Blackwater founder Erik Prince has been one of Donald Trump’s shadow advisers. Now, will he be investigated for perjury? This week on Intercepted: Jeremy breaks down the Trump Tower meeting Prince set up with a representative of the Saudi and Emirati royals and an Israeli who runs propaganda and media manipulation operations. Journalist Allan Nairn analyzes Trump’s rise to power, the agenda of the extremist Republican Party, and dissects the latest on the Trump/Russia investigation. Author and retired psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Kaye discusses the U.S. Army Field Manual and its Appendix M. This document is the current U.S. policy on the treatment of foreign detainees. Kaye explains why some of its currently “approved” tactics are torture. Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham and artist Molly Crabapple discuss their new book, “Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War.” Plus the bizarre and frightening story of how the CIA created a shellfish toxin dart gun.
Brian Bulatao: Mr. President, and honored guests of Director Haspel, welcome to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. Please stand with me as we sing the national anthem, and please remain standing.
[Gina Haspel swearing-in ceremony singer performs the “National Anthem.”]
President Donald J. Trump: Good morning. I want to thank all of you and our distinguished guests for joining us today for a ceremony like few we’ll ever have again, this is a very special one. We’re here today for the swearing in of a very special person, Gina Haspel. They love you, they respect you, and now you’ll lead the CIA.
[Words start to distort, and eerie sound effects play.]
They love you, they respect you, and now you’ll lead the CIA. They love you, they respect you, and now you’ll lead the CIA. They love you, they respect you, and now you’ll lead the CIA.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 57 of Intercepted.
CNN: Another week, another explosive headline, alleging a campaign meeting just months before the election, with foreign powers eager to defeat Hillary Clinton. The Times story shows a top Trump booster and an emissary for two Arab princes and an Israeli attended. And a lawyer for the President’s oldest child says Don Jr. does recall a meeting about a social media or marketing plan. However, he was not interested, and that was the end of it.
JS: We are all living through a time in the United States where Donald Trump has fully embraced both official, legalized corruption. as well as good-old garden variety, individual corruption. Did Trump directly conspire with Vladimir Putin and Russia to influence the 2016 election? That is certainly possible. Are we going to see concrete evidence of that, especially evidence that would stand up in a court? That also is possible, but we haven’t seen it yet.
It is also plausible that Robert Mueller issues a public report that would be damaging, if not damning, of Donald Trump, but for whatever reason decides not to or, because of Trump’s influence over the Justice Department, cannot pursue criminal action. We shall see.
But this much is clear: it is a major mistake to place all focus on Russia collusion, Russian collusion, Russia collusion. We know that Trump’s team has colluded with Israel. We know that’s Trump’s team has colluded with Saudi Arabia. And we know that they colluded with the United Arab Emirates.
DJT: Great honor to have Sheikh Mohammed with us today, a man that I’ve known. Very special, very special person; highly respected.
DJT: It is a great honor to have the crown prince with us. Saudi Arabia has been a very great friend, and a big purchaser of equipment and lots of other things.
DJT: The United States will always be a great friend of Israel, and a partner in the cause of freedom.
JS: Last week, we learned of yet another meeting at Trump Tower. This one, according to the New York Times, was arranged by none other than Blackwater founder Erik Prince. He is the brother of Betsy DeVos. He also has been a shadow adviser, not only to the Trump campaign, but also to the Trump administration. He was the guy that pitched Trump on this idea of a privatized force for Afghanistan, and was also involved with pitching the idea of a private intelligence force that could circumvent the deep state. Oh, and Erik Prince, his mother, their family — also major financiers of the Trump election campaign.
Well this meeting, that the New York Times reported on, reportedly took place on August 3, 2016. And if this meeting is as the New York Times says, then Erik Prince committed perjury before the House Intelligence Committee.
At this meeting was George Nader, an American citizen who has a long history of being a quiet emissary for the United States in the Middle East — goes back to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush. He also worked for Blackwater and Erik Prince. He has been this emissary for the United States in the Middle East under both Democrats and Republicans. Oh — and George Nader is also a convicted pedophile in the Czech Republic and he has faced similar allegations in the United States. George Nader was there. Why? Because he works as an adviser for the Emirati royals, and because he has close ties to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.
Al Jazeera: In a probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, George Nader appears to be the witness who keeps on giving. The Lebanese-American businessman’s ties to the United Arab Emirates are well known, but according to a New York Times report, Nader also has previously undisclosed ties to Russia.
JS: There was also an Israeli at that meeting, a guy named Joel Zamel. And he was there supposedly pitching a multi-million dollar social media-manipulation campaign to the Trump team. Zamel’s company, which is called PSY Group — like P-S-Y, psy ops, psychological — PSY Group. That company boasts of employing former Israeli intelligence operatives.
So, this group, this multinational group that was assembled by Erik Prince, has this meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump, Jr. And, according to the New York Times, the purpose of the meeting was “primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months, past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office.”
George Nader was reportedly offering help from Saudi and Emirati rulers and the Israeli was there to offer disinformation and propaganda services to aid in this effort.
Rachel Maddow: Now, Mr. Zamel’s lawyer denies his client prepared anything or offered anything to the Trump campaign, but, according to the Times’ reporting, this guy Zamel was paid $2 million.
JS: Erik Prince, George Nader, and the Emirati royals were all present in the Seychelles as well, when Erik Prince traveled there January of 2016 at the invite of the Emirati ruler, Mohammed bin Zayed. And while he was there, Erik Prince meets with Kirill Dmitriev, who just happens to be the CEO the Russian Direct Investment Fund. For those of you that have not been following this story, that is a $10 billion-plus sovereign wealth fund that was created by the Russian government, under the rule of Vladimir Putin.
Fast forward to Erik Prince’s testimony to the House Intel Committee a few months ago, and Prince tells them: I just had a beer with Dmitriev. Eh, we discussed how Stalin and the U.S. worked together to defeat the Nazis in WWII, and how we could do it again — Russia, the United States against ISIS. That’s it.
Prince also said that his only role in Trump’s campaign was as a high-end donor and that he had a yard sign supporting Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
Erik Prince: I was there meeting with Emirati officials. And there’s lots of other people there. I met a guy. And clearly the U.S. intelligence community felt it necessary to unmask me and leak it to the media. But if the media and the obsession on the Trump-Russia collusion, they’ve kind of jumped the shark if they’re thinking that I had something to do with that, because this meeting occurred in January, long after the election. So, there’s either all this grand Trump collusion plan before the election, or not. Because if they asked me to go meet with some Russia, which no one actually did. I happened to be there, and I met a Russian. It’s pretty thin.
Erin Burnett: Who’d you meet?
EP: Some fund manager, I can’t even remember his name.
EB: A fund manager, but you don’t remember his name.
EP: I don’t remember his name. We didn’t exchange cards.
EB: How long was it, the meeting? Do you remember?
EP: Uh, it probably lasted about as long as one beer.
JS: If this Trump Tower meeting took place in August of 2016, then Erik Prince is potentially going to get hit with a perjury charge or more. Prince was also reportedly interviewed by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. And George Nader? He’s supposedly now a cooperating figure. He’s done multiple interviews with Mueller’s team. He has also appeared in front of the Grand Jury.
RM: Joining us now is David Kirkpatrick, New York Times international correspondent.
David Kirkpatrick: The other thing that’s interesting about this is that the August 3rd meeting is sort of the beginning. Before that, George Nader didn’t know the Trump campaign and they didn’t know George Nader, but after that, he begins to have a series of high-level meetings with Kushner, with Bannon, with General Flynn. So whatever happened with that campaign, maybe Don Jr. said, “I’m not interested.” But somehow, the gem of that campaign was the genesis of a relationship between George Nader, the adviser to the United Arab Emirates, and the Trump campaign that went on through the transition, and even into the period when Trump was in the White House.
JS: There is one major common link that runs through the agenda of all the participants in this Trump Tower meeting, and it is one which has gotten very little attention. And that is their shared hatred of Iran and their desire for regime change.
So, while all of this was going on, while these meetings were happening at Trump Tower, George Nader had been pitching a secret plan to the Saudi royals wherein they would bankroll a campaign to conduct acts of economic sabotage and disinformation against Iran. As the New York Times reported, “Nader was promoting a plan to use private economic warfare” which he viewed as “the key to the overthrow of the government in Tehran.”
At the same exact time, Nader and Prince were also developing a proposal for the Saudis to pay them $2 billion to run a mercenary force that would fight the Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis, of course, are forces that Erik Prince, and the Saudis, and the Emiratis all characterize as nothing more than Iranian proxies.
Event host: “I’ll hand it over to Erik Prince.”
JS: Back in 2010, I obtained a secret recording of Erik Prince giving a speech in front of a private audience at the University of Michigan, and this audience was filled with people, from the ROTC on the campus — both commanders and cadets— businesspeople and military veterans. Prince’s speech was titled: “Overcoming Adversity: Leadership at the Tip of the Spear,” and in this speech, Erik Prince expressed disdain for the Geneva Convention. He said something like: These people that we’re fighting against don’t know where Geneva is, or that there was a convention there.
Erik Prince also called the people that were fighting against the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan “barbarians” who “crawled out of the sewer.”
Erik Prince: Places like Yemen and Somalia, the Somalians had — rather Yemen —
JS: Now, this speech might be hard to hear because the person who recorded it had to conceal the recorder. But in that speech, Prince paints a global picture in which Iran is “at the absolute dead center of badness.” The Iranians, he said, “want that nuke so that it is again a Persian Gulf, and they very much have an attitude of when Darius ran most of the Middle East.
Iran, Erik Prince charged, has a “master plan to stir up and organize a Shia revolt through the whole region.” Erik Prince proposed, and this is in 2010, that armed, private soldiers from companies like his former Blackwater empire, be deployed in countries throughout the region to target Iranian influence, specifically in Yemen, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia. Erik Prince said: “The Iranians have a very sinister hand in these places. You’re not going to solve it by putting a lot of uniformed soldiers in all these countries. It’s way too politically sensitive. The private sector can operate there with a very, very small, very light footprint.”
Erik Prince: It’s way too politically sensitive. The private sector can operate there with a very, very small, very light footprint.
JS: That recording was from eight years ago. Erik Prince was pitching this idea about attacking Iran by using mercenaries, private contractors. And now here we are with this Trump Tower meeting.
Now, nothing we are now hearing about this meeting is surprising, but it is very relevant. And it makes perfect sense why Erik Prince would have assembled these particular players to meet with Don Jr. at Trump Tower.
This is Israel’s agenda. This is the Saudi agenda. This is the Emirati agenda. This is Erik Prince’s agenda. And, as we see clearly from Trump’s time in office, this has become the Trump agenda. Trump’s first foreign visit as head of state was to Saudi Arabia. Trump unilaterally destroyed the Iran nuclear agreement. We know that Jared Kushner is alleged to have shared information from the Presidential Daily Briefing with Saudis just as Mohammed bin Salman was beginning his deadly purge of his domestic political opponents. We know that Erik Prince has been involved with private security/mercenary operations in Yemen. We also know that Erik Prince has ties to Israeli intelligence operatives. And we know that Prince has had a long relationship with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and has offered him mercenary services as well. In fact, at one point, Erik Prince had actually moved to the United Arab Emirates, to Abu Dhabi, as he faced investigation over Blackwater’s activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was there at the invitation of the leader of Abu Dhabi.
The Washington Post, which broke that story about Erik Prince in the Seychelles, said that Prince was there to establish a back-channel line of communication with Russia on — and this is important — “whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria.”
So, what’s the through line here? The central one, at least, is not really about Russia, but about Iran; about Israel’s agenda. Just like when General Mike Flynn was on the phone with the Russian ambassador. What was the real point of that call? Flynn was asking Russia to support Israel’s position on settlements at the United Nations. Mike Flynn was asking Russia to help directly undermine the then-President of the United States Barack Obama.
This meeting at Trump Tower appears to have been about Iran, not just support for Trump’s presidential campaign. We only know a tiny bit about what actually went down behind closed doors, and hopefully we’re going to learn more. But one of the consequences of the endless months and months spent on Russia, Russia, Russia has been that other lines of investigation and inquiry, regarding other countries, have been relegated to sporadic reporting at best. The case for active, documented collusion with the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Israelis and the Trump campaign and the Trump team — it’s very strong. I would argue that, at this point, it is much stronger than the case about Russia.
These issues — and the role of Erik Prince and the Saudis, Emiratis and Israelis — should be a massive scandal. But it does not fit so neatly into the box of big evil Putin/ Russia ruined our democracy. In fact, it implicates a lot of people, including very influential people, including prominent think tanks who are bankrolled by these nations: Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Emirates. It actually hits the elites in Washington from both parties.
Erik Prince is a player in all of this. He’s not the central figure, but he’s emerging as a pretty important player. He should be aggressively questioned, as part of both the criminal and Congressional investigations. Yes, Erik Prince may well have committed perjury. But that is certainly not the extent of it. Erik Prince clearly has information about the roles that these powerful nation-states have taken on in American electoral politics. We shouldn’t force everything into the box of Russia, Russia, Russia, especially when the evidence is so overwhelming that there are also motives relating to Iran that may explain part of the agenda that these nations and Erik Prince were pushing when they embarked on a campaign to secretly support Donald Trump’s election.
JS: Well, Donald Trump has been in office 16 months and the majority of media hours and column inches spent on his administration have dealt primarily with the Russia investigation, Stormy Daniels and Trump’s personnel intrigue, the palace intrigue at the White House. It is not that there isn’t great journalism being done on other issues. It is that this narrow set of stories consume much of the energy and they’re on constant repeat pretty much everywhere in corporate media — except for FOX News, which generally broadcasts from an alternate reality.
On this show, we have found it very helpful to occasionally step back from the daily grind and take stock of where we are and how we got here — look at the bigger picture.
My friend and colleague, Allan Nairn is one of the sharpest analysts of the modern history of the U.S. empire. As a journalist, he has played a significant role in exposing the U.S. involvement and sponsorship of brutal regimes, security forces around the globe. He survived the Dili massacre in East Timor with Amy Goodman in the early 1990s. He exposed the CIA’s financing of right-wing death squads in Haiti, the support for brutal military dictators in places like Guatemala and El Salvador and he is perhaps the foremost expert in the world on the U.S. support for the genocidal regime of Suharto in Indonesia.
Allan was one of my heroes and role models when I first got into journalism in the mid-1990s, and it is my honor to have him back here with us on Intercepted. Allan, thanks for joining me.
Allan Nairn: Thanks, good to be with you.
JS: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is I really get the sense, paying attention to the New York Times, Washington Post, major media outlets that we seldom as a society step back and sort of say, “What’s the bigger picture of what has happened under Trump on a foreign policy level, on a domestic level, setting this in the context of broader American history?”
How do you assess where we are a year and a half into the Trump presidency?
AN: Trump dragged a rightist revolution into power. It’s the Paul Ryan agenda which could never have gotten elected in its own right because it’s anathema to most Americans. But Trump, with his genius for unleashing the beast in white America, touching these deep chords of racism, succeeded in turning a crucial number of previous white Obama voters into Trump voters, and this is a Republican Party that is one of the most radical mainstream political parties in all of American history, perhaps with the exception of the pro-secessionist Democrats at the time of the Civil War. And they’ve been in there, they’ve been implementing a rightist revolution, doing the massive transfer of wealth in part via the tax bill, but also an important part by systematically, agency by agency, trying to gut the constraints on large corporations and the oligarchs, regarding the environment, their treatment of labor, their ability to discriminate, their ability to commit fraud without fear of being sued by the public. increasing the rights of rich individuals to intervene in politics, decreasing the rights of collectives of working people to intervene in politics, like the Gorsuch-led Supreme Court decision. And, now, as the Republican Party has evolved to the most radical extreme, they happen to have control of both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. And they’ve been going around rigging the system so that a diminishing minority can hold power and continue to govern, just as Trump was elected with a minority of the votes, they’re trying to set it up through a long list of tactics, including purging of voter rolls, voter suppression shortly before Election Day, gerrymandering, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, smaller and smaller numbers of people can win elections and retain power.
JS: You’re describing a system that sounds eerily similar to despotic, thuggish, gangster regimes that you’ve covered around the world and one of the aspects of the Trump presidency that I think is really standing out more and more is the embrace of the institutionalized corruption that exists in the United States and using official channels that have been legitimized, technically, under the law and its practice of both parties, but he’s merging all of that, that everyone does, with outright profiting off of the presidency.
Set Trump’s moment in the context of other authoritarian regimes you’ve covered around the world.
AN: Well, what you just mentioned is a unique personal twist of Trump, and it actually relates to one of the reasons why he won the election. And that is that Trump essentially came out and said: Look, the system is totally corrupt, I’m a crook, I’ve been part of this rigged system for years, I’ve been paying off the politicians, now I’m going to be your crook.
DJT: All talk, no action. That’s these politicians. Nothing ever gets done. You’re not going to make it — I’m telling you — you’re not going to make it if you put some politician in there. And I know them all.
AN: I’m going to be fighting on your side.
DJT: I’ve given to Democrats — I’ve given to Hillary — I’ve given to everybody. Because that was my job. I got to give to them. Because when I want something, I get it! When I call, they kiss my ass, OK? [Audience laughs and applauds.] They kiss my ass.
AN: People heard that, and it sounded a lot more credible to many people than Hillary saying: Oh, no, the system is not rigged, the system is not corrupt.
Hillary Clinton: You will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.
AN: She said: “In fact, Obama took more Wall Street contributions than I did.” People heard that and say, “Come on!” And, in one sense, Trump is following through. He’s indeed demonstrating again that he’s a crook. But, of course, he’s not doing it on behalf of the working people who he claimed to be campaigning for.
However, that fact has only gotten through to a limited extent. If you look at Trump’s popularity now, it’s more or less within the normal range. His approval rating is in the low 40s, which is not shocking for an American president. If the facts of what he and the extremist Republican Party are doing now were being hammered day to day in the American press and coming through the TV, I think his ratings and the Republicans ratings would be in the 20s, if not lower, but that’s not coming through.
Because the rhythm of repetition is basically everything in politics. Because under the American system, there’s no centralized state censorship, unlike the old Soviet system. So, almost everything, almost every atrocity committed in the U.S. system is on the public record somewhere, but unless it’s repeated, hammered away, day after day on the big media outlets, it may be on the public record but it’s not in the public consciousness. And that’s all that matters in politics: What is in the public consciousness? And those that set the rhythm of repetition that the term in the public consciousness — in this case the media outlets like MSNBC and CNN — they have seized on this Russia scandal as their theme They want to attack Trump. They want to go after Trump. But they devote vast portions of their airtime to speculation to the exclusion of hammering away on all these other themes about the outright decimation and crushing and theft of the American working class at the hands of this administration.
And a lot of people look at that, you know, all that Russia stuff and the Stormy Daniels and they say: “Well, yeah he’s a corrupt guy, he told us he was a corrupt guy. But, I don’t know if this is fair, I don’t know what they’re doing to him, I don’t know if this is entirely fair.” And it’s enabled him to keep his head above water politically in a way that he would not be able to do if just the hard, established, clear facts with no speculation were being hammered day after day about what he’s doing to the health of Americans.
JS: But what would you say to people like Adam Schiff, for instance, who is the vice chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the senior Democrat on it, or Rachel Maddow for that matter, on MSNBC, who has the number one primetime show on cable news, where they say: Yeah, yeah, we get that, but this is the only story in town if we’re talking about treason, if we’re talking about compromising of the Democratic electorate process. This has the potential to bring down a president of the United States and potentially result in criminal charges. This is the only story, Allan.
AN: I’d say: Pursue it, investigate it and then put it on the front burner when you’ve got the facts nailed down. Look, Trump is a guy who’s guilty of almost everything. Yet, here, the Democrats have pinned the political future of the world on nailing him for the one thing of which he may in fact be innocent: Russia collusion. And my God, what a bitter disgusting irony if the whole edifice of opposition to Trump comes crashing down if that speculative bet that that can be proven fails to pay off.
Look what’s happening right now: There’s all this mess with Trump, you know, hitting back at the Justice Department and claiming that they used unfair procedures to go after him. It’s a morass. There doesn’t need to be any morass when you’re talking about what Trump and the Republicans are doing to the United States, and doing to the world. And once you get into these side, diversionary issues, that’s the political trap you walk into.
JS: If Trump is correct, and that’s a huge if — the if is doing the very heavy lifting there — but if it’s true that there was surveillance on individuals working on the campaign, isn’t that scandalous? That U.S. intelligence would be infiltrating a political campaign and spying on its activities?
AN: Well, that would be but that’s actually not the specific thing that’s charged. They were talking about this —
JS: Retired professor who was an informant for U.S. intelligence, and the Democrats are portraying this as like treasonous to reveal the identity. My colleague Glenn Greenwald named the individual that he believes is the source of this, but what we know in the public record, do you think that Trump has any standing to say this is a witch hunt and I was treated in a way that no other candidate has been treated in American history?
AN: No! Trump has been treated with kid gloves and obviously, it’s self-evident, Hillary Clinton was treated much more unfairly than Trump during the campaign. I mean what Comey did at his press conference where he said, well —
Former CIA Director James Comey: Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.
AN: Comey reopening the investigation, that was very damaging to Hillary’s campaign. I mean, she was the one that was materially hurt by the actions of the FBI, not Trump.
JS: And yet, Comey is held up on liberal networks and on his media tour as this sort of defiant protector of the Democratic Republic who stood up to Trump.
AN: It’s this odd consequence of the opportunism of the Democrats and liberals who have chosen to go down this road of the scandal. They end up having to elevate and glorify these traditionally very reactionary, repressive institutions, like the FBI and the CIA, that are by and large very loyal to the American principle that the U.S. has the right to kill civilians anywhere in the world whenever it wants to, if it feels it’s necessary for U.S. political purposes, and who, domestically, have been willing to engage in surveillance and repression against dissidents, and to cook up cases — in the most recent era, counterterrorism cases — often on the flimsiest of grounds.
And yet, in order to carry out this political program of pinning everything to Russiagate, they’re now having to elevate and glorify these people. It’s a disastrous political course.
JS: Let’s just remind people here: You have James Mattis, who is the defense secretary, who I think arguably is himself a war criminal for his activities in Iraq, in particular, but there’s a long career there.
And then you have Mike Pompeo, who goes straight from his tenure at the CIA to now being secretary of state. You have John Bolton, in the non-Senate-confirmed position of national security adviser. And the most recent member of the team is now Gina Haspel who is known to have overseen a torture center in Thailand.
It seems like there has been a total takeover now of Trump’s war program by neoconservative elements and, in the case of Gina Haspel, someone with a 30-plus year career working in the most unsavory darkest operations in the U.S. intelligence community.
AN: When you talk about the U.S. military and intelligence establishment, the killing machine, you could call it, there have always been different factions, different philosophies as to when and how to kill, but there’s always been a complete consensus about the idea that the U.S. has that right.
Trump himself, the reason he won was that he uttered a few truths that were absolute breakthroughs in the history of American politics, that just electrified the Republican primary and really all of American politics. He stood up in a debate with his Republican opponents and said, “Yeah, the Iraq war — that was based on a bunch of lies. The Bushes, they got us into that, and we got all our guys killed — for what? For nothing!”
And all sorts of very conservative people all sorts of veterans heard Trump say that and said: “Yeah! Hell Yeah! He’s the one who’s telling it like it is.”
Now, it so happens, that the faction from the American killing system that’s in control, the people like Bolton, they’re the ones who get gusto from war. They’re kind of in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt. But, in the end, it doesn’t make a whole lot of differences. These are rather subtle distinctions. The main question is: Are you willing for the U.S. to use its vast powers to kill civilians? And for all of them, the answer is yes.
On the whole, the Trump Administration has caused one significant change in the U.S. overseas killing policy and that is they have thrown away the constraints, the constraints that had been imposed by decades of activism. So that under Obama, for example, before certain bombing runs over Iraq and Syria, White House lawyers would have to evaluate things and say, “Well, if we kill 28 civilians with this bomb, that’s permissible but if it’s 32 civilians, that we won’t to allow that one.”
Trump came in and said: “Screw that, take off all constraints, tell the commanders in the field they can kill as many civilians as they want.” And, in fact, last year, in ’17, in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. and its partners through their bombings killed about 6,000 civilians, which represents more than a 200 percent increase from the previous year.
And, again, these are the kinds of things that if these facts were on the TV everyday, on MSNBC and CNN, and they were just being pounded, pounded, pounded, people would be reacting to that. More people would be out on the streets. I mean, it’s fantastic how much protest there has been in response to this rightist revolution, but it’s not even close to the amount that will actually be needed to stop it in its tracks and reverse it. And this November congressional election is absolutely pivotal. It’s one of the decisive America elections in all of American —
JS: I mean, the obvious is that if the Democrats wrestle control of Congress that they can move to impeachment proceedings against Trump. I mean, people are fast-forwarding past all sorts of other tactics you can use to obstruct a dangerous agenda, but that seems to be the writing on the wall: If we do this, we can impeach him.
AN: Yeah, let’s say the Democrats get control of the house and even get control of the Senate. OK, then they impeach Trump. Then it goes to the Senate. In order to convict Trump and remove him from office, you need a two-thirds majority of the Senate and that means that the Democrats, having taken control of the Senate by a couple seats, would need roughly an additional 15 Republican senators to vote to convict and remove Trump from office. That’s an extremely tall order.
Based on the currently known facts surrounding the Russian matter, no way in hell are they going to get those votes to remove Trump from office. And remember what happened when the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton and failed to remove him from office in the Senate? Clinton’s approval rating rose to an all-time high. He was in the stratosphere, because people felt he had been abused, including many rather conservative people who had voted against Bill Clinton. But if the Democrats do get control of the house, they can stop a whole series of additional Republican programs. Because if they get control of the Senate, then they would have the potential to block new Trump Supreme Court nominees, and there’s a fair chance that Trump would have a shot at an additional one, or even two, Supreme Court nominees in the following two years of his term. And that can be an absolute disaster, because then we are already creating a situation now where Trump and McConnell have boasted accurately that they have put through a record number of circuit court judges, people who were selected quite meticulously by the Federalist Society for their extreme right, judicial philosophy and for their ideological discipline and purity.
So the Democrats getting control of the House, and even more so, the Senate, are absolutely crucial to stopping the rise of what really is an extreme rightist movement that has control of the government, and what could become an incipient fascist movement, given Trump’s own ideological inclinations.
JS: What do you make of the latest revelation about this other meeting in Trump Tower — by the way, there were probably dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of meetings in Trump Tower of this nature, but the most recent one that the press focuses on, what do you make of the tick-tock of stories like this, that it’s yet another piece of the pie. What does it show to you? Because to me it looks like we’re talking about old, dyed-in-the-wool corruption — bribery, business dealings — rather than Russian collusion.
AN: Yeah, I mean —
JS: It’s not necessarily either/or.
AN: That particular meeting, you’re talking about Emiratis, you’re talking about an Israeli —
JS: That’s right, social media specialist.
AN: — an Israeli specialist in manipulation of social media has little or nothing to do with the Russians. And part of the aspect is simple corruption by the Trump circle, which is arguably the most corrupt to come into the White House since the days of Teapot Dome.
But, more profoundly, you’re talking about the fact that foreign interference in U.S. elections is absolutely nothing new. And, objectively speaking, the foreign powers that have interfered in the U.S. political process the most and have had the most clout, there are really three: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. I mean, those are the big three, in terms of funding think tanks. And this has been the case for decades.
So that’s one aspect of the foreign role in U.S. elections. But in a broader sense, well, the U.S. president is kind of the president of the world, as those who celebrate the American system constantly remind us. A president’s decisions affect people all over the world. A president’s decisions can kill people all over the world, or save people, so why shouldn’t people in other countries have a say in the selection of the U.S. president? But don’t be hypocritical when you get all pious and pretend to be shocked about foreigners wanting to have some impact on American politics, when American politics shapes much of the world. And, I mean, it would be shocking if Putin didn’t try to do that.
And if you actually look at the specific history of Russia, it was U.S. election manipulation that indirectly brought Putin to power in the first place. In ’96, Yeltsin was apparently on the verge of being defeated in the Russian presidential elections by the communists. The U.S. stepped in in a massive way — and they weren’t shy about this, they boasted about it at the time, it was on the covers of magazines, it was all over the U.S. newspapers — through the IMF and through other channels they poured in massive amounts of money on Yeltsin’s behalf. And Yeltsin was dragged across the finish line and reelected. And within three years of barely functioning, Yeltsin, who had been privatizing the economy, creating the class of Russian oligarchs that we talk about so much today, Yeltsin then handed over to Putin. And part of Putin’s actual popularity, apart from his, you know, his dictatorial tactics and his massive use of domestic propaganda, is the fact that he seemed to the public to reject that legacy. And it was all the outcome of that ’96 election where the U.S. covert election operations dragged Yeltsin into power.
JS: You know, if you go back and you read, for instance, Donald Rumsfeld’s early speeches in the George W. Bush administration — Rumsfeld, of course, was both the youngest and oldest defense secretary in U.S. history — if you read what was he focused on and what the neo-cons were focused on, it was overwhelmingly on Russia and Cold War politics prior to 9/11.
And then 9/11 happens and it’s neo-con Christmas and Hanukkah and everything combined into one. But the agenda that we see now on the media outlets that you’re talking about regarding Russia feeds directly into the neo-con worldview as of September 10, 2001 that Russia is the major enemy of the United States, and it’s part of why I think you’re seeing the quote-unquote “Never Trumpers,” the neo-cons like Bill Kristol or David Frum or Max Boot, they love this Russia stuff because this has been part of their life’s work. It is: The Cold War never should have ended; we need to re-destroy, now, the Soviet Union in the form of Vladimir Putin.
AN: Yeah and I think many American voters look at that whole picture and they say, “Gee, do we really want to be embracing these same guys who brought us the Iraq War?”
Because people, they look at Trump and they see a contradictory picture. On the one hand, he has these extreme warmongers like Bolton in his White House. But on the other hand, they have the vivid memory of Trump on the campaign trail just tearing the Bushes to shreds.
And, actually, Korea is an interesting example of this, the way that Trump is able to disrupt politics and hold onto power and allow this rightist revolution to continue. Trump stumbles into something. For months, he’s essentially threatening a nuclear attack on North Korea.
DJT: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
AN: But then, because of who Trump is, in place of the staid, stable, aggressive evil of the establishment, you have the megalomaniacal evil of Trump: Trump sees this opportunity arise when the South Koreans are visiting the White House, and they say: Hey! Kim Jong-un has offered to sit down. And Trump has his head popped in the room, he says, “Oh yeah?” And his lizard brain, he grasped the fact, “Wow, photo op, imagine that, me and Kim Jong-un, summit, peace,” it just explodes in his head and Trump says: Yeah. Tell him I’ll be there.
JS: “You know, everybody’s talking about me getting the Nobel Peace Prize — I don’t know, you know, maybe.”
AN: And it’s the kind of thing that would have been inconceivable for any previous president. Yet it’s the right thing.
The U.S. system, for decades upon decades, has been evil in its willingness to kill civilians for political purposes, otherwise known as terrorism. But now here you have Trump with that unique personality being willing to cast aside various principles of the old establishment. So, he’s willing to say to the North Koreans: Yeah, we’ll end the Korean War.
How many Americans know that the Korean War is not over yet? I mean, of course, it’s a reasonable concession to say: Yeah, we’ll end the Korean War. Obama would never have considered it. Bush Jr. would never have considered it. These things are out of bounds. He’s willing to contemplate these things all to seize the photo op, all for the glorification of his own ego —
JS: But he’s talking about it like a party, how it’s going to be a great one.
AN: It’s nuts in terms of the motivation, but it’s actually the right thing to do if you’re interested in averting a nuclear holocaust, if you’re interested in peace on the Korean peninsula. And what is the reaction of many of the Democrats and liberals? It’s grudging. It’s nitpicking. It’s rejecting it. It’s saying, “Oh no, you can’t do that, you can’t do this, you can’t be partisan about these things.” If a monster stumbles into something good, say, “OK, that’s a good thing.” It doesn’t automatically become a bad thing just because the monster did it.
It’s totally unnecessary for the Democrats and liberals to take that position, but they are. And it’s yet another example of how their approach is inadvertently strengthening Trump and the radical rightist Republicans, and creating even more peril for the working people of this country and for the entire world who are being devastated by this regime.
JS: Allan Nairn, thank you very much for joining us.
JS: Allan Nairn is an independent journalist who reports for The Intercept and other news outlets. His website is AllanNairn.org.
JS: In 1975, the day was September 17th, the front page of the New York Times showed a photograph of Senator Frank Church holding up what appeared to be a gun. The headline that day in the New York Times read: “Colby Describes CIA Poison Work.” The Colby in question was the director of the CIA at the time.
Now, this was after reporting by Seymour Hersh had exposed Project CHAOS, the massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation run during the Nixon Administration. And it was also what led to the Senate Select Committee being formed to investigate abuses by the CIA, NSA, FBI and the IRS. It was called the Church Committee, and it was named after its chairman, Senator Frank Church.
When Colby was brought in to testify, he revealed that the CIA had been operating an 18-year, $3 million highly secretive project largely based out of Fort Detrick, that developed poisons, biochemical weapons and ways of administering such agents in a weaponized format.
CIA Director William Colby: The subject today concerns CIA’s involvement in the development of bacteriological warfare materials with the Army’s biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, CIA’s retention of an amount of shellfish toxins, and CIA’s use and investigation of various chemicals and drugs. The relationship between the CIA and the army’s biological laboratory at Fort Detrick as an activity requiring further investigation surfaced in late April of this year.
JS: So this gun, that I mentioned earlier, that Senator Church held up in front of Congress and all the television cameras, was, in fact, a modified Colt semi-automatic pistol that fired a poison dart. It had a range of up to 100 meters, and it was nearly silent when fired. According to the CIA, this gun could fire what amounted to a biological weapon in undetectable form.
WC: In the course of the investigations, CIA’s laboratory storage facilities were searched, and about 11 grams, a little less than half an ounce, of shellfish toxins and 8 milligrams of cobra venom were discovered in a little-used, vaulted storeroom in an agency building. A major early requirement of the agency was to find a replacement for the standard, cyanide L-Pill issued to agents in hazardous situations during WWII. This was the basis on which eventually we discovered the shellfish toxin …
Senator Frank Church: If that amount of shellfish toxin were administered orally … that quantity was sufficient to kill at least 14,000 people. If it were administered with the sophisticated equipment that was found in the laboratory, that quantity would be sufficient to kill a great many more. Estimates vary upward into the hundreds of thousands.
JS: The CIA had this technology back in the 1970s, and they had stockpiled enough poison to kill up to hundreds of thousands of people. The New York Times article the day after Colby’s testimony also outlined documents that were made public that showed that the CIA had once used the NYC subway System as a “trial model” for studying what vulnerabilities riders trapped underground would be susceptible to. CIA officials said they actually flooded the subway with what they called a “harmless simulant of a diseased gas.”
Frank Church appeared a little horrified that the Agency had so many different devices for administering lethal toxins. And Colby, the CIA director, openly observed that the shellfish poison dart gun was not for purely defensive operations, but definitely created for distinctly “offensive” purposes, namely assassinating people.
FC: Various devices for administering the toxin, that were found in the laboratory, certainly make it clear that purely defensive uses were not what the agency was limited to in any way. There were definite offensive uses. In fact, there were dart guns. You mentioned suicides. Well, I don’t think a suicide is usually accomplished with a dart, particularly a gun that can place the dart in a human target in such a way that he doesn’t even know that he has been hit.
WC: There is no question about it. It was also for offensive reasons.
JS: If you watch the footage of that day’s hearing, it’s kind of surreal to watch how genuinely excited the senators get when the dart gun gets passed around the committee. It was like some awful CIA show-and-tell.
[Clip of senators passing the gun around the room.]
FC: Don’t point it at me.
FC: And the dart itself, when it strikes the target, does the target know that he has been hit and about to die?
JS: The CIA bragged that the dart was so good that an autopsy or physical examination of someone shot with it would reveal nothing. This was all so secret, Colby said, that only two or three officers at any given time were cleared for access to Fort Detrick’s activities.
What’s the point of this little history redux? Well, beyond just how insane this was, it’s one small episode that shows us how little we actually know about what the CIA does. We usually get bits and pieces as sort of scraps off the table.
The same is true of the CIA torture program that was kicked into gear after 9/11. When Gina Haspel was before the senate, during her confirmation hearing, the whole thing was a CIA propaganda operation in which both Democrats and Republicans willingly participated. The public was given a show with some Democrats railing against waterboarding and Haspel explaining how it was legal and authorized and blah, blah, blah. But no one asked about the unauthorized techniques. No one asked about the power drills and the guns used to threaten prisoners, or much of any torture tactics, for that matter, except waterboarding. We’ve only been told a very small bit of what the CIA actually did to these prisoners after 9/11, and we learn it when it comes out in news stories or from whistleblowers and occasionally from Congress. Remember though, the Senate did a multi-thousand page report on CIA torture. And all the public has been allowed to see is a redacted executive summary. What else was in there?
So that brings us to Haspel. This week she was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence. She is now CIA director. Trump hailed it as a great victory.
The Washington consensus is that Haspel won’t torture anymore, she promises — sort of. But what may have been lost in the focus on waterboarding is that Gina Haspel openly vowed to continue to use techniques that include torture. She did this when she said that she would use the guidelines laid out in a document called the U.S. Army Field Manual.
Joining us now to explain what this manual says and what it does not say about torture is Dr. Jeffrey Kaye. He is a retired clinical psychologist who has treated victims of torture. He is also the author of the book “Cover-up at Guantanamo: The NCIS Investigation into the ‘Suicides’ of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri.” Jeffrey, welcome to Intercepted.
Jeffrey S. Kaye: Thanks, thanks Jeremy.
JS: So let’s start from the beginning: Gina Haspel, of course, was sworn in on Monday and at her confirmation hearing several times the issue was raised that we’re no longer going to be doing enhanced interrogation techniques, instead we’re going to follow to the letter of the guide itself the U.S. Army Field Manual and what it allows.
Explain to people, first of all, what the Army Field Manual is and also what kind of treatment it allows for people taken prisoner by the United States.
JK: Well, for decades, really, the United States Army has put out a field manual with different titles, but the premise of this manual was to guide interrogators in the field in conducting interrogations of captured prisoners, detainees, et cetera.
In 2006, the latest iteration or version of this manual was presented at a big news conference and with a big PR flare, because the United States was under a lot of heat at the time after the Abu Ghraib torture exposures and the photos and The Washington Post’s revelations about CIA black site torture in 2005 or so. But what they did, and this is what some important and why when during the Gina Haspel hearings and afterwards and really for years now, people would turn to this 2006 version of the Army Field Manual and counterpose it to the CIA’s version of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding most famously, and say, “Well, this is the humane standard.” As Senator Kennedy said way back in 2006, the gold standard of interrogation.
But in reality, and this is what happened to me when I sat down and actually looked at the new field manual back in 2006, as someone who, at the time, was a working psychologist and part of that work was working with torture victims. And I looked at it and went, “Oh my God: there’s actually torture in the manual. How come nobody’s saying it?” It was a kind of very strange experience for me.
And in the very last appendix to the manual set out, and this is what’s most disturbing, a set of instructions that was aimed at so-called unprivileged enemy combatants — in other words, the Pentagon was claiming, number one, that these prisoners were not subject to Geneva Convention protections. And these were procedures, by the way, that needed ongoing medical observations to implement. So anyone in their right mind would guess that if an interrogation procedure required medical personnel on hand in case something went wrong, then you know you don’t have a humane interrogation procedure, you’re using torture. And the methods that the Appendix M allowed: the use of solitary confinement or isolation for 30 days or more, technically forever, if someone would approve it; sleep deprivation, in which no prisoner would be allowed more than four hours of sleep per day, for, you know, weeks and weeks, if not months on end, and finally sensory deprivation, this involved the use of blackout goggles and gloves so your fingers couldn’t feel anything. And somehow this is put forth as the gold standard for humane interrogation, but in fact it’s a con game.
JS: I should say, Jeffrey, that I remember back in 2006 when you started really ringing the alarm about this, and you did incredibly valuable analysis, and I think you were one of the main people responsible for human rights groups starting to take a look at this. Human Rights First, for instance, in describing Appendix M, that you’re talking about said, “the guidelines described in Appendix M create conditions where an interrogator could inflict serious physical and mental anguish on a detainee.” And they said that Appendix M should be “deleted from the manual.”
Is Appendix M still on the books?
JK: Yes. Appendix M is still on the books.
JS: What Human Rights First is saying that it creates conditions where an interrogator could inflict serious physical and mental anguish on a detainee, what are they talking about?
JK: They’re talking about torture, or a lesser type of torture, so-called cruel inhumane and degrading procedures, these are definitions in the Convention against Torture. And in that document, which the U.S. signed, they said that torture was any type of severe pain or suffering that was inflicted to obtain information, confession, or inflict punishment.
But in the Army Field Manual itself, it mentions that the key has to do with “eliminating the source’s free will” — in other words, you’re breaking down individuals physically and emotionally. And as a psychologist, albeit now retired, I can tell you that the separation between physical and mental torture is really quite obscure, because whatever happens to you physically affects you psychologically and emotionally, and whatever happens to you psychologically or emotionally also affects you physically.
For instance, the use of isolation, which is still used, by the way, in the United States in many prisons, induces not just psychological regression, depression and cognitive breakdown, but it induces literally shrinkage of brain tissues. It affects people physically. Causes high levels of cortisol, stress, kidney problems, heart problems. I mean, so this is physical and psychological anguish inflicted on prisoners. Sleep deprivation does similarly.
And then finally, the knowledge that one is being tortured, that one has no power — the Field Manual explicitly states that it is meant to induce feelings of futility and hopelessness in prisoners. And one of the ways they did this, I found in documents, was the so-called music futility technique, the blasting of loud music 24 hours a day, kind of driving people insane.
Our sensory apparatus is part of our physical bodies and it is affected by the sense of touch and how that sense of touch, when it’s loving, induces powerful feelings in a person and when that sense of touch is threatening, it also produces powerful and negative experiences within the person that are traumatic. And the Army Field Manual’s Appendix M is quite clear that its import is to prolong trauma, to prolong what they call “the shock of capture,” and to induce compliance and take away the will of individuals.
And the United Nations Committee against Torture, in 2014, did its investigations on various countries’ compliance with the treaty against torture and when it came around last to the United States, it pointed out and said: You know, Appendix M is inducing psychosis in people. We have real questions about what you’re doing with isolation, and sleep deprivation is actually amounting to torture.
The former member of Human Rights Watch, Tom Malinowski, who at that point was an Obama administration State Department official, responded to the U.N. Committee against Torture and defended the use of Appendix M and said that it had, you know, plenty of safeguards against misuse and torture.
JS: You’re saying that a former staffer or official at Human Rights Watch, who then goes on to work in the Obama administration, was the official who was put forward to defend the techniques that you’re describing, as they exist in Appendix M, under the Obama administration.
JK: Yes. He was one of four or five officials who were put forward and went to New York to formally respond to what the U.N. officials were criticizing about U.S. interrogation. Yes.
JS: That raises the question, then, you know when Obama at that press conference late in his presidency said:
President Barack Obama: In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.
JS: As though it was like, you know, a Warner Brothers cartoon. But under his administration, in 2009, technically the Obama administration rescinded the following practices, and I want to just ask you about these: attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects placed in a confinement box, and waterboarding. Is it your understanding that that has stuck, that those are all banned or is there any backdoor way through the Army Manual that some of those techniques are still being used?
JK: It’s my understanding that those techniques have been banned, but, of course, the thing about torture is once you allow some of it in, it leaks out. Some of the things you saw at Abu Ghraib, they certainly weren’t part of any DoD or CIA interrogation program, standing somebody up with a hood on them and putting wires and pretending you’re electrocuting them. That’s not a technique. That was the inspiration of barbarity spreading throughout the people involved, the interrogators and the guards they were directing.
JS: Jeff, that’s part of why I wanted to talk to you. There were two issues that sort of had my jaw on the floor a little bit during the Haspel confirmation hearing. The first is that none of the senators asked Haspel about the quote-unquote unauthorized techniques that were used against prisoners by the CIA and in the case specifically of one of the people that was tortured at the Cat’s Eye prison in Thailand when Gina Haspel was running it was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was picked up for suspected involvement in the U.S.S. Cole bombing in 2000, and among the techniques used against him from 2002 to 2007, where he was snatched in the Emirates, then he was taken to Afghanistan, then he was taken to the Cat’s Eye prison and then eventually he ended up at Guantanamo, but over the course of his time in CIA custody, and he’s still at Guantanamo, these are some of the tactics that were used against him according to a doctor named Sondra Crosby who has been examining him and, like yourself, she’s worked with torture survivors and said:
Dr. Sondra Crosby: In my experience of treating torture survivors for over 20 years he’s one of the most traumatized individuals that I’ve met.
JS: And that includes people that she’s examined from the war in Syria, Iraq, et cetera. This is what she says Nashiri was subjected to while in CIA custody: suffocated with water — waterboarding — subjected to mock execution with a drill and gun while standing naked and hooded, anal rape through rectal feeding, threatened that his mother would be sexually assaulted, lifted off the ground by arms while they were bound behind his back after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated.
No one asked about these so-called unauthorized techniques — everyone was focused on the technicality of legal memos, and no one talked about all of the other things beyond waterboarding that’s done to these prisoners.
JK: Yes. Yeah. It’s shocking and it’s horrifying and results from the fact that we’ve been told and the Congress for whatever reason does this, we really don’t talk about torture. There’s a script to talk about torture and it really revolves around waterboarding which was done to, so far as I know, six individuals — it could have been more.
So waterboarding is outlawed, therefore torture — everything’s OK. They’ve used waterboarding kind of like a monkey’s paw out there, like this is what the torture is all about and we’ll talk about it in terms of that, but we’re not going to talk about it in any other way.
So we don’t talk about Appendix M, and we also don’t talk about these excrescences of the torture program that weren’t even in the CIA program — such as anal rape — or they deny it. And it’s a lot of this I think goes back to the sacrosanct position that the CIA over the years has come to occupy in the United States due to a lack of accountability. So, for instance, the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture a few years ago mentioned in passing that the chief of interrogations for the CIA’s program at that time, we don’t know that person’s name, I believe it was a man, had himself been sanctioned for torture and things beyond even the CIA’s version of torture back in the 1990s. And yet, here’s this guy back and he’s put in charge of the chief of interrogations for the CIA.
This has been going on for so long. Haspel and what she’s got away with and the lack of accountability is yet the latest chapter, and it takes people speaking out, like yourself, myself, but your listeners in their everyday life, whether it’s to their elected representatives, but also to their friends, their family, until — we’re going to have to build up an anti-torture culture to fight back against, you know, the constant onslaught of the United States government to protect its right to coerce anyone it wants to, no matter what psychological or emotional or physical cost to those people. And when it pulls back, it does so only tactically: All right, we won’t allow waterboarding, we won’t allow military dogs, we won’t allow hooding, but we will allow blackout goggles. And so that we’re always, constantly running to catch up, while day after day, of course, the television networks, you know, Hollywood promotes torture, you know, as a necessary evil.
JS: Well, and this this reminds me, Jeffrey, that when Obama took over as president, he said he was going to end the practice of extraordinary rendition. What we saw happen, and I revealed the black site that the CIA was using in Somalia, I went there and investigated it, I looked at just that one example as a case study, it was that the Obama administration told the Kenyan counterterrorism police: Go snatch this individual and then put him — he’s a Kenyan citizen — put him on a plane, send him to Somalia and we’ll have Somalis interrogate him in the presence of the CIA, rather than the CIA itself, who is doing the kidnapping. So it’s sort of like: We won’t do that anymore, but we’ll just find a way to do the exact same thing with maybe one extra hop in it to get ourselves off the hook. And it’s very similar to this discourse on torture. It’s like: Well, we’ve resolved the waterboarding issue, therefore torture issue is resolved. No other techniques were discussed at Gina Haspel’s hearing. It was incredible.
JK: Yes. Well, senators were only given five minutes to question Gina Haspel. It’s just incredible. And, of course, then there was the obligatory retreat to executive session where we couldn’t hear what was being said. We don’t know how craven — if they were that craven publicly, where the senators have to perform, I actually believe they become even worse.
Interestingly enough one of the key individuals in this recent coronation of Gina Haspel, who on Monday was, as you said, put into official power, was Senator Warner. And Senator Warner was a key figure in the construction as well of the current version of the Army Field Manual.
JS: This is Senator Mark Warner who technically is a Democrat from Virginia, and he’s the vice chair of the Senate Intel Committee.
JK: Yeah, well, you know, he was a key figure at the time and they wanted to make Appendix M classified. They had to get rid of the old Army Field Manual because the McCain amendment, the new Detainee Treatment Act was going to propose that the Army Field Manual would be the standard for all interrogations. But the Army Field Manual was the old Army Field Manual. This was a manual that was OK’d back in 1992, and it had things in it that the military and the CIA didn’t want. It was too soft from their standpoint.
JS: Well, and just to give an example, the ’92 manual defined physical torture as including “forcing an individual to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time.” It also lists abnormal sleep deprivation as an example of, and this is their words from the Field Manual, “mental torture.” Is that what you’re referring to? Those kinds of examples?
JK: Yes, exactly those things. Also, it banned chemically induced psychosis. But all of those things, the stress positions, the sleep deprivation, the chemically induced psychosis — those bans were removed from the new Army Field Manual.
JS: And that still is on the books, that didn’t change under Obama?
JK: No, it didn’t. And, in fact, way back I talked at various times to some Defense Department officials, I was reassured, and they said, “Oh no, we’re working on that. We are going to reform these things.”
But here we are, it’s 2018, and there’s been no reform. It’s kind of horrible. It’s a horror at the core of our civilization is that we still use torture, and it puts the lie to anything that we do that supposedly says the United States is morally superior. It’s not. Torture has been there all along, and I know that in my life, up until the time I started working with torture survivors myself, which wasn’t until my 50s, I was blinded to it myself. I kind of maybe heard about it, but I just kind of tuned it out. It’s just too horrible to think about.
But after a while, you can’t, and the results of non-accountability have led to now having an actual torturer at the head of the CIA.
JS: You know, on the one hand I’m not surprised. You know, I’m not surprised that nothing was asked in open session of any real import except trying to get Gina Haspel to renounce these tactics and, of course, she wouldn’t do that, but such is the state of fierce interrogation from our senators, of people that are going to be running the CIA indefinitely.
All right Jeff Kaye, we got to leave it there. But thank you for all of your work and thank you as well for joining us here on Intercepted.
JK: Thanks very much. Enjoyed talking with you and thank you so much for the work you’re continuing to do.
JS: Dr. Jeffrey Kay is a retired clinical psychologist who has treated victims of torture. He’s also author of the book “Cover-up at Guantanamo.”
JS: The Israeli attack in Syria earlier this month was allegedly aimed at Iranian positions in the country, and is further evidence that Syria is being used by major world powers as a battlefield for a larger fight.
Our guest today, Marwan Hisham, says that since mid-2014 the war in Syria has — and I’m quoting here — “fragmented into something infinitely more complex than a civil war between two sides seeking absolute triumph, more fractal than a mere quadripartite. It became a proxy war masterminded by global and regional powers to gain influence.”
Marwan grew up in Raqqa, Syria, once the stronghold of what became known as ISIS, and he came of age during that war. In his new book, “Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War,” Marwan, along with his co-author and artist Molly Crabapple, offers a complex and nuanced look at life inside Syria, from the time when the Arab Spring uprisings began, to ISIS taking over parts of the country to the proxy wars that continue on.
Flanked with illustrations that depict everyday life in Syria, Molly Crabapple’s sketches bring to life Marwan’s stories, from the horrific to the mundane ways in which life under an authoritarian government and then a totalitarian movement closes in on you.
That is a history that includes the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 between the United Kingdom, France and Russia — that was an agreement that divided the Ottoman Empire between these nations, giving France control of Syria.
In one passage Marwan writes, “In old tormented cities like ours, everyone knows the rituals of war. Liberators would storm the gates, and residents would place their hopes in the change these new men with guns might bring with them. Liberators would turn oppressors. New liberators would come and do the same. Through it all, they, the residents, would keep, with unreasonable defiance, placing their hope in change. A human quality I admire and struggle not to share.”
Marwan Hisham joins me now. He is currently a Syrian freelance journalist and, since 2014, he has covered Syria, Iraq and Turkey. His work has been published in Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Intercept and Foreign Policy.
Marwan, welcome to Intercepted.
Marwan Hisham: Thank you for having me.
JS: Also joining me is Marwan’s co-author, Molly Crabapple. Molly is an artist and writer in New York city. She has drawn at the Guantanamo Bay prison, in Abu Dhabi’s migrant labor camps, and in refugee camps with Syrian civilians. And a lot of people probably remember Molly from the days of Occupy Wall Street, where her art became a symbol of that movement.
Welcome to you as well, Molly Crabapple.
Molly Crabapple: Thank you for having me.
JS: Molly, how did you first come across Marwan Hisham?
MC: I was covering the Syrian war and the Syrian refugee crisis in 2013 and there is a small subculture of people on Twitter that would talk about it. Some of them were Syrians, either Syrian diaspora refugees or even people inside the country, some of them were Western analysts and journalists and Marwan was one of them.
And at first, I got to know Marwan because he’s a source for some of my articles. I mean, he was in Raqqa, right? Under ISIS occupation. So whenever I wrote about ISIS, I would ask Marwan what was going down.
But then when I was learning Arabic, we got to sort of become friends. Marwan has an incredible classical Arabic education. He can, like, riff on poetry like no one’s business, and he taught me a ton.
So after we had sort of become closer, I asked him, I was like Marwan, do you have any photos of Raqqa, just kind of photos that we would all have, right, on our phone?
And he didn’t. But we decided that, or he decided that he would take pictures. And unbeknownst to me, he decided to take impossibly risky and dangerous pictures of great journalistic value, because Marwan is an incredible journalist but also lunatically brave, and he took these photos of aspects of Raqqa that no one ever sees, right? Like kids digging through the trash looking for objects to sell, or like wounded fighters inside an ISIS hospital, and he gave them to me and I drew from them.
JS: I remember when you first were working on that how incredible it was that you were able to — it’s the ultimate way of stripping metadata away from an image is to recreate them.
MC: Yes, yes, yes!
So, for me, it was one of the most precious experiences in my artistic life, because the only way that a Western journalist was getting into Raqqa at that time was in an orange jumpsuit, starring in a beheading video. And yet, here Marwan was so generously allowing me to see his city through his eyes. I remember when I first saw the photos of the streets and I couldn’t believe that I was seeing it.
So we started that collaboration, and we repeated it first from ISIS-held Mosul and then from East Aleppo, which was under the rebels at that time.
JS: Marwan, when the protests broke out, because in Syria at the beginning it didn’t seem that it was necessarily on the path to, for instance, what happened in Tahrir Square in Egypt. There seemed to be a different scenario playing out in Syria until it wasn’t, and then it seemed clear that the protests had the potential to overthrow the government. You know, obviously that hasn’t happened, but it grew so much that it did seem as though a potential Mubarak scenario could have happened at some point.
When you first started protesting, was regime change on your mind? And I don’t mean that necessarily in the in the sense that John Bolton talks about regime change, but was it clear to you that the end goal was to get rid of the Assad government?
MH: No, not really. It wasn’t about Assad himself as much about the regime, and, in practical terms, corruption, the way our people are being deliberately cornered or pushed into one corner when all they care about is how to live daily, and their problems are not being addressed.
Yeah, I mean we wanted a social change as well as political change and the political change would bring social change as much as a social change would bring political change.
Al Jazeera: It’s been the bloodiest day of protests in Syria so far, the death toll rising throughout the day. People aren’t happy with the concessions made by the president. Like many other countries in the region, Syrians, too, now appear to have lost their fear.
MH: I remember, yeah at the beginning, first of all, we didn’t have this culture of protest and that’s why we didn’t have Tahrir Square. It’s maybe because the Assad regime itself, because we can never imagine a huge protest of hundreds of thousands, probably millions, in the main square in Damascus. It is just, you know, no one can expect that to happen, and true like all the attempts to protest there were brutally suppressed.
So, we didn’t have this culture of protest and also, we wanted a huge change in like, for me, I wanted the whole society to change for the better, because we lived like, we felt like that we were living maybe decades back in time.
So, yeah, 2011 changed my life forever and the moment I went in those protests, screaming and shouting, I felt better. I felt — you know, I found myself.
JS: Molly, when was it that you decided that you were going to spend significant time and really dedicate yourself to documenting the situation in Syria? I know you had cover the broader region, you were working on refugee camps, but when did Syria sort of capture your attention to the point that you started dedicating significant time that then leads to the kind of book that we’re talking about here with Marwan?
MC: You know I went the first time to speak with refugees in late 2013, and I went to Tripoli and also to camps in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. And I remember there was this woman from Baba Amr — Baba Amr is a suburb of homes that was brutally, brutally bombarded it was the place that Marie Colvin was murdered by the regime — and this woman —
JS: The famed war correspondent who reported for major British media outlets.
MC: Exactly, and her colleague Remi Ochlik was murdered, and a French journalist also, you know, was brutally injured. And many Syrians as well were murdered there.
So, this woman, she was one of these like older women who was like working class lady, super tough, she had been a field nurse during the war. And she had told me that she had only left the country because her husband, who was a diabetic, he lost his legs because he didn’t have insulin. And she had a son who was missing. And she was just sitting there in this abandoned building with her family, you know, very generous lady, like big smile, offering me tea and we’re hanging out and she was just like, you know, why isn’t anyone doing anything? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about the bombings of civilians in Syria?
And I am not someone who believes in intervention. I didn’t believe in intervention then. I don’t believe in intervention now — and by intervention, I mean intervention by all states, not just America. But I found I didn’t have an answer for her, and I still don’t have an answer for her. And so I suppose that what kept me writing about Syria was both the impossible bravery and dedication of people like her and the fact that I still don’t have any answers for what is perhaps the worst crime going on in our current age.
JS: Marwan, at what point did you realize that the presence of people that would later come to be known as ISIS or Daesh or the Islamic State, at what point did it become clear to you that they were really sort of occupying taking control of the territory and running parts of Syria, whether it’s Raqqa, where they wanted to establish their major stronghold, or elsewhere pouring over into Iraq? At what point did you realize huh there’s a new gang in town that’s taking control here?
MH: Islamists as soon as they took Raqqa, it was my first interaction with them.
Al Jazeera: Online activists video appears to show the statue of the former leader, Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president, Bashar al-Assad, being pulled down in Al-Raqqa. The rebels show their contempt for the symbol of the forty-year rule.
Across the square, others rushed to tear down a poster of the current president. They now claim to have taken control of the city from government forces.
MH: I admit that I was just as you know, the majority of people who are pro-revolution, who welcomed the rebels, we are all guilty of basically forgiving them a bit, because after just two months ISIS was found, and significant part of what was at that time Jabhat al-Nusra, people, members defected to ISIS immediately.
Because, you know there was this rift between the leadership in Iraq and the leadership in Syria. But, yeah, the majority of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, who we were calling rebels, and, kind of, saying, that yeah, Islamists in appearance, see no difference— they became ISIS.
Immediately after the formation of ISIS, the new brand of this group, things started to change in Raqqa, but still people weren’t reacting as they should have. And I blame not just people, like I blame especially activists, basically, who were still, at that time, they were still marching to change, to fight for everything that is civil. But then when the battle of Raqqa happened, and ISIS took over, everything changed, like immediately. From the second day you can see that: Oh, this is a new era. It’s an authoritarian regime, you cannot do anything from now on.
Yeah, and this basically changed the whole course of the Syrian War. I mean, until now people in other places, they’re still forgiving with those groups, but they’ve done damage to the whole movement, to Syria, to its history, to everything, in a way unimaginable and it shouldn’t be forgiven.
JS: Molly, you sort of, in a way were in the position of interpreting. When you first started to hear the mundane details, as well as the bigger picture details of what life was like under ISIS, what stood out for you and how did you decide what to portray in your journalism and also in this book? When it comes to life under what became known as ISIS.
MC: I think very often when people who have never lived through a war imagine what life is like in a war zone or what life is like under a totalitarian movement like ISIS, they focus on a lot on things that seem very big, right? Like, they’ll focus on that there’s a man crucified in the main square, or they’ll focus on particularly horrifying moments like that.
But I think in actuality it’s the everyday fear and the narrowing of life and the way that life shrinks in a thousand different ways. I remember one-time Marwan was just telling me about some women that he knew and how they didn’t want to go outside because every time they went outside there would be some foreign fighter yelling at them about how their black veil was like, I don’t know, clinging to their nose or something. And, you know, obviously women in Raqqa did not dress like that before ISIS imposed it on them. And that sort of small, you know, seemingly banal detail is just one of the myriad ways that the world shrinks in on you when you’re under a totalitarian occupation like that.
But I do want to say something else about the art in this book. In my initial collaborations with Marwan, I worked straight from photos, but for the vast majority of this art in this book, Marwan couldn’t take photos of it. Marwan could not take photos of the enslaved Yazidi women in this book or of the mutilated fighters hanging out in the café. Power sensors, that sort of imagery.
And so one of the things that I really felt was my privilege as an artist was that I could take things that no photos existed of and I could just draw them back from the memory hole, right? I could speak to Marwan, and we could work very, very closely together and under his art direction I could take his memories back and I could make true portrayals of them.
For other sorts of images in the book, particularly ones of the protests, the way that I would work with I would look at a citizen video of the protests — and there’s tons and tons and tons of citizen video of the Syrian war, from every possible angle, everyone from, you know, a pro-regime secret policeman to a little kid has taken a photo at some point in the Syrian War showing their position. So I took these blurry videos, you know, jerked around crazy, you can’t barely see what’s going on of demonstrations, and I freeze frame them over and over and over again, and I take like 100 screen captures from one video.
Then I would take them and like lay them out so you could kind of see it as a panorama, and then very often I’d repose models in those positions because it just looks like smears, you know? It doesn’t even look like people when it’s printed out. And then from that, that’s how I’d do those huge crowd scenes. But they’re not drawings of any particular photo that existed, but rather an attempt by me to use all of the archival imagery that we have from Syria to create what you would have seen if you had been there.
JS: Marwan, one of the things that I find sort of incredible was the story of you starting an Internet cafe. It’s so disconnected from what I would think a group like ISIS or, you know, radical Islamist foreign fighters particularly would say, “Oh, that’s part of life here. We allow people to use the Internet.” Like, what was that all about, how did you do it and how did it end?
MW: So basically, because there was no other means to connect to… except for satellite Internet. Like, no mobile coverage, no ADSL, nothing. So I was planning to have my own satellite simply to be connected myself. But then it was a business there, so and a bit expensive for you to have your own device. So the perfect setup would be if you put it somewhere where you can connect and people come to your place and basically you make a business out of it.
JS: But did you have permission from the local authorities to do this?
MH: No, at that time no one requires such thing because there was still no local authority. I mean, before ISIS, and even during ISIS, in the first few months, they had more things to focus about because they’re still, you know, fighting battles somewhere else.
So, yeah, it was perfect for me to go there and communicate with those guys and see, you know, what’s the deal about them, I mean, they’re scary people, right? And everyone is scared of them all over the world. And there were a few regulars who would come almost every day, and I’d get a chance to know more about them, how they think and what they think they’re doing.
JS: Molly, one of the most powerful parts of the book in my view is in the section called “The De Facto Capital,” where the two of you, both through visuals and words, are depicting what life was like under Raqqa when ISIS was really consolidating its power. And right now, I’m looking at where there’s a crowd of people watching a man who has a blindfold over his eyes being crucified with an audience, and you see what appears to be a man at the very, very forefront of the drawing in a ski mask that covers all but his eyes and his mouth. What’s the story behind this drawing, and what was added by you versus what you had seen and how did you come up with this?
MC: This drawing portrays a very famous incident where I want to say perhaps a month after ISIS took power, they shot a man and they crucified his body on the base of the clock tower, under — who knows — probably spurious accusations that he had stolen something. And obviously this is a way of consolidating their rule through terror.
But to do this image I looked not just at a photo that was taken of it, but at citizen video that sort of panned over the crowd. And the thing that struck me the most was not that this man was crucified, it was that there was a huge crowd of people around him taking photos with their cell phones. And, to me, this showed something very, very important about our current moment. We live in a world where images are entirely ubiquitous. It’s not a world solely of surveillance world, it’s a world of — how do you pronounce it? I’m going to butcher the French — sousveillance, surveillance from below. You know? And it’s a world where people chronicle everything that happens to them, including if there is a man being crucified in the base of the clock tower in the center square of their city. And this gets uploaded to the Internet it gets shared with the world.
So, to me I wanted to capture both the atrocity that ISIS was carrying out, but also the omnipresence of the network that tied that atrocity in with the rest of the world.
JS: You know, Marwan, It’s a humorous phrase but obviously this is not a work of humor, but the section called “Jihadis Don’t Tip,” I also really appreciated the drawing Molly contributed with fighters sitting around what appears to be your internet cafe and some of them have iPads and some have iPhones and some of them have signs that they’ve been wounded in battle, missing eyes — one fighter missing a leg, all of them with Kalashnikovs at their table as they’re sitting there having their coffee and surfing the internet. What’s the story behind that, “Jihadis Don’t Tip”?
MH: So, it’s a collection of anecdotes about certain moments, mostly about their behavior, and how they saw the people, and how they saw us, I want you to focus on that. And also, the kind of relationship between them. Also, the relationship between them is a bit interesting, because having conversations with them, not all of them believe in everything that ISIS says. I mean ISIS in media and whatever. They sometimes had their own beliefs, but there’s one thing that unifies them, especially foreign fighters. Like, I’ll take foreign fighters in one group and locals entirely different, I regard them in entirely different way, because there is a huge difference in motivation and why they joined in the first place.
So, for foreign fighters they think that they come to the city to build a paradise, and they’re doing it. They were so proud before the Americans started bombing because things started to change for the better: No more war around the city, and the economy started to recover a bit. So they were so proud and they were so believing that, you know, they’re going to stay forever. They have the feeling that our lives were improved, and we were happy about them.
MC: They called you commoners, right?
MH: Yeah, yeah, exactly, this word, they keep saying it. And that we should be appreciative. So, if we criticize about, you know, one thing it’s like we’re basically hunting for their mistakes. It’s something that’s really — they would get so angry.
MC: And one of the things that always struck me about this sort of ISIS mentality, and something that, when I was writing about them as well, they remind me of classic colonizers, where they literally thought — and very often these are Europeans, right — they thought they were on a civilizing mission. They were going to this land of benighted sinners and they were coming and they were teaching them the real Islam and they were bringing good society and why didn’t these sinful sinful people appreciate all the wonderful things they did?
I remember an article I wrote about one of them, I quoted a guy that was on Twitter complaining that Syrians kept ripping him off in local stores, and he said: You know, I don’t like these Syrians, I just wish the Jihad would go somewhere else, so I don’t have to deal with them. And I think Marwan captured that so well, that dynamic.
JS: Marwan, as we wrap up, what is your message for people around the world watching the horrors in Syria? I think regardless of peoples’ political perspective, most people I think are just horrified, absolutely horrified at what is happening in Syria to Syrians.
What is your message for people in Western capitals, but also in Moscow and Tehran?
MH: Well, I think my message for people who are interested in Syria, I want them just to think of people, no matter how those people are not famous, not known, not even, to think of them as complicated people, as individuals. Each story is important in my opinion. This simplification about the whole conflict as Islamist groups versus the regime, I mean, it’s only part of the story. There is something more important, which is the people there. Try to understand individuals before judging them, especially civilians, the ones you do not read their stories because they’re mainly overlooked.
JS: Marwan Hisham, thank you for your bravery and your willingness to put yourself out there publicly to tell these stories. I know you do it at great personal risk, so thank you very much.
MH: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
JS: Molly Crabapple thank you for your work and for joining us.
MC: Thank you so much for having me.
JS: Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple’s new book is called “Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War.”
JS: And that does it for this week’s show.
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Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Emily Kennedy does our transcripts. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.