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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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It is the intent of the Army Field Manual's Appendix M to institute the Guantanamo model across all military sites. The use of separation is supposed to be limited to "unlawful enemy combatants." Hina Shamsi, with the ACLU, notes that the Geneva Conventions allow for no status-based discrimination as the basis of differentiating interrogation techniques. The use of such different techniques "could lead to a conflicting and confusing situation," and the violation of domestic or international laws, according to Shamsi. Beyond that is the distinction of marking certain combatants as "unlawful," which is highly controversial and for which there seems to be no adequate precedent in the law of war.

One last example should suffice to demonstrate the perfidy upon which the Army Field Manual was rewritten. (The revamping of the AFM was supervised by Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld's undersecretary of defense for intelligence, also notoriously in charge of the Pentagon's secretive sabotage and assassination teams, code-named Grey Fox.) In the last version of the AFM (FM 34-52), published in 1992, the use of fear-based techniques was divided into Fear Up Harsh and Fear Up Mild, with a strong warning issued that the use of Fear Up "has the greatest potential to violate the law of war." In the contemporary version of the AFM, the division of the technique into harsh and mild categories is abandoned, while the cautionary language is weakened. Meanwhile, the definition of Fear Up has changed as well.

From the 1992 manual:

The fear-up approach is the exploitation of a source's pre-existing fear during the period of capture and interrogation. (pp. 3-15)

In the 2006 manual, the definition adds a sinister new twist (emphasis added):

In the fear-up approach, the HUMINT [human intelligence] collector identifies a pre-existing fear or creates a fear within the source. He then links the elimination or reduction of the fear to cooperation on the part of the source. … The HUMINT collector should also be extremely careful that he does not create so much fear that the source becomes unresponsive. (pp. 8-10)

In a manner similar to the introduction of the harmful technique of sleep deprivation, the new policy of creating a new fear within a detainee is introduced with a simple grammatical clause. A few words inserted here and there, and the viral program is complete. (Interestingly, the old 1992 AFM says that "increased fear-up" is a "proven effective" technique, but elsewhere describes fear-up harsh as "usually a dead-end," interrogation-wise.)

The Fight Against the "New" Army Field Manual

With the start of a new administration and the swearing in of a new Congress, changes to President Bush's program of torture and abusive detention and interrogation are in the offing. The controversy over the possible nomination of CIA official John Brennan to the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency, which led to a wide protest, including a letter critical of the choice addressed to President-elect Barack Obama and signed by 200 psychologists and mental health professionals, led to the withdrawal of Brennan from consideration.

As a new administration and Congress consider how to clean up the mess left them by the Bush administration, when it comes to the torture issue, many liberals in the political class are looking to a global adoption of the Army Field Manual as a kind of anodyne for this problem. An example of how far the virus has spread is the petition by the well-regarded Campaign to Ban Torture, signed by a plethora of "respected leaders," including Obama's nominee for White House National Security Adviser, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones. Espousing a "golden rule" over interrogation practice, the CBT declaration states: