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, May 21, 2008

Lying for the Torturers: The APA School of Falsification

Posted by Valtin at 8:05 PM |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't see how much clearer it can be, given the government is not going to hand us a smoking gun outright. The closest they came to doing that was when the Pentagon released it's own Inspector General report last year accusing SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell of helping reverse-engineer SERE training into torture instruction to U.S. military/CIA forces abroad. (Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair also wrote a great article on this matter last summer.) Was there any hand-wringing at APA over psychologists being so heavily-implicated in the torture reports? None that was expressed publicly in any case.

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

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

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

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

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

Also posted at Invictus

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Psychologists and the Realpolitik of Torture

Posted by Valtin at 8:18 PM |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calling the Question

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

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

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

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