Gitmo command ordered inmates chained to ceiling, degraded, tortured - ex-FBI specialist
The recent CIA torture report revealed the agency’s inhumane practices of interrogation during the War on Terror. However, some people claim the information gathered through torture proved valuable and saved lives - but is that so? Is information gathered this way even reliable? Will the CIA stop its practices now the truth is out? And what about the inmates of Guantanamo Bay? What has been done to them? To find answers to these questions and many more, we speak to former FBI criminal profiler Jim Clemente on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevarnadze: Jim Clemente, former FBI criminal profiler, thank you for being with us today. Mr. Clemente, talking about the current CIA torture report, the agency chief John Brennan said he doesn’t know if the information used to save lives was actually obtained through what he calls “enhanced interrogation techniques”. So, if even the CIA chief himself isn’t sure if they are effective or not - what’s the point of them?
Jim Clemente: I don’t think they should have used them. I think it was a mistake, it was certainly something that called into question whether we had people breaking our own torture statute as well as international prohibitions against torture. I think it was a wrong thing to do because torture itself is unreliable, it does not provide accurate information and it’s basically ineffective.
SS: Alright, so let’s go into detail. You were stationed in one of the American high security prisons, Guantanamo Bay, to consult on interrogation methods. Did you know about the torture methods that were used before you were sent there?
JC: No, actually, I was one that discovered that they were using those methods. I found them in their interrogation plans, each of their plans was phased-up. It starts with sort-of low level actions against the people that they were interrogating, and then they would phase that up - they would get more and more extreme as they went from phase one to two to three to four. Basically, when I got there I was handed interrogation plan, I read it and I told them they can’t do this because it’s against our U.S. torture statute.
SS: So you had no idea that this was going on there before you were sent there?
JC: Absolutely not. The whole idea of enhanced interrogation was a secret at that point. It did not been out, it certainly was not out for the general public, and it wasn’t even out to agencies like the FBI.
SS: What kind of torture is used in Guantanamo Bay?
JC: Well, when you say “is used” - it didn’t witness it, because as soon as I’ve heard they were planning on employing it, I told them they had to stop doing it. I caused the commotion, I basically notified FBI headquarters, the Department of Justices, the White House - everybody I could think of, Department of Defense - to let them know what was going on in Guantanamo. What I did was that I told them they were not permitted to actually utilise these techniques against the detainees. So at that point it stopped.
SS: So what are the techniques that we’re talking about? Can you tell us the techniques?
JC: Sure. The technique started, as I said, with what they call “fear up” - they basically did demeaning, dehumanizing things to them, like shave them, keep them naked, chain them to the ceiling, make them stand in stress positions - things like that, and it all elevated all the way up to what they would call “waterboarding” now, but it used to be called “wet toweling” at the time. It’s basically the same thing as waterboarding: you put person on an incline, where their head is lower than their chest, their reflex breathing actually kicks in, they can’t fight it, and then they put towel over their face and pour water, spray water on it - and they breathe in droplets and they feel like they’re drowning, it makes them feel like they’re dying.
SS: How did that take place? A team of people works with each detainee? Or how did that actually happen? Do you know?
JC: They had interrogation teams, and they would pick a detainee, they would target a particular detainee with these interrogation plans, and they would say “in first phase we will try this, if that doesn’t work we’ll move it up to another phase” - more severe tactics, to another phase, more severe tactics, and then the final phase was initially just torture them or send them to another country to do that.
SS: But you’re saying this doesn’t take place anymore.
JC: No, it doesn’t take place anymore. This was in 2002, when I was down there, towards the end of 2002, and at that point, I raised the alarm, I brought in officials from the U.S. down to Cuba, to Guantanamo, and had them evaluate the program and that was the beginning of shutting down this enhanced interrogation techniques, at least in Guantanamo.
SS: You worked with one of the detainees that was tortured before, and refused to cooperate - and you were able to change that around. Did you manage that just by talking?
JC: Yes, absolutely. I went down there as a member of the Critical Incident Response Group in the FBI. I was in the Behavioral Analysis Unit that’s part of that, and we were part of the National Center for the Analysis of the Violent Crime. In that capacity we study, we do empirical research on how to best investigate crimes, prove crimes and so forth; and one of the things that we study is the best ways to interview and interrogate people. What we found is overwhelmingly, and it is proven by empirical studies, that rapport-based based interrogation techniques actually work, because what they do is they humanize you to the person that you’re actually interrogating. You can actually win them over to your side and what I did, was I took of their most recalcitrant detainee, the person that would not speak to them at all, he would only recite the crime from memory anytime anybody tried to interrogate him. I met him 11 times over the course of about 20-21 days, and by the end of that time period he was fully cooperative. He went from being completely silent and stoic to “Jim, my friend, what can I do for you” - because I built a human bridge with him. I showed him that we weren’t evil. If you torture person like that, who has grown up in the situation he has, and he’s being told the things he was told - what you do is reinforce that hatred of America. Instead I undermined those expectations by treating him with dignity and respect, and listening to him, and asking him questions about what he wanted to talk about first, and eventually he came around to understand that I wasn’t there to hurt him, so he cooperated.
SS: What did he want to talk about? Like, what?
JC: First, he wanted to talk about his religion and his culture, how he grew up, his family - things that he was familiar with, things that he figured he would never see again in his life. He wanted to share that with me. As a behavioral analyst, it’s the kind of thing I like to study about people - it’s the differences between people, the nuances in our cultures and religions and theology. I think those kinds of things, as we talked and discussed these things over a few weeks, actually got him to cooperate with us.
SS: You said he called you “Jim, my friend, what can I do for you” - what kind of friend can an interrogator be at the end of the day, right? He’s just going to be used after you warm him up?
JC: Well, used, or he’s being cooperative? We set up a system of rewards in the camp, so that people who were cooperative got to live a better life. I think it was clear, even at that early stage that it was probably never going to end - that Guantanamo was set up in a way that there’s very little way to sort of have an endgame. I think it has proven itself at least for these 13 years that they don’t know how to end it, so I think at that point what they wanted was a better life, better existence wherever they were. Also, to know that they instead of being held captive by people they hated, they could actually become sort of part of the team.
SS: You’ve said you’ve met with this particular detainee 11 times, you guys were close, he even called you his friend - but when you turned him back to the interrogating team, why did he cooperate with them? Were you sure he wouldn’t be tortured further?
JC: Yeah, I turned him over to FBI interrogators, not somebody from the other agency. I know that the FBI agents that were there, were there to get information, and if they interrogate, even coerce somebody, that information cannot be used in a court of law in the U.S.. So, we, as FBI agents, are trained not to do anything that’s unconstitutional and we’ve actually become very good at getting cooperation from the people as heinous, as serial killers or people who abduct and kill children. We’re able to get them to cooperate, why wouldn’t we be able to get somebody who’s in a religious cell to cooperate?
SS: Now, tell me something - when you talk to a criminal or a terrorist, surely talking about their religion and childhood doesn’t justify the things that they do, so how can you hope to understand their side, and why do they trust you?
JC: Well, here’s a thing: understanding their side is different from, say, approving of it. It is important - in fact, some criminals want us to help them understand why they are the way they are. One of the things that we do in behavioural analysis is an indirect personality assessment. We base our personality assessments not on self-reporting from the criminals, but based on the behavior that we see exhibited in the course of their prep for crimes, the crime scene itself, the crimes itself and post-criminal behaviour. All those things sort of leak out information about the offender. We use that information to try to help us to understand and sometimes help them understand why they do what they do. It’s a very tenuous relationship though: sometimes it lasts for short period of time, and sometimes they want to cooperate for the rest of their lives, because they know that I ask documenting them and their crimes and their history and their stories, that they basically will go down in history - and sometimes, that’s enough to get them to cooperate.
SS: Now, mr. Clemente, former vice-president Dick Cheney denied the accusations of torture, saying the techniques always stopped short of its definition. How is waterboarding and rectal feeding - not torture?
JC: Well, I would have to respectfully disagree with mr. Cheneybecause the torture statute specifically said: “putting people in fear of serious physical injury or death is torture”. Because waterboarding is meant to cause the fear of drowning, which will cause death, it is torture - and no matter how many times he tries to play with semantics, the people undergo that panic, because they feel like they’re drowning. So, it is actually engineered to do that. Here’s the fallacy: these techniques were designed based on reverse-engineering the SERE program which are basically techniques that we develop to try to harden our pilots against torture from other people. So, they are really based on hardening people against torture rather than actually getting quality interrogation information from them. I think that because of that, somebody justified it - but not only did it not work, it violated our own laws.
SS: So when president Obama has prohibited the use of enhanced interrogation techniques early in his presidency - did they just essentially stop calling it “torture” and carried it on? Or did the actual torture stop?
JC: Well, I can tell you this - the Army field manual that used to contain enhanced interrogation techniques has been changed. Whether people are secretly doing that in places - I don’t know if that happens anymore, I think they would be quite foolish to do it, now that the world has become aware of it, but certainly - in any organisation in any country around this world people will take advantage of situations at times; but, actually, officially - no, it is not done anymore, it is not authorised anymore, and in my opinion it never should have been authorised in the first place.
SS: The torture is illegal in the U.S., but we can see in this report, it was clearly committed by agents of the government. Why are they being granted legal immunity for their actions by the Justice Department?
JC: Okay, well, first of all I think we need to talk about what agents of the government. First of all, we’re talking about the CIA agents, and as everybody knows, the CIA works not in the U.S., but outside of our borders, and what they do in other countries is technically illegal in those other countries. I think they’re used to, quote, “breaking the law in the course of their job”, and they felt, I think, that because they were not in the U.S., they didn’t have to worry about what was going on with our legal system with respect of what they were doing. So, I think, first of all, it was not FBI agents doing it overseas, it was not FBI agents doing it in Guantanamo or anywhere else, but CIA - and it’s a very important distinction. What was the second part of your question, I’m sorry?
SS: You’ve actually answered the question - I was wondering why are they getting immunity, legal immunity for their actions by the Justice Department; but you’ve actually answered my question, it was a very convenient loophole for the CIA agents to be working outside of the U.S. so they don’t break the law within the country…
JC: That’s correct.
SS: So, one Guantanamo interrogator, Jennifer Bryson, said that a lot of what was done was immoral, and nothing like what they were taught. What kind of torture is not immoral?
JC: Well, I don’t think any torture is moral. All torture is immoral. I think what the interrogator was saying is a lot of what was done - a lot of interrogation techniques; not everything they did was torture, certainly not. In fact, the vast majority of the interrogation techniques that were employed, were valid, rapport-based techniques. When I got down there, I found that the people who were actually doing the interrogation for the most part, were young military sergeants, 20-21 years old. They were being run by a government contractor who I don’t think knew anything about actual interrogations or even interview techniques. So, what my unit went down there to do was to find out why they weren’t being effective. When I went down, I found out that one of the reasons why it was that they were being cruel and then that elevated all the way up to the torture. That is why they weren’t getting information in my opinion. So what we did, was that we started a program of teaching them how to do rapport-based interrogations, interview, and try to get them to win over these detainees as opposed to actually harden them against us.
SS: But, mr. Clemente, before you got there, were they taught some torture techniques during training?
JC: I think they may have been taught the enhanced interrogation techniques, the military members that were there.
SS: Which is, technically, torture.
JC: Well, if you get to waterboarding - that’s technically torture. There are some other enhanced interrogation techniques that aren’t torture. For example, stress positions can be painful, but there’s no threat of serious physical injury or death, so that’s actually not classified as torture, although that may be immoral. I think you have to be sadistic to hurt somebody who is helpless and enchained. I would never do that. I’ve never done it to any criminal here, yet I’ve got many-many criminals, very hardened criminals who cooperated with us in law enforcement.
SS: You’re saying these people are mostly young sergeants, and some former detainee said soldiers would apologise to them for their actions, saying they would be punished if they didn’t follow the torture tactics - so what did interrogation teams tell you about their work? What made it acceptable for them to engage in torture?
JC: When I said that they were young sergeants, that means that they were low-level officers in the military, and they have to do what they’re commanded to do. There’s a military chain of command and they were ordered to interrogate, they were encouraged to do mean and hurtful and degrading things to these detainees on a mass scale - and what did was the we came in, the FBI came in and said “No, this is the wrong way to do it, you’re actually making a huge mistake”. And, at first, the general there totally disregarded what we said, ignored it and after Abu-Ghraib happened, after it became public, what they were doing, then he started instituting the rapport-based techniques that we had told them about originally.
SS: So, one more time, before you got there, I’m sure there was medical staff at bases, right? Psychiatrist, psychologist, all of them working there…
JC: There were psychiatrist and psychologist.
SS: So why did they allow the torture to go ahead?
JC: Let me tell you this: the psychologists that were there on staff, were not there to authorise of participate in torture. They were very morally offended that the military was trying to push them to authorise that kind of behavior. They actually reached out to myself and my FBI colleagues and asked us if we could help them get out of that position - because they were being ordered militarily to do that. They could be court-martialed if they didn’t do it. Eventually, they told us, after we did raise the alarm, they told us: “please, keep us out of it” because they’re threatening to court-martial us if they joined us in the protest against the torture.
SS: But the American public seems to support CIA’s behaviour: polls show more than 50% think that the agency’s actions were justified. Why is the public immune to misgivings about torture?
JC: I think, poll numbers can be manipulated, and it depends on how and who asked the questions. I think the fact is that most people in the U.S. would be incapable of hurting somebody who was chained up and completely helpless. I think most people are not sadistic, and I think - yeah, they might say “somebody else could do it” or say “somebody else might be justified”, but I think in fact if they knew the law and they understood the best way to get reliable and accurate information - nobody would be supporting torture.
SS: We’ve heard how piece of evidence obtained through torture, led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden - do you know if torture always brings results like that? How effective it is in general?
JC: I don’t believe that is actually true. I do not believe that that piece of information was gotten while somebody was being tortured. I believe that that person was being interrogated by the FBI in rapport-based methodology, we got good and reliable information from them - he was then interrogated by CIA and others with torturous methods, they’ve got no information. When the FBI got him back - that’s when the reliable and accurate information that we used was actually obtained. I think people are playing around with the timeline, trying to justify what they did, and in fact, I don’t believe there’s any actual evidence that they got any reliable information through that methodology. It’s just simply - people want to stop the pain, so they will tell you whatever they think you want to know and make up things. There are plenty of examples of people who did that - they made up false stories to tell their torturers, so the torture would stop.
SS: Mr. Clemente, it was president Obama’s major campaign promise, years ago, to close down Guantanamo Bay. How come that hasn’t happened? Why is it so difficult?
JC: Well, I think the fact is that that campaign promise was made at the time when president Obama was just running for president. He did not know, he was not read-in on all the details of what’s going on there and what has been going on, and who they have there, and the difficulties involved with putting those people back out into the general population, the difficulties of trying them in a court of law - because, I think, his predecessor, the previous president, set up a situation where there could not possibly be endgame that is acceptable to anybody in the public. I think that many of these people that they have detained, are now more hardened against the U.S. - it would certainly present a clear danger to anybody in the world if they were let free. It’s really a conundrum, and I think that politically, the problem will never go away.
SS: Mr. Clemente, thank you very much for this interview. We were talking to Jim Clemente, former FBI criminal profiler who has worked at Guantanamo Bay. We were talking about CIA torture methods, and how they work and if they yield result. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, we will see you next time.