Michael Dunlavey

Torture Connection: 
Dunlavey begins transformation of Gitmo into torture camp
  • Born Buffalo, NY.
  • Bachelor of Law from Notre Dame University, 1967.
  • Commissioned in U.S. Army (via ROTC). Served 4 years in Germany and Vietnam.
  • J.D. from State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law, 1974.
  • Worked in private practice in Pennsylvania and as Assistant District Attorney and Assistant Public Defender, Erie County, PA
  • Elected as judge in Pennsylvania Court of Common Please, 6th Judicial Circuit, 1999.
  • Meanwhile, served in Army Reserve as an intelligence officer, with assignments that included a stint at the National Intelligence Agency.
  • Rose to rank of Brigadier General, named Deputy Commander of Army Intelligence and Security Command andAssistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Army Intelligence.
  • Promoted to Major General (highest possible rank for a reserve officer), chosen by NSA Director Mike Hayden as his assistant at Fort Meade, MD.
  • After 9/11, recalled to active duty. Selected by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to create interrogation system and center at Guantanamo, Joint Task Force 170.
  • At Guantanamo in 2002, Dunlavey imposed isolation on prisoners, removed Geneva protections, and ousted the Red Cross. The interrogation system he implemented was based on “enhanced” techniques drawn from the SERE anti-torture training program and utilizing psychologists and medical professionals to shield interrogators from charges of torture.
  • Ordered a memo from JAG officer Diane Beaver defending the withdrawal of Geneva protections from prisoners at Guantanamo.
  • In November 2002, when Guantanamo was reorganized along the lines of a CIA black site, Dunlavey was recalled to Washington, where he served as Associate Director for Homeland Security at the CIA.
  • Retired from the army in 2004, resumed his judgeship in Erie, PA. Re-elected in 2009.
  • Retired from the bench in 2012, "to concentrate on his cancer treatment."

Michael E. Dunlavey assigned to interrogate "Mickey Mouse prisoners" at Gitmo

When the Pentagon determined that the U.S. Army needed a new prison at which to hide, incarcerate, and interrogate “terrorists” captured in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey was the army officer assigned to devise and implement a new interrogation regime at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Almost immediately, Dunlavey recognized that the overwhelming majority of prisoners sent to Guantanamo were not, in fact, terrorists or jihadis or combatants of any stripe; rather, they were defenseless prey ensnared by bounty-seekers, or unfortunate innocents framed by a neighbor with a grudge —“Mickey Mouse prisoners,” Dunlavey told military officials in Afghanistan.

The officials were not interested in any such characterization of the new Guantanamo population; Dunlavey was sent back to Cuba with orders to maximize actionable intelligence obtained through intensive interrogation of all detainees.

Dunlavey ditches Red Cross, brings in psychologists to plan individualized tortures

Despite his concern about the large fraction of prisoners who were there by mistake, Dunlavey immediately imposed much rougher procedures and conditions than his predecessor at Guantanamo, Brig. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, who had treated the detainees as prisoners of war. Dunlavey cut off access to the Red Cross, which had been advising prisoners that except for name, rank, and serial number, they were not obliged to share information with their captors.

To toughen interrogation policies and procedures, Dunlavey relied heavily on CIA techniques, which were believed at the time to be much more successful than military or FBI protocols. He sent staffers to study SERE, a torture-resistance training program based on Chinese practices during the Korean War that had elicited false confessions from prisoners.

Dunlavey also invited psychologists into the prison, to play a dual role both counseling prisoners and advising interrogators as to exploitable weaknesses or phobias gleaned during the counseling; this double dealing—a glaring violation of all professional codes of conduct—later became an element of torture lawsuits filed by prisoners.

Dunlavey's memos seek permission from Washington to interrogate via torture

Backing up these and other changes was paperwork Dunlavey sent to Washington for approval by SecDef Rumsfeld and others. Among the papers was a legal memo ordered by Dunlavey and prepared hurriedly  by his Judge Advocate, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, which argued that Guantanamo detainees were not subject to the Geneva Conventions. Along with the memo was a list of proposed interrogation techniques that went far beyond anything permitted by the Geneva accords or by the army field manual.

The proposed techniques, almost all of which apparently were approved, included sleep deprivation, extended exposure to cold and to painfully loud noise, use of dogs for intimidation, and permitting interrogators to lie to prisoners to create the impression that family members were in imminent danger of death.

Dunlavey later made light of such methods. In a speech before the Erie Rotary Club in May 2004, he compared the way he ran the prison at Guantanamo to the way his mother disciplined him as a child—for example, spanking him if he talked back, or sending him to his room without TV if he misbehaved. “I guess [my mom] must be a war criminal,” he said.

Sources on Michael Dunlavey