The Dark Side
Two years later, Kleinman was exonerated by the Department of Defense’s investigation. He was thanked for upholding the law by the Inspector General at the Joint Forces command and promoted to full colonel. His commander at JPRA, the administrators of the SERE program, soon retired. The report chastised the JPRA for reverse- engineering its resistance training into a curriculum for abuse, noting that the SERE program was “not appropriate to use in training interrogators.” But a senior civilian at the JPRA, Chris Wirts, described by colleagues as an extensively tattooed former SERE instructor with a shaved head, who was particularly avid about exporting SERE techniques into the war on terror remained.
The CIA, meanwhile, became so concerned about the questionable tactics of the joint task forces that it withdrew its officers from participating in joint interrogations in Iraq.
That fall of 2003, the conditions were ripe for abuse. Cruel and unusual treatment of detainees was commonplace. Kleinman said, “The information coming from Secretary Rumsfeld was confusing—there was no clarity. You could see it all over.”
What was clear, however, was that as the insurgency in Iraq grew, the Justice Department’s legal memos from Washington, separating CIA from military, and law-free zones like Guantánamo from those where international law applied, were all but meaningless in a geographically unbounded war where fighters of different training and experience were thrown together. Enlisted soldiers, bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and following the decades-old rules spelled out by the Army Field Manual, found themselves fighting and interrogating Iraqi insurgents side by side with hardened unconventional warriors claiming not to be bound by the same rules. Bush and Cheney’s lawyers had created a recipe for confusion and lawbreaking. In such a fog, it was hard to tell who had committed the crime of killing Jamadi. The only clues he could provide were those that could be deduced from the physical damage to his corpse.
According to hundreds of pages of internal military and CIA records, a platoon of Navy SEALs working for Task Force 20 arrived at Jamadi’s house that night with a clear goal: They were going to either capture or kill the suspected Saddam Hussein loyalist. The SEALS had arrived at his three-story apartment in a convoy of Humvees and SUVs with the windows blacked out. They had expected to blow the apartment’s front door open, but Janiadi opened it instead and was soon on the floor fighting ferociously from room to room with one of the SEALs. As fists flew, the SEAL tried to regain his balance by reaching for a heavy stove in the kitchen. Instead, it toppled down, striking Jamadi in the head and chest. At this point, the SEAL was able to subdue Jamadi, who was considerably taller than him. As the Iraqi’s wife and children watched, the soldier tied Jamadi’s hands in plastic flexicuffs so tightly that later a military policeman would have trouble cutting them off.
The SEAL team had located Jamadi with the help of the CIA, which itself had been tipped off by an Iraqi agent. The Americans suspected Jamadi of hiding as much as two tons of explosives and teaching other insurgents how to shoot mortars and launch other attacks. The Task Force’s mission was to get enough information to prevent him and his network from carrying out any further terrorist attacks.
The melee in Jamadi’s house created a heightened emotional pitch. Some of the SEALs said later they had never encountered tougher resistance. By the time they dragged Jamadi to a waiting Humvee, he was treated, in the words of a CIA security agent who was riding shotgun that night, “like a bag of potatoes.” National Public Radio reporter John McChesney aired a detailed account reconstructed from court and other documents in which he quoted the guard as exclaiming to the others, “Did you see that? Did you see that?” Two SEALs had flipped Jamadi head over heels into the floor of the Humvee, where they then straddled him. Under his bloody hood, he already had a black eye and a cut on his face.
What happened next was painstakingly dissected by investigators for both the CIA and Pentagon after Jamadi’s death, as each organization tried to isolate which blow, by which outfit, may have killed the detainee.
Jamadi was driven first to an Army base for debriefing, where the SEALs punched, kicked, and struck him with their rifle muzzles for some twenty minutes. Then they moved him to a secret interrogation center in a nearby Navy camp at Baghdad International Airport known as “The Romper Room.” One of its memorable features was a rope noose hanging from the ceiling.
Contemporaneous accounts describe TF-20 and its successors, TF121 and TF 6-26, as taking detainees for interrogation to Camp Nama, a secret compound off a dusty road in front of the airport. There U.S. personnel questioned prisoners in five interrogation rooms ranging in degrees of coerciveness from an Oriental-carpeted room in which tea was served and respect was shown, known as “the soft room,” to the “black room,” in which eighteen-inch hooks hung from the ceiling and speakers blasted detainees, who were beaten and kept in agonizing stress positions.
The task forces operated in complete secrecy, so little was known about them by the American public, particularly before the photographs from Abu Ghraib emerged. Pentagon officials repeatedly denied rumors of abuse. But human rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, and journalists at the New York Times and Washington Post later pieced together revealing accounts and documents. Among the findings was that the walls at Camp Nama were posted with placards warning against leaving telltale marks on the detainees, with the motto “No Blood, No Foul.” Soldiers stationed there told human rights workers that they witnessed detainees being stripped, beaten, covered in mud, drenched in freezing water, and made to stand all night in front of air conditioners. One was made to drink urine. Several, including the mother of a six-month-old infant, were locked up away from their husbands and children as hostages, to be traded for suspects in the family.
While the CIA reportedly barred its agents from participating with the joint task forces in interrogations after August 2003, the Agency had an operations center next door to Camp Nama and continued to work closely with the commandos, meeting twice a day with interrogators and their supervisors to analyze fresh intelligence.
The CIA’S prohibition against participating in interrogations, however, did not stop a CIA interrogator from being present that November night in the Romper Room with Jamadi. A former CIA polygrapher named Mark Swanner, who had been with the Agency since the 1980s, now working in Iraq as an interrogator, played a key role. According to one eyewitness, Jamadi seemed to go limp, as if passing out, on his way into the room. There, several witnesses said, he was stripped, seated, and drenched in cold water. One of the SEALS said that after Jamadi was handcuffed a CIA interrogator rammed “his arm up against the detainee’s chest, pressing on him with all his weight.” A witness said the CIA interrogator leaned into Jamadi’s face and yelled, “I’m going to barbecue you if you don’t tell me the information.”
One witness recalled Jamadi moaning, “I’m dying, I’m dying.” Others didn’t recall those words. The same witness said that the CIA interrogator replied, “I don’t care. You’ll be wishing you were dying.”
After an hour and a half of fruitless interrogation during which Jamadi denied having any explosives, the SEALs “body-slammed” Jamadi into the back of a Humvee, witnesses said, before delivering him to Abu Ghraib for interrogation in the custody of the CIA.
By the time that Jamadi arrived at Abu Ghraib, it was clear that the CIA was playing outside everyone else’s rules. The August 2004 report by Major General George Fay concluded that “CIA detention and interrogation practices led to a loss of accountability, abuse, reduced interagency cooperation and an unhealrhy mystique that further poisoned the atmosphere at Abu Ghraib.”
Karpinski, the former commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, which oversaw the administration of Abu Ghraib during that period, was not certain herself what the CIA was doing there. “I thought most of the civilians there were interpreters, but there were some civilians I didn’t know,” she said. “I called them disappearing ghosts…. They were always bringing in somebody for interrogation, or waiting to collect somebody going out.”
Walter Diaz, a military policeman, was on guard duty at Abu Ghraib the morning that Jamadi was delivered to the prison. He said, “The OGA”—”other government agencies,” initials commonly used to protect the identity of the CIA—”would bring in people all the time to interview them. We had one wing, Tier One Alpha, reserved for the OGA. 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 CIA’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 CIA 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. In May of 2005, Ledford was acquitted of any wrongdoing; but during the hearings, which were open, a number of troubling facts spilled out, hinting at the CIA’s role in Jamadi’s death.
By late spring of 2004, the SEALs’ reputations had been tarnished by the exposure of their rough treatment, 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, asked, “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 CIA than there is against Ledford. But the military’s being hung out to city while the CIA 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 CIA’s role in Jamadi’s death than they were supposed to know, owing to a classification error made by the Agency. The CIA 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 CIA documents, however, were seen by a source familiar with the case, who shared their contents.
What they showed was that Jamadi arrived at Abu Ghraib around 4:30 in the morning, naked from the waist down, according to an eyewitness, Jason Kenner, an MP with the 372nd Military Police Company. In a statement to CIA 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, He was shivering from the cold. Nevertheless, Kenner told CIA investigators, “The prisoner did not appear to be in distress.” Kenner replaced Jamadi’s plastic flexicuffs with steel handcuffs and secured his hands 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 CIA 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” began “yelling at him, trying to find where some weapons were.”
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 CIA, working on a private contract, who has been identified in military-courtt papers only as “Clint C.” He was given immunity against criminal prosecution in exchange for his cooperation. The other person was Mark Swanner. Both Swanner and his lawyer declined to be interviewed. A visit to his home address in northern Virginia suggested only that he seemed to lead a quintessentially middle-class suburban life, living in a colonial-style house with a front porch and swimming pool on a cul-de-sac. To some extent Swanner, like the abusive soldiers at Abu Ghraib, was a victim himself of circumstance. Poorly trained, placed in an unclear legal framework, and facing enormous pressure to help save American lives, he was only one of many responsible for what happened next.
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 MPs were told by Swanner and the translator to “take the prisoner to Tier One,” the agency’s interrogation wing. The MPs 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 MP who had been on guard duty at the prison, told CIA investigators that Jamadi showed “no distress or complaints on the way to the shower room.” But he said 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 CIA 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, said. “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 OGA. There was no booking process.”
According to Kenner’s testimony, when the group reached the shower room Swanner told the MPs that “he did not want the prisoner to sit and he wanted him shackled to the wall.” 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 behind him.
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 MPs’ 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, 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 MPs 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 cooperate.” According to National Public Radio, one of the CIA 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 Jamacli’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 said, “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, over- weight 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 CIA investigators that Swanner claimed that the prisoner 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 CIA officers, also dressed in black, arrived on the scene.
Later that morning, Colonel Thomas M. Pappas, the commander of military intelligence at the prison, was overheard saying, “I am not going down for this alone.”
CIA 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. The ice was already melting when Specialist Sabrina Harman posed for pictures while stooping over the corpse, smiling and giving the thumbs- up sign. The next day, a medic inserted an IV in Jamadi’s arm, put the body on a stretcher, and took it out of the prison as if Jamadi were merely ill, ostensibly so as to “not upset the other detainees.” A military-intelligence officer later recounted that a local taxi driver was paid to take away Jamadi’s body. CIA 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.
Before leaving, Frost told investigators, Swanner confided that he “did not get any information out of the prisoner.”
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, said. But he believed that the decision to shackle Jamadi to the window reflected an intent to cause suffering. The CIA, he said, “put him in that position to get him to talk. They took it that pain equals cooperation.” Intent, as John Yoo had emphasized, was central to assessing criminality in war crimes and torture cases.
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 apparently the pathologists 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.
One of those examiners, Dr. Michael Baden, who was the chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, said, “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 goddamn 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 was 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.” Instead, Wecht believed 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 said in a later interview, “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 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 cover-up. “They tried to blame the SEALs. The CIA had a big role in this. But you know the CIA—who’s going to go against them?”
In fact, unlike the military, which subjected itself to a dozen internal investigations in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and punished more than 200 soldiers for wrongdoing, the CIA underwent no public accountability process. After September 11, the Agency was implicated in at least four deaths of prisoners in its custody, including that of Jamadi. The CIA’s inspector general had referred at least eight cases involving potentially criminal misconduct to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. But the only case that went forward to trial involved David Passaro, a low-level contractor—not an Agency employee, who had beaten an Afghan prisoner to death in 2003. “Is the CIA capable of addressing an illegal killing by its own hands?” asked Thomas Powers, the author of two books about the Agency. “My guess is not.”