By Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye
In May of 2002, one of several meetings was convened at the White House where the CIA sought permission from top Bush administration officials, including then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to torture the agency’s first high-value detainee captured after 9/11: Abu Zubaydah.
The CIA claimed Zubaydah, who at the time was being held at a black site prison in Thailand, was “withholding imminent threat information during the initial interrogation sessions,” according to documents released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in April 2009.
So, “attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel [including the agency’s top lawyer John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S.”
One of the key documents handed out to Bush officials at this meeting, and at Principals Committee sessions chaired by Rice that took place between May and July 2002, was a 37-page instructional manual that contained detailed descriptions of seven of the ten techniques that ended up in the legal opinion widely referred to as the “torture memo,” drafted by Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney John Yoo and signed by his boss, Jay Bybee, three months later. According to Rice, Yoo had attended the Principals Committee meetings and participated in discussions about Zubaydah’s torture.
That instructional manual, referred to as “Pre-Academic Laboratory (PREAL) Operating Instructions,” has just been released by the Department of Defense under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The document sheds additional light on the origins of the Bush administration’s torture policy and for the first time describes exactly what methods of torture Bush officials had discussed – and subsequently approved – for Zubaydah in May 2002.
The PREAL manual was prepared by the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and used by instructors in the JPRA’s Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) courses to teach US military personnel how to withstand brutal interrogation techniques if captured by the enemy during wartime. The manual states one of the primary goals of the training is “to give students the most reliable mental picture possible of an actual peacetime governmental detention experiences [sic].”
A US counterterrorism official and an aide to one of the Bush officials who participated in Principals Committee meetings in May 2002, however, confirmed to Truthout last week that the PREAL manual was one of several documents the CIA obtained from JPRA that was shared with Rice and other Principals Committee members in May 2002, the same month the CIA officially took over Zubaydah’s interrogation from the FBI. As National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, Rice chaired the meetings.
Rice and Bellinger have denied ever seeing a list of SERE training techniques. But in 2008, they told the Senate Armed Services Committee, which conducted an investigation into treatment of detainees in custody of the US government, that they recalled being present at White House meetings where SERE training was discussed.
Sarah Farber, a spokeswoman at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where Rice teaches political economy, said she would pass on Truthout’s queries about claims that Rice reviewed and discussed the PREAL manual to Rice’s office. But Rice’s office did not respond to our inquiries.