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.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Want to End Torture? Call Obama!

Posted by Michael Otterman at 9:34 AM |

A new initiative, "No Torture-No Exceptions", has been launched to inject anti-torture planks into all three leading candidate's platforms. This is needed today more than ever as all three candidates have largely shied away from addressing this issue directly. Yes, all three candidates have made boiler-plate statements about how torture is wrong, but McCain, Obama and Clinton have also sent mixed messages-- to say the least-- on this vital issue of national importance:

McCain infamously sponsored "compromise" anti-torture legislation bearing his name that allowed torture to continue unchecked, and most recently voted against legislation that sought to ban the CIA's "enhanced" tortures like waterboarding, 40 hours+ standing and hypothermia.

Clinton has flip-flopped on this issue. First she pledged to allow torture "within very, very limited circumstances", but has more recently noted "as a matter of policy it cannot be American policy, period". She was not present when Congress voted in February to ban CIA torture.

Obama has spoken out against torture, but his record is most troubling. Like Clinton, he was not in Washington during the February CIA torture vote. But that's not all. Below is a revealing post by Guantanamo lawyer, Candace Gorman, whose client I've discussed here. A few months back, she posted "A Word About Obama". She wrote:
Obama has potential and of course I will vote for him if he is the democratic candidate but Obama is NOT the poster child for doing the right thing for the men at Guantanamo. Let me start out by saying that I am from Illinois and when he ran for senate I worked on his behalf… it was exciting when he won that hotly contested senate seat… and then he went to the senate...

His very first vote was for Condi Rice and it went down hill from there… He later voted for either Roberts or Alito (for the Supreme Court) and the outcry from his constituents seemed to give him pause on the other ….

Most importantly he voted for the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA)…. That was the first attempt by congress to do away with habeas corpus...

The list goes on. His official mentor was Liebermann….until Liebermann lost the democratic nomination for his own senate seat.

I met up with Obama at a luncheon/fundraiser in Chicago in the late spring of 2006 (before he decided to run for president) I asked him if he heard a deep sigh coming from the people of Illinois every time he voted… He looked at me in surprise and I started ticking off the things he voted for… and against…. that were very disappointing… (I remembered many of them at that time..)

When I got to the DTA I said to him “I can’t believe that you, as a civil rights attorney yourself, would vote to take away the writ of habeas corpus”and his unfortunate response was “it was going to pass anyway”… I was quite shocked that he made that statement and asked him if that was his "new standard" ... anyway the conversation went downhill from there (ok maybe it wasn’t exactly uphill at any point…)

We all vote need to vote our conscience …. Or, if nothing else... pragmatically….

But Obama should not be held up to what he isn’t and he should not be portrayed as some kind of hero for the gitmo detainees…

by the way Obama did not even bother to show up for the ban on waterboarding a week ago…. [emphasis added]
If that doesn't deflate Obama as an anti-torture candidate-- I don't know what does.

This is why the new "No Torture-No Exceptions" campaign, spearheaded by Harper's Scott Horton, is so important. The initiative advocates six policy positions that all candidates should take on:
  • reaffirming America's commitment to existing federal laws and international treaties that ban torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under all circumstances.
  • renouncing all legal interpretations and executive orders that redefine torture and permit such acts as sensory and sleep deprivation, stress positions, sexual humiliation, and mock executions.
  • enforcing full transparency of information about how America treats any and all detainees held by our personnel and those in our employ anywhere in the world.
  • rejecting and abolishing the practice of rendering detainees abroad.
  • establishing a single standard of interrogation procedures to apply to all persons held in U.S. custody or by those under U.S. control, whether C.I.A., military, or civilian.
  • treating our detainees as we would have others treat detained Americans.
Please help spread the word about this among family, friends and colleagues. Visit the site, sign the initiative and call Obama, Clinton and McCain. I strongly believe that this effort-- combined with the ongoing Amnesty International Guantanamo Cell Tour-- can really force this issue into the national election spotlight where it belongs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lying for the Torturers: The APA School of Falsification

Posted by Valtin at 8:05 PM |

When earlier this month the ACLU released a new slew of FOIA documents -- unredacted portions of Admiral Church's 2005 report on detainee abuses at "war on terror" prisons abroad -- the spin machine of the American Psychological Association sprang into action. APA propagandist, and Ethics Director, Stephen Behnke was called upon to take up the cudgels, whereupon he wrote an unctious, dissembling letter to the ACLU.

In a letter dated May 15, Behnke praised ACLU for "uncovering details surrounding the treatment of detainees at detention facilities run by the U.S. government around the world." Then he reiterated APA's paper commitment to "the humane treatment of detainees." In between the lofty presentation of ideals and grand commitments, Behnke also made the following points (quoting from his letter, which has circulated via email, but not to my knowledge is online -- bold text below is my editorial emphasis):

We find what is revealed about abuse in the newly released documents abhorrent. The position of the American Psychological Association is clear and unequivocal: There is never a justification for torture or abuse. In carefully reviewing the documents, we note that according to the information obtained by the ACLU, psychologists supporting interrogations “emphasized their separation from detainee medical care,” and that a psychologist who suspected abuse “recommended the interrogation not proceed and brought in medical personnel to evaluate the detainee.” According to these documents, APA’s policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety....

APA is committed to promoting the humane treatment of detainees. We applaud the efforts of the ACLU to learn the truth about U.S. treatment of detainees. APA will adjudicate any allegation that an APA member has engaged in unethical conduct. If you have information that a psychologist has engaged in torture, I ask that you immediately bring this information to my attention.
As for Behnke's last contention, i.e., that APA wwould adjudicate any torture allegation against a psychologist, he forgets to mention that most of the information on such behavior is classified. But even more egregious is how APA has treated the formal complaints against one APA member psychologist John Leso. Leso was present for the interrogation of Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, and his contribution was documented via the leaked release of al-Qahtani's interrogation log. Psychologist Trudy Bond, among others, were quick to respond to this and file a formal complaint with APA. She reports on what happened to this complaint in a recent story at Counterpunch. Dr. Bond has given me permission to reproduce the correspondence in the quote below:
The APA leadership was long ago given hard evidence of misconduct by an APA member. A complaint was first filed by another source with your office against APA member Dr. John Leso in August of 2006....

...the Pentagon recently dropped charges against al-Qahtani, with much speculation that this decision was based on the knowledge of the torture he has endured -- torture which Dr. Leso enable as a psychologist and member of APA....

Dr. Leso maintains a valid license in the State of New York until 2009, and has been a member in good standing of the American Psychological Association since 1996.

I realize that "justice walks with leaden feet," (though few realize this statement belongs to Harry Weinberger, attorney for Emma Goldman), but my experience with the APA Office of Ethics in fulfilling the above promises feels more than leaden.

What follows is a synopsis of my attempts to achieve the VERY response YOU PLEDGED in your letter to the ACLU.

April 11, 2007 by Facsimile
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dr. Behnke:
I am filing an ethics complaint against Dr. John F. Leso, a member of APA since 1996. The behavior at issue is participation in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as documented in the INTERROGATION LOG of DETAINNEE 063 at Guantanamo.
Sincerely,
Dr. Trudy Bond

April 11, 2007
From: APA Office of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond:
This is to acknowledge your inquiry received April 11, 2007 indicating your intent to file a complaint against Dr. John F. Leso . . . Once your completed complaint form is received, we will determine whether it is within the time limits for filing . . . We await your response.

April 15, 2007
To: APA Office of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
Member Against Whom You Are Complaining: Dr. John Franklin Leso. Major John Franklin Leso was licensed by a psychologist by the state of New York and retains license number 013492 until July, 2009. He is currently an active APA member and has been since 1996.

September 4, 2007
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
Attached is a copy of the form I submitted to the APA Ethics Committee on April 15, 2007 regarding APA member John Leso. I have received no acknowledgment of or response to said complaint, and therefore am resubmitting this complaint.

December 24, 2007
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics, by email
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
I filed a second formal complaint against John Leso on September 4, 2007 after i had received no contact form APA regarding the first complaint filed in April of this year. The APA Office of Ethics has not even acknowledged receipt of the complaints I filed.

December 24, 2007
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
The Ethics Office does not respond in email to questions regarding specific ethics matters . . please write or fax the Ethics Office and I will ensure that you receive an expeditious response.

January 3, 2008
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
As per your request of 12/24/07, I am resending my letter of that date to you by U.S. Postal Mail asking that you inform me of the status of my ethical complaints against Dr. John Leso.

January 23, 2008
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
Thank you for your letter of January 3 . . . I am out of the country and will respond to your question as soon as I return.

February 6, 2008
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
Our records indicate that on April 11, 2007 you contacted the Ethics Office and indicated a wish to file a complaint against Dr. John Leso . . . Our records indicate that as of October, 2007, the Office had received neither the complaint form nor any additional information from you. As a result, on October 11, the inquiry was closed. . . It appears that you took the complainant packet sent in April . . . and used it to file a complaint against (redacted) . . . the complaint form you submitted in the (redacted) matter has Dr. Leso's name covered by "white out" . . .To date, we have not received any complaint from you against Dr. Leso.

February 12, 2008
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
The complaint against Dr. Leso dated 4/15/07 was never acknowledged by APA. On 9/4/07, I resubmitted the same APA form that I had sent to your office on April 15, 2007. This complaint also was never acknowledged.

February 27, 2008
Fr: Office of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond:
This is to acknowledge receipt of the completed Ethics Complaint Form and materials for the complaint filed against James F. Leso, PhD....

As you well know, Dr. Behnke, Dr. Leso is not the only psychologist who has had complaints filed against him for involvement in torture, complaints that have not been "adjudicated" by your office. America's role as a torture nation is part of our national emergency. It's past time for APA to match words with deeds.
A Failed Policy, or a Policy of Obfuscation

I commend Dr. Bond for her attempt to keep APA on its ethical toes, and for doing the right thing. For my purposes, I wish to concentrate on Dr. Behnke's contention that "APA’s policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety." As with the issue of ajudicating complaints, Behkne's contention is a bald-faced lie.

The relevant section of the Church Report for our purposes is the newly unredacted section on page 281. It concerns interrogation policy and practice in Iraq. The document reads:
Illustrating our previous finding regarding the breakdown of disseminatio, the chart [which is redacted] demonstrates that the use of some of the techniques approved in the September 2003 memorandum continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum.... the relatively widespread use of these techniques supports our finding that the policy documents were not always received or thoroughly understood.
The September 2003 memorandum is the Sanchez memorandum of 9/14/2003, CJTF-7 Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy, which includes use of isolation, sleep deprivation, dietary and environmental manipulation, among others. The latter carries this "note": "Caution: Based on court cases in other countries, some nations may view application of this technique in certain circumstances to be inhumane. Consideration of these views should be given prior to use of this technique." This memo also included "Yelling, Loud Music, and Light Control: Used to create fear, disorient detainee and prolong capture shock. Volume controlled to prevent injury," and the use of "stress positions."

To paraphrase a comment by Steven Miles, re this revelation of "widespread use of these techniques" (and despite statements elsewhere in the report that none of the actors involved noted such abuse -- an aspect of this somewhat whitewash of a report that is contradictory)... where were the psychologists when this was going on? The report also notes (pg. 355) that the psychologists did "not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations."

Furthermore, the unredacted portions of the report indicate that "documentation of medical care is not standardized or rigorous.... Separate detainee medical records are not maintained." A few paragraphs later (pp. 354-255), it's noted that "According to the Director, Psychological Applications Directorate (U.S. Army Special Operations Command), the only reason for sharing any medical information would be to ensure that detainees are treated in accordance with their medical requirements." -- In other words, psychologists were gatekeepers for indicating who and who couldn't medically stand the interrogation, such interrogations included, as noted above, "widespread use" of abusive and formally prohibited techniques.

I don't see how much clearer it can be, given the government is not going to hand us a smoking gun outright. The closest they came to doing that was when the Pentagon released it's own Inspector General report last year accusing SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell of helping reverse-engineer 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.) Was there any hand-wringing at APA over psychologists being so heavily-implicated in the torture reports? None that was expressed publicly in any case.

If this is not enough, consider the 11/4/03 interrogation at Abu Ghraib, reported in the Church Report, where a detainee "was initially reported to have slumped over during interrogation and then to have died despite attempted medical resuscitation." Since psychologists were assisting interrogations... where was the psychologist during this interrogation? (Later CID investigation suggested respiration problems due to hooding may have been involved. Hooding is a form of sensory deprivation, as well as inducing fear and disorientation.) -- There are a number of other such cases noted.

I believe there is more than enough evidence in the documents provided to cast a very ominous light on the actions of psychologists (and other medical personnel) regarding detainee abuse aka torture. In any case, Behnke's statement that these documents demonstrate that "APA's policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety" is a patent falsehood given the bulk of evidence presented.

The APA is on a long, dark road to compromised oblivion. But it does not march alone. There is the recent release of another major evaluation of detainee abuse -- this time looking at the role of the FBI at sites where torture took place. This investigatory report by the Department of Justice Inspector General describes how FBI agents were present at CIA torture, protested it, were ignored by their superiors, and even had their attempts at documenting the torture shut down. At the same time, top levels of DoJ, DoD, the FBI, the CIA, Congress, and the Bush Administration did all they could to facilitate the operations of torture and abuse at "war on terror" prisons that practically span the globe (from Guantanamo, to secret prisons in East Europe, to Iraq and Afghanistan, to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean). Meanwhile, the FBI agents -- the "good" ones -- filed their protests and went back to their jobs, and the American people were left in the dark.

It seems a majority of the top layer of U.S. intellectual, governmental, and managerial society has lost its mooring entirely. Beholden to a lifestyle and career track that rests upon conquest and imperialistic occupation and control abroad, they either support Bush's criminal policies, or drown themselves in impotent gestures of protest.

I, thankfully, am done with APA. But their self-serving lies and policy on torture carries on. Where APA sees dollar signs, the rest of us see a growing moral darkness.

Also posted at Invictus

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Friday, May 16, 2008

The Answer to the Question of Torture

Posted by Michael Otterman at 3:29 PM |

International lawyer Philippe Sands, author of the new and indispensable Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values, recently testified before the House Judiciary Constitution, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Subcommittee hearing on US torture. In one fell swoop, he obliterated suggestions by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) that not torturing (or in Pence's words, using "Oprah Winfrey methods") gives terrorists the upper hand. Sands' eloquent answer is essential viewing for any anti-torture advocate devoted to deflating the 24-inspired views that have poisoned many minds in recent years:




Full transcript of his appearance available here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

April 30, 2004... and now where are we?

Posted by Valtin at 10:55 PM |

If behavioral scientists are concerned solely with advancing their science, it seems most probably that they will serve the purposes of whatever individual or group has the power.
The quote above is from U.S. psychology pioneer Carl Rogers. It is worth pondering his statement as we consider both recent developments in the fight against U.S. torture, and more general considerations about the role of psychologists, physicians, and other scientific and medical personnel in interrogations for Bush's "War on Terror."

I was reading the New York Times's article on the decision by the "Convening Authority" at Guantanamo to drop all charges "without prejudice" against purported sixth 9/11 Al Qaeda hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani, when my attention was drawn to an ad from the CIA trumpeting the announcement that they were seeking applicants for "National Clandestine Service Careers." A few clicks later, curious to see what they were offering for my own profession (not that I wish to apply), I found a number of positions open. Here's one that caught my eye:
Operational Psychologist
Work Schedule: Full Time
Salary: $82,961 – $127,442
Location: Washington, DC metropolitan area

Responsible for providing behavioral science consultancy to the Intelligence Community, the major activities involved in this role include psychological testing and behavioral assessment; customized training/consultation on topics related to cross-cultural personality assessment; and applied research.
"Applied research." "Cross-cultural personality assessment." Perhaps it was the sort of job that Major John Leso, psychologist at Guantanamo in late 2002-early 2003, had applied for, only to find himself present at the 54-day interrogation of Mr. al-Qahtani, otherwise known as Detainee 063. As Philippe Sands explains in his recent must-read article at Vanity Fair, "The Green Light", Mr. al-Qahtani had the unusual luck to have his interrogation log publicly leaked, detailing the torture -- which included 15 of 18 torture techniques, then under special approval of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- he underwent, in part under the participation of psychologist Leso.

No one knows for sure, as the "Convening Authority" is under no statutory obligation to explain herself, but it seems likely that al-Qahtani was dropped from Bush's projected show trials of other selected detainees, projected to begin sometime next year, because the evidence on him included large amounts of material produced through torture. There is no way the government can suppress this evidence by citing state secrecy, as the interrogation log is now public record, thanks to an anonymous leaker. Portions have already been published at Time Magazine. The full log is available at Center for Constitutional Rights.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon and the Bush Administration is preparing to try five other "high-profile" Guantanamo inmates at its dubious military commission hearings, as it seeks the death penalty for all five. One of the five is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused "mastermind" of the 9/11 attacks, who was admittedly waterboarded by CIA torturers during his interrogation. The videotape evidence of this was destroyed, leading to a brouhaha in the press and increased Congressional scrutiny.

Legal Experts Take on Bush/Cheney's Legal Team

Some of that Congressional interest was displayed at hearings on May 6 before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the House Judiciary Committee, looking at Bush Administration lawyers and the development of Administration interrogation rules over the past six years. Much of this history is already available in Philippe Sands' article cited above. Mr. Sands, a professor at University College London, was one of three prominent legal authorities to testify at the hearings (transcript courtesy of AfterDowningStreet.org):
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of the Committee, the story I uncovered is an unhappy one. It points to the early and direct involvement of those at the highest levels of government, often through their lawyers, the individuals on whom I largely focused. In June 2004, after the scandal of Abu Ghraib broke, and the August 1, 2002 Bybee Torture Memo became public, Mr Gonzalez and Mr Haynes appeared before the media to claim that the Bush Administration had not authorized such abuse. Contrary to the impression given by the Administration, repeated by Mr Haynes when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2006, his involvement (and that of Secretary Rumsfeld) began well before that stated in the official version. Mr. Haynes had visited Guantanamo, together with Mr Gonzales and Mr Addington, discussed interrogations, and then recommended that the U.S. military abandon its tradition of restraint. My conclusion, on the basis of interviews and documents, is that this is a story not only of crime but also of cover-up, to protect the most senior members of the Administration from the consequences of the illegality that has stained America’s reputation.
Also speaking at the hearing was Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers Guild, who has recently called for the firing of University of California law professor John Yoo, who is heavily implicated in giving legal cover for Bush's torture plans. Ms. Cohn spoke very precisely about the legal gyrations of Bush administration lawyers as they sought refuge from legal accountability for the deliberate breaking of torture laws both national and international. What follows is an edited version of her testimony:
What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. Jus cogens is Latin for "higher law" or "compelling law." This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition. [emphasis added]

The United States has always prohibited the use of torture in our Constitution, laws executive statements and judicial decisions....

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions. He must be protected against torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment under, Common Article 3....

The US War Crimes Act, and 18 USC sections 818 and 3231, punish torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute provides for life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies, for anyone who commits, attempts, or conspires to commit torture outside the United States....

In Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, the Second Circuit declared the prohibition against torture is universal, obligatory, specific and definable. Since then, every U.S. circuit court has reaffirmed that torture violates universal and customary international law. In the Paquete Habana, the Supreme Court held that customary international law is part of U.S. law....

Yet on February 7, 2002, President Bush, relying on memos by lawyers including John Yoo, announced that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members....

Lawyers in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote memos at the request of high-ranking government officials in order to insulate them from future prosecution for subjecting detainees to torture....

The [United Nations] Torture Convention defines torture as the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. The U.S. attached an "understanding" to its ratification of the Torture Convention, which added the requirement that the torturer "specifically" intend to inflict the severe physical or mental pain or suffering. This is a distinction without a difference for three reasons. First, under well-established principles of criminal law, a person specifically intends to cause a result when he either consciously desires that result or when he knows the result is practically certain to follow. Second, unlike a "reservation" to a treaty provision, an "understanding" cannot change an international legal obligation. Third, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an "understanding" that violates the object and purpose of a treaty is void. The claim that treatment of prisoners which would amount to torture under the Torture Convention does not constitute torture under the U.S. "understanding" violates the object and purpose of the Convention, which is to ensure that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"....

Nevertheless, Yoo twisted the law and redefined torture much more narrowly than the definitions in the Convention Against Torture and the Torture Statute. Under Yoo's definition, the victim must experience intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body functions will likely result.
Attorney David Luban, a Georgetown law professor, and the third expert to speak at the committee hearing, zeroed in on White House legal counsels' terrible twisting of the meaning of pain and suffering under torture:
...as I mentioned earlier, [John Yoo] wrenches language from a Medicare statute to explain the legal definition of torture. The Medicare statute lists severe pain as a possible symptom of a medical emergency, and Mr. Yoo flips the statute and uses the language of medical emergency to define severe pain. This was so bizarre that the OLC itself disowned his definition a few months after it became public. It is highly unusual for one OLC opinion to disown an earlier one, and it shows just how far out of the mainstream Mr. Yoo had wandered. This goes beyond the ethical limits for a legal advisor. In fact, even in the courtroom there are limits to spinning the law: ethics rules forbid advocates from making frivolous legal arguments, or failing to disclose adverse legal authority. But it would be a mistake to focus only on Mr. Yoo. Mr. Levin’s replacement memo also takes liberties with the law. In particular, when the Levin Memo discusses the term “severe physical suffering” (which is part of the statutory definition of torture), it states that the suffering must “prolonged” to be severe – and that requirement simply isn’t in the statute at all. Under that definition, of course, waterboarding would not be torture because people break within seconds or minutes. This is a perfect example of a legalistic definition that looks inconspicuous but in reality narrows the definition of torture dramatically. Notice that the quicker a technique breaks the interrogation subject, the less prolonged his suffering will be – so the harsher the tactic, the less likely it is to qualify as “torture.”
I wonder if any CIA psychologist wannabes were watching the House committee testimony on C-Span. Perhaps they will have to sign a waiver releasing the Agency from liability if they are later found prosecutable for war crimes. One never knows.

Torture and Civil Society

Among those who are fighting to remove psychologists from government interrogations at Guantanamo and other "war on terror" prison sites (including CIA secret torture prisons), there is some recent hope that the tide is turning in the struggle against the ossified bureaucratic apparatus of the American Psychological Association. Steven Reisner got a plurality of votes in the first round of voting for APA president. Even more, a petition to essentially remove psychologists from operational roles at national security interrogations has gained over 800 signatures thus far.

About 950 signatures, or about 1% of the total APA membership, is needed to move the petition along to the next stage in the overly onerous process of delivering a vote on participation in interrogations to the overall APA membership. Along the way, supporters must survive vetting of the measure by both the APA president and the APA Council of Representatives. I believe the petition supporters are hoping that political pressures within and without the organization will help push it through. Meanwhile, APA leadership is planning to once again "discuss" the interrogations "issue" at its annual conference this August, hoping, no doubt, to talk their opponents into oblivion, or at least to a standstill, as they await marching orders from their bosses in Washington, DC and/or Langley.

We are too close and embroiled in the struggle against state-sponsored torture to get a complete perspective on just how compromised major portions of U.S. civil society has become. But things are not exactly looking promising at the moment. The quote from Dr. Rogers that opened this essay was written over forty years ago. A generation has come and gone, and the same problems remain. Note Rogers' emphasis: "If behavioral scientists are concerned solely with advancing their science..." Scientists and attorneys, doctors and soldiers, if one is only concerned with advancing their profession, then professional parochialism is surely the prelude to societal dissolution.

Dr. Steven Miles, whose book Oath Betrayed documents the complicity of medical doctors and personnel in torture and abuse at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, among other prison sites, is fond of noting that over four years after the revelations of the sickening, criminal abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib was made public on April 30, 2004, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) "maintains continuous editorial silence on medical complicity with human rights abuses in US war on terror prisons." Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association maintains the fiction that psychologists are at Guantanamo, for example, in order to make interrogations "safe" for the detainees.

Slowly, achingly, you can feel the decent core of society straining to lift the crimes of torture and aggressive war off its bowed shoulders, like a modern Atlas struggling to raise the world up, while bureaucrats, military and intelligence hawks, crooked politicians, careerist attorneys, war profiteers, and oblivious medical and psychological personnel careen over themselves to pull it down. Will they succeed? And which "they" do you identify with?

Also posted at Invictus

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence

Posted by Andy Worthington at 5:06 PM |

As published on the website of Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.

On Tuesday, Binyam Mohamed, a 29-year old British resident in Guantánamo, sued the British government for refusing to produce evidence which, his lawyers contend, would demonstrate that he was tortured for 27 months by or on behalf of US forces in Morocco and Afghanistan, that any “evidence” against him was only obtained through torture, and that the British government and intelligence services knew about his torture and provided personal information about him -- unrelated to terrorism -- that was used by the Americans’ proxy torturers in Morocco.

They insist, moreover, that his case is an urgent priority, because he is about to be charged before a Military Commission in Guantánamo -- the much-criticized system of trials for “terror suspects” that was conceived by the US administration in November 2001 -- and they desperately need the exculpatory evidence in the possession of the British government to assist in his defence, and to prove his innocence.

Binyam’s torture

A refugee from Ethiopia, who arrived in the UK in 1994 and was later granted indefinite leave to remain, Binyam Mohamed was working as a cleaner in an Islamic Centre in west London in 2001, and attempting to recover from a drug problem, when he decided to travel to Afghanistan to see what the Taliban regime was like, and, he hoped, to steer clear of drugs because of the Taliban’s reputation as fierce opponents of drug use.

He came to the attention of both the American and British intelligence services in April 2002, when he was seized by the Pakistani authorities as he tried to board a flight to London. Although he had a valid airline ticket, his passport had been stolen, and, rather foolishly, he had borrowed a British friend’s passport instead.

In the heightened tension in Pakistan at the time -- just days after Abu Zubaydah, an alleged senior al-Qaeda operative, was captured in Faisalabad -- Binyam was immediately regarded with enormous suspicion by the American agents who visited him in the Pakistan prison in which he was held.

Although he later reported to his lawyer -- Clive Stafford Smith of the legal action charity Reprieve, which represents 35 prisoners in Guantánamo -- that the British checked out his story, and confirmed that he was a “nobody,” the Americans were not convinced, and decided to send him to Morocco, where he could be interrogated by professional torturers who were not bothered about international treaties preventing the use of torture, and who were equally unconcerned about whether evidence of their activities would ever surface.

Speaking of his time in Morocco, where he was held for 18 months, Binyam told Stafford Smith that he was subjected to horrendous torture, which, included, but was not limited to having his penis cut with a razor on a regular basis. In spite of this, the regular beatings and other torture that he did not even want to talk about, Binyam said that his lowest moment of all came when his torturers produced evidence of his life in London, which could only have come from the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been abandoned and betrayed by his adopted homeland.

After Morocco, Binyam was transferred to Afghanistan, where he endured further torture in the “Dark Prison,” a secret “black site” near Kabul, run by the CIA, which was a grim recreation of a medieval dungeon, but with the addition of non-stop music and noise, blasted into the pitch-dark cells at an ear-piercing volume.

Moved from here to the main US prison at Bagram airbase, where at least two prisoners were murdered by US forces, Binyam was finally put on a plane to Guantánamo in September 2004, two and a half years after his ordeal began.

In Guantánamo, he was put forward for a Military Commission in November 2005, and made one memorable appearance before the military court, when he held up a hand-written placard declaring that the Commissions were in fact “Con-Missions,” but in June 2006 the judge in his case was spared further embarrassment when the entire system was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Revived later that year by a barely sentient Congress, the trials have since struggled to establish their legitimacy, and have yet to proceed beyond arraignment and pre-trial proceedings, with the exception of the case of the Australian David Hicks, who accepted a plea bargain last March in order to return home to serve a desultory nine-month sentence.

In recent months, however, the administration, which boldly states that it intends to try between 60 and 80 of the remaining 273 prisoners, has stepped up the rate at which new prisoners are being charged. In an attempt to save Binyam from a second dose of the Commissions, his lawyers at Reprieve, together with solicitors from Leigh Day & Co., decided that the most constructive and innovative way to secure Binyam’s release was to put pressure on the British government.

The letter to the UK government

Armed with evidence from flight logs, which confirmed that CIA planes had flown from Pakistan to Morocco in July 2002, and from Morocco to Afghanistan in January 2004, as Binyam said they had, and with numerous accounts of British complicity in his interrogations, and knowledge of his rendition to torture, the lawyers submitted a list of requests to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, at the end of March.

The extensive list of items requested included any evidence relating to UK knowledge of Binyam’s forthcoming rendition while he was held in Pakistan from April to July 2002, including “the identity of the US agents involved, so that they can be traced and interviewed or subpoenaed,” and any evidence relating to Binyam’s claim that representatives of the British intelligence services told him in Pakistan that they knew that he was a “nobody,” which, the lawyers stated, led them to “assume that the UK intelligence services and police have carried out investigations in to Mr. Mohamed’s activities whilst in the UK.” “We believe,” they added, “that such evidence will show that he does not represent a terrorist threat,” and that as such “it forms a necessary part of his defence.”

The lawyers also asked “to interview and take statements from the UK agents who (it is conceded) spoke to Mr. Mohamed whilst he was detained in Pakistan,” and who, Binyam stated, “informed him that he was going to be rendered to an Arab country for torture.” In December 2005, Jack Straw, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time, did indeed admit, in testimony to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, that UK Security Service officers visited Binyam while he was in Pakistani custody, and Binyam’s recollections of that encounter were noted by Clive Stafford Smith during a meeting at Guantánamo:
“They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. I initially only took one. ‘No, you need a lot more. Where you’re going, you need a lot of sugar.’ I didn’t know exactly what he meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor country in Arabia. One of them did tell me I was going to get tortured by the Arabs.”
As Binyam’s lawyers pointed out, “Such evidence will be central to the defence of Mr. Mohamed because any evidence obtained as a result of torture is inadmissible.”

The lawyers also requested “information about Mr. Mohamed’s life in the United Kingdom that could only have come from UK intelligence agencies or other government sources,” which, as Binyam pointed out, caused him particular distress in Morocco, when it was used by his torturers. According to Stafford Smith, this information included “personal details about his life in the UK, such as details of his education, the name of his kick-boxing trainer and his friendships in London, which he had never mentioned during interrogations, and that could only have originated from collusion in the process by the UK security or secret intelligence services.”

In addition, the lawyers requested any evidence about rendition flights that stopped on the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean (which is leased to the United States). After five years of denials, the British government finally admitted in February that two flights had indeed stopped at Diego Garcia, and Binyam’s lawyers requested information about these flights, pointing out that one of the flights had “subsequently stopped in Morocco at the time that Mr. Mohamed was there,” and that it was, therefore, “almost certainly (a) taking another prisoner to Morocco for torture; or (b) taking US personnel there who were involved in Mr. Mohamed’s interrogation process.”

The lawyers also requested any evidence relating to Binyam’s time in the “Dark Prison” in Kabul, where, they noted, “it seems highly probable that the UK government has details of the conditions that prevailed there,” because various British residents -- including Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who returned to the UK from Guantánamo last year -- were also held there, and any evidence relating to Binyam’s time in Bagram, where other British prisoners were also held.

The lawyers’ final request was for access to Binyam’s medical records from Guantánamo. They noted that these were “relevant to the question of torture, and Mr. Mohamed’s current physical and mental condition,” and added that, although the Guantánamo authorities have given the UK government access to Binyam’s records, they have refused to provide them to Stafford Smith. “The UK should provide a copy now,” they wrote, “or provide whatever information or documents they have recording the contents of the medical records.”

The lawsuit

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday by Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co. was triggered when lawyers for the government responded to the letter described above by refusing to hand over any of the evidence requested by Binyam’s lawyers, claiming that “the UK is under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted,” and adding, “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by Binyam’s lawyers.

The government lawyers proceeded to claim that Binyam’s lawyers did not “provide any evidence” to support their assertion that “such alleged information or assistance ‘was subsequently used in the torture of [Mr. Mohamed],’” to which Reprieve and Leigh Day responded by pointing out that Binyam’s allegation that UK sources provided information to his torturers in Morocco was “found credible” by the Intelligence and Security Committee (IRC), a committee established in the UK Intelligence Services Act 1994, and empowered to examine the expenditure, administration and policies of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. Binyam’s lawyers pointed out that the government had ignored the conclusion of the IRC’s Rendition Report in 2007, when the committee had explicitly stated, “There is a reasonable probability that intelligence passed to the Americans was used in [Binyam Mohamed]’s subsequent [Moroccan] interrogation.”

They also cited the particular passage from Binyam’s statement to Clive Stafford Smith, in which he spoke about the interrogation in Morocco that contained information that could only have come from the British intelligence services:
“Today I was questioned about my links with Britain. The interrogator told me, ‘We have been working with the British, and we have photos of people given to us by MI5. Do you know these?’ I realized that the British were sending questions to the Moroccans. I was at first surprised that the Brits were siding with the Americans. I sought asylum in Britain rather than America because it’s known as the one country that has laws that it follows. To say that I was disappointed at this moment would be an understatement.”
It remains to be seen, of course, if this novel approach taken by Binyam’s lawyers will bear fruit, but it seems plausible, as it is hardly in the interests of the British government to run the risk of further embarrassing disclosures. The lawsuit may, therefore, put pressure on the politicians to step up their efforts to secure Binyam’s return to Britain -- to face charges in the UK, if any can be found that will stick to the “nobody” from west London -- rather than to allow him to be tried in a much-criticized system in Guantánamo that threatens to embarrass both the British and the American governments.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Psychologist "Swat Team" Serves Bush's Torture Gulag

Posted by Valtin at 11:17 PM |

Dr. Alan E. Kazdin, current president of the American Psychological Association, in a new column in the APA Monitor, brags that APA lobbyists are a vertable "swat team" in support of government dollars for scientific research. Much of that money funds the work of psychologists "in support of homeland security after 9/11", "psychological research within the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense", and the "special relevance of psychological science on... counter-terrorism" research, among other items.

It is surely cosmic irony that places Dr. Kazdin's article in contrast to new revelations from the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. government documenting "the role of psychologists in military interrogations."
"The documents reveal that psychologists and medical personnel played a key role in sustaining prisoner abuse — a clear violation of their ethical and legal obligations," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "The documents only underscore the need for an independent investigation into responsibility for the systemic abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody abroad."

In 2006, the ACLU received a highly redacted version of the Church Report, which was commissioned by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a comprehensive review of military interrogation operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay based on 187 investigations into detainee abuse that had been closed as of September 30, 2004. The report did not analyze information relating to 130 abuse cases that remained open as of that date, and issues of senior official responsibility for detainee abuse were beyond its mandate. Written by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the report skirts the question of command responsibility for detainee abuse, euphemistically labeling official failure to issue interrogation guidelines for Iraq and Afghanistan as a "missed opportunity."

The report states that "analogous to the BSCT in Guantanamo Bay, the Army has a number of psychologists in operational positions (in both Afghanistan and Iraq), mostly within Special Operations, where they provide direct support to military operations. They do not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations."
The documents also demonstrate the failure of medical personnel to report abuses upon those ostensibly under their care. Moreover, when it comes to the use of torture techniques, such as forced nakedness, stress positions, the use of dogs, and other illegal forms of "interrogation" or incarceration, there was a decided policy of ignoring even the flimsy legal justifications and prohibitions issuing from the Department of Defense:
"The unredacted sections of the report provide new evidence confirming the use of abusive interrogation techniques after they were no longer authorized. According to the report, "the use of some of the techniques... continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum."
As psychologists are implicated in the worst sort of human rights abuses at Guantanamo and elsewhere, Dr. Kazin, who is the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology, Child Psychiatry, and Institute of Social and Policy Studies at Yale University, positively gushes over the "APA... dream team of experts that is nimble and can move into action as needed with Congress, funding agencies and other organizations."

Kazin's organization, the APA, took five years to make a detailed statement against torture techniques that were documented at U.S. prisons, including Guantanamo, although even then the APA mimicked Bush administration language in saying that only psychologists who "knowingly" inflicted harm are to be sanctioned. This makes judging the intent of a torturer supposedly a crucial question. This doctrine of "specific intent" was written into the infamous Bybee memo, and represents a get out of jail free card for those who torture. (See John Mikhail's excellent discussion of the implications of that little word, "knowingly," over at the Georgetown Law Faculty Blog.)

APA Springs into Action for... Defense Funding

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.

In his article, Dr. Kazin brags how when the National Science Foundation threatened to defund some pet projects, "within approximately 12 hours, an APA swat team mobilized an effort that drew on targeted individuals, other organizations, congressional staff, grass-roots support from many psychologists, and more." Two hundred phone calls and many emails later, the bills were saved. And yet, to this day, the APA cannot find the time to pass a resolution or make a statement calling for the closure of Guantanamo prison, where basic human rights are not allowed, and a policy of isolation, sleep deprivation, fear, and a policy of indefinite detention remains in force. Show me where you put an organization's time and money, and I'll show you what that organization is really about. The APA is an obscentiy.

The newly unredacted Church report includes this statement about the role of psychologists, highlighting the use of psychologists throughout the different theaters in Bush's misnamed "war on terror":
Analogous to the BSCT in Guantanamo Bay, the Army has a number of psychologists in operational positions (in both Afghanistan and Iraq), mostly within Special Operations, where they provide direct support to military operations. They do not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations.
Supposedly, those working clinically with the disease and mental illness fostered by abusive treatment and conditions at U.S. prison sites do not share medical records with interrogators, but the report, while claiming that use of such information to "plan interrogations" doesn't take place, admits that such "sharing" has taken place:
According to the Director, Psychological Applications Directorate (US Army Special Operations Command), the only reason for sharing any medical information would be to ensure that detainees are treated in accordance with their medical requirements.
If you believe that, I've got a proverbial bridge to sell you. Meanwhile, the unredacted portions of the Church Report corroborate the findings of the Pentagon's own Office of the Inspector General report that exposed the existence of abusive techniques at Guantanamo, just at the time that APA honchos like Colonel Larry Banks (then Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at GTMO, Cuba) were in charge.

Alan Kazdin's article represents the mindset of the APA bureaucracy, which is dying to feed at the trough of "homeland security" and "counter-terrorism" millions drained from the public coffers to build up the power of the overtly militarist state that America has become. Show me where you put an organization's time and money, and I'll show you what that organization is really about. The APA is an obscenity.

Recently, APA dissident candidate for president, Dr. Steven Reisner, is campaigning on an overt call for an end to psychologist participation in military interrogations, such as at Guantanamo. While garnering a minority of votes, he still won a plurality in the first round of voting, demonstrating that rank-and-file psychologists are growing increasingly disgusted with the policy of their organization. A related group of APA dissidents are circulating a petition that "not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights."

When I left the APA earlier this year, I specifically cited the overall stance of that organization in relation to the national security state. While the complicity with torture and human rights abuses is bad enough, the promise of further integration into "counter-terrorism" and "homeland security" programs of the government is an ominous foreshadowing of what the APA intends to become. If those looking to change APA are unsuccessful, they must ponder what they are doing in an organization so steadfastly dedicated to serving those that torture, that are obsessed with national security at a time when the government of this country engages in illegal, genocidal wars abroad, and seems incapable of reforming its own increasingly militarist and anti-democratic policies and actions.

Also posted at Invictus

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