Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff 2002 External Review of Guantanamo Intelligence Operations

In May, 2015, I published an article that described the FOIA release of the so-called Custer Report. When the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) published their report, “Inquiry in the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody” in November 2008, Section III was titled, “Guantanamo Bay as a ‘Battle Lab’ for New Interrogation Techniques.”

The quote was taken from a 2002 report commissioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) on intelligence operations at Guantanamo’s new prison for “war on terror” prisoners. Even 14 years after its writing, the mission statement for the report has been classified. But the report also looked at “The existing mechanism that binds DoD and Interagency exploitation efforts,” as well as “The relationship between the DoD and Interagency elements involved in the interrogation process.” One of the primary interagency elements was the CIA; another was the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The SASC report referred to the JSC study as the “Custer report,” naming it after Colonel John P. Custer, then-assistant commandant of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School at Ft. Huachuca, who led the review team for the Joint Chiefs. The report stated, “In his report, COL Custer referred to GTMO as ‘America’s “Battle Lab'” in the global war on terror, observing that ‘our nation faces an entirely new threat framework,’ which must be met by an investment of both human capital and infrastructure.”

Despite the fact the portions of the Custer Report quoted above were not classified in the SASC report, the initial release to my Mandatory Declassification Request bizarrely censored use of the term “Battle Lab” in its 2015 release of the Custer Report or the slides released via MDR request. Evidently, the government was embarrassed by the terminology. Indeed, when others in government heard use of such terminology back in 2002 and 2003, they were alarmed.

The Senate report also documented use of similar characteristic language from two Guantanamo commanders, Major General Mark Dunleavy and Major General Geoffrey Miller.

The SASC quoted the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) chief, Colonel Britt Mallow, who provided written testimony to the Senate committee:

MG Dunlavey and later MG Miller referred to GTMO as a “Battle Lab” meaning that interrogations and other procedures there were to some degree experimental, and their lessons would benefit DOD in other places. While this was logical in terms of learning lessons, I personally objected to the implied philosophy that interrogators should experiment with untested methods, particularly those in which they were not trained.

Mallow’s deputy, Mark Fallon, concurred, telling the SASC, “CITF did not concur with the Battle Lab concept because the task force ‘did not advocate the application of unproven techniques on individuals who were awaiting trials…. there were many risks associated with this concept… and the perception that detainees were used for some ‘experimentation’ of new unproven techniques had negative connotations.”

On September 22, 2016, the Department of Defense responded to my appeal of the first FOIA release, and restored the parts of the document and accompanying slide presentation that used the words “America’s Battle Lab” in reference to operations at Guantanamo, and offered display of some new material. These newly released and somewhat less censored documents — there are still large portions of the documents that are redacted — are reproduced below.

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September 10, 2002 Briefing Slides: “GTMO Review, Joint Staff External Review of Intelligence Operations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”