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McKelvey Talks of Terror and Torture

Author Tara McKelvey interviewed former prisoners from Abu Ghraib for her book Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War McKelvey is senior editor at The American Prospect and a research fellow at the NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security.


Other segments from the episode on June 6, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 6, 2007: Interview with Scott Shane; Interview with Tara McKelvey.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Journalist Scott Shane discusses interrogation
techniques and torture

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The harsh interrogation techniques that the US has used since 2001 on
terrorism suspects and insurgents are borrowed from old Soviet interrogation
techniques and they are outmoded, amateurish, and unreliable. These are
conclusions from a recent study by the Intelligence Science Board, which
advises the senior intelligence community. My guest Scott Shane has written
about this report as part of his coverage of national security for The New
York Times, where he's a reporter in the Washington bureau. We invited him to
discuss this report and other recent developments regarding American
interrogation techniques.

Scott Shane, welcome to FRESH AIR. Would you summarize the criticisms of
America's current interrogation techniques as reported by the Intelligence
Science Board?

Mr. SCOTT SHANE: Sure. The Intelligence Science Board is a terribly obscure
body that was created in 2002 to advise the intelligence agencies on questions
that scientists might have some insights into, and about two years ago they
appointed a group to begin studying the question of interrogation. This was
prompted, in part, by the feeling that the information that was beginning to
come out about American interrogations in Guantanamo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan
and at the CIA's secret sites all suggested that it was somewhat amateurish,
apart from the moral questions, that it was amateurish. That it wasn't really
guided by any kind of research on what works. And so while many outsiders had
brought the kind of moral and political criticism to bear on the interrogation
process, this group wrote a very dry, 300-page report--this was the first in a
series of reports they hoped to do. And it came out very quietly in December,
and it essentially raised questions about whether harsh techniques--whether
one calls them torture or something less than that--whether they actually are
effective, whether they get you better intelligence and better information.

And their, you know, the bottom line of their study, I'd say, is first that
there is very little solid research on this subject. And, second, that
there's very, very little evidence that these harsh techniques actually
produces good information and considerable evidence that it produces bad

GROSS: Well, according to the report, the harsh interrogation techniques that
the US has been using on terrorism suspects and some insurgents date back from
the 1950s and many of these techniques are based on old Soviet practices.
What lead the Intelligence Science Board to those conclusions?

Mr. SHANE: Well, one of the fascinating ironies of this period is that after
9/11, both the Defense Department and the CIA, you know, somewhat
independently, decided that they needed tougher techniques, than the usual
techniques that had been in the Army field manual for many years, to use on
terrorism suspects. There was this belief that religious militants of the
al-Qaeda type would never tell the truth or never confess, never give warning
of the next attack unless they were subjected to some new techniques. The
euphemisms were "enhanced techniques" or "alternative techniques." But there
was very little interrogation experience in the military or CIA with those
kinds of techniques.

So what they turned to was a program that has been going for several decades
in the US military called the SERE program, which stands for Survival,
Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. And this was given to--and still is given
to--a subset of American military personnel who are considered to be at high
risk of being taken prisoner. So it includes, for example, aviators, who
might get shot down and taken prisoner. And the idea of this was to give them
a sample of the kind of treatment they might face if taken prisoner by an
adversary. And, of course, because this was a Cold War program, the
adversaries that they had in mind were basically the Soviet Union and its
allies, to some degree the Chinese.

Some of this also came out of the experience of Americans taken--aviators
taken prisoner by North Korea during the Korean War, some of whom confessed
to, apparently falsely, to having used germ warfare, and that led to a
discussion of brainwashing and did the communists have some kind of super
secret brainwashing techniques. And studies at the time determined that they
didn't have any super secret techniques, but studied the harsh treatment they
gave prisoners that in that case resulted in a lot of American aviators giving
false confessions.

So both the CIA and DOD turned to this SERE program. They talked to the
trainers. In some cases they got the trainers to come to the interrogation
sites. The CIA, some of the CIA trainers, are believed to have been folks
from the SERE program, and essentially they reverse engineered this program.
The techniques that had been imposed on American servicemen and women as part
of their training to give them a sample of what, for example, the Soviet Union
might do to them if they were captured suddenly became American interrogation

GROSS: And a question that you raise, which I believe is also raised in the
report, is are these techniques torture or not? And it seems that, you know,
America used to call it torture when the Soviets were using it, but now that
Americans are using it, it's no longer called torture. And as an example of
that, on Sunday in The New York Times weekend review section, you reprinted
excerpts of a 1956 article that was originally published in the Archives of
Neurology and Psychology. Explain what this article is.

Mr. SHANE: This article was written by two physicians who had been hired by
the Defense Department as consultants and had done a study of communist
interrogation techniques: Soviet mainly, but also Chinese and North Korean.
And they were allowed to publish a lengthy article on the results of their
research in this medical journal. So it was, you know, a serious sort of
scientific publication that was describing and assessing Soviet interrogation

GROSS: Let me read an excerpt of what this 1956 article had to say and tell
us how you think it applies to what's happening now in the United States. The
article said, "The effects of isolation, anxiety, fatigue, lack of sleep,
uncomfortable temperatures and chronic hunger produced disturbances of mood,
attitude and behavior in nearly all prisoners. The living organism cannot
entirely withstand such assaults. The communists do not look upon these
assaults as torture, but all of them produce great discomfort and lead to
serious disturbances of many bodily processes. There is no reason to
differentiate them from any other form of torture."

How does this 1956 observation about communist interrogation techniques apply
to us now?

Mr. SHANE: Well, the article points out that the Soviet techniques, the
communist techniques, generally speaking did not include sort of outright
torture: pulling people's fingernails out and beating them. That's certainly
happened. But the official and most common techniques were to isolate people,
to expose them to heat and cold, to put them in stress positions or even just
cause them to stand for a long time. And they described those in the
long-term effect of those as torture.

What's interesting is that those are the same techniques that ended up being
widely used at Guantanamo, in Iraq, Afghanistan and certainly at the CIA's
so-called black sites, and the position of the Bush administration was that
none of this was torture. That's still the position of the administration of
the CIA, that everything they did, including the simulated drowning technique
called waterboarding--which was also derived from the military's SERE
program--that none of that was torture. And, of course, there was the famous
Justice Department torture memo--which was written in August of 2002 in the
midst of the development of these programs--that declared that nothing was
torture unless it produced pain that was the equivalent of what would be
associated with organ failure or death. And so it set a very, very high bar
for the definition of torture and declared everything below that bar not to be
torture. So it was interesting to see that 50 years earlier, the essentially
official American position was that these techniques, when used by the Soviet
Union, were torture.

GROSS: Not to mention the article that we're quoting here was written by two
Defense Department consultants who were doctors.

Now there's another article here that applies to what the United States is now
calling stress positions. Again, this is from that 1956 article about Soviet
interrogation techniques. Here's a quote. "Another technique widely used is
that of requiring the prisoner to stand throughout the interrogation session
or to maintain some other physical position which becomes painful. This, like
other features of the KGB procedure, is a form of physical torture in spite of
the fact that the prisoners, and KGB officers alike, do not ordinarily
perceive it as such. Any fixed position which is maintained over a long
period of time ultimately produces excruciating pain."

Apply this to what's happening now in the United States.

SHANE: Well, it's again an example of how a technique that might sound to the
sort of casual reader not that severe, making someone stand for hours.
Actually, in practice, if you ever try to do that, to stand in a fixed
position as someone who is tied or chained into a fixed standing position for
many hours, you know, these guys found that that produces excruciating pain
and is indistinguishable in many ways from what we normally think of as

This one is particularly striking because Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense
secretary who was setting the rules for the military through much of this
period and put out several memos, he approved some techniques and then he
withdrew some of those techniques. But when he withdrew them, he wrote on his
memo, or the memo that took that action, that he was doing it despite the fact
that he stood for eight hours a day at time, and, you know, didn't really see
why this was such a big deal for the prisoners. But, of course, there's a
huge difference between working on your feet, so to speak--walking around,
meeting with people, speaking--and being in a fixed standing position for many
hours. But the question of whether standing could be torture or not was
directly addressed by the US government.

GROSS: Any other key points you want to describe from this 1956 article about
communist interrogation techniques that apply to what Americans are using
right now?

Mr. SHANE: Well, I think one thing that caught the attention of the
Intelligence Science Board study group was that these techniques--again, not
extreme torture, but some of the same techniques that we've been using in
recent years--were found to produce false information. What their study found
is that the evidence suggests that, you know, if you turn up the pressure on
someone, they will talk. If you use physical stress, harsh techniques,
torture, the people will talk, but what they'll say is not necessarily the
truth. They'll try to tell you what it is they think that you want to year so
that you'll stop torturing them, and so it's not a very effective way of
getting good intelligence.

And the 1956 article had an interesting passage making that point. They
describe, for example, the "purge trials," the great show trials of the '30s
in which some of the famous figures in the Soviet leadership confessed to
patently absurd crimes such as spying for Japan, and that caused a puzzle at
the time. But this study showed that those kinds of confessions routinely
come--false confessions routinely come from this kind of treatment. So what
they write in the 1956 article is, "The cumulative effects of the entire
experience may be almost intolerable. The prisoner becomes mentally dull and
loses his capacity for discrimination. He becomes malleable and suggestible,
and in some instances he may confabulate. By suggesting that the prisoners
accept half truths and plausible distortions of the truth, the interrogator
makes it possible for the prisoner to rationalize and thus accept the
interrogator's viewpoint as the only way out of an intolerable situation."

What's interesting about that is there have been a few documented cases in
which it appears that prisoners who are subjected to very harsh treatment gave
the Americans false information. And I think what the Intelligence Science
Board study wants to do is to try and be a little bit more rigorous, apart
from the moral question, about deciding how you gather intelligence. If
you're going to spend billions and billions on spy satellites, shouldn't you
spend a little bit of money and a little bit of serious research on
determining how to question people and how to get reasonable information in a
way that's compatible with American laws and values?

GROSS: Did the Intelligence Science Board study give any indication of what
state of the art interrogation techniques might look like?

Mr. SHANE: Well, one very interesting historical part of their study was to
look at what the Americans did with Japanese and German prisoners during World
War II. And one member of the study particularly studied a program at Fort
Hunt in Virginia that was designed for the highest-level German prisoners, and
what he found was that they used a combination of very intensive preparation
and some deception to get information. All physical pressure was banned, even
the kind of stuff that we've used in recent years: standing, heat and cold,
stress, positions. All that was banned. No physical pressure was allowed.
What they did was they prepared four to six hours for every hour of
interrogation. They used native speakers of German, and they paired up these
prisoners with native speakers of German, working with the Americans, who
posed as fellow prisoners. They wired all the cells so that what the
high-level German prisoners told their cellmates became part of the
intelligence collection process. But this study suggested that those
technique were far more reliable and far more effective than the ones that
have been used in recent years.

GROSS: My guest is Scott Shane. He's reporting for The New York Times in the
Washington bureau.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Scott Shane and he's a reporter
in the Washington bureau of The New York Times. He covers national security.

You know, we've been talking about this Intelligence Science Board report.
Has it gotten much attention and do you have any indication how seriously it
will be taken by the military and the CIA and Congress?

Mr. SHANE: It's gotten relatively little attention publicly and part of that
was by design. The authors of the study wanted to avoid sort of polarizing
with the administration and with the government and the intelligence agencies
and the Defense Department over this because they didn't want those who have
been running these interrogation programs in recent years to kind of get their
backs up and reject this advice. So they're trying to avoid a sort of he
said/she said debate about what's happened in the past, and they want to
reform the interrogation techniques or improve the interrogation techniques
for the future. So they deliberately released their report without a splash,
and the lead author, the organizer of the study, actually declined to speak
with me on the record. I'm told it was because he didn't want to take a
public position being critical of the administration. But I'm also told that
some intelligence officials have encouraged the authors of the study and have
taken it quite seriously and, you know, are sort of using it in their internal
debates over how future interrogation policy should be shaped.

GROSS: There's currently two sets of guidelines governing interrogations, one
for the military and one for the CIA. Why are there two different sets of

Mr. SHANE: Well, part of that comes out of the reaction to the harsh
techniques that were used both by members of the military and the CIA in the
first few years after 9/11. As you know, the Congress weighed in, mostly led
by John McCain, who himself had been tortured as a POW in North Vietnam, and
he pushed through an amendment that banned some of these techniques. The
Military Commissions Act subsequently set some limits on the techniques that
could be used by the military, and the military itself adopted a revised Army
field manual that--some would debate this--but basically bans harsh physical
treatment. Some people think there may be a loophole there, but generally
speaking the military has backed away from these harsh techniques.

The CIA, on the other hand, has not and that's very much at the direction of
President Bush. President Bush in September ordered the 14 prisoners still
being held in the CIA's secret overseas jails moved to Guantanamo and for the
first time acknowledged publicly that there had been this secret detention
interrogation program overseas. And he said the alternative techniques, these
enhanced techniques, had provided very valuable intelligence and that they
would be used on a continuing basis.

It's fairly clear that the measures taken by Congress banned waterboarding and
probably the most extreme use of stress positions--heat and cold, and that
sort of thing--but there is some room under the law for these enhanced
techniques, or at least that's the administration's position. And for some
months now, there has been--we've been waiting for an executive order,
presidential order, that would go essentially to the CIA and would direct them
to come up with--or direct them to produce a revised version of these enhanced
techniques. The assumption is that they will not include some of the most
extreme techniques, but they will go beyond what's in the Army field manual.

GROSS: Scott Shane, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. SHANE: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Scott Shane is a reporter for The New York Times in the Washington

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Author Tara McKelvey discusses her book "Monstering:
Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in
the Terror War"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Tara McKelvey is the author of the new book "Monstering: Inside
America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War." It's
based on her interviews with former detainees who were interrogated in Abu
Ghraib and other detention facilities run by the US. She also interviewed US
Army officers, soldiers, human rights lawyers, former administration
officials, and private contractors. A sergeant who worked in Abu Ghraib gave
her a DVD of films and photos of wild, druggy parties and sexual antics within
Abu Ghraib. McKelvey thinks they show the semi-lawless culture at the prison
that may have contributed to the climate of abuse.

McKelvey is a senior editor at American Prospect and a research fellow at
NYU's School of Law's Center on Law and Security. She was the first American
journalist to interview women who had been imprisoned in Abu Ghraib. She says
some of the women were detained because they were considered a threat, but
others were in Abu Ghraib because they had family members who were suspected

Ms. TARA McKELVEY: There was a lot of sweeps going on in Iraq at the time.
People would get, you know, caught up in house raids or they would be captured
in sort of group arrests. And some of them were brought in because they were
family members, either the wives or sisters, of some of the high-level people
that they were trying to bring in. And they were put in person and used as
bait in order to get the people that they wanted to come forward.

GROSS: How were they used as bait in prison?

Ms. McKELVEY: For instance, if there was--I spoke to one woman whose brother
was a--he was in a deck of cards. You know, the Pentagon deck of cards with
the people that were on the Most Wanted List. And she was put in prison,
first as a way for people to ask her questions about where her brother was.
And also as a way to say, you know, to him, `We have her. Come here.' You
know, `Come to our police station or wherever we are and we'll talk to you and
we'll let her go.'

GROSS: One of the women who you interviewed, you used the name Selwah for

Ms. McKELVEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Is that a pseudonym to protect her identity.

Ms. McKELVEY: That's right. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: She was arrested because her husband had been close to Saddam Hussein.
What was his relationship to Saddam?

Ms. McKELVEY: Actually, in the case of Selwah, there were accusations
against her. An official from the Pentagon read me some passages from her
report. She had been accused of providing material support to the enemy. I
think it was they thought she had been giving money to the insurgency. Her
husband was a member of the government, like most the people that I
interviewed who were brought in. Many of them had some ties to the

GROSS: What did she tell you about her treatment in prison?

Ms. McKELVEY: The interview I did with her and with the other people who had
been held at Abu Ghraib, I did these interviews in mat Amman, Jordan, in a
hotel room. They were brought over as part of a lawsuit. The interviews were
very, very difficult. I knew when I went over there what my editors in New
York and Washington wanted. They wanted me to come back with a story that
said, you know, some cover line that said, `I was raped at Abu Ghraib,' you
know, quoting these women. But I knew that these women would have a terrible
time talking about what had happened to them because if they were to say that
they were sexuality assaulted while they were in US detention their
reputations would be ruined. They would be seen as, you know, as something
horrible having happened to them. It's in some ways their fault and they
would never really be able to recover. So when I sat in a room with her and
asked these questions, it was really, really hard. I could tell by some of
the, you know, body language or by some of the ways she reacted to the
questions that terrible things had happened to her, but it was difficult to
get her to talk about them.

GROSS: What did she tell you?

Ms. McKELVEY: She would tell me, for instance, about some of the punishments
that they had received while they were there. She was held in a detention
facility in Tikrit, where there were hundreds of prisoners, and she was one of
the few women prisoners there. And since she had been a high ranking, you
know, a very sort of, you know, fancy person in Iraq at the time--she had a
nice house. Her husband worked for the government. She wore beautiful
clothes and jewelry. The things that happened to her were particularly
difficult because she really valued her status, and in some ways it was like a
terrible irony to hear this woman who had such power and status in the
Baathist regime was then subjected to these, you know, humiliations at the
hands of Americas.

One of the things they did is they had these big cans that they used to put in
human waste, and then they would put gasoline in there and stir it up and burn
up the human waste. And usually it was something that was done by the
soldiers or boys who were working there, but in this case, one of the officers
told Selwah that she was responsible for stirring up this enormous can of
waste. She said she didn't want to do it. It was humiliating. And he went
over to her and that if she didn't he would have one of the soldiers rape her.
So she did it and she described what it was like to stir with this enormous
stick until she fainted in the hot sun.

GROSS: And were you able to corroborate that story.

Ms. McKELVEY: When I first heard it, I was like, `What is she talking
about?' Like, `What is this big can and what is this stick?' And then I talked
with different people who had also--I talked to one person from a human rights
organization who had interviewed former detainees and he also described the
same punishment that was used for the prisoners. And then, also, I even found
a photograph of one of the cans of the human waste that was used, and I found
other descriptions of what this process was, and so then it didn't seem like
something just totally weird. It made sense to me. And as far as whether she
was made to do that at the prison, I can't verify that because I don't have
any witnesses who were there. And that was always a question in my mind about
whether these people are telling the truth or not.

GROSS: And do you feel like you believe her?

Ms. McKELVEY: Of course. I mean, all of the people I talked with I was very
skeptical. They had plenty of reasons to lie to me, you know. I mean, they
hated Americans in different ways and there were, you know, good reasons for
them to lie to us. And I spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether
these stories I heard were true or not. In the case of Selwah, I was there in
Amman with a translator named Ranya Kadra, who's really tough and great, and
she's worked with all the American reporters who have come over. And Ranya
was very skeptical too. She was like, `Well, they always lie, they always
lie.' And, you know, I said, well let's go and hear her story. And by the end
of the interview--and these interviews are long. They're not like normal
journalism things, they're like several hours. At the very end, Ranya Kadra
and she was like, `She's the real thing. She's telling the truth because she
tells us things that she knows she shouldn't, which is, for instance, that she
thinks Saddam Hussein is great and other stuff that would discredit her in
some people's views.'

And then, in addition, like, in all the stories that I included in my book, I
verified them as much as I could, as much as humanly possible. I would have
backup evidence for what had happened. I would always determine from the
Pentagon the dates of their detention and of their release and the places they
were held. And as much as I could, I would have other people talk about what
had happened to them while they were there.

GROSS: What are some of the other things women told you about how they were

Ms. McKELVEY: They described some of the conditions at the prison at Abu
Ghraib, how they lived in these cells. They were very close to where the
high-level detainees were. The women were held in a place called Tier 1B, and
Tier 1A was where most of the photographs were taken that, you know, we saw in
April of '04. And the women there were held with children and the cells were
small. They had no place to wash themselves and so they described washing out
their nightgowns and then wearing them at the same time so they could try to
stay clean but also have some dignity, and they also described what it was
like to hear the children crying at night and to hear the children calling out
for more food. And one woman described how she would, when the guard wasn't
looking, she would toss out a banana or a piece of fruit to the children who
were nearby so they would have something to eat.

GROSS: These children who were in prison because they were suspected of
attacking American troops or--why were the children in prison?

Ms. McKELVEY: Some of them were accused of attacking American troops,
certainly. Some of them were caught up in these sweeps. I interviewed one
boy who was 16 when he was held at Abu Ghraib, and in the book I call him
Faloni to protect his identity. And he told me about how he had been there
for a few weeks and he kept asking people, you know, `Why am I here? Tell me
just, tell me, you know, what are the charges.' And the only person he could
talk to was the interpreter because nobody else spoke Arabic. And then
finally one day the interpreter came to the place where he was being held with
other juveniles and passed out these slips of papers. It was like kind of
like a nightmare report card day where they would find out what the charges
were. And Faloni got his charges and he was like, `Well, these pages--there
are two pages and they're blank. There are no charges.' And he showed the
interpreter that there was nothing written down and the interpreter grabbed
the sheets of paper and wrote down something, you know, `Accused of shooting
off rocket-propelled grenade at,' you know, `US forces or coalition forces.'
And then gave it back to Faloni, so there Faloni was with his accusations.

GROSS: That sounds to me like it could be a really fishy story.

Ms. McKELVEY: Well, sure. I mean, if you think back, a lot of the
detainees' stories sound completely outlandish. I mean, there was a time--who
would have thought, you know, a man stood on a box with a hood on his head or
that there would be some woman with a naked prisoner on a leash. I mean,
these stories are crazy, and that's been certainly a big part of problem of
telling the story about abuse that's taken place in Iraq. What people here
need are, you know, verifications every level, and that's completely
understandable. The problem is, if you have an account of what happened in
prison and you need a photograph to go along with it, making those two things
come together is extremely difficult.

In the case of Faloni, I spent hours with him when I was in Amman, Jordan. I
met two members of his family, his uncle, and they told me the story about
their arrest and raid on his house, you know, where there were two people who
were killed, including a nine-year-old boy. Arabic Language Television had
filmed some of the attack on his house and the farm, so there was plenty of
evidence around that to show that he was a reliable source.

GROSS: I guess the other thing that must make it so hard to do this kind of
reporting is you could argue that because we have the photos of Abu Ghraib and
we knew that there were abuses there, and then we could take the most
outlandish charge and say, `Well, that must be true, too, because look at what
happened.' But, of course, you can't. You can't do that. You can't say
everything must be true...

Ms. McKELVEY: Sure.

GROSS: ...just because of the photos and everything.

Ms. McKELVEY: No, no. That's...

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. McKELVEY: Yeah, that's silly and that's not fair to the people that I
talked to or...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Ms. McKELVEY:'s not fair to the people that, you know, this happened
to. There was a very careful vetting process that I went through in order to
find out which stories I wanted to include or which stories I could believe.
I mean, at times I would lose my patience with the people I was interviewing.
Some of the people had agendas. They wanted to get money. Like, I remember
one guy I interviewed gave me a list of things that have been confiscated in
the raid on his house. I'm just going through this list and I just--it was
like at the end of the day and I was really tired. I was just like, `I am not
going to help you get your machete back.' You know? Just these things that
people wanted from me were just, you know, not right. I wasn't in a position
to do that, nor did I want to. But on the other hand, some people had stories
that were compelling and I felt like really needed to be told.

GROSS: My guest is Tara McKelvey, author of the new book "Monstering: Inside
America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tara McKelvey, and she's the
senior editor of American Prospect and a research fellow at the NYU Law School
Center on Law and Security. Her new book is called "Monstering: Inside
America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War."

Now you found that there were some precursors of those Abu Ghraib photos that
Charles Graner took. Would you describe what you learned about those earlier

Ms. McKELVEY: Well, the images, the photographs of Abu Ghraib that came out
on April 28th, 2004, they were quite shocking and outlandish in many ways, and
obscene. But it turns out that there was stuff going on like this at the
prison, in different parts of the prison, different times. And in addition,
this stuff that happened in the pictures, it was not just that night that they
took place. If you look back, for instance, at Charles Graner and Lynndie
England and at the history of their courtship, it goes back to the United
States and they met in Cresaptown, Maryland, and went away for a weekend to
Virginia Beach with a friend of theirs. When they were there, you know, they
got drunk, they partied, they did whatever. And so they were drinking and
they took a bunch of pictures. They were quite obscene and quite lewd and
quite graphic. And they included shots, for instance, of Lynndie England
performing oral sex, you know the photograph was taken by their friend. They
also included photograph of Graner taking like really, you know, moment by
moment pictures of them engaged in various acts of them two engaged in these
acts. Now later on, these photographs were almost reconstructed, you know,
very, very similar depictions were taken at Abu Ghraib. And at Abu Ghraib,
for instance, there was Lynndie England and Charles Graner again, along with a
friend of theirs, another friend who they asked to take pictures, only in
these pictures at Abu Ghraib, Lynndie England added a flourish, which was the
thumbs-up sign.

GROSS: Did you ask her how secretive they tried to be about the photos.

Ms. McKELVEY: Lynndie England and Graner, they were not secretive at all.
It was very, very obvious what was going on. Luciana Spencer, one of the
guards who was there, testified that there was a picture of the human pyramid
on a screen saver in the isolation room. It was the worst kept secret at Abu
Ghraib that this stuff was happening. Plus there were people hanging in their
cells and screaming. Lynndie England described the screams that you could
hear at night.

GROSS: Now, you also got a CD of photos that, to my knowledge, have not been
made public. How did you get these photos and where were they taken?

Ms. McKELVEY: I spent a lot of time with a man named Sam Provence, who was
at Abu Ghraib during that time in the fall of 2003, and he sent me a CD that
had these, you know, films from the, you know, party room at Abu Ghraib. And
they showed a bunch of his friends, you know, who were soldiers and guards,
kind of, you know, listening to Outkast, having a great time. And they were
doing what he called Robotripping, which is a cocktail made of Robotussin.
You know, you take the bottle and you drink it down, and then you follow it up
with Vivarin. And supposedly, it has kind of like--it's a little bit like
LSD. You know, you're sort of tripping for a while. And they would put on
this music and they would have these weird lights, and in some of the videos
they would act out sort of violent acts against pretend detainees. They would
create something, like a chair and turn it into a human dummy and they would
start stabbing it. It was pretty disturbing when I saw it, it was like,

GROSS: Now, you write in your book "Monstering" about Adel Nakhla, who is
also known as Abu Hamid. He's an Egyptian-American who worked as an
interpreter at Abu Ghraib. He was a private contractor employed by the
company Titan. And there was also a lawsuit against him that was thrown out
because the district court in Washington, DC, didn't have jurisdiction over
him. But did you speak to this interpreter directly?

Ms. McKELVEY: I tried to talk to him. He shows up several times in
government documents, in both the Taguba Report and the Fay-Jones Reports,
which are military investigations about what happened at Abu Ghraib. He also
appears in photographs that were released in the set of photos during the Abu
Ghraib scandal days.

GROSS: What is he alleged to have done?

Ms. McKELVEY: In the documents it says, for instance, that he participated
in some of the acts that might be interpreted as abusive. So for instance,
you know, he talks about this in one of the government documents where he says
that, you know, he did ask them, some of the prisoners, if they were gay or if
they enjoyed what was happening to them. And according to some of the
documents, he might have helped adjust their bodies when they were lying in
the prison naked, close to each other.

GROSS: Now you interviewed one of the people who says he was interrogated by

Ms. McKELVEY: That's right.

GROSS: What did this former prisoner of Abu Ghraib tell you?

Ms. McKELVEY: The prisoner in my book, I call him Mya. It's a fake name to
protect his identity. He described what it was like when Nakhla and Graner
came to his cell, and they had him put his hands behind his back and fastened
his hands together, and then they held him--suspended him by his hands. This
is what's known as a Palestinian hanging, and it's extremely painful because
your body weight is being held by your arms body behind your back. And he
asked, he begged, he cried for them to take him out of the position, he says,
but they kept him in that until eventually he fainted and he found himself on
the floor.

GROSS: Nakhla, the interrogator, was a private contractor. Were there
different rules for interrogation by people in the military and people hired
by private contractors?

Ms. McKELVEY: The contractor who's in Iraq, certainly when Nakhla was there,
was operating some sort of legal gray area. There are laws that could hold
him accountable in the United States, but some of them, for instance, there's
something called the Military Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction Act that was
passed in 2000 that supposedly would cover someone--or it does cover somebody
like--somebody who's a contractor working in Iraq. But it's relatively
untested. As far as I know, there's only been one case and it did not
involve, you know, a person accused of abusing a detainee. There's also the
Patriot Act. That was used in one case of a contractor in North Carolina.
But there have been very few legal cases where these contractors have been
prosecuted, and if you consider that according to the US military census of
December 2006, there's 100,000 contractors operating in Iraq and none have
been prosecuted for any violent crimes.

GROSS: What were the reasons why Nakhla, the interrogator hired by a private
military contractor, couldn't be held accountable for damages and why his part
of the case was thrown out?

Ms. McKELVEY: Sure. Nakhla, he was an interpreter, he was not an
interrogator. And some people say that he really wasn't even supposed to be
in that part of Abu Ghraib when he was there. I mean, he apparently was not
officially assigned to Tier 1A but he hung out there. He had friends there.
He spent a lot of time, became sort of the unofficial interpreter for that
part of the prison. And there were all sorts of accusations against him that
appeared in the government documents. But the investigation was, you know, in
some ways, very ambitious and aggressive at certain periods of time, but
eventually seems to have gone nowhere. At this point in time he's not being
prosecuted. He's basically--there's nothing that will happen to him at this

GROSS: Is that because they didn't have enough evidence or is that because of
jurisdictional difficulties?

Ms. McKELVEY: The civil suit was thrown out for jurisdictional issues.
There's some critics of the administration who say that contractors have not
been prosecuted aggressively because it has not been in the interest of the
Justice Department to do so. I mean, even The New York Times writes about how
the Justice Department has been one of the government agencies who's been
responsible for sort of crafting legal guidelines to practically indemnify CIA
officers, for example, from legal liability, and so that they have not shown
much interest in prosecuting contractors, either.

GROSS: My guest Tara McKelvey, author of the new book "Monstering: Inside
America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tara McKelvey and she is the
author of the new book "Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret
Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War." She the senior editor of
American Prospect and a research fellow at NYU Law School's Center on Law and

What are some of the other methods of interrogation at Abu Ghraib that you
learned about during the course of your interviews that you didn't know
existed before?

Ms. McKELVEY: Well, the things that I would see--there's of course the role
of women in these interrogations. When I first heard about some of the
techniques that were heard by female interrogators, I was in Amman
interviewing somebody who had been held near the Baghdad airport. And he told
me this story about a female interrogator and how she had pretended to seduce
him or did these sexual things to him, and it just all sounded so weird. I
didn't even know what to do with it. I knew if I came back to the states and
said, `Yeah, you know, there are these women and they're wearing G-strings,'
that my friends would be like, `Oh, Va-va-va-voom! I'd like to be
interrogated like that.' So I didn't even say anything about it. And then,
there was some disclosures from a book by a man named Eric Saar, and he
described some of the sexual techniques that female interrogators or female
military personnel were using at Guantanamo. And I just thought, `Whoa, that
is the same stuff that this guy was telling me in Iraq.' You know? And I
started to look at it more carefully and found all sorts of examples and
started to listen to the stories that people told me about the role of female

GROSS: Mm-hmm. And you also were told stories about, you know, sleep
deprivation techniques that included playing music really loudly and also
playing a tape of a child crying and screaming out. What was the child saying
in this tapes that was played as a tape loop over and over again?

Ms. McKELVEY: Yeah, sometimes I thought that it was almost like "1984," when
they would think of the worst thing that you could possibly imagine and they
would use that, but I think that it was coincidence, you know, that when
people told me the stories of their interrogations, they would describe the
most horrific moment and that. And it wasn't as though the interrogators knew
because it just seems unlikely. But in that case, this was man who was a
sound engineer, who was a graduate of an art college in Baghdad, and he had
three small children and had built a generator in his house, and he described
building the generator. When he was being held in the interrogation site,
they did all sorts of different things, and that was the case where they used
a female interrogator. And they also played a tape of a child's crying out,
`Help me, Daddy. Save me, save me. Please save me.' And he described it and
that was the moment when he broke down and cried.

GROSS: Was there a shortage of interpreters or interrogators at Abu Ghraib
and did that affect who was actually doing the work and how well trained they

Ms. McKELVEY: Many of the techniques that were suppose to be used at Abu
Ghraib had been tested at Guantanamo. At Guantanamo the ratio of guard to
prisoner, according to hearings on the Hill, was 1 to 1. At Abu Ghraib, the
ratio of guard to prisoner was approximately 75 to 1. The techniques were
some ways, you know, questionable, but highly sophisticated and required
certain conditions for them to be applied. None of those conditions were
available at Abu Ghraib. The controlled conditions simply were not there.

GROSS: What kind of controlled conditions are you referring to?

Ms. McKELVEY: If you use, for example, dietary manipulation as a technique
during interrogation, that requires that you monitor the diet, that you have a
physician who is available. Whether or not you agree with that as a
technique, there are certain requirements. They didn't have enough physicians
at Abu Ghraib to help the people who were dying, let alone be a participant in
a meal plan for a prisoner.

GROSS: Do you know if the situation has changed in terms of the interrogation
techniques that are being used now against Iraqis suspected of terrorism or of
participating in the insurgency?

Ms. McKELVEY: I mean, one of the things that people need to be reminded of
is that these interrogation techniques were designed really for these
high-level al-Qaeda suspects, but they were applied to many people that had no
information at all. Seventy to 90 percent of the people who were held at Abu
Ghraib, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross along with
multiple military sources, had no actional intelligence. So as far as which
techniques are being used against suspects in Iraq, again, it's difficult to
say. The CIA guidelines are secret. You know, we're not privy to what's
being used or even to who they're being used on.

GROSS: Tara McKelvey, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. McKELVEY: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Tara McKelvey is the author of "Monstering: Inside America's Policy
of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War."

GROSS: If you missed something on FRESH AIR or want to recommend an interview
to a friend, you can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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