The Real Roots of the CIA's Rendition and Black Sites Program

Wednesday, 17 February 2010 08:03 By HP Albarelli Jr and Jeffrey Kaye, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

The Real Roots of the CIA
(Image: Troy Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: ArtMakesMeSmile, DecadeNull, LoveMissB)

On Tuesday, February 10, the British High Court finally released a "seven-paragraph court document showing that MI5 officers were involved in the ill-treatment of a British resident, Binyam Mohamed." The document is itself a summary of 42 classified CIA documents given to the British in 2002. The US government has threatened the British government that the US-British intelligence relationship could be damaged if this material were released. The revelations regarding Mohamed's torture, which include documentation of the fact the US conducted "continuous sleep deprivation" under threats of harm, rendition, or being "disappeared," were criticized by the British court as being "at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities," and in violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The Mohamed case is the most prominent of a number of cases that have come to public attention. While the timeline of Mohamed's torture places the implementation of the Bush administration's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" many months prior to their questionable legal justification in the August 1, 2002, Jay Bybee memo to the CIA, the use of torture and rendition has a much earlier provenance. Over the past decade, many Americans have been shocked and disturbed about the CIA's secret program of rendition and torture carried out in numerous secret sites (dubbed "black sites" by the CIA) around the globe. The dimensions of this program for the most part are still classified "Eyes Only" in the intelligence community, but the program's roots can be clearly discovered in the early 1950's with the CIA's Artichoke Project. Perhaps the best and strangest case illustrating this can be found in the agency's own files. This is the so-called "Lyle O. Kelly case." The facts of this case are drawn from declassified government documents.

An Early Example of Torture and Rendition: "The Kelly Case"

In late January 1952, Morse Allen, a CIA Security Office official, was summoned to the office of his superior, security deputy chief Robert L. Bannerman, where he met with another agency official to discuss what Bannerman initially introduced as "the Kelly case." Wrote Allen, in a subsequent memorandum for his files, the official "explained in substance the Kelly case as follows: "Kelly, (whose real name is Dimitrov), is a 29-year-old Bulgarian and was the head of a small political party based in Greece and ostentively [sic] working for Bulgarian independence." The official described Dimitrov [whose first name was Dimitre] to Allen as "being young, ambitious, bright ... a sort of a 'man-on-a-horse' type but a typical Balkan politician."

The official continued explaining to Allen that months earlier CIA field operatives discovered that Dimitrov was seriously considering becoming a double agent for the French Intelligence Service. "Accordingly," states the memo, "a plot was rigged in which [Dimitrov] was told he was going to be assassinated and as a protective he was placed in custody of the Greek Police." Successfully duped, Dimitrov was then thrown into prison. There he was subjected to interrogation and torture, and he witnessed the brutal torture of other persons the CIA had induced authorities to imprison. Greek intelligence and law enforcement agencies were especially barbaric in their methods. Highly respected Operation Gladio historian Daniele Ganser describes the treatment of prisoners: "Their toes and fingernails were torn out. Their feet were beaten with sticks, until the skin came off and their bones were broken. Sharp objects were shoved into their vaginas. Filthy rags, often soaked in urine, and sometimes excrement, were pushed down their throats to throttle them, tubes were inserted into their anus and water driven in under very high pressure, and electro shocks were applied to their heads."

According to Allen's memo, after holding Dimitrov for six months the Greek authorities decided he was no more than "a nuisance" and they told the CIA "to take him back." Because the agency was unable to dispose of Dimitrov in Greece, the memo states, the CIA flew him to a secret interrogation center at Fort Clayton in Panama. In the 1950's, Fort Clayton, along with nearby sister installations Forts Amador and Gulick, the initial homes of the Army's notorious School of the Americas, served as a secret prison and interrogation centers for double agents and others kidnapped and spirited out of Europe and other locations. Beginning in 1951, Fort Amador, and reportedly Fort Gulick, were extensively used by the Army and the CIA as a secret experimental site for developing behavior modification techniques and a wide range of drugs, including "truth drugs," mescaline, LSD and heroin. Former CIA officials have also long claimed that Forts Clayton and Amador in the 1950's hosted a number of secret Army assassination teams that operated throughout North and South America, Europe and Southeast Asia.

There in Panama, Dimitrov was again aggressively interrogated, and then confined as "a psychopathic patient" to a high-security hospital ward at Fort Clayton. Allen's memo makes a point of stating: "[Dimitrov] is not a psychopathic personality."

The Artichoke Treatment

This remarkable summary brought the official to the purpose of his meeting with CIA security official Morse Allen. After months of confinement in Panama, Dimitrov had become a serious problem for the agency and the military officials holding him in the hospital. Dimitrov had become increasingly angry and bitter about his treatment and he was insisting that he be released immediately. Dimitrov, through his strong intellect and observation powers, was also witnessing a great deal of Project Artichoke activity and on occasion would engage military and agency officials in unauthorized conversations. The official explained to Allen that the CIA could release Dimitrov to the custody of a friend of his in Venezuela, but was prone not to because Dimitrov was now judged to have become extremely hostile toward the CIA. "Hence," explained the official, "[CIA] is considering an 'Artichoke' approach to [Dimitrov] to see if it would be possible to re-orient [Dimitrov] favorably toward us."

Wrote Allen in his subsequent summary memorandum: "This [Artichoke] operation, which will necessarily involve the use of drugs is being considered by OPC with a possibility that Dr. Ecke and Mike Gladych will carry out the operation presumably at the military hospital in Panama. Also involved in this would be a Bulgarian interpreter who is a consultant to this Agency since neither Ecke nor Gladych speak Bulgarian." Allen noted in his memo that security chief Bannerman "pointed out" that this type of operation could "only be carried out" with his or his superior's (security chief Sheffield Edwards) authorization, and "that under no circumstances whatsoever, could anyone but an authorized M.D. administer drugs to any subject of this Agency of any type." (The "Dr. Ecke" mentioned above was Dr. Robert S. Ecke of Brooklyn, New York, and Eliot, Maine, where he died in 2001. "Mike Gladych," according to former CIA officials, was a decorated wartime pilot who after the war became "deeply involved in black market trafficking in Europe and the US," and then in the early 1950's was recruited to join a "newly composed Artichoke Team operating out of Washington, DC.")

Allen also wrote that Bannerman was concerned that the military hospital at Fort Clayton may not approve of or permit an Artichoke operation to be conducted on the ward within which Dimitrov was being held, thus necessitating the movement of Dimitrov to another location in Panama. Lastly, Bannerman stated to the official and Allen that "[the CIA's Office of] Security [through its Artichoke Committee] would have to be cognizant" of the operation, and may even want to "run the operation themselves since this type of work is one which Security handles for the Agency. Here it is interesting to note that among the many members of the agency's Artichoke Committee in 1952 was Dr. Frank Olson, who would about a year later be murdered in New York City.

Morse Allen concluded his memo: "While the [Artichoke] technique that Ecke and Gladych are considering for use in this case is not known to the writer [Allen], the writer believes the approach will be made through the standard narco-hypnosis technique. Re-conditioning and re-orientating an individual in such a matter, in the opinion of the writer, cannot be accomplished easily and will require a great deal of time.... It is also believed that with our present knowledge, we would have no absolute guarantee that the subject in this case would maintain a positive friendly attitude toward us even though there is apparently a successful response to the treatment. The writer did not suggest to [Bannerman and the CIA official] that perhaps a total amnesia could be created by a series of electro shocks, but merely indicated that amnesia under drug treatments was not certain." Interesting also is that Allen noted in his memo, about thirty days prior to his meeting, an official in the CIA's Technical Services Division, Walter Driscoll, discussed "the Kelly case" with him. No details of that discussion were provided.

About a month later, according to former CIA officials, after Artichoke Committee approval to subject Dimitrov to Artichoke techniques, a high-ranking CIA official objected to treating Dimitrov in such a manner. That objection delayed application of the techniques for about "three weeks." In March 1952, according to the same former officials, Dimitrov was "successfully given the Artichoke treatment in Panama for a period of about five weeks."

In late 1956, the CIA brought Dimitrov, at his request, to the United States. Apparently, the Agency felt comfortable enough with Dimitrov's diminished hostility and anger to agree to bring him to America from Athens, where he had returned for undetermined reasons. CIA files state, "The Agency made no further operation use of Dimitrov after he came to the United States, however, former CIA officials dispute this and relate that Dimitrov was "used on occasion for sensitive jobs."

This, however, was not the end of Dimitre Dimitrov's story.

After being relocated to the United States, Dimitrov either remained bitter or resumed his bitterness toward the CIA. In June 1960, he contacted the CIA's Domestic Contact Division and requested financial assistance for himself and additional covert support and assistance for activities against Bulgaria. In 1961, he contacted an editor at Parade, a Sunday newspaper magazine then with reported strong ties to the CIA, with the intention of telling his story. A Parade editor contacted the CIA and was informed, according to CIA documents, that Dimitrov was "an imposter" who was "disreputable, unreliable, and full of wild stories about the CIA."

About ten years after the JFK assassination, Dimitrov, operating sometimes under the aliases Lyle Kelly, James Adams, General Dimitre Dimitrov and Donald A. Donaldson, informed a number of people that he had information about who ordered the murder of JFK and who had committed the act. Reportedly, he had encountered the assassins while he had been imprisoned in Panama. He also told several people that he knew about military snipers who had murdered Martin Luther King. In 1977, Dimitrov actually met with US Sen. Frank Church, head of a Senate Committee investigating the CIA, and President Gerald Ford to share his information. Dimitrov said after the meeting that Ford had asked him to keep the information confidential until he could verify a number of facts. Immediately following the March 29, 1977, death of Lee Harvey Oswald's friend George de Mohrenschildt, Dimitrov became extremely frightened and contacted a reporter with a foreign television station who either mistakenly, or intentionally, revealed Dimitrov's name publicly on American television. Not long after this, Dimitrov disappeared in Europe where he had fled. He has never been seen or heard from since. Former CIA officials say privately, "Dimitrov was murdered" and "His body will never be found."

A 1977 memorandum written, before Dimitrov's disappearance, by an attorney in the CIA's General Counsel's Office, A. R. Cinquegrana, states: "[It appears] to me that the nature of the Agency's treatment of Dimitrov might be something which should be brought to the attention of appropriate officials both within and outside the Agency. The fact that he is still active and is making allegations connected with the Kennedy assassination may add yet another dimension to this story."

Binyam Mohamed's Torture

Dimtrov's story takes on added significance when one considers the latest stories of the unraveling torture conspiracy and operations conducted by the American CIA and Department of Defense, in conjunction with their British allied organizations, and a host of other governments, including Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland and numerous others. After a series of exposures during the 1970's, many assumed the worst excesses of the Cold War torture research program, and its implementation in programs such as the CIA's Operation Phoenix in Vietnam were a fixture of the past. However, subsequent revelations, e.g. the appearance of a US-sponsored torture manual for use in Latin America in the 1980's, including documentation of torture by US forces in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, demonstrate that a direct line exists between the torture and rendition programs of the past and the practices of the present day. Recently, articles have detailed how the 2006 rewrite of the Army Field Manual allowed for use of ongoing isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, induction of fear and the use of drugs that cause temporary derangement of the senses.

The Binyam Mohamed story is unfortunately not unique, but it does demonstrate that the implementation of a SERE-derived experimental torture program began months before it was given legal cover by the memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Other stories, for instance of "War on Terror" captives being drugged and tortured, have been related by the prisoners themselves, by their attorneys, and by US and international rights agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose report on the torture of CIA "high-value detainees" was leaked to Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books.

While Binyam in many ways had a very different personal background than Dimitrov, like the Bulgarian political leader, he was rendered to a US foreign ally for torture. He was drugged. He was considered unreliable and a "disposal" problem for US leaders, who kept secret the actual treatment they endured. Both were victims of a torture program run by the CIA. Both were sent from their foreign torturer back to US custody, where they endured intense psychological torture.

Binyam Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002, where his torture, as evidenced by the latest UK court release, was supervised by US agents. This torture was akin to the treatment meted out to Abu Zubaydah. Binyam was subsequently sent to Morocco in July 2002, where he was hideously tortured for 18 months, including a period where multiple scalpel cuts were made to his penis, and a hot stinging fluid poured on the wounds in an attempt to get him to confess to a false "dirty bomb" plot. (The US only dropped the bombing claims in October 2008.) At one point, a British informer was used to try to "turn" Mohamed into an informant for the US or Britain, just as the Artichoke treatment was used to "re-orient" Dimitrov in a pro-US direction. Mohamed also indicated that he had been drugged repeatedly.

In January 2004, Binyam Mohamed was flown to a CIA "black" site in Afghanistan, the infamous "Dark Prison." Mohamed is one of five plaintiffs in an ACLU suit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan Inc., which ran the aircraft for the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program. According to an ACLU account:

In US custody, Mohamed was fed meals of raw rice, beans and bread sparingly and irregularly. He was kept in almost complete darkness for 23 hours a day and made to stay awake for days at a time by loud music and other frightening and irritating recordings, including the sounds of "ghost laughter," thunder, aircraft taking off and the screams of women and children.

Interrogations took place on almost a daily basis. As part of the interrogation process, he was shown pictures of Afghanis and Pakistanis and was interrogated about the story behind each picture. Although Mohamed knew none of the persons pictured, he would invent stories about them so as to avoid further torture. In May 2004, Mohamed was allowed outside for five minutes. It was the first time he had seen the sun in two years.

Amazingly, this was not the end of Mohamed's ordeal. From the Dark Prison he was sent to Bagram prison, and then later to Guantanamo. In August 2007, the British government petitioned the US for release of their subject. Eighteen months later, and after being subjected to more abuse at Guantanamo, he was finally able to leave US custody and return to Britain.

The Use of Drugs in Torture by the United States

The allegations of drugging by Mohamed and other prisoners are redolent of the use of hallucinogenic and other powerful mind-altering drugs by the US in its Artichoke, MK-ULTRA and other programs. A recent account, by Joby Warrick of The Washington Post, described some of these allegations of drugging of "detainees." The Post article subsequently led to an ongoing DoD Inspector General investigation into Possible Use of Mind Altering Substances by DoD Personnel during Interrogations of Detainees and/or Prisoners Captured during the War on Terror (D2007-DINT01-0092.005) "to determine if DoD personnel conducted, facilitated, or otherwise supported interrogations of detainees and /or prisoners using the threat or administration of mind altering drugs." According to his attorney's filings in the Jose Padilla case, Padilla, who was also originally implicated in the "dirty bomb" so-called plot with Binyam Mohamed, was forced to take LSD or other powerful drugs while held in solitary confinement in the Navy brig in South Carolina.

Another former Guantanamo prisoner, Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian Muslim released in 2005, has consistently told his tale of being subjected to electroshock, beatings and drugging while in US custody.

The CIA has been accused of involvement in continuing interrogation experimentation upon prisoners. The recent release of the previously censored summary of Mohamed's treatment in Pakistan notes that "The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed." As Stephen Soldz notes in an article on the British court revelations, "Why were these effects being 'carefully observed' unless to determine their effectiveness in order to see whether they should be inflicted upon others? That is, the observations were designed to generate knowledge that could be generalized to other prisoners. The seeking of "generalizable knowledge" is the official definition of "research," raising the question of whether the CIA conducted illegal research upon Binyan Mohamed." The role of doctors, psychologists and other medical professionals in the CIA/DoD torture program has been condemned by a number of individuals in their respective fields, and by organizations such as Center for Constitutional Rights and Physicians for Human Rights.

Most recently, in an important article by Scott Horton at Harpers, the reexamination of the evidence in the supposed 2006 suicides of three prisoners at Guantanamo pointed to the possibility that the prisoners were killed in a previously unknown black site prison on the Guantanamo base - "Camp No" - run by the CIA or Joint Special Operations Command. This raises the question of why they were taken off site at all. One prisoner, 22-year-old Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, had needle marks on both of his arms. The marks were notably not documented in the US military's autopsy report.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The tale of Dmitri Dimitrov documents the existence of a US-run torture and rendition program decades before the post-9/11 scandals of the Bush administration. Both the CIA and the Department of Defense have been implicated in both the research and implementation of torture for much of post-World War II US history. And yet, aside from the famous Church and Pike Congressional investigations of the 1970's, and the hearings and report from the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2008-09 on detainee abuse, the perpetrators of these crimes have gone unpunished. The current administration of President Barack Obama has clearly stated that it had little appetite to "look backwards" and seek accountability for the abuses of the past. Yet these abuses are never really "past," as the suffering of the victims and their families continues into the present. Additionally, the practice of torture, or use of "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" of prisoners has not ended, and the same generals, colonels, admirals and intelligence agency bureaucrats and politicians who have been linked to past programs are free to research or implement ongoing abuse of prisoners and experimentation.

This country needs a clear and definite accounting of its past and present use of torture. Like a universal acid, torture breaks down the sinews of its victims, and in the process, the links between people and their government are transformed into the naked exercise of pure sadistic power of rulers over the ruled. The very purpose of civilization is atomized in the process. We need a full, open and thorough public investigation into the entire history of the torture program, with full power to subpoena, and to refer those who shall be held accountable for prosecution under the due process of law.

HP Albarelli Jr

H.P. Albarelli Jr. is the author of "A TERRIBLE MISTAKE: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments" [TrineDay Publishers, 2010]. Portions of Albarelli's book provide great detail about top-secret research conducted at the Army's Fort Detrick.

Last modified on Wednesday, 17 February 2010 18:24