Feds Eye Retired CIA Officer Steve Stormoen in Prisoner Death

July 13, 2011

The Associated Press (AP) on July 13, 2011 released the following:

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A CIA officer who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and pushed for approval to use increasingly harsh tactics has come under scrutiny in a federal war crimes investigation involving the death of a prisoner, witnesses told The Associated Press.

Steve Stormoen, who is now retired from the CIA, supervised an unofficial program in which the CIA imprisoned and interrogated men without entering their names in the Army’s books.

The so-called “ghosting” program was unsanctioned by CIA headquarters. In fact, in early 2003, CIA lawyers expressly prohibited the agency from running its own interrogations, current and former intelligence officials said. The lawyers said agency officers could be present during military interrogations and add their expertise but, under the laws of war, the military must always have the lead.

Yet, in November 2003, CIA officers brought a prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, to Abu Ghraib and, instead of turning him over to the Army, took him to a shower stall. They put a sandbag over his head, handcuffed him behind his back and chained his arms to a barred window. When he leaned forward, his arms stretched painfully behind and above his back.

The CIA interrogated al-Jamadi alone. Within an hour, he was dead.

Now, nearly eight years after a photo of an Army officer grinning over al-Jamadi’s body became an indelible image in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, federal prosecutors are investigating whether al-Jamadi’s death amounted to a war crime.

The instructions from CIA lawyers could become an important element of that inquiry. Though it’s not required for prosecutors to show that someone knew such interrogations were against the rules, it’s still valuable evidence, said David Crane, a Syracuse law professor and former war crimes prosecutor. The instructions also undercut the argument that the CIA officers were simply following rules laid out by their superiors.

“The government can say, `He was told not to, and he went ahead and did it anyways,'” Crane said.

Two witnesses who testified before a grand jury in Virginia said they were asked about Stormoen’s role at the prison and his whereabouts when al-Jamadi died. The witnesses and officials agreed to discuss the case only on condition of anonymity because they were told not to speak with reporters.

Stormoen, who ran what was known in the CIA as the detainee exploitation cell, processed al-Jamadi into the prison but was not in the shower room when al-Jamadi died.

Stormoen, 56, was part of the CIA’s paramilitary arm, the Special Activities Division, after leaving the Army. He retired after al-Jamadi’s death and received a letter of reprimand for his role in Abu Ghraib. He has since rejoined the intelligence community as a contractor working for a company called SpecTal, which was bought last year by BAE Systems, a leading defense contractor.

Stormoen, whose identity is no longer classified, did not return numerous messages seeking comment. His lawyer also declined to comment.

CIA spokesman George Little had no comment on the inquiry.

Much of the public attention in the al-Jamadi case has been on interrogator Mark Swanner, who was in the shower room when al-Jamadi died. Another CIA officer, who goes by the nickname “Chili,” also came up at the grand jury, one witness said. Chili continues to work with the agency and his name is classified. The witness, who was at the prison, told prosecutors that Chili was at Abu Ghraib the day al-Jamadi died.

Though President George W. Bush’s administration allowed the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects in secret overseas prisons, that authorization did not apply in Iraq. CIA lawyers determined that, as a traditional war zone, Iraq fell under the Geneva Convention rules of war. That meant prisoners had to be documented and treated without cruelty, with access to medical attention.

Tactics such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, which the CIA used in other overseas prisons, were prohibited at Abu Ghraib without prior approval. In videoconferences with headquarters, Stormoen and other officers in Iraq repeatedly asked for permission to use harsher techniques, but that permission was never granted, one former senior intelligence official recalled.

Current and former officials say the CIA officers at Abu Ghraib saw ambiguity in the rules, believing they could interrogate detainees before they were formally processed into the military prison. That gray area could last several days or longer.

Military investigators said the informal nature of the CIA’s ghosting program contributed to a sense that the rules didn’t apply at the prison.

At the time, the CIA’s station in Baghdad, which was in charge of overseeing agency operations at the prison, was in such disarray that its top two officers were pulled out for mismanagement. An internal CIA inquiry did not single out any officer as responsible for al-Jamadi’s death and no one has been charged.

A military autopsy labeled the death a homicide. Doctors said al-Jamadi died from a combination of factors: injuries he received while being captured by Navy SEALs and breathing difficulties caused by a lung injury and made worse by having a sandbag over his head.

Shortly after al-Jamadi’s death, senior CIA officials once again circulated the rules. In January 2004, the agency sent a blunt memo flatly ordering agency officials to stop all interrogations, officials said.

Al-Jamadi’s death has twice been reviewed by the Justice Department and prosecutors have declined to bring charges. Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed a new prosecutor, John Durham, to investigate CIA interrogation tactics. Durham is now re-investigating the al-Jamadi death, and Holder said the investigation has uncovered new information, though he did not say what it was.

Prosecutions for torture and war crimes are rare in the United States. The most high-profile recent case was the successful torture prosecution of the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in Florida in 2008.

There is no statute of limitations on war crimes if a death is involved.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read The Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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Chad Eric O’Kelley, Former Employee of a Nevada-Based Defense Contractor, Indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in El Paso for Conspiracy and Money Laundering Conspiracy

June 10, 2011

AP on June 10, 2011 released the following press release:

“RENO, Nev. (AP) — A former employee of a Nevada-based defense contractor has been indicted on charges that he conspired with others to steal U.S. military ammunition in Iraq and then sell it back to Iraqis and U.S. forces.

Chad Eric O’Kelley was released on his own recognizance after being arrested at his Carson City home and making an initial appearance Thursday in U.S. District Court in Reno on charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and money laundering.

A federal grand jury indictment alleges O’Kelley was a manager in Baghdad with defense contractor Security Operations Consulting in early 2007 when he conspired with others to steal and sell the ammo and send cash shipments to the U.S. via Federal Express or couriers.

O’Kelley – whose job was to ensure that all bases of operation in Iraq under contract with SOC had ammunition and other supplies – at times sold the ammunition back to the U.S. and coalition forces effectively requiring the government to pay for the ammunition twice, federal prosecutors contend.

The indictment also alleges that O’Kelley and others shipped bulk currency, more than $10,000 at one time, derived from the sales in Iraq to the U.S. to distribute among the conspirators.

After being promoted in August 2007 to manager of Iraq operations at SOC’s headquarters in Minden, O’Kelley is accused of continuing to receive proceeds from the scheme. The indictment alleges he made four structured cash deposits totaling $34,600 into an El Paso, Texas, bank account to avoid financial transaction reporting requirements.

The total amount of money involved in the scheme that purportedly ended in 2008 has not been publicly disclosed, said Daryl Fields, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio.

“This case identified an illegal scheme and vulnerability that seriously threatened homeland security,” said Manuel Oyola-Torres, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso, whose agents arrested O’Kelley.

Homeland Security Investigations uses other agencies to “identify, arrest and help prosecute individuals who take advantage of their positions to fraudulently obtain ammunition and equipment directly from the U.S. government for personal gain,” he added.

O’Kelley, 40, was ordered to appear in federal court in Texas, where he used to live in El Paso. No date has been set yet.

There’s no home phone number listed for O’Kelley. Phone calls to both SOC spokesman Robert Killion and the assistant federal public defender who represented O’Kelley at Thursday’s hearing, Ramon Acosta, were not immediately returned Friday.

Other alleged conspirators mentioned in the indictment have neither been identified nor indicted, Fields said. Asked whether the government considers O’Kelley the leader of the alleged conspiracy, Fields replied, “I would say that’s a safe assumption.”

O’Kelley was ordered to surrender his passport and to restrict his travel to the U.S. by U.S. Magistrate Judge Valerie P. Cooke at Thursday’s hearing in Reno.

He will not enter a plea until the court hearing in El Paso.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison on the money laundering charge and five years for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Prosecutors also are seeking the forfeiture of any proceeds from the scheme.

The investigation was conducted by ICE Homeland Security Investigations agents assigned to the Southwest Border Financial Operations and Currency Unified Strike Force and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s Office of the Inspector General in El Paso.”

Attached is Chad Eric O’Kelley’s Indictment

To find additional federal criminal news, please read The Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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