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How the U.S. Army's Field Manual Codified Torture -- and Still Does

Buried in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, the Guantanamo virus is spreading, and eradicating it will require all of us to spread the word.
 
 
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In early September 2006, the U.S. Department of Defense, reeling from at least a dozen investigations into detainee abuse by interrogators, released Directive 2310.01E. This directive was advertised as an overhaul and improvement on earlier detainee operations and included a newly rewritten Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations (FM-2-22-3). This guidebook for interrogators was meant to set a humane standard for U.S. interrogators worldwide, a standard that was respectful of the Geneva Conventions and other U.S. and international laws concerning treatment of prisoners.

While George W. Bush was signing a presidential directive allowing the CIA to conduct other, secret "enhanced interrogation techniques," which may or may not have included waterboarding, the new AFM was sold to the public as a return to civilized norms, in regards to interrogation.

Before long, opponents of U.S. torture policy were championing the new AFM as an appropriate "single-standard" model of detainee treatment. Support for implementing the revised AFM, as a replacement for the hated "enhanced" techniques earlier championed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the CIA, began to appear in legislation out of Congress, in the literature of human-rights organizations and in newspaper editorials. Some rights groups have felt the new AFM offered some improvements by banning repellent interrogation tactics, such as waterboarding, use of nudity, military dogs and stress positions. It was believed the AFM cemented the concept of command responsibility for infractions of the law.

There was only one problem: the AFM did not eliminate torture. Despite what it said, it did not adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Even worse, it took the standard operating procedure of Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay and threatened to expand it all over the world.

The President of the National Lawyers Guild Marjorie Cohn has stated that portions of the AFM protocol, especially the use of isolation and prolonged sleep deprivation, constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is illegal under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project, has stated that portions of the AFM are "deeply problematic" and "would likely violate the War Crimes Act and Geneva," and at the very least "leave the door open for legal liability." Physicians for Human Rights and the Constitution Project have publicly called for the removal of problematic and abusive techniques from the AFM.

Yet, the interrogation manual is still praised by politicians, including then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, who in December 2007 said he would "have the Army Field Manual govern interrogation techniques for all United States Government personnel and contractors."

Viral Instructions for a Torture Paradigm

I call the covert actualization of torture in current Department of Defense interrogation policy the "viralization" of the Army Field Manual. Just as a computer virus inserts a seemingly harmless set of instructions or code into a computer's operating system, unnamed four-star combatant commanders insisted that a special "interrogation-control technique" be inserted into the new manual. In a computer, viral instructions morph into a destructive set of routines, which replicate and continue to pass the tainted instructions on to uninfected users.

The viral instructions in the AFM transform into an abusive and illegal torture program. Most of these "instructions" can be found hidden in the proverbial fine print of the document, in its very last appendix, labeled with no apparent irony as regards the mythology of James Bond, Appendix M.

Appendix M, titled "Restricted Interrogation Technique -- Separation," misrepresents itself from the very beginning. (One wonders if it was rewritten from an earlier draft, at a time when the Pentagon wanted to keep these procedures classified.) It is not actually a technique (singular), but a set of techniques, though one has to read deeply into its 10 pages of text and be somewhat sophisticated in the history of psychological torture procedures, to assemble a full view of the viral program.