that “if the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” But that’s only one of many shocking statements and exchanges from that meeting, which amounted to a 70-minute brainstorming session on how to abuse Guantánamo detainees.

For instance, there is this bit of conspiracy on how to deal with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is mandated by the Geneva Conventions to visit POWs and civilian interned as a result of armed conflict—a mechanism meant specifically to guard against forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The speakers are Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, Staff Judge Advocate for the interrogation task force, David Becker, the task force’s chief of intelligence, and the CIA’s Fredman:

LTC Beaver: We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques. We must have the support of the DOD.

Becker: We have had many reports from Bagram about sleep deprivation being used.

LTC Beaver: True, but officially it is not happening. It is not being reported officially. The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention….

Fredman: The DOJ has provided much guidance on this issue. The CIA is not held to the same rules as the military. In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD has “moved” them away from the attention of ICRC. Upon questioning from the ICRC about their whereabouts, the DOD’s response has repeatedly been that the detainee merited no status under the Geneva Convention.

That this conversation was more than theoretical is clear from this paragraph from the March 28, 2003 Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures (SOP):

17-4. Levels of Visitation

All detainees will have a level of ICRC contact designated for them. These different levels are as follows:

a. No Access: No contact of any kind with the ICRC. This includes the delivery of ICRC mail.

b. Restricted: ICRC is allowed to ask the detainee about health and welfare only. No prolonged questions.

c. Unrestricted: ICRC is allowed full access to talk to the detainee.

d. Visual: Access is restricted to visual inspection of the detainee’s physical condition. No form of communication is permitted. No delivery of ICRC mail.

In the fall of 2003, an ICRC delegation visited Guantánamo and specifically protested this tiered system of access. At an October 9, 2003 meeting the JTF-GTMO Commander Major General Geoffrey Miller, Miller asked Vincent Cassard, the ICRC Team Leader, and Christophe Girod, ICRC Head of North American Delegation, “to point out the part(s) of the SOP they disagreed with.” A Memorandum for the Record summarizing that meeting records that “Mr. Girod responded by stating that the ICRC has their own SOP that they follow world-wide, which grants them unrestricted access to all areas and to all detainees. The ICRC acknowledged the JTF SOP, they will live with it but do not like it.”

According to that memorandum, during that fall 2003 visit,

The ICRC was able to visit all parts of the camps. There were 13 cases where the ICRC was not able to see a detainee, but these issues were all resolved. MG Miller emphasized to Mr. Cassard that these 13 cases were due to administrative circumstances in the camps and were not restrictions. Mr. Cassard agreed with this statement.


Mr. Cassard stated that there were still four detainees that the ICRC had not been able to visit. ISN 056, ISN 558 who they had only been able to see and distribute messages to since February 2003; ISN 760; and ISN 990. MG Miller informed Mr. Cassard that ISN 760, 558 and 990 were off limits during this visit due to military necessity. The ICRC may be given access to these detainees during another visit.

Those four detainees were Abdullah Tabarak (ISN 056), Moazzam Begg (ISN 558), Abdurahman Khadr (ISN 990) and Mohamedou Ould Slahi (760); as we will see in the next section of Chapter 5, Slahi had just undergone a Rumsfeld-approved “Special Interrogation” that included death threats, a faked rendition, and threats to detain his mother in Guantánamo.

We now know there were four other detainees the ICRC was not permitted to see during that visit. Last month, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman of the Associated Press reported that “ Four of the nation’s most highly valued terrorist prisoners were secretly moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2003 , years earlier than has been disclosed, then whisked back into overseas prisons before the Supreme Court could give them access to lawyers.”

Those four were Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi. Piecing together flight log records, the reporters discovered that a white, unmarked Boeing 737 picked up al-Hawsawi, who was being held in the CIA’s secret “Salt Pit” prison in Kabul, and flew to Szymany, Poland, where it picked up Khalid Sheik Mohammed. After delivering Mohammed to a new black site in Bucharest code-named Britelite, the plane flew on to Rabat , Morocco, where al-Nashiri, Zubaydah, and Binalshibh were being held. The plan took off from Rabat at 8:30 p.m. on September 23, 2003 with those three and al-Hawsawi aboard, delivering them to Guantánamo the following morning.

Their presence was not disclosed to the ICRC delegation; as Miller and his staff were pressing ICRC representatives in that October 2003 meeting to say that all issues of access had been resolved, he knew perfectly well that the camp population now included these four new arrivals. For years President Bush and senior administration and military officials repeatedly insisted that the ICRC had been granted full access to all of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, and the ICRC believed this was true; in its 2007 report summarizing its visits with the 14 “high value detainees” delivered to the camp from CIA black sites in 2006, the Red Cross noted, “The ICRC has been assured by the DoD that it was given full notification of and access to all persons held at Guantanamo during its regular detention visits.”

Among the 14 CIA detainees delivered to Guantánamo in the fall of 2006 were—again—Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi. The four had been secretly held at the naval base for seven months in 2003 and 2004 and then abruptly transferred back to CIA black sites on March 27, 2004, just as the Supreme Court was preparing to hear Rasul v. Bush , the case in which the court affirmed that Guantánamo detainees are entitled to file habeas corpus petitions.

We subtitled Chapter 1 of The Torture Report “Creating the Space for Torture,” but in many ways that is the theme of the entire torture story. The newest section of the report, “Marching Orders,” includes testimony by Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, that by August 2002 he had come to understand “that the deliberate choice to send detainees to Guantánamo was an attempt to place them outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. legal system.” The choice to keep some of those who were held there, and all who were held in secret in CIA black sites and foreign prisons, from being seen by the ICRC suggests even worse: like the October 2, 2002 meeting between the CIA’s Jonathan Fredman and GTMO lawyers and interrogators, it suggests a conscious conspiracy to engage in, and conceal, torture.