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.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Minutes from a Torturers' Meeting at Guantanamo

Posted by Valtin at 1:22 PM |

What follows below was transcribed from a PDF of the original document (or a copy of same), posted on the website of Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It, along with a wealth of other documentation, was used in preparing the SASC's highly critical report late last year on interrogations and detainee treatment, which concluded that high officials bore responsibility for the mistreatment and torture of prisoners under U.S. control.

The document below constitutes the minutes from a meeting held at Guantanamo in early autumn, 2002. It is presented with minimal editorial comment, as I believe it speaks for itself. So far as I know, no other transcription of this document, minus certain excerpts, has ever been published or posted before. It is done so here as a public service, to promote the position that prosecution of the government's torture crimes is of paramount importance.

Cast of characters:
Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo; Lt. Col. Jerald Phifer, who sent a memo to Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more "severe interrogation techniques" (Dunleavy told a superior that Phifer was his "point of contact" on interrogation matters); Major John Leso, a military psychologist, who was present at the torture interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani(Leso, like Major Burney in the minutes, were members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team [BSCT] -- Burney is reportedly a psychiatrist -- last month, the Convening Authority of Military Commissions at Guantanamo dropped the charges against al-Qahtani, concluding his treatment amounted to torture); Dave Becker, representing the Defense Intelligence Agency; and John Fredman, then chief counsel to the CIA's counter-terrorism center.

I'd like to make only two observations that I think are relevant at this point. One, it is clear that coercive interrogations amounting to torture had already begun at Guantanamo prior to this October 2002 meeting. In the document itself, the participants have a general discussion recalling how prisoner "063", Mohammed al-Qahtani, "has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors," indicating, perhaps, that al-Qahtani was some kind of experimental test case. (H/T to Trudy Bond, who noted this fact in an article published at Counterpunch earlier this year.)

Secondly, it struck me when transcribing these minutes the degree to which John Fredman, the CIA legal counsel and rep to this meeting, dominated the discussion. All the participants seem to bow to his authority, especially on legal issues, with Lt. Col. Beaver chiming in as well. While the BSCT members -- who are the medical professionals present -- appear to criticize "fear-based" interrogations techniques at the beginning of the meeting, in favor of rapport-building, as well as abusive environmental "approaches," as the discussion veers more and more to propositions regarding blatant torture, like the "wet towel" (waterboarding) technique, nary a protest is heard from these individuals, who have by their actions disavowed the ethics of their medical and/or psychological professions.

One final note: the acronym LEA refers to Law Enforcement Agency, and basically refers to the FBI. The acronym SERE, which appears throughout, refers to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program found in the various military branches. Meant to inoculate U.S. servicemen against the rigors of enemy capture and torture, Sen. Levin's investigation documented the various ways in which SERE methods were reverse-engineered to provide torture techniques for use by the military and CIA on prisoners held under U.S. control. So far as we know, the first approach by the Defense Department (specifically, by DoD Chief Counsel William J. Haynes, II) to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, parent department for SERE, regarding information on SERE techniques, was in December 2001, well before any legal memo by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel allowing (illegally) for abusive treatment of detainees. There can be no alibi that DoD was following legal advice or protected by presidential order at that point in time.

Re transcription: I have tried to follow as much as possible the layout, spelling, punctuation, and font emphasis of the original. Bullets have been changed to asterisks, arrows to long dashes. All brackets and parentheses are as in original, unless otherwise indicated.
Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes

Persons in Attendance:

COL Cummings, LTC Phifer, CDR Bridges, LTC Beaver, MAJ Burney, MAJ Leso, Dave Becker, John Fredman, 1LT Seek, SPC Pimentel

The following notes were taken during the aforementioned meeting at 1340 on October 2, 2002. All questions and comments have been paraphrased:

BSCT Description of SERE Psych Training (MAJ Burney and MAJ Leso)

* Identify trained resisters
      * Al Qaeda Training

* Methods to overcome resistance
      * Rapport building (approach proven to yield positive results)
      * Friendly approach (approach proven to yield positive results)
      * Fear Based Approaches are unreliable, ineffective in almost all cases

* What's more effective than fear based strategies are camp-wide environmental stratetgies designed to disrupt cohesion and communication among detainees
      * Environment should foster dependence and compliance

LTC Phifer: Harsh techniques used on our service members have worked and will work on some, what about those?

MAJ Leso: Force is risky, and may be ineffective due to the detainees' frame of reference. They are used to seeing much more barbaric treatment.

Becker: Agreed.

-- At this point a discussion about ISN 63 [Mohammed al-Qahtani] ensued, recalling how he has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors. After short discussion the BSCT continued to address the overall manipulation of the detainees' environment.

BSCT continued:

* Psychological stressors are extremely effective (ie, sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time)

COL Cummings: We can't do sleep deprivation

LTC Beaver: Yes, we can -- with approval.

* Disrupting the normal camp operations is vital. We need to create an environment of "controlled chaos"

LTC Beaver: We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross -- added by transcriber] is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques. We must have the support of the DOD.

Becker: We have had many reports from Bagram about sleep deprivation being used.

LTC Beaver: True, but officially it is not happening. It is not being reported officially. The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention.

COL Cummings: The new PSYOP plan has been passed up the chain

LTC Beaver: It's at J3 at SOUTHCOM.

Fredman: The DOJ has provided much guidance on this issue. The CIA is not held to the same rules as the military. In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD has "moved" them away from the attention of the ICRC. Upon questioning from the ICRC about their whereabouts, the DOD's response has repeatedly been that the detainee merited no status under the Geneva Convention. The CIA has employed aggressive techniques on less than a handful of suspects since 9/11.

Under the Torture Convention, torture has been prohibited by international law, but the language of the statutes is written vaguely. Severe mental and physical pain is prohibited. The mental part is explained as poorly as the physical. Severe physical pain described as anything causing permanent damage to major organs or body parts. Mental torture described as anything leading to permanent, profound damage to the senses or personality. It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you're doing it wrong. So far, the techniques we have addressed have not proven to produce these types of results, which in a way challenges what the BSCT paper says about not being able to prove whether these techniques will lead to permanent damage. Everything on the BSCT white paper is legal from a civilian standpoint. [Any questions of severe weather or temperature conditions should be deferred to medical staff.] Any of the techniques that lie on the harshest end of the spectrum must be performed by a highly trained individual. Medical personnel should be present to treat any possible accidents. The CIA operates without military intervention. When the CIA has wanted to use more aggressive techniques in the past, the FBI has pulled their personnel from theatre. In those rare instances, aggressive techniques have proven very helpful.

LTC Beaver: We will need documentation to protect us

Fredman: Yes, if someone dies while aggressive techniques are being used, regardless of cause of death, the backlash of attention would be extremely detrimental. Everything must be approved and documented.

Becker: LEA personnel will not participate in harsh techniques

LTC Beaver: There is no legal reason why LEA personnel cannot participate in these operations

-- At this point a discussion about whether or not to video tape the aggressive sessions, or interrogations at all ensued.

Becker: Videotapes are subject to too much scrutiny in court. We don't want the LEA people in aggressive sessions anyway.

LTC Beaver: LEA choice not to participate in these types of interrogations is more ethical and moral as opposed to legal.

Fredman: The videotaping of even totally legal techniques will look "ugly".

Becker: (Agreed)

Fredman: The Torture Convention prohibits torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The US did not sign up on the second part, because of the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment), but we did sign the part about torture. This gives us more license to use more controversial techniques.

LTC Beaver: Does SERE employ the "wet towel" technique?

Fredman: If a well-trained individual is used to perform [sic] this technique it can feel like you're drowning. The lymphatic system will react as if you're suffocating, but your body will not cease to function. It is very effective to identify phobias and use them (ie, insects, snakes, claustrophobia). The level of resistance is directly related to person's experience.

MAJ Burney: Whether or not significant stress occurs lies in the eye of the beholder. The burden of proof is the big issue. It is very difficult to disprove someone else's PTSD.

Fredman: These techniques need involvement from interrogators, psych, medical, legal, etc.

Becker: Would we blanket approval or would it be case by case?

Fredman: The CIA makes the call internally on most of the types of techniques found in the BSCT paper, and this discussion. Significantly harsh techniques are approved through the DOJ.

LTC Phifer: Who approves ours? The CG? SOUTHCOM CG?

Fredman: Does the Geneva Convention apply? The CIA rallied for it not to.

LTC Phifer: Can we get DOJ opinion about these topics on paper?

LTC Beaver: Will it go from DOJ to DOD?

LTC Phifer: Can we get to see a CIA request to use advanced aggressive techniques?

Fredman: Yes, but we can't provide you with a copy. You will probably be able to look at it.
An example of a different perspective on torture is Turkey. In Turkey they say that interrogation at all, or anything you do to that results in the subject betraying his comrades is torture.

LTC Beaver: In the BSCT paper it says something about "imminent threat of death",...

Fredman The threat of death is also subject to scrutiny, and should be handled on a case by case basis. Mock executions don't work as well as friendly approaches, like letting someone write a letter home, or providing them with an extra book.

Becker: I like the part about ambient noise.

-- At this point a discussion about the ways to manipulate the environment ensued, and the following ideas were offered:

* Medical visits should be scheduled randomly, rather than on a set system
* Let detainee rest just long enough to fall asleep and wake him up about every thirty minutes and tell him it's time to pray again
* More meals per day induce loss of time
* Truth serum; even though it may not actually work, it does have a placebo effect.

Meeting ended at 1450.

***********
The Immediate Aftermath

It is worth noting some of the administrative responses to this meeting. On October 11, a week after the Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting, LTC Jerald Phifer wrote a request to Major General Michael B. Dunleavy, Commander at Guantanamo, requesting use of Counter-Resistance Strategy techniques. He divided them into three categories of intensity.

Category I included direct approach and rapport building techniques, but also false identification of national identity of the interrogator, yelling at the detainee, and "techniques of deception." Category II techniques included use of stress position, isolation up to 30 days, light/auditory deprivation, 20 hour interrogations, nudity, hooding, and use of phobias "to induce stress." Category III techniques included the "wet towel" (waterboarding) treatment, threats of death to the prisoner or his family, and exposure to cold.

On the same day, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo, LTC Diane E. Beaver, wrote a legal brief that concluded "the proposed strategies do not violate federal law." She did suggest, though, that Category II and III techniques undergo further legal review "prior to their commencement." Still on the same day, Maj. Gen. Dunleavy wrote a memo to the Commander of U.S. Southern Command asking for approval of the techniques. He concluded, without exception, that "these techniques do not violate U.S. or international laws.

On October 25, 2002, General James T. Hill, Commander at SOUTHCOM, forwarded the request to use the techniques to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While he worried about the legality of some of th Category III techniques, particularly the death threats, he urged them to consider that he wanted "to have as many options as possible at my disposal."

A few days after that, on October 28, 2002, Mark Fallon, Deputy Commander at Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) sent a memo to a colleague. He was uneasy about what he had read in the Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes. He told his colleague the comments of Beaver and others "looks like the kinds of stuff Congressional hearings are made of." The techniques "seem to stretch beyond the bounds of legal propriety."
Quotes from LTC Beaver regarding things that are not being reported give the appearance of impropriety.... Talk of "wet towel treatments" which results in the lymphatic gland reacting as if you are suffocating, would in my opinion; shock the conscience of any legal body looking at using the results of the interrogations or possibly even the interrogators. Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.
If you wish to repost this essay you can download a .txt file of the html here (right click and save). Permission granted.

Also posted at Invictus and Progressive Historians

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Forgotten Men: New UC Report on "Guantanamo and its Aftermath"

Posted by Valtin at 12:06 AM |

Last summer, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First released Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the U.S. The study looked at medical and psychological evidence of the costs of torture by eleven men who endured such abuse by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay.

Now, University of California, Berkeley's Human Rights Center, in conjunction with the International Human Rights Law Clinic and Center for Constitutional Rights, has released a report on the medical and psychological condition of 62 detainees released over the years from Guantanamo. According to a press release by the university:
The report, "Guantanamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Detainees," based on a two-year study, reveals in graphic detail the cumulative effect of Bush Administration policies on the lives of 62 released detainees. Many of the prisoners were sold into captivity and subjected to brutal treatment in U.S. prison camps in Afghanistan. Once in Guantanamo, prisoners were denied access to civilian courts to challenge the legality of their detention. Almost two-thirds of the former detainees interviewed reported having psychological problems since leaving Guantanamo....

Researchers conducted interviews with released detainees in nine countries. The comprehensive study also includes in-depth interviews with key government officials, military experts, former guards, interrogators and other camp personnel.
As the Bush Administration winds down into it ignominious end, President-elect Obama has made clear -- most recently in a 60 Minutes interview last night -- he will very early on use his executive power to close Guantanamo and put an end to torture. It's not clear yet what will happen to the over 200 detainees still held prisoner at Guantanamo, or whether other prisons will be closed, or even whether any executive order will pertain to CIA activities. When Laurence Tribe, an Obama legal advisor and his former law professor argued the other day that perhaps a new federal judiciary system was needed to deal with the Guantanamo prisoners, the idea was quickly scotched (at least for now) by Obama's spokepeople.

"I've Lost My Will"

Almost 800 prisoners have been dragged through the torture chambers of Guantanamo. Reams of words have been written, and scores of legal cases filed in an effort to either end or excuse the mistreatment wrought there. Reporting in today's San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Egelko, describes some of the stories from the HRC report:
"I've lost my property. I've lost my job. I've lost my will," said an Afghan man, one of 62 former inmates in nine countries interviewed anonymously by UC Berkeley researchers for a newly released report.

Another man, jobless and destitute, said his family kicked him out after he returned, and his wife went to live with her relatives. "I have a plastic bag holding my belongings that I carry with me all the time," he said. "And I sleep every night in a different mosque."
UC Berkeley's press release quotes the HRC study as documenting the use at Guantanamo of "being subjected to short shackling, stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, and strobe lights for extended periods -- often simultaneously." Some detainees reported even worse abuse at the U.S. detention center at Baghram, Afghanistan, where prisoners were threatened with dogs, regularly beaten, and suspended by their arms for hours on end.

And yet:
Most detainees interviewed for the study were not vengeful toward America, but simply expressed a desire for justice and an opportunity to clear their names.
The suffering of these detainees is heart-breaking. Their wish to recover a normal life should be at the top of the list for a country with so many broken promises and difficult crises dropped into its lap in the wake of one of the most sinister and criminal administrations to ever rule this or any other ostensibly democratic country.

A Terrible Moral Failure

The role of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists at these torture centers is not left unmentioned. As the report describes it:
... since late 2002, military psychologists and psychiatrists serving on Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) have played an active role in developing and implementing interrogation strategies at Guantánamo....

Interrogation policies and standards at Guantánamo changed over time, but the data demonstrate that some practices remained consistent throughout the period when the study respondents were held there (January 2002 to January 2007). While more needs to be revealed about the specific interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo, it appears that many of the methods which detainees complained about most bitterly -- cold rooms and short shackling, in conjunction with prolonged isolation -- were permitted under the U.S. military’s interrogation guidelines in force from April 2003 to September 2006... These practices contravene the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which the United States ratified in 1955....

To date, no independent, comprehensive investigation has been conducted to determine the role that camp personnel as well as officials farther up the civilian and military chains of command played in the design and implementation of interrogation
techniques at Guantánamo. No broad investigation has yet addressed whether or not these officials should be held accountable for any crimes they or their subordinates may have committed.
Elsewhere in the report, the authors describe the function of the BSCT teams:
A principal BSCT function was to engineer the camp experiences of “priority” detainees to make interrogation more productive. BSCT personnel coached interrogators on how to stress, coerce, and offer incentives to secure information from detainees. BSCT personnel “prepared psychological profiles [of detainees] for use by interrogators; they also sat in on some interrogations, observed others from behind one-way mirrors, and offered feedback to interrogators"... Army medical personnel also provided medical information to interrogators... In a confidential report, the International Committee for the Red Cross called the participation of doctors in designing interrogation plans a “flagrant violation of medical ethics"... In 2006, in response to publicity about the clinical participation in coercive interrogations at Guantánamo, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association endorsed more stringent guidelines for military doctors and psychiatrists who are asked to participate in interrogations... In 2008, after several years of often acrimonious debate, members of the American Psychological Association voted to prohibit consultation by its members in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo or so-called “black sites” operated by the CIA overseas.
A Call for Justice

The Human Rights Center and their partners are insistent that the crimes committed by the United States around torture cannot and should not go without further investigation. Hundreds of detainees remains incarcerated without ever being accused of any crime. Evidence of torture and abuse is overwhelming, the deleterious personal, medical and psychological consequences for those caught in this torture web and then released is also strongly convincing. Per Egelko's article:
"We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the rug by simply closing the Guantanamo prison camp," said Eric Stover, director of UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. "The new administration must investigate what went wrong and who should be held accountable."
The news is so dark every day, with thousands thrown out of their jobs seemingly every day, and millions more fearing they will lose theirs. The wreck that is American society has so many vital issues facing it, that it seems easy to let the sufferings of "only" a few hundred or thousand go unanswered. The latest leaks around Obama's plans to investigate or prosecute Bush officials for war crimes indicate an Obama administration will lean towards some investigation, and steer away from prosecutions. (See recent stories by Mark Benjamin at Salon, and Lara Jakes Jordan at Associate Press.) Meanwhile, Bush is said to be considering a massive blanket pardon for those involved in his interrogation policies. Some argue that such a pardon could facilitate a "truth and reconciliation" investigation.

In the end, no one knows yet what Obama will do, or what Bush will do (although I'm betting he will issue the pardons). What is clear is that among all the other crucial issues facing the U.S. at this point in time, we must solve a huge moral dilemma: what do we do when the government blatantly and recklessly disregards human rights or lives, when it kills or tortures? Do we stand back and let it pass, in the name of political expediency? What shame and moral rot will we have to endure? How can we rise from the muck of this terrible period in our history if we do not both witness and pay out with justice the ineffable suffering of the innocent made in our name, and now forever etched with acid on the soul of the country?

Update: Interested readers will want to read Scott Horton's latest piece at Harper's (subscription required) on the rationale and possibilities around prosecuting Bush Administration figures for torture and war crimes. A nice summary of Horton's article was also made by Compound F at Docudharma (no subscription required).

Also posted at Invictus

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Interrogation Psychologists" and the Allure of "National Security Psychology"

Posted by Valtin at 3:30 PM |

Martha Davis Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist and a Visiting Scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, has produced an important new documentary, Interrogation Psychologists: The Making of a Professional Crisis”. The film premiered at a conference entitled “The Interrogation and Torture Controversy: Crisis in Psychology,” held at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Center on Terrorism in New York City on September 12, 2008.

Dr. Davis describes the documentary:
"In 2005 the American Psychological Association endorsed the participation of military psychologists in detainee interrogations. This policy incited a firestorm of protest within the profession and around the world, but APA officials held fast, contending that the involvement of psychologists insured that interrogations were safe, ethical and effective. With interviews of experts and documentation of communications between APA and government officials, “Interrogation Psychologists” traces the origins of the policy and why the APA risked massive defections for it. The search leads to the emerging field of national security psychology, which has far-reaching implications for intelligence gathering operations and U.S. treatment of prisoners of war.”
The 46 minute long documentary is a fascinating examination of the issues and history involved in the psychologist-ethics-torture debate. The organizational turn of the APA, as exemplified by its policies around interrogations, towards "national security psychology" is what led me to resign from that organization earlier this year. At that time, I wrote:
Unlike some others who have left APA, my resignation is not based solely on the stance APA has taken regarding the participation of psychologists in national security interrogations. Rather, I view APA’s shifting position on interrogations to spring from a decades-long commitment to serve uncritically the national security apparatus of the United States. Recent publications and both public and closed professional events sponsored by APA have made it clear that this organization is dedicated to serving the national security interests of the American government and military, to the extent of ignoring basic human rights practice and law. The influence of the Pentagon and the CIA in APA activities is overt and pervasive, if often hidden....

In the recently APA published book, Psychology in the Service of National Security (APA Press, 2006), the book’s editor, A. David Mangelsdorff, wrote, “As the military adjusts to its changing roles in the new national security environment, psychologists have much to offer” (p. 237). He notes the recent forward military deployment of psychologists, their use in so-called anti-terrorism research, and assistance in influencing public opinion about “national security problems facing the nation.” L. Morgan Banks, himself Chief of the Psychological Applications Directorate of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, [a former SERE psychologist, and a member of the controversial APA Psychological Ethics and National Security or] PENS panel [in 2005], wrote elsewhere in the same book about the “bright future” (p. 95) for psychologists working with Special Operations Forces.
"Befehl ist Befehl"

The Davis film takes the viewer through the post 9/11 story of the APA, from the introduction of psychologists to the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) in Afghanistan and Guantanamo and Iraq, to the changes in the organization's ethical code which made adherence to military orders a valid option for psychologists, even if such orders went against a professional's ethical code or guidelines.

The primary culprit in this last case was the rewriting of APA's Ethics Code 1.02 back in 2002. It now infamously allows psychologists to obey commands and "governing legal authority," even when an action is at variance with professional ethics, remains a virtual get-out-of-jail card for military psychologists engaged in abusive interrogations. The code, rewritten after 9/11, places into APA's ethics code the Nazis' Nuremberg defense: "I was only following orders" ("Befehl ist Befehl"). The APA promised to insert a qualifying phrase about human rights into 1.02 back in 2006. No action has been taken to date.

Interrogation Psychologists takes the viewer on a guided tour of the political manipulations that guided APA's bureaucracy in the post-9/11 era, through the creation of a mysterious National Security Caucus within APA, and the stacking of the PENS panel that would assess ethical questions in this new national security environment with military and intelligence figures involved in the various dubious ethical misdeeds -- such as directing abusive interrogations at Guantanamo -- taking place under U.S. military and CIA command. Also covered by the documentary is the rise of a critical opposition within APA that would bring about numerous fights over anti-torture resolutions, and ultimately, a successful petition campaign to change APA official policy and pull the psychologists out of national security sites that violated international and domestic human rights laws.

The documentary appears to be a fusillade of sorts against the project of establishing a National Security Psychology (NSP) within the field of psychology proper. Dr. Davis describes NSP as providing jobs and funding for interrogation psychologists, intelligence research, and security screening and assessment. There are millions of dollars to be doled out in coming years, and already plenty of psychologists and psychology schools have lined up to suck up the funds. The greed has already spread down to the layers of the professional school movement, where schools like Pacific Graduate School in Palo Alto, have pitched in with military and CIA researchers to study the psychology of deception for homeland security purposes.

The Rise and Fall of CIFA

Until recently (and possibly still in some kind of existence), there was the Center for National Security Psychology (CNSP), as part of the Behavioral Sciences Directorate at the Department of Defense's agency for Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). Established under Rumsfeld's Pentagon in 2002, CIFA was formally shut down last August, after being associated with scandals over infiltration of U.S. domestic peace groups and charges of domestic spying.

CNSP's chief was CIFA psychologist Kirk Kennedy, who, according to Linkedin, now works for the Defense Intelligence Agency. (I guess if you are a "national security psychologist," there's always some agency that will hire you.) The contributions of "national security psychologists" are not always nefarious. Take this snippet from a review of a talk by Dr. Kennedy at a Special Libraries Association meeting in 2006:
But the similarities between a psychopathic murder, or a suicidal person, to a terrorist are few. Kennedy and other terrorism psychologists believe that terrorism is complex, driven from many factors. One of these factors, though, is not abnormal or psychopathological (that is, the terrorists are NOT crazy)....

Kennedy wants us to understand these cultures and religions rather than declaring the perpetrators as criminals. We have to accept the fact that the actions of terrorists may be explainable but not always understandable.
According to Gulf Times:
The Defence Department said it had “disestablished” the Counterintelligence Field Activity office, or CIFA, created in February 2002 by former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld to manage defence and armed service efforts against intelligence threats from foreign powers and groups such as Al Qaeda.

Those responsibilities will now be carried out by a new organisation called the Defence Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center, overseen by the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency.

CIFA’s operations stirred concern among members of Congress and civil liberties advocates. A CIFA database known as Talon, set up to monitor threats against US military installations, was found to have retained information on US antiwar protesters including Quakers after they had been found to pose no security danger, officials said.
As Interrogation Psychologists points out, one of the main members of the initial APA policy units looking at national security and interrogations (PENS) was R. Scott Shumate, then director of the psychology unit for CIFA. I don't know if the CNSP still exists, or has migrated over to the new Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center of the Pentagon (DCHIC).

Will Psychologists Really Stop Assisting National Security Interrogations?

The world of national security intelligence is a shadowy one. The spooks who run it never give up, and it is unlikely that the new policy of APA which aims at pulling psychologists from national security interrogation centers in places like Guantanamo will quietly be implemented. What's more likely is that we will see obfuscation, lying, more cover-up, and covert, classified actions that are aimed at keeping counterinsurgency-based torture policies active. Already there are plenty of reports that doctors and psychiatrists have not absented themselves from DoD interrogations, despite the official policies of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association against just such activity.

This is what Jonathan Marks and M. Gregg Bloche had to say in a recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine:
... documents recently provided to us by the U.S. Army in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) make clear that the Department of Defense still wants doctors to be involved and continues to resist the positions taken by medicine's professional associations. An October 2006 memo entitled "Behavioral Science Consultation Policy" ... fails to mention the APA statement and provides a permissive gloss on the AMA's policy, at some points contradicting it outright. The memo appears to claim that psychiatrists should be able to provide advice regarding the interrogation of individual detainees if they are not providing medical care to detainees, their advice is not based on medical information they originally obtained for medical purposes, and their input is "warranted by compelling national security interests." The advice envisaged by the memo includes "evaluat[ing] the psychological strengths and vulnerabilities of detainees" and "assist[ing] in integrating these factors into a successful interrogation"....

The policy memo also states that a "behavioral science consultant" may not be a "medical monitor during interrogation" and suggests that this is a "healthcare function." However, it appears to authorize monitoring as part of consultants' intelligence functions, since "physicians may protect interrogatees if, by monitoring, they prevent coercive interrogations." It asserts, more specifically, that "the presence of a physician at an interrogation, particularly an appropriately trained psychiatrist, may benefit the interrogatees because of the belief held by many psychiatrists that kind and compassionate treatment of detainees can establish rapport that may result in eliciting more useful information."
The government's position that physicians or psychiatrists can "protect interrogatees" is, of course, the same position taken by the American Psychological Association regarding the use of psychologists in interrogations. Or it was the position until a referendum by APA membership tossed out the old policy and instituted a new policy denying use of psychologists at governmental sites that deny basic human rights and engage in torture or other abusive treatment. How enforceable this policy will be, in the light of government inaction or obstruction, remains an open question. It is particularly unclear what goes on when psychologists work for the CIA, whose very prisons and even prisoners are mostly unknown and secret.

The Case of MKULTRA

It's important to remember, too, that this is not the first spate of scandals regarding the nefarious use of psychological knowledge. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were numerous revelations about CIA's recruitment of psychologists and other human behavior and medical specialists in government mind control programs, e.g. MKULTRA, and research into sensory deprivation and the "breaking" of prisoners. If I had any criticism of Davis's documentary, it was the failure to place the current controversy in the context of the decades-long history of the problem. One place the reader can start is with Patricia Greenfield's article in the APA Monitor (of all places) back in December 1977, CIA's Behavior Caper.
One major component of the CIA's program, dubbed ARTICHOKE, was described in a CIA memo of January 25, 1952, as "the evaluation and development of any method by which we can get information from a person against his will and without his knowledge." An internal review of the terminated ARTICHOKE program, dated January 31, 1975, lists ARTICHOKE methods has having included "the use of drugs and chemicals, hypnosis, and 'total isolation,' a form of psychological harassment." Another major component of the CIA's program, called MKULTRA, explored, according to a memo of August 14, 1963, "avenues to the control of human behavior," including "chemical and biological materials capable of producing human behavioral and physiological changes," "radiology, electro-shock, various fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology and anthropology, graphology, harassment substances, and paramilitary devices and materials"....

While news of blatant attempts at behavioral control have had immediate shock value, the CIA's support of basic research has had the more lingering effect of posing many difficult and complex questions and issues for psychologists. How were psychologists and other social scientists enlisted by the CIA? What did they do? What, if any, is the scientist's responsibility for the applications of research? How are social scientists affected by social and political forces? What are the implications of covert funding?
Greenfield's questions are still pertinent today. We can add to them now the query as to how long psychologists will play operational roles in abusive interrogations and torture.

Documentaries like Martha Davis's Interrogation Psychologists help to bring the truth about how this process takes place out of the shadows of academia and government agencies into the full light of public exposure. Now it's up to us, the people, to demand an end to this barbarity.

Also posted at Invictus

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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Torture Election: Fighting for the Soul of the American Psychological Association

Posted by Valtin at 5:44 PM |

Originally posted at AlterNet

In a surprising turn of events, New York psychologist Steven Reisner won over 30% of the votes in the mail balloting for nominations for the presidency of the American Psychological Association (APA), as announced at the beginning of April. This represented more votes than any other candidate running.

Dr. Reisner, a psychoanalyst, is a Senior Faculty member and Supervisor at the International Trauma Studies Program, an Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, and a consultant to the United Nations on stress and trauma. As a key leader of Psychologists for an Ethical Psychology, he is also a leading critic of APA's position on torture and interrogations.

A number of APA members see Reisner's showing as a great victory for critics of APA's position of allowing psychologists to participate in Bush's "war on terror" interrogations. Reisner received 1,765 votes, four hundred more than Robert E. McGrath, the next most popular candidate. The impressive numbers are testimony to two years of anti-torture activism within APA, involving scores of dedicated professionals. The electoral results guarantee that Dr. Reisner will be on the ballot for APA president next October.

All told, however, the vast majority of votes still went to candidates who have very different positions on interrogations. Moreover, there are signs that some APA office holders and loyalists are hostile to Reisner's candidacy. One inside source says that a top member of the California Psychological Association -- a state affiliate of APA -- called it "despicable" that Reisner was running for APA president, after all he's done to "disrupt" that organization.

The APA ostensibly takes a hard line against torture. But it refuses to forbid its membership from working at Pentagon or CIA prison sites that deny its prisoners basic human rights, like habeas corpus, and with documented histories of abuse and torture. Amy Goodman, in a recent column, summarized the battle within APA to turn the organization away from collaboration with governmental interrogators. The story of this collaboration, and how psychologists came to be key members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs, popularly called "biscuits") at Guantánamo and elsewhere, has been told in great detail by myself, psychologist Stephen Soldz, and writers Katherine Eban, Jane Mayer, Arthur Levine, and Mark Benjamin, among others. The narrative is as dense or as simple as one wishes to make it, and depends how deeply one looks into the history of U.S. torture.

The APA's shifting position on interrogations is rooted in a long commitment to serve the national security apparatus of the United States. That commitment has been reflected in the current APA election, where Dr. Reisner appears as the first true candidate of change on this issue.

The Candidates: The Psychopharmacology Doctor

While Reisner received the plurality of votes in the first round of APA balloting, second place went to Robert E. McGrath at 1,340 votes. (Only 3-4% of APA members seem to have cast nominating ballots in this election.) McGrath runs a postdoctoral program in psychopharmacology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and was president of APA's Division 55, the American Society for the Advancement of Pharmacotherapy. (APA is a federated organization, divided into 53 professional divisions; each division, along with representatives to the state and provincial psychological associations, is represented on APA's Council of Representatives.)

McGrath has said little on the record regarding APA's interrogation policy, though he did write a letter to the house APA organ, the Monitor, last September on "psychologists' military roles":
In response to recent claims that psychologists have been involved in torture and abusive interrogations, some psychologists are now calling for a complete ban on any involvement in military interrogations. I am troubled by these claims, but I am also troubled by two questions concerning this proposed solution: By extension, shouldn't psychologists withdraw from all coercive interrogations, including those by law enforcement agencies? Don't further restrictions in the diversity of individuals involved in such interrogations increase the potential for abuse even further?
One wonders how objective Dr. McGrath is on this issue, given Division 55 is largely devoted to teaching psychologists psychopharmacology and lobbying for prescription rights for psychologists. The practice, which has been fought tooth and nail by the psychiatric establishment, has found its greatest support in the military, which established a Psychopharmacology Demonstration Project in 1989 to train military psychologists to prescribe. (In an article on psychologists and torture in Vanity Fair last year, Katherine Eban looked at the possibility of a "quid pro quo" between APA and the military, in which APA would give "its stamp of approval to military interrogations" in agreement for the Pentagon allowing "psychologists -- who, unlike psychiatrists, are not medical doctors -- to prescribe medication, dramatically increasing their income.")

McGrath's opposition to pulling psychologists out of Guantánamo and other military/CIA interrogation centers is manifest. Reading his letter, psychologist Martha Davis, a visiting scholar at John Jay School of Criminal Justice, was struck by how APA's position has totally changed the way psychologists view their professional role when it comes to interrogations. "The APA has so successfully finessed this business," Davis wrote on a listserve of APA critics, "that most people hearing about the interrogations and psychology controversy, including psychologists, think that psychologists 'do' or supervise interrogations of criminal suspects in the US. THEY DO NOT … There is no mention of interrogation work in the ethics code. You won't find panels on doing interrogations in forensic psychology conference programs. Psychologists do not have the authority to 'do' interrogations or to supervise them in the US."

The Military Nominee?

The author of Jews in Blue: The Jewish American Experience in Law Enforcement, and consultant "for the police and law enforcement community since 1983," Jack Kitaeff, Ph.D, JD, was a military psychologist (as a Major) in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Both his psychological internship and postdoctoral residency were in military settings. Currently, he is Secretary-Treasurer-Elect for the Police and Public Safety Section of Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service).

While Dr. Kitaeff does not appear to have made a public statement on the current controversy on APA and interrogations, he did speak about his work and his views of himself as a "patriot" in an interview in 2006 at FrontPage Magazine, a well-known right-wing neo-conservative outlet run by David Horowitz's Freedom Center. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to guess where Kitaeff, who received 1,128 votes and third place in APA voting, probably stands on psychologist staffing of military interrogations.

The Insiders

Rounding out the final five nominees are Ronald H. Rozensky, PhD and Carol E. Goodheart, EdD, who received 1,057 and 134 votes, respectively. Goodheart was a last-minute write-in candidate; last year she came in second in the nomination balloting, behind eventual presidential winner, James Bray. Reisner, who also ran, failed to make the top five in 2007. Reportedly, Goodheart wasn't going to run in 2008, but she appears to have changed her mind. According to one APA insider, many on APA Council see her as a major competitor to Dr. Reisner in the upcoming election.

Goodheart is, as Steven Reisner once labeled her, an "APA stalwart." A psychotherapist in private practice, and a clinical supervisor in the psychology training program at Rutgers, she has served on the APA Board of Directors, and most recently was APA Treasurer. Currenly, she's working with APA President-elect Bray on his 2009 Presidential Task Force on the Future of Psychology Practice. Is part of that future staffing the BSCTs for the military at Guantánamo and elsewhere?

When psychologists mobilizing to withhold their dues from APA in protest against APA's interrogation policy queried Dr. Goodheart about her position, she replied:
I know that some psychologists in good conscience and good faith want APA also to prohibit psychologists from any participation whatsoever in military interrogations. There is serious debate within APA about the appropriate role for psychologists and I do not know if we will ever be able to reach total agreement. I, along with the majority of the Council of Representatives, voted against a moratorium, after listening carefully and considering all views seriously. As my own act of personal conscience, in the hope that we will be able to influence policy and practices related to interrogations, I believe that we must support psychology's promotion of ethical interrogations to prevent violence, safeguard detainees' welfare, and facilitate communications with them. We must stay engaged and work with the people, both military and non-military, who are working with great dedication to prevent torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment.
In other words, as one prominent member of APAs Division of Psychoanalysis put it:
She feels that to exclude psychologists from morally problematic places may leave prisoners even more vulnerable, and she argues that defining psychologists' presence as unethical would jeopardize ethical professionals who have been in this situation.
This makes Goodheart's stance on psychologists and interrogation a mirror image of APA's official position: psychologists make interrogations safer for detainees. Yet overwhelming evidence implicates psychologists in both the construction and implementation of a torture paradigm that emphasizes sensory deprivation and overstimulation, sleep deprivation, inculcation of debility, psychological regression, and dependency. Furthermore, psychologists have been specifically singled out as the agents responsible for reverse-engineering the military's torture resistance program, SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), in order to teach military interrogators coercive forms of interrogation. This was documented, no less, by the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General in a report on detainee abuse, declassified last year.

The news hasn't gotten through to a final candidate, Ronald H. Rozensky, Ph.D. Dr. Rozensky has a resume a mile long. Former Chair of APA's Board of Professional Affairs, President of the Illinois Psychological Association, award-winning Outstanding International Psychologist, and co-author of Psychological Assessment in Medical Settings, Rozensky is a major lobbyist for governmental money for psychologists, supporting especially research in neuroscience, functional MRI and space programs. Concerned, like the APA honcho he is, in expanding the role of psychologists in particular societal institutions, he is worried that the controversy over military interrogations will spill over to domestic correctional settings, considered by APA a "proliferating" source of psychologist jobs. According to Dr. Rozensky:
...current discussions about psychologists' roles in interrogation in the military have implications within organized psychology for those psychologists working within the correctional system. It is key that our field recognize the important role that psychologists in the correctional system play in assuring ethical treatment of individuals remanded to the system and that information obtained from those individuals is factual and useful.
Whither APA?

Steven Reisner's candidacy for president represents a significant challenge to the status quo of APA governance. While all the other candidates for APA president support the continued presence of psychologists as an integral part of Defense Department and CIA interrogations, Reisner says no:
When leaders of other health professions reject all participation in detainee abuse, and our leaders justify participation, I am ashamed of our profession....

My candidacy calls for a clear departure from the complicity of psychologists in state-sponsored abuses of human rights, whether these take place at Guantánamo, CIA black sites, or domestic supermax prisons.

I have been told that psychologists might fear for their jobs if we hold to a principled stance on detainees' basic human rights. I fear for our nation and our profession if we don't.
Whether Steven Reisner's candidacy for APA president represents the high-water mark for opposition to the pro-military APA bureaucracy, or the beginning of a real sea change within the civil institutions of U.S. society regarding complicity in torture and other criminal, unethical practices of the government, remains to be seen. If Reisner is able to carry the presidential vote, he will still have to contend with a ruling apparatus that remains committed to cementing its ties with the Department of Defense and the CIA.

But these are challenges that lie in the future. Right now, Dr. Reisner and his supporters are riding a wave of optimism that things can change. His electoral showing demonstrates that, within APA, critics of torture and interrogations are making a real impact. In the big picture, the future of APA is likely tied to how these same issues play out in the larger society, especially the U.S. presidential race. For now, however, Reisner's supporters can give themselves a hearty congratulations, even as a longer, larger, higher hill to climb lies before them.

[Much thanks to AlterNet editor Liliana Segura for editorial help on this article.]

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