The New Yorker: PRINTABLES
A DEADLY INTERROGATION
by JANE MAYER
Can the C.I.A. legally kill a prisoner?
Issue of 2005-11-14Posted 2005-11-07
At the end of a secluded cul-de-sac, in a fast-growing Virginia suburb favored by employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, is a handsome replica of an old-fashioned farmhouse, with a white-railed front porch. The large back yard has a swimming pool, which, on a recent October afternoon, was neatly covered. In the driveway were two cars, a late-model truck, and an all-terrain vehicle. The sole discordant note was struck by a faded American flag on the porch; instead of fluttering in the autumn breeze, it was folded on a heap of old Christmas ornaments.
The house belongs to Mark Swanner, a forty-six-year-old C.I.A. officer who has performed interrogations and polygraph tests for the agency, which has employed him at least since the nineteen-nineties. (He is not a covert operative.) Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner’s custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation. His head had been covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe; according to forensic pathologists who have examined the case, he asphyxiated. In a subsequent internal investigation, United States government authorities classified Jamadi’s death as a “homicide,” meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes. Swanner has not been charged with a crime and continues to work for the agency.
After September 11th, the Justice Department fashioned secret legal guidelines that appear to indemnify C.I.A. officials who perform aggressive, even violent interrogations outside the United States. Techniques such as waterboarding—the near-drowning of a suspect—have been implicitly authorized by an Administration that feels that such methods may be necessary to win the war on terrorism. (In 2001, Vice-President Dick Cheney, in an interview on “Meet the Press,” said that the government might have to go to “the dark side” in handling terrorist suspects, adding, “It’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal.”) The harsh treatment of Jamadi and other prisoners in C.I.A. custody, however, has inspired an emotional debate in Washington, raising questions about what limits should be placed on agency officials who interrogate foreign terrorist suspects outside U.S. territory.
This fall, in response to the exposure of widespread prisoner abuse at American detention facilities abroad—among them Abu Ghraib; Guantánamo Bay, in Cuba; and Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan—John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, introduced a bill in Congress that would require Americans holding prisoners abroad to follow the same standards of humane treatment required at home by the U.S. Constitution. Prisoners must not be brutalized, the bill states, regardless of their “nationality or physical location.” On October 5th, in a rebuke to President Bush, who strongly opposed McCain’s proposal, the Senate voted 90–9 in favor of it.
Senior Administration officials have led a fierce, and increasingly visible, fight to protect the C.I.A.’s classified interrogation protocol. Late last month, Cheney and Porter Goss, the C.I.A. director, had an unusual forty-five-minute private meeting on Capitol Hill with Senator McCain, who was tortured as a P.O.W. during the Vietnam War. They argued that the C.I.A. sometimes needs the “flexibility” to treat detainees in the war on terrorism in “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” ways. Cheney sought to add an exemption to McCain’s bill, permitting brutal methods when “such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack.” A Washington Post editorial decried Cheney’s visit, calling him the “Vice-President for Torture.” In the coming weeks, a conference committee of the House and the Senate will decide whether McCain’s proposal becomes law; three of the nine senators who voted against the measure are on the committee.
The outcome of this wider political debate may play a role in determining the fate of Swanner, whose name has not been publicly disclosed before, and who declined several requests to be interviewed. Passage of the McCain legislation by both Houses of Congress would mean that there is strong political opposition to the abusive treatment of prisoners, and would put increased pressure on the Justice Department to prosecute interrogators like Swanner—who could conceivably be charged with assault, negligent manslaughter, or torture. Swanner’s lawyer, Nina Ginsberg, declined to discuss his case on the record. But he has been under investigation by the Justice Department for more than a year.
Manadel al-Jamadi was captured by Navy SEALs at 2 a.m. on November 4, 2003, after a violent struggle at his house, outside Baghdad. Jamadi savagely fought one of the SEALs before being subdued in his kitchen; during the altercation, his stove fell on them. The C.I.A. had identified him as a “high-value” target, because he had allegedly supplied the explosives used in several atrocities perpetrated by insurgents, including the bombing of the Baghdad headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in October, 2003. After being removed from his house, Jamadi was manhandled by several of the SEALs, who gave him a black eye and a cut on his face; he was then transferred to C.I.A. custody, for interrogation at Abu Ghraib. According to witnesses, Jamadi was walking and speaking when he arrived at the prison. He was taken to a shower room for interrogation. Some forty-five minutes later, he was dead.
For most of the time that Jamadi was being interrogated at Abu Ghraib, there were only two people in the room with him. One was an Arabic-speaking translator for the C.I.A. working on a private contract, who has been identified in military-court papers only as “Clint C.” He was given immunity against criminal prosecution in exchange for his coöperation. The other person was Mark Swanner.
In the spring of 2004, the fact of pervasive prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib became public, on “60 Minutes II” and in a series of articles in these pages by Seymour M. Hersh. Photographs, taken by U.S. soldiers, that showed Iraqi prisoners being hooded, sexually humiliated, and threatened with dogs were published around the world. One of the most harrowing images was of Jamadi’s severely battered corpse, which had been wrapped in plastic and put on ice; he became known in the media as the Ice Man.
Around this time, John Helgerson, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, sent investigators to Iraq and San Diego to interview witnesses about the agency’s role in Jamadi’s death. These investigators determined that there was the possibility of criminality—the threshold level required by the intelligence agency in order for the case to be referred to the Justice Department. The agency did so, and officials in the Justice Department then forwarded the case to the office of Paul McNulty, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, which has jurisdiction over C.I.A. headquarters. The dossier has been there for more than a year. A lawyer familiar with the case, who asked not to be named, said that the Swanner file seemed to be “lying kind of fallow.”
A spokeswoman for McNulty said that he would have no comment on the case, because it was still under investigation. (Last month, President Bush nominated McNulty to the position of Deputy Attorney General, the second most powerful job in the Justice Department.) No other official in the Justice Department would discuss on the record why, more than two years after Jamadi’s death, no decision has been made about pressing charges against anyone.
A government official familiar with the case, who declined to be named, indicated that establishing guilt in the case might be complicated, because of Jamadi’s rough handling by the SEALs before he entered the custody of the C.I.A. Yet, in the past two years, several of the Navy SEALs who captured Jamadi and delivered him to C.I.A. officials have faced abuse charges in military-justice proceedings, and have been exonerated. Moreover, three medical experts who have examined Jamadi’s case told me that the injuries he sustained from the SEALs could not have caused his death.
Fred Hitz, who served as the C.I.A.’s inspector general from 1990 to 1998, and who is now a lecturer in public and international affairs at Princeton University, said of Bush Administration officials, “I just think they’re playing stall ball.” He told me that he had no inside knowledge of the Swanner case, but he believes that, for numerous reasons, ranging from protecting national security to avoiding political embarrassment, Administration officials “would be opposed to any accountability in this case. They want it to disappear off the screen.” (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said that its internal investigation into Jamadi’s death was “nearly complete,” making it “inappropriate to discuss any of the details.”)
John Radsan, a lawyer formerly in the C.I.A’s Office of General Counsel, says, “Along with the usual problems of dealing with classified information in a criminal case, this could open a can of worms if a C.I.A. official in this case got indicted—a big fat can of worms about what set of rules apply to people like Jamadi. The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is: What has been authorized? Can the C.I.A. torture people? A case like this opens up Pandora’s box.”
Since September 11, 2001, the C.I.A.’s treatment and interrogation of terrorist suspects has remained almost entirely hidden from public view. Human-rights groups estimate that some ten thousand foreign suspects are being held in U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, and other countries. A small but unknown part of this population is in the custody of the C.I.A., which, as Dana Priest reported recently in the Washington Post, has operated secret prisons in Thailand and in Eastern Europe. It is also unclear how seriously the agency deals with allegations of prisoner abuse. The C.I.A. tends to be careful about following strict legal procedures, including the briefing of the top-ranking members of the congressional intelligence committees on its covert activities. But experts could recall no instance of a C.I.A. officer being tried in a public courtroom for manslaughter or murder. Thomas Powers, the author of two books about the C.I.A., told me, “I’ve never heard of anyone at the C.I.A. being convicted of a killing.” He added that a case such as Jamadi’s had awkward political implications. “Is the C.I.A. capable of addressing an illegal killing by its own hands?” he asked. “My guess is not.” Whereas the military has subjected itself to a dozen internal investigations in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and has punished more than two hundred soldiers for wrongdoing, the agency has undertaken almost no public self-examination.
The C.I.A. has reportedly been implicated in at least four deaths of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq, including that of Jamadi, and has referred eight potentially criminal cases involving abuse and misconduct to the Justice Department. In March, Goss, the C.I.A.’s director, testified before Congress that “we don’t do torture,” and the agency’s press office issued a release stating, “All approved interrogation techniques, both past and present, are lawful and do not constitute torture. . . . C.I.A. policies on interrogation have always followed legal guidance from the Department of Justice. If an individual violates the policy, then he or she will be held accountable.”
Yet the government has brought charges against only one person affiliated with the agency: David Passaro, a low-level contract employee, not a full-fledged C.I.A. officer. In 2003, Passaro, while interrogating an Afghan prisoner, allegedly beat him with a flashlight so severely that he eventually died from his injuries. In two other incidents of prisoner abuse, the Times reported last month, charges probably will not be brought against C.I.A. personnel: the 2003 case of an Iraqi prisoner who was forced head first into a sleeping bag, then beaten; and the 2002 abuse of an Afghan prisoner who froze to death after being stripped and chained to the floor of a concrete cell. (The C.I.A. supervisor involved in the latter case was subsequently promoted.)
One reason these C.I.A. officials may not be facing charges is that, in recent years, the Justice Department has established a strikingly narrow definition of torture. In August, 2002, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel sent a memo on interrogations to the White House, which argued that a coercive technique was torture only when it induced pain equivalent to what a person experiencing death or organ failure might suffer. By implication, all lesser forms of physical and psychological mistreatment—what critics have called “torture lite”—were legal. The memo also said that torture was illegal only when it could be proved that the interrogator intended to cause the required level of pain. And it provided interrogators with another large exemption: torture might be acceptable if an interrogator was acting in accordance with military “necessity.” A source familiar with the memo’s origins, who declined to speak on the record, said that it “was written as an immunity, a blank check.” In 2004, the “torture memo,” as it became known, was leaked, complicating the nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales to be Attorney General; as White House counsel, Gonzales had approved the memo. The Administration subsequently revised the guidelines, using language that seemed more restrictive. But a little-noticed footnote protected the coercive methods permitted by the “torture memo,” stating that they did not violate the “standards set forth in this memorandum.”
The Bush Administration has resisted disclosing the contents of two Justice Department memos that established a detailed interrogation policy for the Pentagon and the C.I.A. A March, 2003, classified memo was “breathtaking,” the same source said. The document dismissed virtually all national and international laws regulating the treatment of prisoners, including war-crimes and assault statutes, and it was radical in its view that in wartime the President can fight enemies by whatever means he sees fit. According to the memo, Congress has no constitutional right to interfere with the President in his role as Commander-in-Chief, including making laws that limit the ways in which prisoners may be interrogated. Another classified Justice Department memo, issued in August, 2002, is said to authorize numerous “enhanced” interrogation techniques for the C.I.A. These two memos sanction such extreme measures that, even if the agency wanted to discipline or prosecute agents who stray beyond its own comfort level, the legal tools to do so may no longer exist. Like the torture memo, these documents are believed to have been signed by Jay Bybee, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel, but written by a Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo, who is now a professor of law at Berkeley.
For nearly a year, Democratic senators critical of alleged abuses have been demanding to see these memos. “We need to know what was authorized,” Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, told me. “Was it waterboarding? The use of dogs? Stripping detainees? . . . The refusal to give us these documents is totally inexcusable.” Levin is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to have an oversight role in relation to the C.I.A. “The Administration is getting away with just saying no,” he went on. “There’s no claim of executive privilege. There’s no claim of national security—we’ve offered to keep it classified. It’s just bullshit. They just don’t want us to know what they’re doing, or have done.”
By the summer of 2003, the insurgency against the U.S. occupation of Iraq had grown into a confounding and lethal insurrection, and the Pentagon and the White House were pressing C.I.A. agents and members of the Special Forces to get the kind of intelligence needed to crush it. On orders from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, General Geoffrey Miller, who had overseen coercive interrogations of terrorist suspects at Guantánamo, imposed similar methods at Abu Ghraib. In October of that year, however—a month before Jamadi’s death—the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion stating that Iraqi insurgents were covered by the Geneva Conventions, which require the humane treatment of prisoners and forbid coercive interrogations. The ruling reversed an earlier interpretation, which had concluded, erroneously, that Iraqi insurgents were not protected by international law.
As a result of these contradictory mandates from Washington, the rules of engagement at Abu Ghraib became muddy, and the tactics grew increasingly ad hoc. Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel of the C.I.A., told me, “Abu Ghraib has its roots at the top. I think this uncertainty about who was and who was not covered by the Geneva Conventions, and all this talk that they’re all terrorists, bred the climate in which this kind of abuse takes place.”
At Abu Ghraib, the confusion over interrogation and detention methods was compounded by the fact that C.I.A. officials worked side by side with U.S. military people. Colonel Janis Karpinski, a former commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, which oversaw the administration of Abu Ghraib during the period of widespread abuse, has said that C.I.A. officers, along with contract interpreters and some military-intelligence officers, did not wear uniforms when they visited the prison, and it was not clear, even to her, what they were doing there. “I thought most of the civilians there were interpreters, but there were some civilians I didn’t know,” she told Seymour Hersh. “I called them disappearing ghosts. . . . They were always bringing in somebody for interrogation, or waiting to collect somebody going out.” C.I.A. officials, unlike members of the Army and the Navy, are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits “cruelty toward, or oppression or maltreatment of” prisoners.
Walter Diaz, a military policeman, was on guard duty at Abu Ghraib the morning that Jamadi was delivered to the prison. He told me, “The O.G.A.”— “other government agencies,” initials commonly used to protect the identity of the C.I.A.—“would bring in people all the time to interview them. We had one wing, Tier One Alpha, reserved for the O.G.A. They’d have maybe twenty people there at a time.” He went on, “They were their prisoners. They’d get into a room and lock it up. We, as soldiers, didn’t get involved. We’d lock the door for them and leave. We didn’t know what they were doing.” But, he recalled, “we heard a lot of screaming.”
Considering this level of secrecy, it’s doubtful that any details would have emerged about the C.I.A.’s role in Jamadi’s death had it not been for a strange and tangential chain of events. Three months after Jamadi died, Jeffrey Hopper, a Navy SEAL who had been assigned to carry out joint operations with the C.I.A. in Baghdad, was accused of stealing another SEAL’s body armor. Hopper, who had been nicknamed Klepto by the unit, was expelled from the Special Forces. When he was dismissed, he told authorities that he knew of far worse offenses committed by other SEALs, and he cited the abuse of several prisoners, including Jamadi. His accusations formed the basis of multiple charges against several SEALs, which led to the court-martial of Lieutenant Andrew Ledford, the commander of the platoon that captured Jamadi, for, among other things, allowing his troops to assault the prisoner. Last May, Ledford was acquitted of any wrongdoing; but during the hearings, which were open, a number of troubling facts spilled out, hinting at the C.I.A.’s role in Jamadi’s death.
Seth Hettena, an Associated Press reporter based in San Diego, California, attended the hearings. The courtroom testimony, he reported, indicated that Jamadi, before arriving at Abu Ghraib, was interrogated “in a rough manner” by a combination of SEALs and C.I.A. personnel in “the Romper Room,” a tiny space in the Navy camp at Baghdad International Airport. Swanner was among those present. One of the SEALs testified that after Jamadi was handcuffed a C.I.A. interrogator rammed “his arm up against the detainee’s chest, pressing on him with all his weight.” According to a recent report by John McChesney on National Public Radio, a C.I.A. guard who witnessed the scene later told investigators that, after stripping Jamadi and dousing him in cold water, a C.I.A. interrogator threatened to “barbecue” him if he didn’t talk. Jamadi reportedly moaned, “I’m dying, I’m dying.” The interrogator replied, “You’ll be wishing you were dying.”
Court testimony also established that Jamadi was “body-slammed” by the SEALs into the back of a Humvee before being delivered to Abu Ghraib. During this time, he was handcuffed. “Was he a threat?” a Navy prosecutor asked one of the SEALs on trial. “No, ma’am,” the SEAL conceded.
Soon after the Associated Press published Hettena’s Romper Room story, two unidentified officials, evidently from the C.I.A., appeared in the courtroom. From that point on, Hettena told me, the officials, who did not give their names, protested when the testimony touched on matters sensitive to the C.I.A. In many instances, reporters and other members of the public were required to leave the courtroom. On another occasion, an unidentified C.I.A. witness testified from behind a blue curtain. Several areas of questioning by defense lawyers for the SEALs were ruled off limits. When one of the defense lawyers, Matthew Freedus, asked a witness, “What position was Jamadi in when he died?,” the C.I.A. representatives protested, saying that the answer was classified. The same objection was made when a question was asked about the role that water had played in Jamadi’s interrogation.
By late last spring, the SEALs’ reputations had been tarnished by the exposure of their rough treatment of Jamadi, but they were cleared of the gravest abuse charges. The question of who was responsible for Jamadi’s death remained unanswered. Milt Silverman, one of the defense attorneys, told me, “Who killed Jamadi? I know it wasn’t any of the SEALs. . . . That’s why their cases got dismissed.” Frank Spinner, a civilian lawyer who represented Ledford, said, “There’s a stronger case against the C.I.A. than there is against Ledford. But the military’s being hung out to dry while the C.I.A. skates. I want a public accounting, whether in a trial, a hearing before a congressional committee, or a public report. There’s got to be something more meaningful than sticking the case in a Justice Department drawer.”
Spinner and several of the other defense lawyers learned more about the C.I.A.’s role in Jamadi’s death than they were supposed to know, owing to a classification error made by the agency. The C.I.A. sent hundreds of pages of material on Jamadi’s death to the Navy; much of it was classified, and all of it was marked unclassified. The pages were passed on to the civilian lawyers, who read them carefully. The agency, after realizing its mistake, demanded that the lawyers return the classified material, and subsequently sealed virtually all the court records relating to the case. Some of the C.I.A. documents, however, were seen by a source familiar with the case, who shared their contents with me.
Manadel al-Jamadi arrived at Abu Ghraib naked from the waist down, according to an eyewitness, Jason Kenner, an M.P. with the 372nd Military Police Company. In a statement to C.I.A. investigators, Kenner recalled that Jamadi had been stripped of his pants, underpants, socks, and shoes, arriving in only a purple T-shirt and a purple jacket, and with a green plastic sandbag completely covering his head. Nevertheless, Kenner told C.I.A. investigators, “the prisoner did not appear to be in distress. He was walking fine, and his speech was normal.” The plastic “flex cuffs” on Jamadi’s wrists were so tight, however, that Kenner had trouble cutting them off when they were replaced with steel handcuffs and Jamadi’s hands were secured behind his back.
Staff Sergeant Mark Nagy, a reservist in the 372nd Military Police Company, was also on duty at Abu Ghraib when Jamadi arrived. According to the classified internal documents, he told C.I.A. investigators that Jamadi seemed “lucid,” noting that he was “talking during intake.” Nagy said that Jamadi was “not combative” when he was placed in a holding cell, and that he “responded to commands.” In Nagy’s opinion, there was “no need to get physical with him.”
Kenner told the investigators that, “minutes” after Jamadi was placed in the holding cell, an “interrogator”—later identified as Swanner—began “yelling at him, trying to find where some weapons were.” Kenner said that he could see Jamadi through the open door of the holding cell, “in a seated position like a scared child.” The yelling went on, he said, for five or ten minutes. At some point, Kenner said, Swanner and his translator “removed the prisoner’s jacket and shirt,” leaving him naked. He added that he saw no injuries or bruises. Soon afterward, the M.P.s were told by Swanner and the translator to “take the prisoner to Tier One,” the agency’s interrogation wing. The M.P.s dressed Jamadi in a standard-issue orange jumpsuit, keeping the sandbag over his head, and walked him to the shower room there for interrogation. Kenner said that Jamadi put up “no resistance.”
On the way, Nagy noticed that Jamadi was “groaning and breathing heavily, as if he was out of breath.” Walter Diaz, the M.P. who had been on guard duty at the prison, told C.I.A. investigators that Jamadi showed “no distress or complaints on the way to the shower room.” But he told me that he, too, noticed that Jamadi was having “breathing problems.” An autopsy showed that Jamadi had six fractured ribs; it is unclear when they were broken. The C.I.A. officials in charge of Jamadi did not give him even a cursory medical exam, although the Geneva Conventions require that prisoners receive “medical attention.”
“Jamadi was basically a ‘ghost prisoner,’ ” a former investigator on the case, who declined to be named, told me. “He wasn’t checked into the facility. People like this, they just bring ’em in, and use the facility for interrogations. The lower-ranking enlisted guys there just followed the orders from O.G.A. There was no booking process.”
According to Kenner’s testimony, when the group reached the shower room Swanner told the M.P.s that “he did not want the prisoner to sit and he wanted him shackled to the wall.” (No explanation for this decision is recorded.) There was a barred window on one wall. Kenner and Nagy, using a pair of leg shackles, attached Jamadi’s arms, which had been placed behind his back, to the bars on the window.
The Associated Press quoted an expert who described the position in which Jamadi died as a form of torture known as “Palestinian hanging,” in which a prisoner whose hands are secured behind his back is suspended by his arms. (The technique has allegedly been used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) The M.P.s’ sworn accounts to investigators suggest that, at least at first, Jamadi was able to stand up, without pain: autopsy records show that he was five feet ten, and, as Diaz explained to me, the window was about five feet off the ground. The accounts concur that, while Jamadi was able to stand without discomfort, he couldn’t kneel or sit without hanging painfully from his arms. Once he was secured, the M.P.s left him alone in the room with Swanner and the translator.
Less than an hour later, Diaz said, he was walking past the shower room when Swanner came out and asked for help, reportedly saying, “This guy doesn’t want to coöperate.” According to the NPR report, one of the C.I.A. men told investigators that he called for medical help, but there is no available record of a doctor having been summoned. When Diaz entered the shower room, he said, he was surprised to see that Jamadi’s knees had buckled, and that he was almost kneeling. Swanner, he said, wanted the soldiers to reposition Jamadi, so that he would have to stand more erectly. Diaz called for additional help from two other soldiers in his company, Sergeant Jeffery Frost and Dennis Stevanus. But after they had succeeded in making Jamadi stand for a moment, as requested, by hitching his handcuffs higher up the window, Jamadi collapsed again. Diaz told me, “At first I was, like, ‘This guy’s drunk.’ He just dropped down to where his hands were, like, coming out of his handcuffs. He looked weird. I was thinking, He’s got to be hurting. All of his weight was on his hands and wrists—it looked like he was about to mess up his sockets.”
Swanner, whom Diaz described as a “kind of shabby-looking, overweight white guy,” who was wearing black clothing, was apparently less concerned. “He was saying, ‘He’s just playing dead,’ ” Diaz recalled. “He thought he was faking. He wasn’t worried at all.” While Jamadi hung from his arms, Diaz told me, Swanner “just kept talking and talking at him. But there was no answer.”
Frost told C.I.A. investigators that the interrogator had said that Jamadi was just “playing possum.” But, as Frost lifted Jamadi upright by his jumpsuit, noticing that it was digging into his crotch, he thought, This prisoner is pretty good at playing possum. When Jamadi’s body went slack again, Frost recalled commenting that he “had never seen anyone’s arms positioned like that, and he was surprised they didn’t just pop out of their sockets.”
Diaz, sensing that something was wrong, lifted Jamadi’s hood. His face was badly bruised. Diaz placed a finger in front of Jamadi’s open eyes, which didn’t move or blink, and deduced that he was dead. When the men lowered Jamadi to the floor, Frost told investigators, “blood came gushing out of his nose and mouth, as if a faucet had been turned on.”
Swanner, who had seemed so unperturbed, suddenly appeared “surprised” and “dumbfounded,” according to Frost. He began talking about how Jamadi had fought and resisted the entire way to the prison. He also made calls on his cell phone. Within minutes, Diaz said, four or five additional O.G.A. officers, also dressed in black, arrived on the scene.
Dr. Steven Miles, a medical ethicist at the University of Minnesota, who is writing a study of U.S. medical practices during the war on terrorism, has examined the Jamadi incident extensively. He recently recounted to me what happened that morning: “An Iraqi medical doctor working with the C.I.A. confirmed Jamadi’s death. Captain Donald Reese, the commander of Abu Ghraib M.P.s, came to the shower room and heard Colonel Thomas M. Pappas, the commander of military intelligence at the prison, say, ‘I am not going down for this alone.’ ”
C.I.A. personnel ordered that Jamadi’s body be kept in the shower room until the next morning. The corpse was packed in ice and bound with tape, apparently in an attempt to slow its decomposition and, Miles believes, to try to alter the perceived time of death. The ice was already melting when Specialist Sabrina Harman posed for pictures while stooping over Jamadi’s body, smiling and giving the thumbs-up sign. The next day, a medic inserted an I.V. in Jamadi’s arm, put the body on a stretcher, and took it out of the prison as if Jamadi were merely ill, so as to “not upset the other detainees.” Other interrogators, Miles said, “were told that Jamadi had died of a heart attack.” (There is no medical evidence that Jamadi experienced heart failure.) A military-intelligence officer later recounted that a local taxi-driver was paid to take away Jamadi’s body.
Before leaving, Frost told investigators, Swanner confided that he “did not get any information out of the prisoner.” C.I.A. officials took with them the bloodied hood that had covered Jamadi’s head; it was later thrown away. “They destroyed evidence, and failed to preserve the scene of the crime,” Spinner, the lawyer for one of the Navy SEALs, said.
The next day, Swanner gave a statement to Army investigators, stressing that he hadn’t laid a hand on Jamadi, and hadn’t done anything wrong. “Clint C.,” the translator, also said that Swanner hadn’t beaten Jamadi. “I don’t think anybody intended the guy to die,” a former investigator on the case, who asked not to be identified, told me. But he believes that the decision to shackle Jamadi to the window reflected an intent to cause suffering. (Under American and international law, intent is central to assessing criminality in war-crimes and torture cases.) The C.I.A., he said, “put him in that position to get him to talk. They took it that pain equals coöperation.”
The autopsy, performed by military pathologists five days later, classified Jamadi’s death as a homicide, saying that the cause of death was “compromised respiration” and “blunt force injuries” to Jamadi’s head and torso. But it appears that the pathologists who performed the autopsy were unaware that Jamadi had been shackled to a high window. When a description of Jamadi’s position was shared with two of the country’s most prominent medical examiners—both of whom volunteered to review the autopsy report free, at the request of a lawyer representing one of the SEALs—their conclusion was different. Miles, independently, concurred.
One of those examiners, Dr. Michael Baden, who is the chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, told me, “What struck me was that Jamadi was alive and well when he walked into the prison. The SEALs were accused of causing head injuries before he arrived, but he had no significant head injuries—certainly no brain injuries that would have caused death.” Jamadi’s bruises, he said, were no doubt painful, but they were not life-threatening. Baden went on, “He also had injuries to his ribs. You don’t die from broken ribs. But if he had been hung up in this way and had broken ribs, that’s different.” In his judgment, “asphyxia is what he died from—as in a crucifixion.” Baden, who had inspected a plastic bag of the type that was placed over Jamadi’s head, said that the bag “could have impaired his breath, but he couldn’t have died from that alone.” Of greater concern, he thought, was Jamadi’s position. “If his hands were pulled up five feet—that’s to his neck. That’s pretty tough. That would put a lot of tension on his rib muscles, which are needed for breathing. It’s not only painful—it can hinder the diaphragm from going up and down, and the rib cage from expanding. The muscles tire, and the breathing function is impaired, so there’s less oxygen entering the bloodstream.” A person in such a state would first lose consciousness, he said, and eventually would die. The hood, he suggested, would likely have compounded the problem, because the interrogators “can’t see his face if he’s turning blue. We see a lot about a patient’s condition by looking at his face. By putting that goddam hood on, they can’t see if he’s conscious.” It also “doesn’t permit them to know when he died.” The bottom line, Baden said, is that Jamadi “didn’t die as a result of any injury he got before getting to the prison.”
Dr. Cyril Wecht, a medical doctor and a lawyer who is the coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and a former president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, independently reached the same conclusion. The interpretation put forward by the military pathologists, he said, “didn’t fit with their own report. They said he died of blunt-force trauma, yet there was no significant evidence of trauma to the head.” Instead, Wecht believes that Jamadi “died of compromised respiration,” and that “the position the body was in would have been the cause of death.” He added, “Mind you, I’m not a critic of the Iraq war. But I don’t think we should reduce ourselves to the insurgents’ barbaric levels.”
Walter Diaz told me, “Someone should be charged. If Jamadi was already handcuffed, there was no reason to treat the guy the way they did—the way they hung him.” Diaz said he didn’t know if Swanner had intended to torture Jamadi, or whether the death was accidental. But he was troubled by the government’s inaction, and by what he saw as the agency’s attempt at a coverup. “They tried to blame the SEALs. The C.I.A. had a big role in this. But you know the C.I.A.—who’s going to go against them?”
According to Jeffrey Smith, the former general counsel of the C.I.A., now a private-practice lawyer who handles national-security cases, a decision to prosecute Swanner “would probably go all the way up to the Attorney General.” Critics of the Administration, such as John Sifton, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, question whether Alberto Gonzales, who became Attorney General last year, has too many conflicts of interest to weigh the case against Swanner fairly. Sifton said, “It’s hard to imagine the current leadership pursuing these guys, because the head of the Justice Department, Alberto Gonzales, is centrally implicated in crafting the policies that led to the abuse.” He suggested that the prudent thing for Gonzales to do would be to “recuse himself from such a decision, and leave it to a deputy, or a career officer.”
But there are political conflicts here, too. It is in the office of Paul McNulty—whose nomination to become Gonzales’s deputy will soon be presented to Congress, and who was a Republican congressional staff member before being named a U.S. Attorney—that the Jamadi case has stalled. And Alice Fisher, the new head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, got that job only under a recess appointment; during her confirmation hearings, Fisher, who previously handled counter-terrorism cases for the department, refused to provide all the information requested about her knowledge of C.I.A. prisoner abuse, and Congress did not approve her nomination.
Even more troubling is the possibility that, under the Bush Administration’s secret interrogation guidelines, the killing of Jamadi might not have broken any laws. Jeffrey Smith says it’s possible that the Office of Legal Counsel’s memos may have opened too many loopholes for interrogators like Swanner, “making prosecution somehow too hard to do.” Smith added, “But, even under the expanded definition of torture, I don’t see how someone beaten with his hands bound, who then died while hanging—how that could be legal. I’d be embarrassed if anyone argued that it was.”
Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, served on the Senate Intelligence Committee until January. Before his tenure ended, he looked at the full, classified set of photographs from Abu Ghraib. In a recent interview at his office in the Capitol, he said, “You can’t imagine what it’s like to go to a closed room where you have a classified briefing, and stand shoulder to shoulder with your colleagues in the Senate, and see hundreds and hundreds of slides like those of Abu Ghraib, most of which have never been publicly disclosed. I had a sick feeling when I left.” He went on, “It was then that I began to have suspicions that something significant was happening at the highest levels of the government when it came to torture policy.”
Since then, Durbin has been trying to close the loopholes that allow government personnel to engage in brutal interrogations. Last year, he introduced an amendment to the defense-authorization bill affirming that the C.I.A. was covered by U.S. laws forbidding torture and the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners. But his effort met intense resistance from the Bush Administration, and the amendment did not pass. Durbin tried other legislative stratagems, without much success. Eventually, John McCain took up Durbin’s cause—which led to last month’s confrontation with Cheney and Goss. The Abu Ghraib scandal seems not to have chastened Cheney or any other Administration officials; in fact, they are for the first time arguing openly and explicitly that C.I.A. personnel should be exempt from standards that apply to every other American.
“I’m concerned that the government isn’t going forward on these prosecutions,” Durbin said of the C.I.A. cases. “It’s really hard to follow the Administration’s policies here. I think the world was very simple before 9/11. We knew what the law was, and I understood it to apply to everyone in the government. Now there’s real uncertainty. There’s a shadow over our nation that needs lifting.”