New Information on “Mock Burials”

Marcy Wheeler has found confirmation in the OPR Report that the CIA originally sought to include “mock burials” in its arsenal of approved Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.

As Mitchell progressed up the “force continuum,” however, the CIA wanted more than oral approval. In his account to the ICRC, Abu Zubaydah described a month-long lull in his questioning “about two and a half or three months” after he had arrived at the black site. That would have been late June or early July, 2002. So far, he had been subjected to prolonged shackling, dietary manipulation, incessant loud noise, and had spent weeks naked in a bare, frigid cell, but at that point had only faced one of the 11 proposed EITs, sleep deprivation. Before Mitchell could move further into physical abuse and waterboarding, CIA attorneys ordered a pause to give Yoo and the OLC time to prepare formal legal opinions declaring that methods that had been perfected by regimes that scorned the Geneva Conventions do not constitute torture. According to the CIA's Inspector General,

Eleven EITs were proposed for adoption in the CTC Interrogation Program. As proposed, use of EITs would be subject to a competent evaluation of the medical and psychological state of the detainee. The Agency eliminated one proposed technique – [REDACTED] – after learning from DoJ that this could delay the legal review. 25

That eleventh technique was evidently mock execution, a standard component of SERE training that is explicitly prohibited under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and under U.S. law codifying the Convention. The law specifically lists “the threat of imminent death” as an act that causes severe mental pain and suffering and is therefore criminal under the statute. But the phrase “mock execution” matches the redaction in the OIG's report exactly, and there are clear indications that CIA interrogators initially included it in their repertoire. At the Thai black site, Ali Soufan had erupted when he discovered Mitchell had constructed a coffin-shaped box for Zubaydah, calling Pasquale D'Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism, and saying “I swear to God, I'm going to arrest these guys!” Newsweek reported that Mitchell told Soufan the box was for a “mock burial.” 26

PDF page 42 of the OPR Report ( searchable copy here) includes a list of the torture techniques that Mitchell and Jessen recommended be used with Abu Zubaydah. Whereas the Bybee Two Techniques memo approves ten techniques, Mitchell and Jessen recommended twelve. In other words, Mitchell and Jessen asked for two techniques to be approved that did not get specific approval.

One of these (technique 10) is diapering. We know they used diapers anyway as it was a critical element of their sleep deprivation and stress position techniques.

Technique 12 remains redacted in this report. But as I pointed out last wee, PDF page 178 of the First Draft includes an unredacted reference to the technique.

Goldsmith viewed the Yoo Memo itself as a “blank check” that could be used to justify additional EITs without further DOJ review. Although Yoo told us that he had concluded that the mock burial technique would violate the torture statute , he nevertheless told the client, according to Fredman and Rizzo, that he would “need more time” if they wanted it approved. [my emphasis]

The twelfth technique–which Mitchell and Jessen wanted approved but which Yoo excluded because of the rush to approve waterboarding–is mock burial.

There must have been significant discussion about the decision to exclude mock burial from the Bybee Two memo, because the reference to its exclusion in the report itself (PDF page 60 in the Final Report) includes a page and a half of redactions following the discussion of leaving it out.

As Marcy points out, and as we saw in Chapter 3, the failure to secure DOJ sanction for mock burials or mock executions did not stop CIA agents from trying the technique in the interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at the end of 2002:

For two weeks, the “debriefer” who had been flown in from CIA headquarters oversaw this unscripted interrogation. Finally, the debriefer himself, who the Inspector General notes “was not a trained interrogator and was not authorized to use EITs,” took over:

Sometime between 28 December 2002 and 1 January 2003, the debriefer used a semi-automatic handgun as a prop to frighten Al-Nashiri into disclosing information. After discussing this plan with [redacted] the debriefer entered the cell where Al-Nashiri sat shackled and racked the handgun once or twice close to Al-Nashiri's head. 13 On what was probably the same day, the debriefer used a power drill to frighten Al-Nashiri. With [redacted] consent, the debriefer entered the detainee's cell and revved the drill while the detainee stood naked and hooded. The debriefer did not touch Al-Nashiri with the power drill.” 14

…The CIA had dropped “mock executions” from its proposed list of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques precisely because even the authors of the August 1, 2002 legal opinions couldn't argue that feigning an intention to kill a prisoner is ever permissible. 16 Now the CIA was facing a situation where agents involved in its Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program had clearly committed a premeditated felony under US law.

© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York NY 10004

This is the website of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. Learn more about these two components of the ACLU.