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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

APA Referendum on Interrogations Policy to Come Up for Vote

Posted by Valtin at 7:42 PM |

As readers of this blog know, internal opponents of the policy of the American Psychological Association, which encourages psychologists to collaborate with the military and CIA in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantanamo, CIA "black site" prisons, and elsewhere, started a petition campaign to call for a special referendum on this APA policy. The petition was successful, and a mail-in vote by the APA membership will begin August 1, with the deadline for returning ballots the end of the business day, September 15.

According to the APA website:
In early June 2008, APA received a petition with the required number of signatures of full Members in good standing concerning the issue of whether psychologists may work in certain settings that involve the detention of individuals.
APA then gives links to the following relevant documents:
The full text of the petition statement
The Pro Statement
The Con Statement
The Rebuttal to the Pro Statement
The Rebuttal to the Con Statement
and Questions and Answers on the Petition on Psychologists’ Work Settings
Reproduced below, without comment here, are the Pro and Con statements written by each side on this issue. They are offered in full, in an effort to expand discussion on the issue. Italic emphases are reproduced from original.
Pro Statement

As psychologists, our first ethical principle is to do no harm; yet substantial documentation reveals that American psychologists have systematically designed and participated in interrogations that amount to torture. In addition, they have helped to legitimize cruel and abusive treatment in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the CIA black sites.

Responding to these revelations, the APA has passed several resolutions barring psychologists from participating in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. These resolutions, however, are insufficient as they do not address the critical role that psychologists play in perpetuating harmful interrogation strategies and in maintaining conditions that the International Committee of the Red Cross has labeled “tantamount to torture.”

These concerns, which have propelled over a thousand APA psychologists to bring this referendum to the membership, are not hypothetical. Psychologists, as “consultants”, have been active in interrogations that have brought about extreme forms of torture. In at least one of these cases, the psychologist advocated for an escalation to even more extreme 'enhanced interrogation techniques.'

Psychologists have also played a critical role in this administration's legal defense of torture. Justice Department lawyers have argued that torture can only take place if the perpetrator intends to cause 'prolonged mental harm' which, in turn, is measured by a subsequent diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychologists instead routinely provide diagnoses other than posttraumatic stress disorder, thus giving the illusion of safety and legal cover in otherwise objective instances of “torture”. Moreover, psychologists play a role in maintaining the conditions of detention, for instance, by removing “comfort items” such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and soap.

In settings that fail to meet basic standards of international law, it is unrealistic to rely on psychologists to challenge their superiors, report on violations, and protect abused detainees. We know, from decades of psychological research, that good people do bad things in bad situations. Psychologists are no less vulnerable to “behavioral drift” than others, particularly when subject to the chain of command in the closed environment of a geographically isolated detention center.

We do believe that psychologists working independently, and outside of the institution’s chain of command, can and should be available to detainees, through NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. In abusive settings, clinicians working in the chain of command cannot know whether they are helping detainees recover only to return them to more abusive interrogations; and detainees cannot gauge whether the information being gathered by the clinician will be used against them — as has been documented on several occasions. Instead, the proposed referendum policy places psychology and psychologists squarely on the side of the most vulnerable.

Some APA psychologists have argued that the presence of psychologists in these settings protects the detainee from abuse. Yet, in the six years since captives began arriving at Guantanamo, there have been few documented cases of psychologists speaking up on the behalf of detainees. There is significant evidence of many more cases of silence. While we commend anyone who has acted heroically, a reliance on individual heroism is an unsound basis for policy.

We stress that the referendum does not exclude any psychologist from working in any settings where international law and human rights are fundamentally upheld. Imperfect as our U.S. domestic justice system may be, people held within the present system have basic legal protections, including the right to know the charges against them, meet with an attorney, receive family visits and, most importantly, to be free of torture. This is in sharp contrast to the individuals gathered up and illegally taken to CIA black sites. For the past 60 years, international law has held professionals responsible for upholding basic human rights. This referendum would thus protect psychologists from risk of future prosecutions.

Your vote in favor of the referendum will increase the independence of psychologists and protect the reputation of our discipline. The policy puts psychology and psychologists on the side of those who are the most vulnerable to mental harm. On behalf of Psychologists for an Ethical APA and all the APA members who have petitioned for this referendum, we strongly encourage you to research this topic through books, websites and articles, and to vote “yes” -- to support human rights and to restore the integrity of American psychology.

Brad Olson, PhD

Con Statement

This Overbroad Petition Will Harm Vulnerable Populations and Put Ethical Psychologists at Risk

1. This petition seeks to prohibit APA member psychologists from working in settings that are inconsistent with international law and/or the US Constitution. The petition’s “Be It Resolved” clause sets forth this prohibition even though a psychologist may adhere to all APA ethical standards, and despite the difficulty in determining whether a particular site meets the petition’s ambiguous criteria.

2. The petition thus threatens to restrict the scope of practice for psychologists whose work in psychiatric hospitals, US correctional facilities, and countless other settings serves the public good each day.

3. The petition is unnecessary given APA’s strongly worded Council resolutions against torture and concerted federal advocacy directed at the Bush administration and Congress.

4. The unintended consequences arising from a resolution prohibiting locations of employment rather than unethical behavior make this petition impossible for us to support. Many psychologists are employed in settings where constitutional challenges arise. Such settings include jails, prisons, psychiatric hospitals and emergency rooms, and forensic units. Likewise, many psychologists work in settings that could be considered inconsistent with international standards, for example, settings where the death penalty may be administered. The “Be It Resolved” clause potentially affects thousands of APA members.

5. While APA is clear that the petition, if adopted, is not enforceable, allegations that a psychologist was violating APA policy could arise in multiple venues (civil court; a licensing board; state psychological association, hospital, and other professional organizations’ ethics committees). Especially given the petition’s ambiguity regarding whether international standards and/or the US Constitution apply in a given instance, the petition places APA members doing good and ethical work in an untenable position of uncertainty regarding whether their practice is consistent with APA policy.

6. The clause “unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights” would prevent psychologists in a prohibited setting from providing services to a person in psychological distress, since in most all settings psychologists work for the institution and not for the individual being held. Unlike the Ethics Code, the petition does not provide a way to resolve this ethical dilemma, i.e., between a prohibition from providing services and the need for services. (See e.g., Ethical Standard 2.02, Providing Services in Emergencies, allowing psychologists without the necessary training to provide services in emergent situations when other services are not available.) A psychologist who, in all good faith, assisted an individual in distress could nonetheless be in violation of APA policy.

7. The sponsors’ good and noble intentions notwithstanding, for over two decades APA has held that torture is unethical and always prohibited. Five APA resolutions provide clear, explicit condemnations of torture. The last sentence of the 2008 resolution states: Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques [Note: nearly two dozen techniques are enumerated] at any time and may not enlist others to employ these techniques in order to circumvent this resolution’s prohibition. APA has stated emphatically: Following orders is never a defense to torture.

8. In August, 2007, the APA Council passed one of several resolutions condemning torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment. Council expressed “grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights” and “affirmed the prerogative of psychologists to refuse to work in such settings.” Council noted that “APA will explore ways to support psychologists who refuse to work in such settings or who refuse to obey orders that constitute torture.” APA has called upon US courts to reject testimony resulting from torture or abuse.

9. APA has strongly and unequivocally condemned the abuse of detainees in letters to President Bush, Attorney General Mukasey, CIA Director Hayden, and members of Congress, and in articles in the media, and has urged the establishment of policies and procedures that fully protect the human rights of detainees, including judicial review of their detentions.

10. The petition seeks to prevent psychologists from working where the federal, state, or local government is acting wrongly. The precedent-setting nature of this petition, which restricts the settings in which psychologists may work, raises insurmountable concerns. A highly unfortunate side effect of the petition will be to place at risk APA members who serve vulnerable populations and behave in legal, ethical, and entirely moral ways. This petition harms the very groups it seeks to protect: Vulnerable populations and ethical psychologists.

Robert J. Resnick, PhD
Note: The APA states that if the resolution passes, it would become official APA policy. The question of its enforceability is, however, entirely different, per APA:
Q: If adopted would the petition be enforceable by APA?

As explained above, the petition would not become part of the APA Ethics Code nor be enforceable as are prohibitions set forth in the Ethics Code. Such amendments to the Ethics Code require a more deliberative process and by rule must include review by the full APA governance and a public comment period. However, the resolution would become APA policy. APA communicates its policy statements broadly to media, legislators and the public. Policy statements can be considered by the Ethics Committee in adjudicating cases. They may also be considered by third parties in their engagement of, interaction with or employment of psychologists.
Oh, and I know I said I would offer the above without comment, and so I will. But I do have a question of APA? Where is that resolution so long promised on an APA call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison? It was supposed to sail through APA Council, I was told a year ago. Last February, the resolution was being kicked around, and now, I suppose it's totally lost and forgotten... just like the prisoners at Guantanamo itself.

Also posted at Invictus

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Friday, July 25, 2008

On Rock Bottom, Hitchens

Posted by Michael Otterman at 11:40 AM |

Posted from the New Republic without comment-- Wieseltier's lucid eloquence speaks for itself:

Golden Bull

by Leon Wieseltier

In my brief but thoughtful existence, I have permitted myself only once the confidence to coin a law of life. It is that there is no such place as rock bottom. There is a sliver of solace, I suppose, in the thought that you have not yet sunk as low as you can sink; but it also robs you of the exhilaration that there is nowhere to go but up. Whatever the emotional consequences, the law that there is no such place as rock bottom is deeply counter-intuitive: the belief that things cannot get worse is a regular feature of contemporary experience, and it is often quite plausible. In the castle of culture, certainly, it is our daily bread. Why, just some weeks ago Christopher Hitchens and his camera-ready conscience went and got themselves waterboarded for the pages of Vanity Fair, which are anyway torture enough. There are many things that might be said about such a stunt--that moral understanding is not arrived at by means of the senses, or by personal acquaintance with evil; that ordinary intelligence and ordinary imagination are quite sufficient to establish the foulness and the folly of such procedures, which is why judges who have not dressed up in Guantánamo drag have been able to rule persuasively against them; that the victims of waterboarding do not commonly towel down and head for the Waverly Inn--but I have no intention of dignifying this high clowning with serious reflection. I hope only that Hitchens next tries rendition.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Court Confirms President’s Dictatorial Powers in Case of US “Enemy Combatant” Ali al-Marri

Posted by Andy Worthington at 5:09 PM |

As posted on the website of Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files.

Wake up, America! On July 15, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled by 5 votes to 4 in the case of Al-Marri v. Pucciarelli (PDF) that the President can arrest US citizens and legal residents inside the United States and imprison them indefinitely, without charge or trial, based solely on his assertion that they are “enemy combatants.” Have a little think about it, and you’ll see that the Fourth Circuit judges have just endorsed dictatorial powers.

In the words of Judge William B. Traxler, whose swing vote confirmed the court’s otherwise divided ruling, “the Constitution generally affords all persons detained by the government the right to be charged and tried in a criminal proceeding for suspected wrongdoing, and it prohibits the government from subjecting individuals arrested inside the United States to military detention unless they fall within certain narrow exceptions … The detention of enemy combatants during military hostilities, however, is such an exception. If properly designated an enemy combatant pursuant to legal authority of the President, such persons may be detained without charge or criminal proceedings for the duration of the relevant hostilities.”

As was pointed out by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, who was steadfastly opposed to the majority verdict (and whose opinion was endorsed by Judges M. Blane Michael, Robert B. King and Roger L. Gregory), “the duration of the relevant hostilities” is a disturbingly open-ended prospect. After citing the 2007 State of the Union Address, in which the President claimed that ‘[t]he war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others,’” Judge Motz noted, “Unlike detention for the duration of a traditional armed conflict between nations, detention for the length of a ‘war on terror’ has no bounds.”

The Court of Appeals made its extraordinary ruling in relation to a habeas corpus claim in the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, whose story I reported at length here. To recap briefly, al-Marri, a Qatari national who had studied in Peoria, Illinois in 1991, returned to the United States in September 2001, with his US residency in order, to pursue post-graduate studies, bringing his family -- his wife and five children -- with him. Three months later he was arrested and charged with fraud and making false statements to the FBI, but in June 2003, a month before he was due to stand trial for these charges in a federal court, the prosecution dropped the charges and informed the court that he was to be held as an “enemy combatant” instead.

He was then moved to a naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina, where he has now been held for five years and one month in complete isolation in a blacked-out cell in an otherwise unoccupied cell block. For the first 14 months of this imprisonment, he was subjected to sleep deprivation and extreme temperature manipulation, frequently deprived of food and water, and interrogated repeatedly.

In August 2003, representatives of the International Red Cross were finally allowed to visit al-Marri, and two months later he was permitted to meet with a lawyer, when he finally had the opportunity to explain that his interrogators had “threatened to send [him] to Egypt or to Saudi Arabia where, they told him, he would be tortured and sodomized and where his wife would be raped in front of him.”

Based on advice given to Donald Rumsfeld by Defense Department lawyers regarding the use of isolation at Guantánamo, when the lawyers warned that it was “not known to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days,” al-Marri has now been held in solitary confinement for 67 times longer than the amount of time recommended by the Pentagon’s own lawyers (this figure includes the six months that he spent in isolation in Peoria County Jail and the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York, before being transferred to Charleston).

It is, therefore, unsurprising that his lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, has explained that he is suffering from “severe damage to his mental and emotional well-being, including hypersensitivity to external stimuli, manic behavior, difficulty concentrating and thinking, obsessional thinking, difficulties with impulse control, difficulty sleeping, difficulty keeping track of time, and agitation.”

So what is Ali al-Marri supposed to have done to justify being held in solitary confinement for almost as long as the duration of the Second World War? The presidential order declaring him an “enemy combatant” stated simply that he was closely associated with al-Qaeda and presented “a continuing, present, and grave danger to the national security of the United States.” Elaborating, in subsequent statements, the government has claimed that he was part of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, who had been instructed to carry out further terrorist attacks in the United States, targeting reservoirs, the New York Stock Exchange and military academies.

What’s particularly worrying about these charges is that, by the government’s own admission, the primary sources for its supposed evidence against al-Marri are confessions made by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks, during the three months following his capture in March 2003, when, as even the CIA has admitted, he was subjected to waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning, which the torturers of the Spanish Inquisition at least had the honesty to call “tortura del aqua.”

As I discussed at length in an article last summer, KSM stated during his tribunal at Guantánamo in March 2007 that he had given false information about other people while being tortured, and, although he was not allowed to elaborate, I traced several possible victims of these false confessions, including Majid Khan, one of 13 supposedly “high-value” detainees transferred with KSM to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman and philanthropist held in Guantánamo, and his son Uzair, who was convicted in the United States on dubious charges in November 2005, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

As I also stated last November, “It’s possible, therefore, that al-Marri is another victim of KSM’s tangled web of tortured confessions, but whether or not this is true, the correct venue for such discussions is in a court of law, and not in leaks and proclamations from an administration that appears to be intent on holding him without charge or trial for the rest of his life.”

When I wrote these words, it seemed possible that the Fourth Circuit judges would act to prevent al-Marri from having the dubious distinction of being the last “enemy combatant” on the US mainland, and would put pressure on the government to transfer him to a federal prison to face a trial in a US court, as happened with Jose Padilla, a US citizen and one of two other “enemy combatants” imprisoned without charge or trial -- the other being Yaser Hamdi, a US-born Saudi, who was held in Guantánamo until it was ascertained that he held US citizenship. In Hamdi’s case, however, a brief stay at the Charleston brig was followed by a deal that allowed him to return to Saudi Arabia.

In June 2007, a panel of three Fourth Circuit judges dealt a blow to the administration’s claims by ruling that “the Constitution does not allow the President to order the military to seize civilians residing within the United States and then detain them indefinitely without criminal process, and this is so even if he calls them ‘enemy combatants.’” Last week’s decision followed a successful appeal by the government, but when the Fourth Circuit court met en banc to reconsider al-Marri’s case in October, it seemed possible that they would uphold the panel’s June verdict. When Judge Michael asked the government’s representative, Gregory J. Barre, “How long can you keep this man in custody?” and Garre replied that it could “go on for a long time,” depending on the duration of the “war” with al-Qaeda, Judge Michael stated, “It looks like a lifetime.”

I now realize, of course, that it was always highly improbable that the Fourth Circuit court -- widely regarded as the most right-wing court in the country -- would end Ali al-Marri’s legal limbo, although it was somewhat ironic that, in a separate ruling, the swing-voting Judge Traxler ruled in al-Marri’s favor when it came to a decision to grant him some as yet unspecified ability to challenge the basis of his definition as an “enemy combatant.”

This, at least, earned him the gratitude of Judge Motz, who stated that “the evidentiary proceedings envisaged by Judge Traxler will at least place the burden on the Government to make an initial showing that ‘the normal due process protections available to all within this country’ are impractical or unduly burdensome in al-Marri’s case and that the hearsay declaration that constitutes the Government’s only evidence against al-Marri is ‘the most reliable available evidence’ supporting the Government’s allegations.”

In other respects, however, the court only added to its reputation as a defender of the indefensible. Not content with endorsing the President’s dictatorial right to imprison “enemy combatants” without charge or trial on the US mainland, the judges responsible for the majority verdict ruled that the President did not even have to allege, as he did with Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, that an “enemy combatant” had either been in Afghanistan or had ever raised arms against US forces.

The injustice of this was pointed out in the opinion of Judge Motz, who stated that, “unlike Hamdi and Padilla, al-Marri is not alleged to have been part of a Taliban unit, not alleged to have stood alongside the Taliban or the armed forces of any other enemy nation, not alleged to have been on the battlefield during the war in Afghanistan, not alleged to have even been in Afghanistan during the armed conflict, and not alleged to have engaged in combat with United States forces anywhere in the world.”

Judge Motz added, however, “With regret, we recognize that this view does not command a majority of the court. Our colleagues hold that the President can order the military to seize from his home and indefinitely detain anyone -- including an American citizen -- even though he has never affiliated with an enemy nation, fought alongside any nation’s armed forces, or borne arms against the United States anywhere in the world. We cannot agree that in a broad and general statute, Congress silently authorized a detention power that so vastly exceeds all traditional bounds. No existing law permits this extraordinary exercise of executive power.”

Disturbingly, as Judge Motz mentioned above, the court also indicated its presumption that its ruling applies not just to legal residents like Ali al-Marri, but to US citizens as well. Judge Traxler noted, “it is likely that the constitutional rights our court determines exist, or do not exist, for al-Marri will apply equally to our own citizens under like circumstances,” and Judge Motz explained that the lack of distinction between citizens and residents had become apparent at oral argument, when the government “finally acknowledged that an alien legally resident in the United States, like al-Marri, has the same Fifth Amendment due process rights as an American citizen. For this reason, the Government had to concede that if al-Marri can be detained as an enemy combatant, then the Government can also detain any American citizen on the same showing and through the same process.”

We have, to be honest, been here before. In September 2005, a three-member panel upheld, in Padilla’s case, the President’s power to hold US citizens indefinitely without charge or trial (PDF). This verdict was never tested, as the government took Padilla out of the brig and into the court system (where he was convicted in January) before the Supreme Court could rule on his case, but as Glenn Greenwald noted in an article in Salon, the upshot is that the 2005 Padilla verdict still stands. To that extent, all that has changed now is that the Fourth Circuit court has reinforced its former ruling en banc.

Al-Marri’s lawyers will doubtless appeal, and, if justice still counts for anything, his case will go all the way to the Supreme Court. However, it remains incomprehensible to me that the whole sorry saga has lasted for so long already. As Jonathan Hafetz and his colleagues explained last November when they presented their arguments to the Fourth Circuit judges (and as Judge Motz noted last week), the President “lacks the legal authority to designate and detain al-Marri as an ‘enemy combatant’ for two principal reasons”: firstly, because the Constitution “prohibits the military imprisonment of civilians arrested in the United States and outside an active battlefield,” and secondly, because, although a district court previously held that the President was authorized to detain al-Marri under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (the September 2001 law authorizing the President to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against those involved in any way with the 9/11 attacks), Congress explicitly prohibited “the indefinite detention without charge of suspected alien terrorists in the United States” in the Patriot Act, which followed five weeks later.

That seems pretty clear to me. In the “War on Terror,” however, as I have learned during my research over the last two and a half years, all forms of logical thought -- sometimes in the courts, most of the time in military custody, and as a permanent fixture in the war rooms where torture was endorsed -- have been engulfed in a fog of fear and barbarism.

I leave the final words to Judge Motz, and her clear-eyed awareness of the injustice of the al-Marri verdict. “To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the President call them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution – and the country,” Judge Motz wrote. “For a court to uphold a claim to such extraordinary power would do more than render lifeless the Suspension Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the rights to criminal process in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments; it would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. It is that power -- were a court to recognize it -- that could lead all our laws ‘to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces.’ We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.”

Unless Ali al-Marri is allowed a meaningful review of his status as an “enemy combatant,” Judge Motz’s fears have already come true.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Physicians, Psychologists & the Problem of "The Dark Side"

Posted by Valtin at 10:10 PM |

"Any of us could be the man who encounters his double." -- Friedrich Durrenmat (1)
Jane Mayer's new book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (not due out in the bookstores until tomorrow), is already creating headlines and generating controversy. This article will examine the issues around U.S. torture practice, in light of new allegations in the book, and review an email conversation between myself and a prominent nationally-known psychologist whom Mayer says assisted in the planning of U.S. government torture.

Scott Shane at The New York Times wrote an article last Friday describing how Mayer reveals that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the CIA last year in a report that the interrogation of "high-level" detainees, such as Abu Zubaydah, "categorically" constituted torture, were illegal, and amounted to prosecutable war crimes. Zubaydah, famously, was one of three prisoners the government has admitted were waterboarded. A videotape of his interrogation was destroyed by the CIA.

In an July 14 interview with Scott Horton at Harper's, Jane Mayer discussed the reaction to the ICRC charges:
... Abu Zubayda claimed to have been locked in a tiny cage, in which he had to remain doubled up for long periods of time, prior to the period when he was waterboarded. This account — which he gave to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) — was confirmed to me independently by a former CIA officer familiar with his interrogation....

The reaction of top Bush Administration officials to the ICRC report, from what I can gather, has been defensive and dismissive. They reject the ICRC’s legal analysis as incorrect. Yet my reporting shows that inside the White House there has been growing fear of criminal prosecution...
Ms. Mayer concludes that the addition of an immunity provision in the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress in 2007 was an attempt to address such fears among administration figures. She further opines that it seems unlikely to her that anyone in the Bush administration will actually face domestic prosecution for war crimes, as the "political appetite" seems lacking. And then she adds the following (emphasis added):
An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.
A Prominent Psychologist Comes Under Fire

While medical personnel associated with the ICRC have played a heroic role in documenting and advocating for prisoners' rights, doctors and psychologists associated with U.S. detention and interrogation of so-called "enemy combatants" in the "war on terror" have not acquitted themselves with the same ethical probity. In fact, they may be guilty of war crimes themselves.

Jane Mayer's new book also looks more closely at the utilization of SERE techniques as a template for U.S. torture of detainees. (SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, & Escape, and is a military program aimed at training U.S. soldiers for torture at the hands of vicious captors, those who would not honor Geneva Convention protocols. Ironically, the U.S. itself announced that "enemy combatants" are not bound by those same Geneva agreements.)

It's been a year since SERE military psychologists James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen were accused, in an article by Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair, of teaching SERE techniques to interrogators at Guantanamo and elsewhere. (I covered the "nuts and bolts" of how SERE procedures were taught at Guantanamo in a recent essay.) According to a different article by Jane Mayer last year, Mitchell utilized the theories of "learned helplessness" in implementing his interrogation lessons. (Mr. Mitchell denied this assertion.) Mayer wrote:
Steve Kleinman, a reserve Air Force colonel and an experienced interrogator who has known Mitchell professionally for years, said that “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.” Mitchell, he said, “draws a diagram showing what he says is the whole cycle. It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the K.G.B. model. But the K.G.B. used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The K.G.B. wasn’t after intelligence.”
This torture model of dread, debility through isolation, and dependency may have been the model of the K.G.B., but it was intellectually codified by U.S. psychologists and psychiatrists in the 1950s, most notably in a 1956 article in the journal Sociometry, Brainwashing, Conditioning, and DDD (Debility, Dependency, and Dread). One of the authors of this article, Harry Harlow, went on to become a president of the American Psychological Association (APA).

In Mayer's new book, she implicates another former APA president in the development of torture, Martin Seligman, the creator of the theory of "learned helplessness". I have not seen Mayer's book, which hasn't been released yet, so my accounts come from statements online by Scott Horton, as well as the latter's interview with Mayer previously cited. Horton wrote (emphasis added):
[Mayer] traces the development of the torture techniques to the work of two contractors, Mitchell and Jessen, and disclosed the specific techniques they developed. She notes that the techniques rely heavily on a theory called "Learned Helplessness" developed by a Penn psychologist Martin Seligman, who assisted them in the process.
Seligman is no obscure academic, or bureaucrat. He is one of the best known psychologists in the country, a prominent professor, and leader of the Positive Psychology movement, often quoted in the nation's psychology textbooks. Mayer's allegations about Seligman were picked up anti-torture activist and psychologist Stephen Soldz at his blog. This brought a rejoinder from Seligman himself, denying he assisted in torture in any way. He continued:
I gave a three hour lecture sponsored by SERE (the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape branch of the American armed forces) at the San Diego Naval Base in May 2002. My topic was how American troops and American personnel could use what is known about learned helplessness and related findings to resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors.

I was told then that since I was (and am) a civilian with no security clearance that they could not discuss American methods of interrogation with me. I have not had contact with SERE since that meeting. I have not worked under government contract (or any other contract) on any aspect of interrogation or any aspect of torture. Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen were present in the audience of about 50 others at my speech, and that was, to the best of my knowledge, the sum total of my “assisting them in the process."
What Seligman Told Me

In December 2006, following suspicions (at that time uncorroborated by government documents) that SERE had been used to reverse-engineer torture, as reported by Jane Mayer in a July 2005 New Yorker article, which mentioned Seligman by name, and by Mark Benjamin at Salon.com, I wrote to Seligman and asked him about reports he had taught at the SERE school. I was then researching an article on psychological research into sensory deprivation and torture. (The article turned into a presentation at the APA convention in 2007, and was subsequently published as "Psychology and Research into Coercive Interrogation".) Dr. Seligman's answer to me then (December 2006) was much the same as that made to Soldz above.

I tried to push Seligman a little harder on the issue:
I really have only one outstanding question that remains from my original questions: Were you aware -- or do you even believe -- that your work on learned helplessness has been used not only to help our soldiers withstand coercive interrogation, but to conduct such types of interrogation by U.S. interrogators themselves?
Martin Seligman replied tersely:
I am not available for further comment. (2)
About seven months later, as further revelations about SERE and torture surfaced, including admissions by the Pentagon Office of Inspector General (in a report publicly released in May 2007) that SERE reverse-engineering had taken place, and that Mitchell and Jessen were involved, I revisited the issue with Dr. Seligman in August 2007:
When I wrote to you before, you declined to comment on my question. But I think it is incumbent upon you now to say more about what you know, as well as what you think, about the use of your work by military and CIA psychologists to instigate torture. I ask you this as a colleague in the field, and as a psychologist interested in stopping torture, and ashamed of the actions of some in our field in perpetuating abusive behavior. I would think you would like to clear your name, which otherwise remains linked (even if in obscure ways) to some of the worst episodes in our nation's and our profession's history.
Dr. Seligman replied (emphasis added):
I am entirely out of this loop, having had zero contact with SERE since my talk in April 2002. I know nothing at all about how they have applied LH concepts to either help our own people or to the interrogation of prisoners. When I asked about the latter at my talk, they told me that they could not give me any information at all, since I had no "classification."

My talk was about how to teach our people to resist LH [Learned Helplessness] and my life work has been devoted to the issues of undoing LH, not about inducing it in other human beings.
Once again, I persevered, intrigued that Seligman appeared to be admitting that he had asked about application of "learned helplessness" techniques to the interrogation of prisoners. Why, in December 2002, had he bothered to ask? Was he suspicious? Did he know more than he was saying, or even worse, had he done more than he was admitting? I wrote (emphasis in original):
I appreciate your quick reply, and I understand that you had nothing to do with how LH concepts were used by others. But, given the controversy over psychologist participation in interrogations (a vote on competing resolutions is due at the next [APA] Council meeting), and the fact that your ideas and research were obviously used (you even asked them about it), what is your position on the use of your research by others, and on psychologists involved in military/CIA interrogations under the current administration?
Dr. Seligman replied:
The only "position" I am comfortable staking out is "Good science always runs the risk of immoral application. It goes with the territory of discovery."
Doubling and Collaboration with Torture

Dr. Seligman's "position" was startling. Even if one accepts his denial of further association with the torture program initiated by the Bush administration, utilizing SERE coercive techniques, Seligman seems to believe it's okay to settle for a "see no evil" approach. In his point of view, he is a scientist, a discoverer of new knowledge. If his work might be abused, that is not a concern of his.

This is an immoral position, of course, even if not necessarily criminal, in a forensic sense. If I could question him further, I would ask why he was asked to give this particular "lecture" at a SERE school at this time, and who asked him to do so. (Mayer says Seligman was connected with the CIA, but no further details are given.) I would further ask what led him to inquire about the possible use of SERE techniques on interrogations of prisoners, and why, when he was waved off, he acquiesced so meekly.

For years now, Dr. Seligman has been quiet about the use of his own theories in the application of horrifying torture techniques. Why this silence?

The situation with Seligman, like those of other psychologists and psychiatrists who worked for the CIA's MKULTRA and like programs over forty years ago, reminds me of the analysis Robert Jay Lifton made of the behavior of doctors in Nazi Germany, who were implicated in anti-semitic purges of Jews from the medicine field, and in programs of forced sterilization, euthanasia of mental patients, and later, in the operations of the concentration camps. (The Germans, I should note, were not the only people to engage in forced sterilizations. The United States, too, engaged in eugenics policies such as forced sterilization earlier in the twentieth century, and many doctors participated in that.)

In his book, The Nazi Doctors, Lifton describes the phenomenon of "doubling", or "socialization to evil."

Doubling arises in the context where a professional must "function psychologically in an environment... antithetical to his previous ethical standards..." The person must be able to connect with both the prior, ethical self and the new, unethical environment or institution. The splitting of the professional self allows for an adaptation to evil and an escape from subsequent feelings of guilt or wrong-doing, as "the second self tends to be the one performing the 'dirty work'." What makes the entire process so insidious is that it usually takes place outside of individual consciousness, even as it involves "a significant change in moral consciousness." Thus, doubling can be understood as an adaptation to an extremely immoral culture or institution, allowing for disavowal of guilt. (See The Nazi Doctors, Lifton, pp. 421-423).

We can see this in Seligman's disavowal of any wrong-doing, and even his strong protestations of being against torture. Now, it's notoriously difficult to psychoanalyze someone from afar, but how else are we to explain the monumental and repeated violations of basic ethical practice by physicians and psychologists over the years, whether it has to do with secret study done on unknowing African-American subjects as part of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis patients experiments that lasted for forty years, until 1972; the human plutonium radiation experiments of the last century; the CIA mind control programs noted above; or the development and implementation of current psychological torture programs, which continues to date?

Are We Morally Doomed?

I think Jane Mayer is wrong on one point. As pointed out earlier, she is pessimistic that this nation has the "political appetite" to bring the perpetrators of torture to the bar of justice in his country. I hear that from many. But where there is a will, there is, proverbially, a way. It is not about "appetite" anymore. It is about what we must do, if we are not to take that final step into the dark side, a place Vice President Cheney so-famously told us we would have to go. We know now what awaits us there.

Worse even than the doubling of an individual like Martin Seligman is the behavior of the professional organizations for doctors and psychologists. The American Medical Association, while officially having a policy of not participating in interrogations at Bush's war on terror prisons, has taken no steps I know of to investigate or police violations of this policy. For years, the American Psychological Association has maintained that, while against torture, it supports psychologists working at prisons like Guantanamo, even if they do not allow basic human rights, because supposedly they lessen the possibility of abuse. The logic is grotesque, at best, and grossly misleading when you realize it's psychologists who have been implicated in organizing the abuse. But on this, the APA remains silent, rendering that organization, in Mayer's own characterization, "worthless."

In the famous legend, Faust bargains away his soul to the devil for the privilege of obtaining knowledge. In Goethe's rendering of the story, Faust is redeemed in the end, and the spirits who help him remind us, "He who persists in striving ever upwards, him we can save."


(1) Quote taken from Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctors, Basic Books, 1986/2000, p. 418.

(2) The quotes from my email correspondence with Dr. Seligman were the source of some quandary for me, as I was unsure whether to utilize them. I sought consultation for this issue with a long-time, highly respected journalist who thought it appropriate. I do want to make clear that all who communicate with me by voice or by writing (including email) and ask for confidentiality or non-attribution will have their request respected. My quotations from the Seligman correspondence with me are drawn from a professional exchange and not, in my opinion, privileged.

Also posted at Invictus and The Public Record

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Monday, July 07, 2008

NYT Limited Hangout on SERE Torture & U.S. Biological Warfare

Posted by Valtin at 12:32 AM |

Ex-CIA high official Victor Marchetti wrote:
"A 'limited hangout' is spy jargon for a favorite and frequently used gimmick of the clandestine professionals. When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting - sometimes even volunteering - some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case. The public, however, is usually so intrigued by the new information that it never thinks to pursue the matter further."
Scott Shane's New York Times article, China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo (7/2/08), details the use of Albert Biderman's "Chart of Coercion" by members of the the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program, or SERE, program to teach torture techniques to interrogators. The article is a fine example of how to conduct a limited hangout, or selected revelation, of intelligence-related material. Its headline and story is disingenuous or betrays ignorance. The aim of the article is to demonstrate the nefariousness or deviance of those who taught SERE techniques to U.S. interrogators, and to hide the truth about the derivation of those techniques, and to the history of the their use by U.S. government agencies.

One only has to read my June 25 article on the same subject, Nuts & Bolts: How U.S. Organized Torture Program, and then compare it with Shane's article to understand the difference between an artfully constructed faux-expose and an in-depth study of an important story. (One commenter at Mathew Yglesias's blog over at The Atlantic suggested I had scooped The New York Times. I'll note for the record that some of the points in Shane's article first appeared in my essay; for instance, the linking of the Biderman chart to deprogrammers websites. I'll let the fact that the diary was the first to fully expose the Biderman charts techniques speak for itself.)

The only new information the Times article reported was the identification of the source material for Biderman's "Principles", adumbrated in a "Chart of Coercion" used as a didactic device by SERE instructors, described as first appearing in an article by Albert Biderman in a September 1957 issue of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. The article was entitled Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War. (In my own article, I had noted -- erroneously, as it turns out -- that the chart had first appeared in a 1970s... but then I don't have the Times anonymous sources. As we shall see, Mr. Shane only discovered a part of the story.)

Mr. Shane's article writes:
The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.
What the author fails to mention:

1) The study of Communist interrogation methods was part of a decades-long research program in the effects of coercive interrogation techniques, including use of sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, drugs, semi-starvation, isolation, and other techniques, conducted by the CIA and various military intelligence agencies to the tune of millions of dollars, and included the use of fake academic groups, university researchers, hospitals, and secret experimentation upon U.S. and other countries' civilian population (Mr. Shane could have referenced the New York Times in-house library, where he would have found the NYT August 2, 1977 article, "Private Institutions Used in CIA Effort to Control Behavior," by Nicholas M. Horrock). The findings of this ongoing research project into mind control and torture were implemented by the CIA, and possibly other military intelligence and/or police agencies, as even a cursory glance at the declassified version of the CIA's own 1963 counterintelligence interrogation manual demonstrates.

2) The Times article also is incorrect in its conclusion that particularly "Chinese methods [of interrogation and torture] had been recycled and taught at Guantánamo." Mr. Shane mistakes the fact that the Biderman-SERE chart originated in an article on POW reactions from the Chinese/Korean War with the U.S. for the full history of how U.S. torture was derived. In the Biderman article itself, Mr. Biderman made clear that there was nothing especially novel about Chinese methods of coercive interrogation (although it is true that the Chinese relied more heavily on group pressures and thought reform than other countries did). Biderman concluded (bold emphasis added):
It is that the finding of our studies which should be greeted as most new and spectacular is the finding that essentially there was nothing new or spectacular about the events we studied. We found, as did other studies such as those of Hinkle and Wolff, that human behavior could be manipulated within a certain range by controlled environments. We found that the Chinese Communists used methods of coercing behavior from our men in their hands which Communists of other countries had employed for decades and which police and inquisitors had employed for centuries.
Furthermore, the chart in question, labelled "Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance," was itself not the original version of this chart. Biderman himself, in the article cited by the Times notes that the chart of techniques is but a "condensed version" of an "outline" produced by the author before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating "Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination and Exploitation of American Military and Civilian Prisoners" in June 1956. As for Chinese use of these techniques, towards the end of his article, Biderman states:
It should be understood that only a few of the Air Force personnel who encountered efforts to elicit false confessions in Korea were subjected to really full dress, all-out attempts to make them behave in the manner I have sketched. The time between capture and repatriation for many was too short, and, presumably, the trained interrogators available to the Communists too few, to permit this.
Over and over, Mr. Shane's article tries to portray the torture of detainees at Guantanamo by U.S. interrogators and jailers as something derived from Chinese forms of torture, and he uses the Biderman chart to punctuate his argument. But the evidence from Biderman's own article, and the preponderance of evidence from both primary and secondary historically sources points to a more complex and nuanced view of the origins of U.S. torture. The emphasis upon so-called Chinese origins serves two purposes: it uses the scandal of U.S. torture to make propaganda points against the Chinese, and furthermore, it perpetuates a cover story regarding U.S. use of bacteriological warfare during the Korean War that ascribes its blown cover to the fiction that North Korean and Chinese interrogation were meant to produce "false confessions," as I explain below.

False confessions and the elicitation of information via torture

Published along with Biderman's essay in the September 1957 Bulletin is another article by government researchers, Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff, who are referenced in the Biderman article mentioned above. This article -- The Methods of Interrogation and Indoctrination Used by the Communist State Police -- has as much, or more interest, to those who wish to study the development of governmental torture by the United States, has, for instance, its own very interesting charts, and examines the history of Russian state security procedures, going back to Czarist times. Wolff and Hinkle also describe key differences between Russian-Soviet and Chinese forms of interrogation. The latter's emphasis on re-education of political belief and the role of group pressures to produce the same is cited by both Biderman and Hinkle and Wolff as a chief difference between the two forms of communist-derived interrogation.

Wolff and Hinkle's article, based on studies they had conducted for the military and CIA -- their initial report had remained classified for a number of years -- also produced a number of charts. Two of them are as remarkable as the now more publicized version describing Biderman's so-called "principles." Entitled "A Typical Time Table - Easter European Secret Police Systems (Communist)", the table outlines a period of detention lasting up to 250 weeks. The outline describes an initial period of isolation, followed by the beginning of interrogation, all to be undertaken under a regimen of "progressive disorganization" of the prisoner's psyche. A second table, "The Detention Regimen" describes the procedures to be used, including "Total Isolation... No View Outside, Light in Ceiling Burns Constantly", sitting and sleeping in "fixed position", noting, "Pain May Result from Fixed Positions During Sleep and When Awake." Additionally, food is to be "Distasteful -- just Sufficient to Sustain Nutrition."

The point of all this is to produce a state within the prisoner that includes fear, uncertainty, fatigue, pain, humiliation, and therefore "Great Need to Talk" and "Great Need for Approval of Interrogator." Again, all of this is duplicated in the CIA's own 1963 manual, and subsequently in manuals produced by the CIA for training of foreign interrogators, armed forces and police in the mid-1980s.

Did all this torture, whether by Soviet, Chinese, Korean, or U.S. interrogators produce actionable intelligence? Did it produce "false confessions?

In order to answer these questions, we must be clear about what these techniques were meant to produce, and that was, as the Hinkle/Wolff essay makes clear, "progressive disorganization" of the prisoner. Under this weakened state of existence, and in a state of near-total dependency, the interrogator works the art of establishing rapport. The results themselves are related to what is meant to be produced.

When the Soviet Stalinist government of the 1930s meant to discredit old elements of the regime, labelling former cadre of the Communist Party "enemies of the state", the intended result was the "false confession." At that time, the Dewey Commission in the United States (named after the respected U.S. academic who chaired the investigation, John Dewey) investigated and cleared Leon Trotsky and other "old Bolsheviks" from the wild prosecutorial claims of the Russian prosecutors. It was the "confessions" of some of these former leaders of the Soviet Union that seemed so inexplicable at the time. The drama of the situation was captured by novelist Arthur Koestler in his famous novel, Darkness at Noon.

Much later, the supposed confessions of Hungarian Cardinal Josef Mindszenty after his 1948 arrest by the Stalinist police greatly puzzled Western observers. It was supposed that he was tortured, but even then, how had he been made to "confess" in such a relatively brief period of time?

The issue of false confessions elicited under torture had its largest airing when, in 1952-53, captured U.S. airmen told their captors that they had engaged in dropping biological weapons on North Korea and China as part of the U.S. air campaign against those countries. The accusation was vigorously denied by the United States, and a propaganda campaign was begun in the guise of investigating the "brainwashing" of U.S. prisoners. Wild stories of mind control drugs and secret interrogation techniques that could gain unique influence over the personalities of its victims were circulated. It was in this environment that Albert Biderman, Lawrence Hinkle, Harold Wolff, Robert Jay Lifton and others were enlisted to study how the Chinese had produced the "false confessions" of U.S. POWs.

Except, were the confessions false?

Publicly, that was the story. But when researchers met behind closed doors, or at professional meetings, a different story emerges. At a 1957 symposium organized by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP) on "Methods of Forceful Indoctrination: Observations and Interviews", Dr. Louis West noted that "the enemy had a considerable degree of success in obtaining intelligence information and in forcing prisoners to engage in propaganda activities" (emphasis added; the quote is from GAP Symposium No. 4, July 1957, published by GAP Publications Office).

(Robert Jay Lifton, quoted in Mr. Shane's New York Times argument as saddened that Chinese interrogation methods were used by the U.S., a "180-degree turn" by U.S. interrogators, was a prominent presenter at this same conference, along with Dr. Edgar Schein of MIT, and the aforementioned Dr. Lawrence Hinkle. When I asked Dr. Lifton some time ago, and in another context, if he had any "personal memories or thoughts" about the work of Drs. Biderman, Hinkle and others, he replied by e-mail that he had no personal memories of these individuals.)

After the airmen were repatriated back to the United States, they all recanted their "confessions", although they had to do so under threat of court martial, a remarkable threat to issue, if the confessions were on the surface of them false.

U.S. Biological Warfare in Korea?

The U.S. chemical and biological warfare program after World War II was one of the most expensive and secretive campaigns ever undertaken by the U.S. government, comparable to the Manhattan Project. The NYT article makes much over the production of "false confessions" to the use of biological weapons by the U.S. during the Korean War. But there is an alternate, studied case demonstrating that the execrable and illegal use of such weapons occurred. (Both chemical and biological warfare were banned by the 1925 Geneva Convention.)

While there is no smoking gun document, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence, much of it detailed by Canadian academics Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman in their 1998 book, The United States and Biological Warfare (Indiana University Press). More recently, respected bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, Senior Policy and Research Analyst for the President Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, has called Endicott and Hagerman's claims "compelling, if not conclusive", and the U.S. research program in biological warfare worthy of further investigation.

I cannot do justice to the full extent of information unearthed by Endicott and Hagerman, but the following is a brief summary of the data.

*** At the close of World War II, the United States, under the authority of General Douglas MacArthur granted immunity to members of Japanese Unit 731 "in exchange for data of research on biological warfare". Led by the infamous General Shiro Ishii, this covert branch of the Japanese Imperial Army, based in Manchuria, a conquered portion of China, engaged in the worst sort of experimentation, including live vivisection of POWs, deliberate infection of disease, and study of disease "vectors" of infection, as by fleas, to study the suitability of large-scale bacteriological warfare. According to Jonathan Moreno, in his book Undue Risk, according to recent research Unit 731 may have been responsible for the deaths of over 270,000 civilians.

*** In 1950, U.S. spending on biological warfare research was $5.3 million. In 1951-1953, the high-water mark of the Korean War, money spent on such development was $345 million -- a lot of cash in 2008 dollars. Truman's Secretary of Defense George Marshall approved the recommendation of the Stevenson Committee two weeks after the Chinese entry into the Korean conflict. Chaired by Earl Stevenson, and including representatives from U.S. Rubber, AT&T Co., Harvard Medical School, and a secretariat "drawn from the Defense Department, the Research and Development Board, the Chemical Warfare Service, and the Air Force" (Endicott & Hagerman, p. 45), the Committee recommended "an increase in funding and for research and development to bring biological weapons to operational readiness as soon as possible" (p. 47).

*** U.S. government documents, such as the memo, "Mechanism of Entry and Action of Insecticidal Compounds and Insect Repellents" (Oct. 26, 1952), attached to the 1953 Fiscal Year Budget, which included the following (p. 77):
Application to BW [Biological Warfare]: $25,000 (35% of $72,000).

Information on the mechanism of action of insecticides is applicable directly to problems involved in both the offensive application of and protection against insect dissemination of biological agents. Under project 465-20-001, insect strains resistant to insecticides are being developed. These represent a potentially more effective vehicle for the offensive use of BW of insect borne pathogens....
Another memo -- reproduced as an appendix to Endicott and Hagerman's book (p. 202) -- dated March 17, 1953, from the Air Force Chief of Plans to the Chiefs of War Plans and of Psychological Warfare, notes:
The Psychological Warfare Division will direct and supervise covert operations in the scope of unconventional BW and CW [Chemical Warfare] operations and programs and the psychological aspects of BW and CW....

The War Plans Division will... Integrate capabilities and requirements for BW and CW into war plans... Participate in the determination of munitions requirements for BW and CW to implement improved plans.
Why this document doesn't serve as a "smoking gun" in the eyes of most is beyond me. But extraordinary claims, as such are allegations of serious war crimes, demands a great deal of evidence. There is much more such evidence in Endicott and Hagerman's book, but I cannot reproduce it all here. One important discussion of the evidence occurred in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in May/June 1999. Another discussion, concerning the relevance of newly "discovered" Soviet documents and their effect upon the controversy, occurred in the Cold War International History Project Bulletin in Winter 1998.

*** Chinese documents, and the U.S. airmen confessions are another, if controversial, source of information. Altogether, 36 U.S. officers gave statements to the Chinese of involvement in U.S. operational use of biological weapons, including two colonels and two captains. Endicott and Hagerman's book lists a number of manuscript and Chinese government document sources. Also of significance is the Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacteriological Warfare in Korea and China, published by the Chinese, which offered over 600 pages of documentary evidence. Needless to say, this report, which found plausible the charges of bacteriological warfare, examining spent bomb casings and medical documents, among other evidence, was not widely distributed in the U.S., though Time Magazine pilloried it when it appeared. The Commission was headed by Dr. Joseph Needham, a very respected British author and researcher.

Summary

The New York Times article, China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo, is a sophisticated use of journalism in the service of propaganda. While it attaches the recent use of torture and coercive methods of interrogation by the United States to some of its origins in the study of communist methods of interrogation, it does so in a one-sided way. It attributes methods of detention and treatment of prisoners that was not unique to China. If anything, the U.S. model of psychological torture is probably closer to that used by the Soviet secret police. In any case, this type of torture was not developed by the communists, but had its origins in the police procedures of autocratic governments, not least that of Czarist Russia.

The article also fails to mention the long interest of military and U.S. intelligence agencies in the use of these methods, nor their implementation by the U.S. government, long before the "war on terror" and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were twinkles in the eye of the current administration. One wonders how SERE officers and personnel like being the scapegoats for a U.S. policy that goes back decades.

Finally, the article perpetuates a mythology as to the use of "false confessions" during the Korean War to mask the origins of U.S. research into mind control and coercive interrogation that go back at least to the U.S. Navy's Project Chatter in the late 1940s, and the CIA's Operation Bluebird in 1950, both well before the Korean War. The purpose of this form of propaganda is to cover-up very serious questions about the use of biological warfare approved by the highest levels of the U.S. government, a serious war crime if it in fact, as appears very probable, occurred. In any case, the destruction of documents by the United States over the years makes a reconstruction of our own history extraordinarily difficult. CIA director Richard Helms ordered all MKULTRA documents destroyed in 1973; luckily, one cache of these documents had been copied, and became available later, but much remains unknown, because destroyed.

Many of the Korean War documents were also destroyed, or remain classified or hidden. Endicott and Hagerman note that they were told that archivists at the U.S. National Archives say that some files of the Chemical Warfare Service were recalled by the Army and destroyed in the period 1956 to 1969 (p. 256).

We cannot know the entire story of U.S. covert operations, including the research into torture interrogations, and the use of chemical and biological weapons. The fact that decades after the fact it is difficult to access information on these subjects speaks for itself, as does the destruction of much of the documentation.

The New York Times prides itself as the paper of record in the United States, that publishes "all the news that's fit to print." But as in the run-up to the Iraq War, the NYT, like much of U.S. mainstream media, has acted as a conduit for the official "line" of the U.S. government, much as Pravda and Izvestia once did for the sclerotic Kremlin bureaucracy. The widespread disbelief in the Warren Commission explanation of the Kennedy assassination, and the popularity of conspiracy television shows like The X-Files reflects a nascent consciousness among the mass of the American population that the truth is too often hidden from them.

It is a shame to see with what alacrity the Chinese torture model has been taken as gospel by both bloggers and conventional media sources. Most seem to have never even purused the actual documents that are quoted. Others speak and write passionately about subjects they have barely even studied. In George W. Bush's America, there is nothing needed more than the ability to think clearly and analytically, with an independent and curious mind, and a willingness to take the truth, whatever it may be, wherever it will take us. If that means entering a dark territory where what one believed to be true and honorable turns out to be otherwise, then the sooner we travel such a journey the better.

Originally posted at Invictus

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hitchens's Tortured Explanation

Posted by Michael Otterman at 4:10 PM |

Just penned a small piece for the Guardian's Comment is Free site regarding Hitchens' experiment on the waterboard. While Hitchens, to his credit, takes the universally accepted view that waterboarding is indeed torture and ends wishing his experience was "the only way in which the words 'waterboard' and 'American' could be mentioned in the same (gasping and sobbing) breath", his dispatch is tarnished by his defense of America as torturing-state in the face of "tormentors and murderers".
I open the piece up with the torture of US flyer Thomas Harrison at the hands of his Communist captors. Enjoy- Mike

----

Thomas Harrison called it the "water treatment".

On May 21, 1951, Lt Col Harrison's F-80 jet fighter was shot down over North Korea. Two years later, Harrison returned home to Clovis, New Mexico a broken man.

His Communist captors, he said, "would bend my head back, put a towel over my face and pour water over the towel. I could not breathe. This went on hour after hour, day after day. It was freezing cold. When I would pass out, they would shake me and begin again."


click here to continue reading

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nuts & Bolts: How U.S. Organized Torture Program

Posted by Valtin at 11:25 PM |

The Armed Services Committee's hearings last week on interrogation and torture gave us a startling look into how torture was taught at the Naval Prison at Guantanamo Bay. Most articles have not bothered to look deeply into what was discussed in meetings between officials of the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, program and ranking officers and personnel at Guantanamo. This article will look in some detail at what actually occurred. (At the end, I will address an important correction and clarification to an earlier article on SERE.)

As Mark Benjamin writes in his "timeline to Bush government torture":
Soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon and the CIA began an orchestrated effort to tap expertise from the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school, for use in the interrogation of terrorist suspects. The U.S. military's SERE training is designed to inoculate elite soldiers, sailors and airmen to torture, in the event of their capture, by an enemy that would violate the Geneva Conventions. Those service members are subjected to forced nudity, stress positions, hooding, slapping, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and, yes, in some cases, waterboarding.
In an article the other day, I described some of SERE's rocky history, and indicated that by testimony of Lt. Col. Baumgarten, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense, which administers SERE, he was approached by an official of the defense department for information on SERE techniques as early as December 2001. This places DoD interest in possibly reverse-engineering of SERE techniques prior to the January 9 memo by John Yoo providing legal cover to Bush administration assertions that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees held in the new war in Afghanistan. In addition, it predates the January 25 memo by Alberto Gonzales, then a presidential counsel, approving the Yoo argument, and stating that when it came to interrogation of enemy prisoners, the Geneva conventions' "strict limitations on questioning" such prisoners was now obsolete.

In my opinion, and no one has been able to convince me otherwise (although I am no attorney), the query to Baumgarten in December 2001 may be sufficient evidence of war crimes, even by the twisted logic of the White House, who first wanted to torture, and then later dream up the legal justification for it. The only catch -- that no one catch them red-handed in the interim. I again encourage Senator Levin to release the documents that Lt. Col. Baumgarten says convinced him that he had been approached in December 2001. So far Levin and his committee have focused on the approach to SERE in July 2002. Why?

A Course in Torture

SERE training specialists arrived in Guantanamo in late December 2002. A copy of a SERE interrogation Standard Operating Procedure was circulated to camp officials. (All quotes from this and other documents can be found in the document release by SASC made coincident with last week's hearings.)

Most of this SERE SOP remains classified. The memo that accompanied it has been declassified, however:
Subj: GUIDELINES FOR EMPLOYING "SERE" MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES DURING DETAINEE INTERROGATIONS....

The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations. These tactics and techniques are used at SERE school to "break" SERE detainees. The same tactics and techniques can by used to break real detainees during interrogation operations.
The document goes on to mandate SERE-related training for all instructors. The policy memo is approved by the Chief of Interrogation Control Element (ICE), Lt. Col. Ted Moss, Major Geoffrey Miller, Commanding General, Joint Task Force, Guantanamo, and a third colonel whose name I cannot read on the document as it is reproduced.

The SASC produced a small extract from the SERE SOP, dated December 18, 2002. It describes the use of "Degradation Tactics", including slaps to the shoulder, and stomach; something called an "Insult Slap"; and Stripping. In addition, it lists "Physical Debilitation Tactics", specifically "Stress Positions", including variations for kneeling, sitting, standing, something called "Head Rest Index Finger Position", and another one titled "Worship-the-Gods". Finally, the SOP commands "Demonstrate Omnipotence Tactics", via "Manhandling" and "Walling".

That would be all we know from government sources, if it weren't for an extraordinary memo by two SERE specialists written to the Officer in Charge at "FASOTRAGRULANT Det Burnswick". These two officers, John Rankin and Christopher Ross, say they were "directed to proceed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba at the request of LtCol [sic] Moss, Commander of the Interrogation Control Unit." It was their "impression" they were to provide "the theory and application of... physical pressures utilized during our training" to Gitmo interrogators. Utilizing the original SERE SOP, a training plan was worked up. The SERE trainers focused on "resistance", as it was believed that some of the high-profile detainees had undergone their own kind of resistance training, "as evidenced by the Al Queda Training Manual". The memo continues:
On the morning of 31 Dec 02, Mr. Ross and I initiated training with an in-depth class on Biderman's Principles, and the theory and practical application of selected physical pressures, [unclear word, maybe "IAW"] our "Blue Book", to approximately 24 ICE personnel. This training was conducted in one of the newly constructed interrogation facilities located at Camp Delta. During this training it was stressed that the physical pressures are only a part of the overall conditioning process designed to establish and maintain an effective captive management program.
After complaining about security glitches at Guantanamo, and rental car availability ("Future trips should utilize Enterprise Rental"), the memo concludes:
Recommend that future trainers, if requested, be thoroughly prepared to discuss and explain Biderman's Principles and captive management techniques.
Biderman, Brainwashing, and U.S. Torture

Some readers may be familiar with Biderman's "Chart of Coercion", as it has been well-circulated on cult deprogrammer websites for years. The original is supposedly from a 1970's Amnesty International publication on torture. The version released by the SASC -- originally an enclosure to Moss and Rankin's memo discussed above -- is very blurry and difficult to read. But it is almost word for word identical to this version published on the web, and can profitably be compared together.

Albert Biderman was a social psychologist who worked with the government debriefing POWs from the Korean War. At the time there was a huge controversy because many of these POWs were said to be collaborators, and some had told their captors that the U.S. had bombed Korea and China with biological weapons, a definite war crime. The U.S. called it "brainwashing" and began a crash program trying to understand the nuts and bolts of so-called mind control. Biderman became one of the outstanding researchers in this effort. In the early 1960s, he edited with a colleague a collection of research papers by psychologists and psychiatrists encapsulating the subject and entitled it "The Manipulation of Human Behavior." (Also see this review of MHB.)

Biderman became one of the premier experts in interrogation, both of the rapport-building and coercive types. Much of the knowledge gleaned by he and his collaborators was encapsulated in the "Chart of Coercion", or what SERE calls "Coercive Management Techniques". What are these techniques?

1. Isolation: This deprives the prisoner of all social support and "ability to resist". While turning the prisoner upon his own resources, it "makes victim dependent upon interrogator" (quotes are from the SERE version). Furthermore, isolation can be complete, semi, or "group isolation".

2. Monopolisation of Perception: This means again "physical isolation. Darkness or bright light. Barren environment. Restricted movement. Monotonous food." The goal? To fixate the prisoner upon his "immediate predicament", the technique also "eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor," frustrating all action "not consistent with compliance."

3. Induced Debilitation and Exhaustion: This is what it seems to be, i.e., a method to weaken a prisoners' "mental and physical ability to resist." Techniques include: "Semi-starvation. Exposure. Exploitation of wounds. Induced illness. Sleep deprivation. Prolonged constraint. Prolonged interrogation" and "over-exertion", among other practices (tortures!)

4. Threats: Which "cultivates anxiety and despair", including threats of death, non return, "endless interrogation and isolation", threats against family, and "mysterious changes of treatment".

5. Occasional indulgences: To provide positive motivation for compliance, it also has the effect of hindering "adjustment to deprivation."

6. Demonstrating "Omnipotence" and "Omniscience": The purpose of this is said to suggest to the prisoner the "futility of resistance". How is this done? By "demonstrating complete control over victim's fate". (And this, by the way, is a crucial way that the ban on habeas corpus for these prisoners, recently overturned by the Supreme Court, fed into the military's torture program, by demonstrating that there was no appeal to anyone.)

7. Degradation: This is where one finds the prevention of personal hygiene, the insults, taunts, "demeaning punishments" and "denial of privacy". The goal was to damage prisoner self esteem, making "capitulation" a lesser evil. It also "reduces the prisoner to 'animal level' concerns."

8. Enforcing Trivial Demands: Again the point is to develop compliance in the captive, and takes place through "enforcement of minute rules."

So there you have it, these are the "principles" the SERE instructors insisted future trainers for interrogators at Guantanamo (and since SERE instruction migrated to Iraq and Afghanistan as well, we can presume there as well) "be thoroughly prepared to discuss and explain".

If you aren't stunned by this point, you never will be. The hubris and ambition of the American imperial quest has reached it reductio ad absurdum in reducing those who oppose it to the "animal level", and making them objects of torture and omnipotent control. There are other aspects to this scandal that are worth reporting. For instance, Stephen Soldz has just written an excellent summary of the role of military psychologists and the American Psychological Association in all this.

My conclusion is only this: now that you've read this, what are you going to do about it? It's your society. Your leaders have proven impotent in stopping this activity, and the perpetrators have not been held accountable -- yet. Ask yourself, what will I do today, tomorrow, and the next day to stop this barbarity from eating up our society entirely, from destroying the entire social fabric.

A Final Correction and a Further Clarification

In my story the other day, Media & Gov't Torture Cover-up: Sen. Levin, Release the 12/01 SERE Docs, I wasn't sufficiently clear in my description about testimony from a 1960s Green Beret officer. I wrote:
Sergeant Donald W. Duncan, a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, recipient of two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Vietnamese Silver Star, the Army Air Medal, and sundry other decorations, testified at a "War Crimes" tribunal chaired by Bertrand Russell in the 1960s that SERE techniques had been taught to Special Forces interrogators for use in Vietnam....
From the Russell Copenhagen Tribunal testimony (pp.31-32) (bold emphasis added):
Duncan recounts an American instruction class for the Green Berets in "Counter-Measures to Hostile Interrogation" in which the techniques of hostile interrogation are presented in great detail but not any counter-measures, of which the instructor says there are none. A sergeant asks the instructor whether the only reason for teaching the class is for training in the use of the methods of interrogation (involving torture such as lowering of a prisoner's testicles into a jeweler's vise, mutilation, etc.). The instructor replies: "We can't tell you that, Sergeant Harrison. The Mothers of America wouldn't approve. Furthermore, we will deny that any such thing is taught or intended." D. DUNCAN, THE NEW LEGIONS 123-25 (Pocket Books ed. 1968). In his testimony before the Russell Tribunal, Duncan states that this dialogue is a word for word quote. RUSSELL TRIBUNAL, supra, at 463.
As a colleague kindly pointed out to me, the implication in my account is that SERE was involved in reverse-engineering their own techniques in order to teach torture to interrogators. In fact, Michael Otterman, in his book American Torture (where I first came across the Duncan story), writes:
...by the late 1950s US Army Special Forces had coopted coursework from SERE for more sinister purposes....

Sergeant Donald Duncan joined the Special Forces in 1959. At the time, Special Forces resistance training was held at Camp Mackall and was supplemented by classroom training at the Army's nearby Special Warfare School [SWS] at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (pp. 39-40)
Otterman goes on to explain that Duncan was an interrogation instructor at the SWS. He also quotes from Duncan's Russell Committee testimony a more forceful description of how "counter-measure" instruction was used (p. 67 of AT):
The specific purpose for teaching this [at Fort Bragg] is so the student in turn, once he is put in another country, can teach these methods to what we refer to as an 'indigenous counterpart', somebody indigenous to the country. And he in turn then would become the interrogator... In Vietnam, of course, that would be the Vietnamese.
There are two important differences from the Duncan/Vietnam example and the current scandal over SERE and torture. One, the teaching of torture was done by instructors at Special Forces' Special Warfare School (although SERE techniques may also have been utilized there). Two, the ultimate recipients of the training were to be indigenous interrogators, or torturers. The current situation has SERE teaching their techniques to U.S. interrogators and personnel.

The main point remains, after all the distinctions are pulled away: the United States armed forces as a matter of policy have at various times utilized so-called counter-resistance techniques to be used by captured U.S. soldiers as a template for torture to be used on American enemy prisoners or political opponents. The situation with SERE is not new, but part of a military or national security culture that has lost its moral bearings and committed crimes for which they have never been held accountable. (This is not to downplay those portions of the military, as currently the military lawyers, who strenuously opposed this policy).

Originally posted at Invictus and The Public Record

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