30+ torture memos remain sealed while thousands of torture photos will eventually be released. Be prepared: Learn the deep history of US torture in SERE, Vietnam, Latin America, GMTO, Black Sites and beyond in American Torture.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Slow Death at Guantanamo

Posted by Michael Otterman at 1:50 AM |

On Sunday, October 28th, 2007-- Valtin wrote:
Urgent: An Innocent Man is Dying
You can help save an innocent man's life.

His Guantanamo detainee ID number is 654. His first Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) unanimously concluded there was no evidence he was ever an "enemy combatant", and yet he has languished in isolation and sensory deprivation for 5 years in notorious Camp 6 at Guantanamo Prison in a steel windowless room, with no charges ever brought against him.

Forty-five year old Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi was diagnosed with hepatitis B and tuberculosis over a year ago. Amnesty International has issued a worldwide alert, as his condition has deteriorated significantly, and the prison authorities refuse to allow treatment... A man's life is at stake... and a country's soul.
Four months later, detainee 654 is barely holding on. While Al-Ghizzawi's health has worsened, John D. Bates-- a controversial Bush appointee in the US District Court for DC-- is refusing to order the government to provide Al-Ghizzawi lifesaving medical treatment and declassify his medical records. According to al-Ghizzawi's attorney, Candace Gorman:
Bates found that I had not demonstrated that “irreparable harm” would befall Al-Ghizzawi if the government did not provide the medical care or records. How Bates could expect me to demonstrate that my client would suffer irreparable harm without my first having access to those very records is beyond me. I queried whether I would have to wait for my client to die before the necessary “irreparable harm” could be shown, but Bates refused to reconsider his Kafkaesque decision and I filed an appeal with the D.C. Circuit Court.
To compound his suffering further, al-Ghizzawi was recently told by a Guantanamo official he has AIDs. In a letter he wrote to Gorman dated Dec. 25, 2007, al-Ghizzawi stated:
One American doctor in the same Camp where I am detained has confirmed that I have AIDS, and that’s after my last visit to him during this current month (December) and has promised me he will do the necessary regarding these facts. Therefore, this will be my last witness on my infection with the sickness. Based on this, I would like you to ask the American government to provide some information on this case, and the reason they hid this truth all the time I am detained, and to also provide the necessary treatment.
Whether this is true or merely a cruel ploy remains to be seen. What is known is that Al-Ghizzawi's mental and physical health is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Gorman visited Al-Ghizzawi in February '08. According to a recently "cleared" memorandum filed by Gorman:
1. Al-Ghizzawi continues to be very distraught over being told that he has AIDS. Although counsel showed him the affidavit of Dr. Meneley in which the government claims that Al-Ghizzawi is not HIV positive, Al-Ghizzawi has no particular reason to believe officials of the government that has held him prisoner without charge for more than six years, that has repeatedly lied to him, keeps him in cruel and inhuman isolation and still refuses to treat his known and now admitted medical problems.

2. Al-Ghizzawi was extremely weak, found it difficult to talk and spoke very slowly most of the time. During the meetings Al-Ghizzawi had trouble at times remembering conversations that were ongoing and had difficulty completing sentences. This is a symptom that has worsened over the last few meetings.

3. Al-Ghizzawi continues to be very jaundiced and now has very dark circles under his eyes. He looked extremely fatigued.

4. Further, Al-Ghizzawi’s diarrhea has worsened. He now complains of diarrhea 4-6 times per day and complains of having several accidents where the diarrhea comes on so quickly he cannot get to the toilet in time. Most of the time he washes his soiled underwear and clothes in his cell. He complained that the area around his anus is extremely soar and uncomfortable from the constant diarrhea.

5. Al-Ghizzawi stated that the doctor wanted to give him amoxicillin for five days and another medicine (counsel does not recall the name but it is in her notes) to see if that will help with the diarrhea. Al-Ghizzawi explained to the doctor that when the guards bring him the pills they bring very cold water for him to swallow the medicine and he cannot drink the cold water. According to Al-Ghizzawi he asked the doctor if he would please put a note in with the medicine instructing the guards to give him warm water, but the doctor refused this simple request, and Al-Ghizzawi is therefore not even able to take the medicine.

6. Al-Ghizzawi tried not to drink very much water during the meeting with counsel because drinking water sometimes triggers the diarrhea. As usual, he politely and graciously refused the various items counsel brought for him to eat. Just before the meeting ended on Wednesday Al-Ghizzawi took a drink of water and immediately had an intense pain on his right side causing him to bend over in pain for several minutes.

7. Al-Ghizzawi stated that he is also having difficulty urinating because it is very painful for him to urinate and his urine is now dark in color.

8. Al-Ghizzawi’s eyes are extremely weak, itchy and watery. He no longer reads. Counsel read to him several of her letters that he never received and one unopened letter that he had with him but which he did not open because he knew he could not read it. He stated that if he tries to read he becomes nauseous and the diarrhea starts again. He also stated he can no longer look at pictures for the same reason.

9. In the fall the base clinic prescribed eyeglasses for Al-Ghizzawi but they are for distance and not for reading… Al-Ghizzawi has no use for distance glasses as there is no where far away that he can look at in his tiny cell. The reason for reading glasses may be age related as Dr. Meneley suggested in his affidavit at 9 “There is no evidence of deterioration of the detainee’s eyesight other than that associated with the changes of age and genetic predisposition.” (emphasis added) The fact that Al-Ghizzawi has reached the ripe old age of 45 and that the need for reading glasses can arguably be explained by the aging process or by a “genetic predisposition” does not lead to the absurd conclusion that reading glasses should not be provided. In fact, many of us, counsel included, would not be able to read because of the effects of aging eyes and genetic predispositions if eyeglasses were not available.

10. Al-Ghizzawi complains that he is still cold all of the time and complains of both chills and fever, especially when having his many bouts of diarrhea.

11. Al-Ghizzawi complained that his whole body is in constant pain. The areas that he complained of as being the worst are: around his kidney and liver areas; his lower back (shooting paralyzing pain); his thighs are swollen and stiff; his arm pits are very painful; his ears hurt and his throat constantly tightens up making it hard to swallow. His legs are weak and painful making it very difficult to walk and he has twisted his knee on several occasions because his legs are too weak to hold his frail body up.

12. His skin and scalp remain extremely itchy.

13. Al-Ghizzawi showed counsel his arms that were very red and with a deep scratch in one arm. He stated it was from the restraints that the guards put on him a few days earlier when they were moving him from place to place.

14. When counsel spoke with Al-Ghizzawi about the military claim that he has gained weight he stated they often take his weight with the heavy hand and foot shackles on to boost the numbers.

15. At the meeting between Al-Ghizzawi and Counsel on Wednesday February 27, 2008 Al-Ghizzawi brought in a piece of paper with some notes. He stated that the clinic wanted to run some blood tests on him. Al-Ghizzawi does not trust or respect the medical clinic and he told them he would give an answer after meeting with his lawyer. Two of the tests were tests that Dr. Jürg Reichen suggested and counsel asked Al-Ghizzawi to allow the tests. He said he would let the doctors know immediately that he will allow those tests but he still adamantly refuses to allow the military to do the unnecessary and potentially dangerous biopsy.

16. During the Wednesday meeting Al-Ghizzawi was very depressed. He learned that during the Tuesday meeting with counsel an ICRC representative came to see him (not a medical representative). Since he was not in his cell the representative gave a report to one of the prisoners in the same block to tell Al-Ghizzawi. When Al-Ghizzawi returned from the attorney meeting the other prisoner shouted the information to Al-Ghizzawi through the small hole in the floor of his cell door where the food is pushed in. The prisoner yelled to Al-Ghizzawi, (who stretched out on the floor of his cell with his ear to the hole in his cell door so he could hear the report) that the ICRC visited with Al-Ghizzawi’s wife and daughter in Afghanistan for the first time and that their situation is very bad. He told Al-Ghizzawi that his wife is caring for her father who is now blind and unable to walk (her mother died while Al-Ghizzawi has been held at Guantanamo). That in addition to caring for their own six year old daughter she also cares for her sister’s young child (her sister and her husband are also recently deceased but Al-Ghizzawi does not know how they died) and she cares for several of her nine siblings, (the youngest of whom is seven years old). The ICRC reported to the other prisoner that Al-Ghizzawi’s family is in extreme poverty and destitution.

17. Al-Ghizzawi stated that he spends his days sleeping … it is all he can do.
Shameful. Let Bates know that this torture/slow murder cannot continue. Sign the online petition and send in a free online fax to 202-354-3433 of the following form letter to Judge Bates. Please do something now-- What side of history will you be on?


The Honorable John D. Bates
United States District Court Judge
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue, Northwest
Washington, DC 20001
FAX: (202) 354-3433

Honorable John Bates;

I am writing to you today about Abdel Al-Ghizzawi, a detainee who has been in Guantanamo Bay detention facility for over five years. Al-Ghizzawi was sold to U.S. Troops as part of a bounty, he is not a “high value” detainee. Al-Ghizzawi was one of the “no hearings hearings” detainees who had new Tribunals convened in his absence when the initial Tribunals determined that he should never have been determined to have been an enemy combatant. Later in 2005 a new tribunal was conducted that declared him an enemy combatant. In fact, Abdel Al-Ghizzawi never fought with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or anyone else.

Abdel Al-Ghizzawi has Hepatitis B as well as Tuberculosis. His condition is worsening, and is very grave. On January 28 2008 his attorney H. Candace Gorman filed an emergency motion with the Supreme Court asking the US military to provide urgent medical treatment to Abdel Al-Ghizzawi, as well as access to his medical records. Chief Justice John Roberts denied the motion.

This is shameful. Our country is supposed to be run by us – the citizens of these United States, we are supposed to be the Government. However, in the past few years we have had very little say in what goes on, and none in how this country treats it's POWs or detainees. This needs to change. We care what's done in our name. Our country, while once a beacon of human rights is now one of the worlds worst offenders.

I ask you to help Abdel Al-Ghizzawi by providing him with the medical care he needs so desperately. I urge you to provide his attorney, H Candace Gorman access to his medical records so that she can assure that he gets the treatment that he needs for his condition.

The world is watching. Our reputation has been sullied enough. Please act in the best interest of everyone. Give us back our good conscience.



Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Torture Will Come Home

Posted by Michael Otterman at 4:23 AM |

Today, the House will attempt to override Bush's veto of the "enhanced" torture ban. The numbers are not encouraging. On December 13, the House voted on 222-199 in favor of the provision, but to override a veto a two-thirds majority is needed.

The vote instead will provide a platform for those on the right side of history-- those against sexual humiliation, electric shocks, and waterboarding-- to lambast Bush's legacy of torture. McCain too will be singled out for his cowardly about-face on the issue. The fact remains though-- this all comes over half a decade AFTER key Congressional leaders were initially briefed on "the program".

Ending the corrosive two track torture regime (ie. CIA is 'official' torture agency while others agencies ostensibly cannot torture) is vital. As I pointed out last year in American Torture, legalized "enhanced" torture will spread. I wrote:
Knowing that it is essentially legal for the CIA to torture will no doubt tempt interrogators— perhaps even detectives in American police departments—to use these same techniques.
Last month, torture expert Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy, expanded on this same notion. As he lucidly explained to Harper's Scott Horton:
I am opposed to two track systems, where one group of people can torture and the other people can’t. And it is not hard to understand why. Suppose you’re an interrogator who is not allowed to use some technique, but the guy from the Other Governmental Agency can. What is more, you believe that these techniques work. So why should you be stuck using techniques that are slow and time consuming, when the guy from the OGA can get good results and win all the glory? Aren’t you just an idiot for sticking to the rules? Of course not, and so torture will spread...


Everyone knows waterboarding, but no one remembers that it was American soldiers coming back from the Philippines that introduced it to police in the early twentieth century. During the Philippine Insurgency in 1902, soldiers learned the old Spanish technique of using water tortures, and soon these same techniques appeared in police stations, especially throughout the South, as well as in military lockups during World War I. Likewise, the electrical techniques used in Vietnam appeared in the 1960s appeared in torturing African Americans on the south side of Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s, and, as I argue in the book, that wasn’t just an accident. So torture always comes home. And the techniques of this war are likely to show up in a neighborhood near you.

Update: Veto override fails 225-188- that's 51 votes short. How did your Representative vote? Check it out here.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why Bush Defends Secret Torture Techniques

Posted by Valtin at 11:17 PM |

"Alternative procedures." "Valuable tools in the war on terror." "Specialized interrogation procedures." "Safe and lawful techniques." "Good policies."

George W. Bush has more euphemisms for torture than his creepy Veep, Cheney, has expletives on supply.

On Saturday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush announced his veto of the Congressional Intelligence bill, which included a ban on CIA use of certain "enhanced" interrogation methods, like waterboarding. Bush defended the use of the so-called "alternative procedures" practiced by the CIA, as necessary for field intelligence officers interrogating "hardened terrorists." The play upon the fear of Americans of terrorist attack in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 events turns upon well-understood traumatic mechanisms in the human psyche.

But I want to concentrate on one telling aspect of Bush's torture apologia. Regarding the attempt by Congress to limit the intelligence agencies to interrogation practices based upon the Army Field Manual (which forbids use of hooding, waterboarding, sexual humiliation, etc.), Bush said (emphasis added):
Limiting the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods to those in the Army field manual would be dangerous because the manual is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that key Al Qaida operatives had been trained to resist the methods outlined in the manual. And this is why we created alternative procedures to question the most dangerous Al Qaida operatives, particularly those who might have knowledge of attacks planned on our homeland. The best source of information about terrorist attacks is the terrorists themselves. If we were to shut down this program and restrict the C.I.A. to methods in the field manual, we could lose vital information from senior Al Qaida terrorists, and that could cost American lives.
While Bush touts various terrorist operations foiled by use of torture, a major Congressional player had a different view:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he had heard nothing to suggest that the CIA, through enhanced interrogation methods, had obtained information to thwart a terrorist attack.

Secrets, Secrets, Secrets... Shhh!

The secret "enhanced" CIA interrogation techniques were authorized by Bush in July 2006, in a secret Executive Order vetted by Steven Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel. This authorization was needed after a 2006 Supreme Court decision had determined that Al Qaida prisoners were subject to the Geneva Conventions. Even earlier secret recommendations -- most famously, then-new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's February 2005 memorandum recommending government torture, which only came to light last year -- demonstrated the tenacity of the Bush Administration's quest to give the CIA and possibly other intelligence agencies the green light for torture.

In his radio address, Bush claims that if the terrorists had access to government interrogation methods, they would be able to prepare themselves to withstand the torture. Indeed, this is the rationale for the 50-year-old military SERE program. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and each branch of the military conducts its own version of it. It was SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who were accused by a Pentagon Office of Inspector General Report last year of reverse-engineering SERE training into torture instruction to U.S. military/CIA forces abroad. (Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair also wrote a great article on this matter last summer.)

So I suppose this is what Bush is referring to when he says that the government had to create "alternative procedures" to counter the presumed wiliness of the "hardened terrorists." Except this is a lie. As regular readers of my blog know, government torture has been well-researched for over 50 years. It also went operational around the same time. The not-unsavvy terrorists certainly know where to go on the Internet to read the CIA's KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation Manual, declassified by the United States in the 1990s, or any of a number of books openly for sale that describe the same.

The KUBARK manual describes the use of fear, isolation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, sleep deprivation, fear, and other techniques to induce regression and dependency in prisoners, in order to make them malleable to an experienced interrogator. SERE techniques were derived from presumed extreme sorts of torture that could be encountered by U.S. servicemen who found themselves prisoners of a government or group who didn't follow the Geneva Conventions. How ironic that the most famous state to announce it wouldn't follow Geneva protocols would be... the United States!

Bush does have a point. Knowledge of torture techniques and counter-measures can help a prisoner subjected to torture or cruel treatment, up to a point. Personality factors play a much larger role, as the KUBARK manual points out (including a CIA bibliography on the subject). Besides, there's a multitude of sources available for the enemy government or sophisticated organization to gather such information. The Congressional bill does not discuss torture counter-measures, to my knowledge.

The government -- and Bush is following advice from the CIA -- wants to keep its torture techniques secret because when a detainee does not know what's coming, it increases anxiety and fear, which creates greater confusion and psychological regression. In the spook biz, they call this extending the "shock of capture."

And then there is the political raison d'etre: Bush doesn't want the general public to know what barbarities are practiced in their name. Unfortunately, there are still too many Americans willing to play ostrich and pretend they don't know what's going on, ducking behind Bush and his surrogates's platitudes and lying homilies. Meanwhile, Bush's congressional critics (mostly Democrats) portray the Army Field Manual as providing a "bright line" between torture and acceptable interrogation technique.

Except this isn't true, either. The Army Field Manual's Appendix M allows selective use of CIA KUBARK-style torture, including use of isolation (also used at Guantanamo today), sleep deprivation, "harsh" induction of fear and play upon a detainees phobias, and the use of sensory deprivation goggles and gloves -- and this despite the fact the AFM in its main text says it forbids use of sensory deprivation. (The NY Times article and others on AFM often mention the use of isolation, wrongly reporting it as limited to 30 days, and not mentioning at all the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation goggles, and "fear up harsh" techniques.)

The Torture Issue Won't End When Bush Is Gone

Spywork is famously presented as a house of mirrors, a wasteland of lies and deceptions. Bush's radio address/veto continues this grand tradition of obfuscation and doublespeak. And it's clear where the lame duck president gets his marching orders. From today's New York Times:
In a memo to CIA employees Saturday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the Army Field Manual does not "exhaust the universe" of lawful interrogation techniques. ""There are methods in the CIA's program that have been briefed to our oversight committees, are fully consistent with the Geneva Convention and current U.S. law and are most certainly not torture," Hayden wrote.

We are very, very far from cleaning up this mess. In the choice between secret CIA torture and its somewhat cleaned up Army Field Manual version, there's very little to make a human rights advocate very happy. The Democratic candidates have made some stir that they would change things, stop the torture, and from Obama, the secret renditions, too; restore habeas corpus, etc. But they aren't exactly out front on the issue, and seem susceptible to military influence, and threats they are "too soft" on "terrorism."

Torture is a hydra-headed beast. It exists around the world, and the U.S. is hardly alone, even among Western so-called democracies, in practicing the barbaric "question." It will take a mass movement, something akin to the abolition of slavery or women's rights movements of the 19th century to change this fundamental evil in human society. For now, we must fight as we can, and try to undo the deadly combination of militarism, self-satisfied careerism, greed and bloodlust that has characterized the Bush torture regime.

One could do worse than to follow right now this hyperlink to Physicians for Human Rights website page on fighting torture. A long journey must begin with some first step.

Also posted at Invictus

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Psychologists and the Realpolitik of Torture

Posted by Valtin at 8:18 PM |

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?
Hamlet: Between who?
Sometimes it seems as if it is raining news and analysis. A number of good articles have appeared lately on the subject of U.S. torture. David Goodman's "The Enablers" over at Mother Jones is one of a number of articles in a special MJ series on torture. Goodman's article focuses on the fight within the American Psychological Association (APA) over psychologist participation in military and CIA interrogations of "enemy combatants." It's very good, fairly up-to-date, and puts the controversy into some historical context.

Another article, by Stephen Soldz and Brad Olson -- both psychologists and both active in the APA opposition organization, Psychologists for an Ethical APA -- has been published online over at ZNet. Its long title, "A Reaction to the APA Vote on Sealing Up Key Loopholes in the 2007 Resolution on Interrogations," tips you off that there has been some recent activity in the struggle to change APA policy on psychologists and interrogation. Indeed there has been, as last week APA Council voted to approve a substantial change in their previous language on prohibited interrogation techniques. But will it make a difference in the long run?

Soldz and Olson do a good job explaining what the loopholes were in the earlier APA position. The latter is a subject I've covered earlier myself:
The APA is touting how the new 2007 resolution prohibits "specific techniques sometimes used in interrogations and calling on the U.S. government to ban their use"....

Looking back at APA's long list of prohibited techniques we see something strange in the wording. The first part of the list are odious forms of obvious torture. "Techniques" that are "unequivocally condemned" include rape, mock executions, waterboarding, etc. Note, however, that use of "psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances" are prohibited in instances where they are "used for the purpose of eliciting information". If they are used to sedate or "soften up" a detainee prior to the questioning, drugs are apparently not prohibited.

Even worse is what comes next: a subset of other techniques are also singled out as prohibited when they are "used for the purposes of eliciting information in an interrogation process". These are "hooding, forced nakedness, stress positions, the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate, physical assault including slapping or shaking, exposure to extreme heat or cold, threats of harm or death".

A third subset of "prohibited" techniques concerns sensory deprivation and overstimulation, and sleep deprivation. Here, the APA goes completely off the rails. They define these techniques to be prohibited only if "used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm". (Emphasis mine)
Soldz and Olson described their reaction at the 2007 convention when APA Council brought forth their "substitute" resolution, written precisely to replace a bureaucratically-blocked resolution proposed months earlier calling for a moratorium against any psychologist participation at interrogation sites. They read the language around "definitions" of torture and cruel, abusive and inhuman behavior:
We remember clearly our shock at first observing this careful parsing of allowed degrees of suffering. We remember such insertions mysteriously occurring overnight before the Council vote. We recall how upset we were with this new language that was in such brazen contrast to the APA Ethics Code's injunction to "do no harm." We also remember our group of APA critics not being able to keep ourselves from wondering "Who pulled strings to get these phrases inserted?"
Opponents of APA collaboration with U.S. torture jumped on the wording of the disputed paragraph. Yet, introduced by representatives of APA's military psychology division, the Council resolution, with its weak and misleading language, passed easily. And that's where things sat for a number of months, as revelations mounted in the press about abusive conditions of confinement at Guantanamo's Camp Delta, about CIA use of waterboarding, and the participation of foreign countries in the U.S. "extraordinary rendition" program. Capping it all off, there was the circus of Attorney General Mukasey's testimony before Congress, with Bush's number one legal officer unable to make up his mind about whether waterboarding represented torture or not.

Meanwhile, the backlash grew against APA's sneaky maneuvers and parsing of language, allowing for the continuation of psychological forms of torture and abusive treatment. Goodman's article nicely summarizes what happened next:
In the wake of these revelations, a growing number of APA members have protested by withholding dues. In August [2007], Mary Pipher, author of the best-selling Reviving Ophelia, returned her APA Presidential Citation. And a stream of prominent APA members are resigning, including Kenneth Pope, the former chair of the organization's ethics committee, who quit in February. In addition, at least six college psychology departments -- Earlham, Guilford, Smith, University of Rhode Island, California State University at Long Beach, and York College of the City University of New York -- have gone on record saying it was a violation of professional ethics for psychologists to participate in interrogations in any prison outside the U.S. where prisoners are not afforded due process. And in January, the California State Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development passed a resolution discouraging California licensed health professionals from participating in detainee interrogations.
(As a gesture demonstrating my wish to be open about any bias I may have, I should add that I resigned from the APA myself earlier this year.)

The APA brass certainly noticed something was happening. Ethics Director Stephen Behnke began sending out emails, trying to smooth the waters with critics. He assured the doubting Thomases that there was no attempt to create any loopholes, and that the confusion would all be cleared up by the long-promised casebook on ethics and interrogation due out in about a year. Of course, not a word was said about the now-forgotten moratorium proposal. It was dead in the water, relegated to the maximum program of radicals and little-read bloggers (ahem).

New APA Ban on Torture Techniques: Victory or Clever Cover-up?

According to Goodman's article, the Senate Armed Services Committee is still investigating the role of psychologists in the reverse-engineering of Pentagon anti-torture training for the interrogators of Bush's "war on terror." I had given up on any real hearings ever happening, but perhaps APA headquarters knows more than me. Or perhaps, as Soldz and Olson suggest, and I've made explicit in the past, the dawning realization that a Democratic administration is probably going to take over Washington, D.C. next January has signaled to APA that a change in approach is necessary. The Democrats have offered a reform of interrogation policy that includes a similar ban on abusive techniques, and offers the current Army Field Manual as an authority of allowable interrogation techniques.

Then again, maybe the resignations of prominent and non-prominent members, the dues boycott, and the muffled drumbeat in the press on the subject has played a role in APA's turnabout on torture definitions. In any case, all of a sudden, APA Council moved with due speed to make some purportedly dramatic changes in their previous position.

More than one critic of APA's past policy has noted the participation of Bill Strickland from APA's Division 19, Society for Military Psychology, on the small group redrafting the controversial paragraph. Not only has Strickland been a major opponent of a psychologist moratorium, wherein psychologists would follow the policies of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatrist Association forbidding their membership from participation in the interrogation of detainees, he is also Vice President of Human Research Resources Organization, or HumRRO.

Goodman notes in his article that HumRRO is a major recipient of defense funding, and staffed at high levels by APA honchos past and present. But HumRRO was a major research center in the 1950s-1960s on sensory deprivation, using U.S. soldiers as guinea pigs, and thus a center of MKULTRA research. As reported in J.P. Zubek's 1969 compendium, Sensory Deprivation: Fifteen Years of Research (Appleton-Century-Crofts, publishers), HumRRO, located in Monterey, California, reportedly had the best laboratory of all the sensory research centers:
...they made significant contributions to the study of the effects of sensory deprivation on hallucinations, attitude change, emotions, motor behavior, and cognition. Perhaps their most important work has been in the area of the measurement of affect and subjective stress... (p. 10)
I presume Strickland and his military/CIA partners are counting on the fact that sensory deprivation can be banned in name only, but still be practiced in the field. How do they do this? By simply claiming, as is done in the new Army Field Manual, that what they are doing is not sensory deprivation, even when they are applying special goggles and mittens to detainees, taking a page right out of the Donald Hebb SD playbook. The famous picture of then-defendant Jose Padilla being taken from his cell in goggles illustrates the technique quite well.

As we shall see, the supposed closing of the loopholes (and they likely aren't all completely closed) belies the fact that the military and APA leadership have shifted the terms of the debate away from psychologist participation in unethical and likely illegal governmental detention of prisoners, and away from other, more arcane loopholes that promise no major change in U.S. torture practice. For brevity's sake, the reedited 2007 paragraph defining proscribed interrogation techniques is not reproduced here, but can be accessed at this link. Let me allow that it is quite encyclopedic in proscribing most torture techniques known or that can be imagined. It's reliance on the UN Convention Against Torture, which was ratified in the U.S. with a number of "reservations" that weakened its definitional structure, remains a possible difficulty in implementation. (See discussion on this point here.)

But the other difficulties are more obvious. Hence it is not in the resolution's language that we find the problems (at present), but in the politics that got us to where we now are. These are enumerated below:

1) Despite all protestations of good faith by APA, psychologists still staff the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams at Guantanamo, and other interrogation sites, including, presumably, secret "black site" prisons run by the CIA. Psychologists at these sites are under the military chain of command, not APA ethics codes and committees. These sites are known to be in violation of Geneva Conventions and other national and international laws and agreements concerning prisoners, including the holding of detainees in indefinite detention, hiding detainees from the Red Cross, subjecting detainees to abusive conditions of detention, transferring via secret rendition some detainees to foreign prisons to be tortured, and subjecting prisoners to secret courts where hearsay evidence and evidence supplied via tortured confession is allowed.

Scandalously, a promised resolution to be brought before APA Council calling for the closure of Guantanamo's prison facility failed to make an appearance yet again at February's meeting, putting off any action for some months. The Council member who promised to do this explained to an inquiring member that the Gitmo closure resolution wasn't presented at the Council meeting for the following reasons: it was being vetted by APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI), emails got lost, a busy work schedule intervened, and various other dog-ate-my-homework excuses. When APA wants to bureaucratically bury something, they don't fool around.

2) APA's Ethics Code 1.02, which allows psychologists to obey commands and "governing legal authority," even when an action is at variance with professional ethics, remains a virtual get-out-of-jail card for military psychologists engaged in abusive interrogations. The code, rewritten after 9/11, places into APA's ethics code the Nazis' Nuremberg defense: "I was only following orders" ("Befehl ist Befehl"). The APA promised to insert a qualifying phrase about human rights into 1.02 back in 2006. No action has been taken to date. Contrast this with the six month time frame that brought about the recent word change in last summer's resolution.

3) For months, APA activists have been concentrating their fire on the previously weak language of the 2007 resolution and its loopholes regarding certain kinds of torture. With the "victory" of recent days over this disputed language, some activists aren't wondering if it isn't time to end the dues boycott, implemented last year as a protest against APA's torture policy. Others are seeing the language change as a sign of good faith by APA leadership. The days of a strong fight over a moratorium of psychologist participation at Guantanamo and CIA "black site" prisons seems a thing of the past, indicating the success of APA in changing the terms of the torture debate.

Calling the Question

The issue boils down to this: Are psychologists involved in interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo, CIA prisons, and other theater of war prison sites? Yes. Are these sites in violation of basic human rights laws and treaties? Yes. Have psychologists been implicated in torture of prisoners, and training other personnel in such torture? Yes. Does APA have an ethics policy in place that allows military psychologists to follow orders, regardless of ethical demands? Yes. Has anyone in the 50 plus year history of psychologist participation in mind control and interrogation research ever been held responsible for unethical practices? No. Has any military psychologist, or for that matter any health professional, been held responsible for torture-related activities since 9/11? No.

The overwhelming conclusion is that the language change in APA's 2007 resolution regarding interrogations, while welcome, is a small victory at best, part of a larger campaign where the government and their institutional handmaidens, like APA, have by far the lion's share of victories. This is the time when all opponents of APA participation in U.S. abusive interrogation must redouble their efforts to push for a moratorium on psychologist involvement in national security interrogations of so-called "enemy combatants." They must come out strongly against the use of psychological torture techniques in the Army Field Manual. They must call for accountability from those who have promoted torture and other abuse, up to and including criminal prosecutions. They must call for an end to the nation's policy of "extraordinary rendition." They must call for the rescission of APA Ethics Code 1.02. And, finally, they should take up Drs. Soldz and Olson's call for a reckoning with the sordid aspects of the history of the behavioral sciences:
We must, together with other health professions, come together as part of a truth and reconciliation process to publicly clarify the roles of psychologists and other health and mental health professionals in the production of harm. We must publicly admit and apologize for the use of psychological knowledge and expertise in detention and interrogation abuses. Until we clarify and personally accept the extent to which our profession and our professional association has condoned or abetted these and other abuses committed during this so-called "war on terrorism," we will have done little to learn what went wrong, and little to make the moral and institutional changes necessary to prevent their recurrence.

For further reading, please see this recent article, "The ethics of interrogation and the American Psychological Association: A critique of policy and process", by Brad Olson, Stephen Soldz, and Martha Davis.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ben Griffin Silenced by High Court on Secret Renditions

Posted by Valtin at 4:02 PM |

Ben Griffin, the British ex-Special Air Service (SAS) soldier who resigned over the illegalities involved in the U.S. extraordinary rendition program, and who has spoken out publicly on British troop collaboration with U.S. forces in these activities, was served with a UK high court gag order. According to yesterday's Guardian:
Ben Griffin could be jailed if he makes further disclosures about how people seized by special forces were allegedly mistreated and ended up in secret prisons in breach of the Geneva conventions and international law.
At least hundreds of Afghans and Iraqis have been swept up in the program run with British and American special forces, and sent to prisons in countries often thousands of miles away to face torture and indefinite detention. Other European countries, including most recently Romania and Poland, have been implicated in the rendition program.

At a press conference February 25, before the court banned his free speech, Griffin spoke out more specifically about how the joint U.S.-UK operation worked (emphasis added):
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 this joint US/UK task force appeared. Its primary mission was to kill or capture high value targets. Individuals detained by this Task Force often included non-combatants caught up in the search for high value targets. The use of secret detention centres within Iraq has negated the need to use Guantanamo Bay whilst allowing similar practice to go unnoticed.

As UK soldiers within this Task Force a policy that we would detain individuals but not arrest them was continually enforced. Since it was commonly assumed by my colleagues that anyone we detained would subsequently be tortured this policy of detention and not arrest was regarded as a clumsy legal tool used to distance British soldiers from the whole process.

During the many operations conducted to apprehend high value targets numerous non-combatants were detained and interrogated in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of civilians in occupied territories. I have no doubt in my mind that non-combatants I personally detained were handed over to the Americans and subsequently tortured.
Griffin joins U.S. whistleblower Sibel Edmonds in being gagged from speaking about what they know about illegal activities by their governments or their agents. It's clear that the U.S. and their allies are ratcheting up the machinery of governmental repression against those who would oppose their criminal policies. This story has failed to make a stir in either the U.S. mainstream or alternative press or blogosphere. In the world of American Empire, those who would speak out against blatant transgressions of justice and human decency are silenced. It is only a matter of time until they become non-people, a process already begun with the implementation of the off-the-books "ghost prisoners" the CIA ran at Abu Ghraib, and the hundreds or thousands more who have been sent without hope of appeal to foreign dungeons around the world.

I can only hope that this story, and others like it, are picked up by those who still have the freedom to voice their opinions. Without at least that, the brave men and women who speak for justice and freedom, and against torture, have -- no matter what Obama says -- no hope.

Also posted at Invictus.

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