Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values

Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values

by Philippe Sands

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On December 2, 2002 the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, signed his name at the bottom of a document that listed eighteen techniques of interrogation--techniques that defied international definitions of torture. The Rumsfeld Memo authorized the controversial interrogation practices that later migrated to Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, as part of the policy of extraordinary rendition. From a behind-the-scenes vantage point, Phillipe Sands investigates how the Rumsfeld Memo set the stage for a divergence from the Geneva Convention and the Torture Convention and holds the individual gatekeepers in the Bush administration accountable for their failure to safeguard international law.

The Torture Team
delves deep into the Bush administration to reveal:
- How the policy of abuse originated with Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, and was promoted by their most senior lawyers
- Personal accounts, through interview, of those most closely involved in the decisions
- How the Joint Chiefs and normal military decision-making processes were circumvented
- How Fox TV's 24 contributed to torture planning
- How interrogation techniques were approved for use
- How the new techniques were used on Mohammed Al Qahtani, alleged to be "the 20th highjacker"
- How the senior lawyers who crafted the policy of abuse exposed themselves to the risk of war crimes charges

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Rigorous, honest, devastating; I couldn't put it down.” —Vanessa Redgrave

“Gripping, furious and very serious indeed.” —John le Carré

“Sands has written a page-turning investigation into one of the darkest mysteries in American history: how a country that has led the world on human rights came to embrace a policy of barbaric abuse. One by one, he corners the suspects and sifts the clues, shedding new light at each step along the way.” —Jane Mayer, staff writer, The New Yorker Magazine

“Philippe Sands has uncovered the proper assignment of responsibility for torture and cruel and unusual punishment administered by the U.S. in the so-called Global War on Terror. Read this book to learn who made these decisions. More importantly, read it to learn how under George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney America abandoned its strongest pillar of power—its own integrity.” —Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

“A remorseless, shocking, forensic narrative, Torture Team leads us from Rumsfeld's office in the Pentagon, via a score of eager-to-please lawyers and bureaucrats, and shows us the brutal consequences for one detainee. The parallel with Nazi Germany's descent into immorality is impossible to escape. This may well be the most important book to emerge since 9/11.” —Robert Harris, journalist and bestselling author of Pompeii, Imperium and The Ghost

“Sands' put[s] "the torture team" - the group of more than a half dozen Bush Administration lawyers who gave the green light for the introduction of torture - into sharp focus.” —Scott Horton, Harper's Magazine

Torture Team, Sands's book...may well be the best bit of contemporary investigative journalism you will read: it is right up there with Woodward and Bernstein, a tour de force of relentlessly dogged pursuit, of interviews with guilty men acquired against all the odds, a beautifully told and humane narrative that follows a paper trail and nails the truth.” —The Sunday Times (London)

“Philippe Sands uses extensive interviews and documents to portray with painstaking accuracy what occurred in the White House – and that it did so because lawyers at the highest levels of government enabled it to happen…Torture Team's purpose is not solely to ascribe blame, however, though it does so with clarity and precision. Sands' other goal is to consider redress for these crimes.” —The Financial Times

“No wonder the former Rumsfeld capo, Douglas Feith, is trying to discredit a damaging interview he gave to the British lawyer Philippe Sands for another recent and essential book on what happened, Torture Team.” —Frank Rich, The New York Times

“Most of the participants in the chain of command were interviewed, some more willingly than others, and good portraits of their characters come through...Sands draws broad sweeping conclusions on the complicity of many levels of the U.S. government and its advocates and advisors....a valuable and strongly researched work.” —Palestine Chronicle

former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson

Philippe Sands has uncovered the proper assignment of responsibility for torture and cruel and unusual punishment administered by the U.S. in the so-called Global War on Terror. Read this book to learn who made these decisions. More importantly, read it to learn how under George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney America abandoned its strongest pillar of power--its own integrity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780230612167
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/13/2008
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 691 KB

Read an Excerpt

Torture Team

Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values

By Philippe Sands

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2008 Philippe Sands
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-61216-7


Only a few pieces of paper can change the course of history. On Tuesday, December 2, 2002 Donald Rumsfeld signed one that did.

It was an ordinary day. The Secretary of Defense wasn't traveling. No immediate decisions were needed on Iraq and Washington awaited Saddam's declaration on weapons of mass destruction. The only notable public event in the Secretary's diary for that day was the President's visit to the Pentagon to sign a Bill to put the Pentagon in funds for the next year. Signings are big, symbolic public events. They offer an opportunity to lavish praise and on this occasion neither man showed restraint. The Secretary of Defense introduced President Bush effusively as our "leader in the global war on terrorism." The President thanked Mr. Rumsfeld warmly, for his candor, and for doing such a fabulous job for the American people. The United States faced unprecedented challenges, Bush told a large and enthusiastic audience, and terror was one of them. The United States would respond to these challenges, and it would do so in the "finest traditions of valor." And then he signed a large increase in the Defense budget.

That same day, elsewhere in the Pentagon, a less public event took place for which there was no comment, no publicity, no fanfare. With a signature and a few scrawled words Donald Rumsfeld cast aside America's international obligations and edged on the tradition of valor to which President Bush had referred. Principles for the conduct of interrogation, dating back more than a century to President Lincoln's famous instruction of 1863 that "military necessity does not admit of cruelty" were discarded. His approval of new and aggressive interrogation techniques would produce devastating consequences.

That these consequences should flow from so innocuous an act was a fact Mr. Rumsfeld did not foresee because he probably never turned his mind to the possibility. He was handed a modest sheaf of papers, on the top of which was placed a single sheet, an "Action Memo," headed "Counter-Resistance Techniques." It had been drafted a few days earlier by William J. Haynes II, the General Counsel at the Defense Department. Jim Haynes, trained at Harvard Law School, was Donald Rumsfeld's most senior lawyer, and one of his closest and most trusted advisers. On September 11, 2001 they had spent the entire day together. The Haynes memo was addressed only to Rumsfeld, and copied to just two colleagues. One was General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the most senior military official in the United States, a genial and unassuming man known to his friends as Dick. The other was Doug Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and number three at the Department, after Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. He was a lightning rod for military discontent and the military did not regard him as genial.

Attached to the memorandum was a paper trail of four short documents. First was a legal opinion written by Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, a Staff Judge Advocate at Guantánamo. Second, a request for approval of the new methods of interrogating detainees from Beaver's boss, reservist Major General Mike Dunlavey, the Army head of interrogation at Guantánamo whose regular job was as a judge in Erie, Pennsylvania. The third document was a memorandum from General Tom Hill, Commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM, as it is known, has responsibility for all U.S. military activities in South America and Central America) and next up in Dunlavey's chain of command; Hill was looking for new and lawful tools of interrogation. Last and most important was a list of eighteen techniques of interrogation, set out in a three-page memorandum from Lieutenant Colonel Jerald Phifer.

These techniques were new to the military, which didn't "do" aggression or cruelty by way of interrogations. They were accompanied by limited instructions: the detainee was to be provided with a chair, the environment should be generally comfortable; if the detainee was uncooperative, the detainee went to Category I, characterized by two techniques, yelling and deception. If Category I produced no results the military interrogator could move to Category II, although additional permission was required from higher up the military chain of command. Category II included twelve techniques, aiming at humiliation and sensory deprivation. Stress positions, like standing, for a maximum of four hours. Falsified documents. Isolation for up to thirty days. Interrogation outside the standard interrogation booth. Deprivation of light and auditory stimuli. Hooding during transportation and questioning. Twenty-hour interrogations. Removal of religious and all other comfort items. Switching away from hot rations to "meals, ready-to-eat" (MREs). Removal of clothing. Forced grooming, such as shaving of facial hair. And the use of individual phobias, like fear of dogs, to induce stress.

Finally, Category III. These methods were to be used for only a very small percentage of detainees—the most uncooperative (said to be less than 3 percent) and exceptionally resistant individuals and required approval by the Commanding General at Guantánamo, with a legal review and information to be sent to the SOUTHCOM Commander in Miami. In this category were four techniques: the use of "mild, non-injurious physical contact," like grabbing, poking and light pushing; the use of scenarios designed to convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences were imminent for him or his family; exposure to cold weather or water; and, finally, the use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation. This last technique came to be known as water-boarding, described by Vice President Cheney as a "dunk in the water" and a "no-brainer" if it could save lives.

The documents detailing these techniques said nothing about limits on their use over time. Nor did they preclude the use of two or more techniques simultaneously. The Haynes memo recommended "blanket approval" of fifteen of the eighteen techniques, including just one of the four techniques listed in Category III: mild non-injurious physical contact. However, he did not reject the others, nor did he advise that they were excessive or illegal, or contrary to the Geneva Conventions' prohibition on humiliation, cruelty and torture. On the contrary, he advised that "all Category III techniques may be legally available," though "as a matter of policy, a blanket approval of Category III techniques is not warranted at this time." Blanket approval could come later.

Jim Haynes's memo gave no hint that the techniques he was recommending went against long-standing U.S. military practice, and went far beyond what the U.S. Army Field Manual 34–52, the military interrogator's bible, allowed. He did not indicate that the techniques were inconsistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting cruel or inhumane treatment, and he did not indicate that the application of aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantánamo had already attracted strong objections from some of the interrogators there. By the time Haynes sent his memo to Donald Rumsfeld, the FBI had expressed concerns to Haynes's office, down the corridor from Rumsfeld.

Haynes's memo adopted a format with which the U.S. Secretary of Defense would have been familiar. It gave Rumsfeld three options: approve, disapprove, other. But if the Secretary had looked carefully at the document he would have picked up hints that this was no usual document. It wasn't signed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, and it hadn't been subject to a broader process of consultation. Whether that gave Rumsfeld pause for thought or not, it didn't stop him from signing his name firmly next to the word "Approved," and adding his comment at the bottom of the page: "I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"

Signed and approved, the Haynes memo was communicated by secure route to General Hill at SOUTHCOM in Miami. From there it went orally to Major General Geoffrey Miller, the man who replaced Major General Mike Dunlavey as Commander of the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo a month after Dunlavey's request. This was the same Miller who would later achieve notoriety for his role at Abu Ghraib.

When the Haynes memo reached Guantánamo on December 2, Detainee 063 was in an isolated, plywood interrogation booth at Camp X-Ray, the most secure and secret of the various Guantánamo sites. He was bolted to the floor and secured to a chair, his hands and legs cuffed. The new techniques were to be applied to him, starting with twenty hours of continuous interrogation, every day, and just four hours of sleep. Detainee 063 had been separated from all other detainees and put in isolation on August 8, nearly four months earlier. He was dehydrated and in need of regular hook-ups to an intravenous drip to give him liquid replenishment. His feet were swollen, he was constipated and forced to take enemas. He urinated on himself. He watched a video of the events of 9/11, with the volume turned up loud, very loud. Pictures of 9/11 victims were taped to the walls of the interrogation room, and to his body. The air conditioning system was being turned on and off to vary the temperature. A German shepherd dog named Zeus kept close watch. The interrogators told Detainee 063 that the "onion strategy" would be applied to him. He would be stripped of all control over his life, layer by layer by layer.

On December 2, 2002 a new phase in the aggressive interrogation of Detainee 063 was inaugurated. Over the next six weeks every one of the aggressive interrogation techniques recommended by Jim Haynes and approved by Secretary Rumsfeld was used. Occasionally he would get a treat, like a Hostess cupcake.

Then the interrogation would resume. After the end of the interrogation process he had, as one senior military officer later described it, "black coals for eyes."


Detainee 063 was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, in circumstances that were unclear. In January 2002 he joined the first captives to be transported to Guantánamo, one individual in a group labeled by the Administration as "the worst of the worst." These Guantánamo detainees were so dangerous, said General Myers, that that they would "gnaw hydraulic lines in the back of a C–17 [aircraft] to bring it down." Within days of arriving Detainee 063 was being interrogated by the U.S. military and the FBI. "The faster we can interrogate these people and identify them," said Rumsfeld, "and get what they have in them out of them, in as graceful a way as is possible, we have a better chance of saving some people's lives."

Getting out of Detainee 063 what was in him, assuming it was there at all, proved troublesome. To begin, the interrogation followed established practices for military interrogations, and for law enforcement interrogations. The object of the military interrogations was simple: to get intelligence for use in the war on terror, to protect America from the next attack. The FBI's law enforcement interrogations went on in parallel, but with a different purpose: to obtain evidence to be used in criminal proceedings. Despite the different objectives, both sets of interrogation shared common characteristics premised on a key principle: interrogation only produces results if rapport is created between the interrogator and the detainee, a recognition of the fact that you are more likely to get something meaningful out of somebody if they feel okay around you. It's an application of a broader life principle. For five decades this principle dominated U.S. military interrogation techniques.

Building rapport is the overriding aim of the U.S. Army Field Manual 34–52, the rulebook for the military interrogators at Guantánamo. Colloquially referred to as FM 34–52, its subtitle was "Intelligence Interrogation." Published by the U.S. Army Intelligence Centre at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, it was widely available on the Internet. It set out four key propositions. One: any interrogation has to have a specific purpose. Two: it must be based on rapport. Three: every detainee has a breaking point, although it is not usually known until it has been reached. Four: susceptibility to interrogation diminishes with the passage of time. These principles drove Detainee 063's initial interrogations

* * *

FM 34–52 was intended to be comprehensive, covering all aspects of human intelligence gathering, known as HUMINT. It applies to all humans. Well, all non-U.S. humans. It doesn't matter whether you are an enemy prisoner of war, or a civilian, or a terrorist, or a man, or a woman, or a Muslim, Jew, Christian, or atheist. It applied even to insurgents, fighters who posed particular difficulties because they did not wear uniforms or other recognizable insignia and didn't follow the rules. FM 34–52 was crystal clear about this. Updated in 1992, FM 34–52 took interrogation into the twenty-first century, building on the experience of the 1991 Gulf War. The goal was to obtain reliable information in a minimum amount of time. Reliability was key. So was legality. For FM 34–52 legality meant operating in accordance with the rules set out in the U.S. military's Uniform Code of Military Justice and international law, in particular the four Geneva Conventions.

Even a casual glance at FM 34–52 reveals the influence of the Geneva Conventions. These international instruments had a long but difficult pedigree, and no country had done more to put them in place or respect them than the United States. The Geneva Conventions were agreed to in 1949 as part of the post–World War Two settlement to create a new rules-based global order. The Bush Administration often referred to them collectively as "Geneva." Geneva aimed to limit the horrors of war by setting minimum standards that everyone had to follow. At its heart lay "Common Article 3," so called because it appeared in each of the four conventions. It reflected the most fundamental of Geneva's rules, requiring anyone who was not taking an active part in hostilities to be treated humanely, in all circumstances. All circumstances meant what it said. Anyone meant anyone. Some acts were considered so heinous that they were expressly prohibited by Common Article 3. They included cruel treatment and torture, as well as "outrages upon personal dignity," in particular. That meant no humiliating and degrading treatment.

The general rule of Common Article 3 was elaborated in the individual conventions. The Third Geneva Convention was specifically addressed to prisoners of war. They had to be treated humanely, at all times (article 13). They had to be protected against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. They were entitled to respect for their persons and their honor, in all circumstances (article 14). And famously, upon questioning, prisoners of war were bound to give only their name and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or equivalent information (article 17). Any form of torture or cruelty was expressly forbidden (article 88).

There was no doubt that Common Article 3 constrained interrogations. Indeed, any act on a detainee that amounted to torture, inhuman treatment, or that caused great suffering or serious injury to body or health was considered to be so serious that it would be treated as a "grave breach" of Geneva. The person who violates Common Article 3 is an international outlaw, liable to prosecution in many parts of the world. There are no exceptions to the customary rule reflected in Common Article 3, not even necessity or national security.

* * *

FM 34–52 reflected a strong and modern commitment by the U.S. military to apply these international rules of law. Until September 11 no one thought FM 34–52 was quaint or obsolete. It reflected the finest traditions of valor, to borrow President Bush's phrase. It prohibited the use of force, meaning all acts of violence or intimidation, including "physical or mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to inhuman treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation." These were illegal acts that would not be condoned by the U.S. military. The rationale for the blanket prohibition was simple. Prohibited interrogation techniques weren't necessary. They yielded unreliable results. They damaged subsequent collection efforts. Experience showed that they induced the source to say "what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear." Such acts discredited the United States and undermined the war effort. They risked placing American detainees in enemy hands at a greater risk of abuse. That was what FM 34–52 said. And, to avoid any doubt, FM 34–52 made it clear that the barbarity of the enemy did not justify using illegal methods.

These principles governed the interrogation of Detainee 063 for his first few months at Guantánamo. Its strictures were followed. But after June 2002 the tactics changed, most dramatically on November 23. The log of Detainee 063's interrogation, an incomplete version of which first appeared in Time magazine, described a process of aggressive interrogations over a period of fifty-one days, from November 23, 2002 until January 11, 2002. On November 27 Jim Haynes signed off on his memo. That was Day 5. On December 2 Secretary Rumsfeld gave his written approval to the Haynes memo. That was Day 10 of the aggressive interrogation. In unwitting celebration of the dark event that took place thousands of miles away in Washington, the lead interrogator placed a party hat on Detainee 063's head and offered him a birthday cake. He and the other interrogators sang "God Bless America." The interrogation log described what happened in the forty-eight hours immediately after Rumsfeld signed the Haynes memo.


Excerpted from Torture Team by Philippe Sands. Copyright © 2008 Philippe Sands. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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