Friday, October 31, 2008

No on California's Proposition 8

The reactionaries of various organized religion churches and "foundations," including the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, and others, have infamously pushed a constitutional amendment to the California State Constitution banning same-sex marriage. This overt attempt to legislate discrimination into the state constitution is on the November 4 state ballot.

This attempt by religious zealots to dictate their morality to everyone comes despite a California Supreme Court decision last May, when, by a vote of 4–3, the Court ruled that the previous statutes or laws that limited marriage to only a relationship between a man and a woman represented violations of the equal protection clause of the California State Constitution. Therefore, the judges held, same-sex individuals (gays, lesbians) have the right to marry is protected by the state constitution.

Ever since the court ruling, conservatives and religious foes have agitated against the idea of gay marriage, as if it represented the coming of the Antichrist. Californians must reject this overt attempt to put a religious agenda into basic state law. Vote No on Proposition 8. Watch the video below, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. (Hat-tip to Penman at Daily Kos)

Don't forget: donations made even at this late hour can help tremendously. Donate here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gitmo "Confession" Thrown Out, While CIA Wins Torture Secrecy Ruling

From the Miami Herald, 10/28/08:
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- In a first, a military judge ruled on Tuesday that a Guantánamo detainee's confession was extracted through torture, and excluded it from the trial of a young Afghan detainee at the war court.

Afghan police threatened the family of teenager Mohammed Jawad while he was undergoing interrogation at a Kabul police station, said Army Col. Stephen Henley, the judge, in a three-page ruling.
Jawad, who was a teenager at the time of his capture in Afghanistan, has been fighting to have the charges against him dismissed. The recognition by the military court that death threats constitute torture, means his coerced confession cannot be used at his upcoming trial, due to start January 5, 2009.

According to attorney Jamil Dakwar, a military commissions observer for the American Civil Liberties Union, the judge's ruling rejects the "legal opinion by Bush administration lawyers that early on sought to soften the definition of torture by sanctioning threats to family members."

The Jawad case has highlighted the inherent unfairness of the military commissions process, established by Congress at the insistence of the Bush Administration. (For those interested, John McCain supported the Military Commissions bill, while Barack Obama opposed it.) Just a few weeks ago, the involvement of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) in the torture of Jawad at Gitmo was exposed. Last month, one of the Jawad's military prosecutors quit, charging the government with suppression of exculpatory evidence in Jawad's case.

USA Today's blog, On Deadline, has published a selection from Col. Henley's ruling (the entire ruling can be accessed here):
The Accused now moves this Military Commission to suppress all statements he made to Afghan government authorities on December 17, 2002 because they were obtained by the use of torture, as that term is defined in the Military Commission Rules of Evidence (MCRE).

A statement obtained by the use of torture shall not be admitted into evidence. “Torture” includes statements obtained by use of death threats to the speaker or his family; the actual infliction of physical or mental injury is not required. Instead, the relevant inquiry is whether the threat was specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon another person within the interrogator’s custody or control. In this case, the Afghan government and police authorities told the Accused he and his family would be killed if he did not confess to throwing the grenade. The interrogators were armed. There is no evidence the threats were made in jest or intended as a joke. Given the Accused’s age and the then reputation of the Afghan police as corrupt and violent, the Commission specifically finds these threats credible.

Evidence that someone died or suffered severe injury is not required for the Commission to determine that the threat to kill the Accused and his family was intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. On this point, the Commission can not envision a situation where a credible threat to kill someone unless they confess would not satisfy the “act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” requirement in the MCRE definition of torture.

While the torture threshold is admittedly high, it is met in this case.
While Jawad's attorneys have been able to thread the needle in Jawad's case, and get the MC judge to rule that he was tortured, even by the MCRE's narrow definition of torture, the use of coerced confessions and reliance on evidence produced by torture remains a fixture of the MCRE process. It's an embarrassment and a crime that it was ever a question whether death threats by interrogators constituted torture of a detainee.

Meanwhile, CIA Wins Torture Secrecy Ruling

Consider another court ruling just released: according to Wired, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the Washington D.C. Circuit Court ruled that "the CIA can hide statements from imprisoned suspected terrorists that the agency tortured them in its set of secret prisons." The ruling states that judicial review of allegations of torture from prisoners such as Khalid Sheihk Muhammad would jeopardize national security. (Link to Lamberth's ruling -- For all of you FISA fans: Judge Lamberth is remembered as FISA's secret spy court from 1995 to 2002.)

From the Wired article:
"The Court, giving deference to the agency’s detailed, good-faith declaration, is disinclined to second-guess the agency in its area of expertise through in camera review," Lamberth wrote (.pdf), referring to a procedure where a judge looks at evidence in his chamber without showing it to the opposing side....

"Among the details that cannot be publicly released are the conditions of the detainees’ capture, the employment of alternative interrogation methods, and other operational details," the CIA's Wendy Hilton told the court in a sworn affidavit (.pdf). "Specifically, disclosure of such information is reasonably likely to degrade the CIA's ability to effectively question terrorist detainees and elicit information necessary to protect the American people."

The CIA also successfully argued that it needed to redact statements about what countries were involved in the program, saying that such allegations could destroy relationships with countries that helped with the CIA's controversial program of secretly kidnapping suspected terrorists and shuttling them to hidden prisons in Europe and Asia, where neither families nor the Red Cross knew of their detention.

Transcripts from each of the 14 detainee's Combatant Status Review Tribunals in Guantanamo Bay were provided to the ACLU and posted to the Pentagon's website in the summer of 2007. Six of those included some redactions.
While one can be happy that Mohammad Jawad, imprisoned over five years now, may be able with the current ruling to more effectively fight the bogus charges against him, Lambeth's ruling shows just how far we have to go in the fight against torture in this country.

For Election Junkies

By now, most election junkies will have found the following website. But if not, let me direct you to, "Electoral Projections Done Right." With tons of maps, charts, and a listing of the many polls, presidential and otherwise, tracking and daily, etc., is a politico's dream site.

The emphasis on statistics and how to understand them -- a real boon if one is tired of getting the "spin" on the polls by the various cable networks and partisan websites -- is no surprise, as the site is the brainchild of Nate Silver, a baseball statistician who previously worked at Baseball Prospectus, according to the website Listics.

With the election only five days away, many will want to stay glued to their computer screen, reading high-level polling analyses, such as Anatomy of a Polling Disaster, or FiveThirtyEight's "On the Road" series.

At Nate Silver's excellent site, we learn that the chances of an electoral college tie this year is only 0.21%, while McCain has only a 5.48% chance of winning the popular vote. Did you know that if Obama loses both Ohio and Florida, he still has a 73.70% chance of winning the election. Don't believe me? Check it out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"I lived for art, I lived for love"

Vissi d'arte

from Puccini's opera Tosca, performed by the radiant Leontyne Price, 1965

My other favorite rendition of this aria is by Renata Tebaldi, and can be heard here.
Sempre con fè sincera
la mia preghiera
ai santi tabernacoli salì.
Sempre con fè sincera
diedi fiori agl’altar.
Nell’ora del dolore
perchè, perchè, Signore,
perchè me ne rimuneri così?

Always with true faith
my prayer
rose to the holy shrines.
Always with true faith
I gave flowers to the altar.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
why do you reward me thus?

Full text

Friday, October 24, 2008

Unit 731: Biological Warfare & Human Medical Experimentation

The story of United States research into and use of biological weapons remains a huge blank spot in the known history of this country. There have been attempts to document this history, but much remains classified or has been destroyed. The use of biological weapons dovetails with U.S. research into drugs and mind control against prisoners, as the revelations about MKULTRA or the Edgewood Arsenal experiments make clear (see this fascinating story by Michael Ignatieff in the New York Times Magazine, April 2001).

This posting is the first in a series I hope to publish over time looking at the controversial question of U.S. use of biological weapons, and its links to MKULTRA and other covert CIA or military programs. It examines the origins of the U.S. program in biological weapons research, as it grew out of the ashes of the horrific program in the same, started by the Japanese Imperial government in the 1930s. It is best known by its bureaucratic moniker: Unit 731.

As I will explain further on, I intend to write more in the future about this subject. But first watch this fascinating documentary on a terrifying subject. We need to know about this.

Warning: the embedded videos below have some extremely disturbing footage.

The final three parts of the documentary on Unit 731 can be accessed by clicking on the proper links: Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.
Unit 731... was a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and World War II. It was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes carried out by Japanese personnel. Officially known by the Imperial Japanese Army as the Kempeitai Political Department and Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory, it was initially set up under the Kempeitai military police of the Empire of Japan to develop weapons of mass destruction for potential use against Chinese, and possibly Soviet forces....

After Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, Douglas MacArthur became the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, rebuilding Japan during the Allied occupation. MacArthur secretly granted immunity to the physicians of Unit 731 in exchange for providing America with their research on biological warfare. The United States believed that the research data was valuable because the allies had never publicly conducted or condoned such experiments on humans due to moral and political revulsion. The United States also did not want other nations, particularly the Soviet Union, to acquire data on biological weapons, not to mention the military benefits of such research. [Emphasis added]
Japanese experiments in biological weapons utilized barbaric research, including the use of vivisection on human subjects, amputations, the use of human targets, radiation exposure, starvation, and the deliberate inoculation of diseases such as plague, anthrax, cholera and botulism. From a complex of approximately six square kilometers, and a number of satellite facilities, Unit 731 is thought to have produced almost a quarter million casualties. Captured by the Soviets, many of those involved in Unit 731 were put on trial as war criminals. But as noted above, some of the primary leaders surrendered to the U.S. and were protected in exchange for information on biological experimentation.

The link between U.S./Japanese collaboration on biological weaponry after World War II and charges of United States use of biological weapons in the Korean War (denied by the U.S.) is something I've covered before. Here's the conclusions of a researcher from Baylor University Medical Center, Stefan Riedel, MD, PhD, published in 2004 (numbers in parentheses are footnotes in the original -- please refer to linked article for the references to these footnotes):
During the years immediately after World War II, newspapers were filled with articles about disease outbreaks caused by foreign agents armed with biological weapons (2, 18). During the Korean War, the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea accused the USA of using agents of biological warfare against North Korea (1, 18). In later years the USA admitted that it had the capability of producing such weapons, although it denied having used them. However, the credibility of the USA was undermined by its failure to ratify the Geneva Protocol of 1925, by public acknowledgment of its own offensive biological warfare program, and by suspicions of collaboration with former Unit 731 scientists (1, 18).

In fact, the US program expanded during the Korean War (1950–1953) with the establishment of a new production facility in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In addition, a defensive program was launched in 1953 with the objective of developing countermeasures, including vaccines, antisera, and therapeutic agents, to protect troops from possible biological attacks. By the late 1960s, the US military had developed a biological arsenal that included numerous biological pathogens, toxins, and fungal plant pathogens that could be directed against crops to induce crop failure and famine (1).
The U.S. cover-up of the atrocities of Unit 731, and the embrace of its top leadership in the name of anticommunism and military research rivals the scandals that exposed the post-World War II collaboration of Washington, D.C. with fleeing Nazi war criminals (see Operation Paperclip).

The reality behind our country's history is disturbing and horrifying. But if we do not come to terms with where we have been, we will not, even in an Obama-era, be able to go where we need to go -- to a world free of militarism, of imperial conquest-lust, of inequality and injustice and racism. The CIA famously has the words "the truth will set you free" written in the lobby of its headquarters in Langley. They distorted those words in an Orwellian ironic twist that decimates our language and our moral integrity. Still in the end, the truth will set us free, but first, we must reclaim it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Death of a "Dirty Bomb" Frame-up

Andy Worthington has an excellent article at AlterNet analyzing the recent decision by Bush's Justice Department to drop "dirty bomb" charges against British resident and Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, the so-called co-conspirator with Jose Padilla to construct and detonate a "dirty bomb" on U.S. soil.
For over three years, Binyam's lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, have been arguing that the allegations against Binyam were extracted through the use of torture -- in Morocco, where Binyam was tortured for 18 months, after being rendered by the CIA, and at the CIA's own "Dark Prison," near Kabul, where he was held for four or five months from January 2004, before his transfer to the U.S. military prison at Bagram airbase, and his eventual arrival at Guantánamo in September 2004.
U.S. authorities got Binyam to "confess" under torture that he had met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Sheikh al-Libi, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Jose Padilla to discuss the "dirty bomb" plot. Except guess what? Abu Zubaydah and al-Libi were already in U.S. custody on the date of Binyam's "confessed" plot. The U.S. knew this, too, and continued to torture and prosecute Binyam. And now that the Justice Department has dropped its charges, the Department of Defense, which is conducting the notoriously unjust military tribunals at Guantanamo says it's still "reviewing" Binyam's case.

Mohamad was one of five Guantanamo detainees who had charges dropped against them. (They are not free, however, and the U.S. says there are other charges and further investigation and review to be undertaken.) In Binyam's case, it's widely suspected dropping certain charges were meant to forestall the release of documents proving torture and other mistreatment, and British High Court judges have been highly critical of U.S. conduct in the case. "Torturers do not readily hand over evidence of their conduct," the judges are quoted as saying.

The military tribunals are so unfair that one of its chief prosecutors, Lt. Col. Darrel J. Vandeveld, quit over the handling of evidence in the Mohammed Jawad case, and went public with his criticisms of the frame-up trials. He was the fourth prosecutor to resign from Bush's military kangaroo courts. A Los Angeles Times article on Vandeveld described the former prosecutor's actions:
Vandeveld's claims are particularly explosive.

In a declaration and subsequent testimony, he said the U.S. government was not providing defense lawyers with the evidence it had against their clients, including exculpatory information -- material considered helpful to the defense.

Saying that the accused enemy combatants were more likely to be wrongly convicted without that evidence, Vandeveld testified that he went from being a "true believer to someone who felt truly deceived" by the tribunals. The system in place at the U.S. military facility in Cuba, he wrote in his declaration, was so dysfunctional that it deprived "the accused of basic due process and subject[ed] the well-intentioned prosecutor to claims of ethical misconduct."
Vandeveld is a hero for trying to expose what he called "the creeping rot of the commissions." The reaction from his military colleagues? While some have been supported, there was also "outrage and condemnation," and now this Army Reserve officer fears for his safety and that of his family.

But then this is the final act of a brazen coven of war criminals. George W. Bush announced the other day that he was not going to close Guantanamo -- in fact, he had never even considered it. Meanwhile, his Defense Department made it clear that if it was up to them, no one would ever be released from that facility. The U.S. government is trying to undo the sentence of Salim Hamdan, whose years at Guantanamo were to be counted in his final five year sentence, administered as part by one of the Pentagon's military commissions. While Hamdan should be freed in December, the government is appealing, hoping to keep Hamdan in prison at least another five years, and maybe forever.
“The length of the sentence is a matter of indifference to us,” Morris said. He said that if the jury still wants Hamdan released on Dec. 31, it could resentence him to however many days remained until then.
Marcion has covered the recent events in some depth over at Daily Kos, and his article there is worth reading. His summary makes some essential points:
And for anybody who thinks that the Guantanamo horror stories are the exception, and that after the detention center is closed under the next administration, or after these terror show trials end, that all will be back to normal, I have to say - this is normal. These publicized cases are merely shedding light on an inherently unfair and fixed system. Just as the Trotsky/Bukharin show trials revealed the truth about the entirety of the fixed Soviet justice system, these show trials reveal the same truth about the American system. Our prisons are filled with people whose only crime was attracting the attention of some cop cruising for an arrest. Once somebody is arrested, the prosecutors go to work trying to fix the case so as to get the maximum sentence possible, and the cops cooperate with providing the evidence or testimony that the prosecutor will need to get the conviction, by torturing their prisoner within the bounds of the law (i.e. no permanent bruising). The majority of jurors, being good Americans, are also convinced that justice equals longest sentence possible, and that cops never lie, but defendants always do. Any jurors that show any hesitation or moral qualms are kicked during voir dire. A prosecutor or cop who shows some qualms about pulling out all the stops sees their career come to a grinding halt quickly, while the guys who get convictions get promoted and eventually become judges.
The "justice" of Guantanamo has already come to America, along with the torture and the indefinite detention and obliteration of civil rights. As a follow-up, the reader could go read my recent posting, Battle Over Habeas -- Torture Inc. Comes to America.

Monday, October 20, 2008

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

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.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Ayers, Obama and "Terrorism"

Meteor Blades has an interesting post up over at Daily Kos. He describes his previous association with David Gilbert, who, like Bill Ayers, was a member of the Weather Underground approximately 40 years ago. MB makes the obvious point:
As others have observed, palling around with terrorists has a long and sordid history in America. Just take the six decades I’ve been alive. Venerated Senators and Representatives made common cause with the Ku Klux Klan and their ilk, whose murders were the ultimate backstop for maintaining American apartheid. That system, you may recall, rested on ruthless white rule over the portion of the United States which allegedly lost the Civil War. It reinstituted slavery in a visible but widely ignored form, and for 90 years it destroyed every civil right of African-Americans, enforcing this with terror, including lynchings and other murders.

Fast forward to Henry Kissinger, the architect of raining terror on Cambodia, a policy that led to tens of thousands of dead civilians and contributed to the ascendance of the previously minuscule Khmer Rouge. Their astounding butchery and terrorism against their own people was not enough to persuade the United States to stop supporting them in their effort to keep control of Cambodia’s U.N. seat after their cross-border aggression was defeated, government overthrown and genocide stopped by Vietnam. Not to mention Kissinger’s role in Indonesia and Chile.
Please note that war criminal and terrorist Kissinger is also an honorary co-chair of McCain's campaign, although because he is a member of the U.S. elite, that connection is not seen as nefarious by the establishment press and its blogger tail.

Meteor Blades goes on to mention other atrocious criminals in American government who better deserve the terrorist label than Bill Ayers, a former WU member involved in some symbolic bombings who later became a local liberal-radical activist along more traditional lines, and hence came into contact with Barack Obama. Ayers never thoroughly renounced his WU past. Why?

To answer that question, I reproduce here my comment over at MB's Daily Kos post, as it is relevant to both the question of "terrorism" in general, and on the meaning of attacking Ayers and linking him to liberal presidential candidate Barack Obama, more specifically. I've added a few links to my comment, for the benefit of my readers:
The modern left begins with the fight among the Russsian social democrats as to whether they should support the terrorist tactics of the Narodniks, who were fighting in the latter 19th century to overthrow the czar.

Although few know it, the faction that would later call themselves the Communists opposed terrorism as a tactic, as it tended to bring strong oppressive reaction while at the same time sending a message to the people at large that they did not have to engage in political struggle, leaving such struggle to a heroic elite. Hence, at a time of greater oppression, the masses of people were disarmed by non-involvement in political struggle.

However, the early left made a distinction between the terror tactics of left -- the actions ostensibly to support an oppressed people, or to oppose imperial power - and the terror tactics of the government or the right, which were meant to silence the left, or to further seal state or right-wing power against the workers, farmers/peasants, and lower middle-classes.

The Weather Underground members had lost faith in a working class, classic-style revolution. They also believed that the bulk of the middle class was bought off by the excess wealth generated by the exploitation of the "third world". Hence, despairing of any other way, they sought terror as a method of "sparking" resistance, which they hoped would begin among the most impoverished sections of U.S. society, e.g., poor black Americans, native Americans, etc. In this, they were supported by agents provocateurs working for the government, as an perusal of the subject of "Cointelpro" or the Church Committee hearings in Congress will demonstrate to anyone so interested.

The attacks against Obama on the Ayers issue represent, in part, a continuing struggle over the meaning of the Southeast Asian colonial wars, in which the United States butchered over a million people, and tortured tens of thousands. As Meteor Blades makes so very clear, the really hardcore terrorists were Kissinger, MacNamara, Johnson, Nixon, and so many more (including Alexander Haig, a McCain supporter).

On one hand, the purported Ayers-Obama link is just plain silly, as there's really nothing to it. But the politics behind it is very real. Ayers and other radical supporters of the antiwar movement were no criminals: they were trying to stop a massive crime being committed. That they sometimes chose self-defeating methods is very regrettable, but the damage they caused was nothing compared to the damage caused by the great evil they opposed.
MB's story of his experience with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), its internecine splits, the communal left such as it existed in the 1960s-1970s, and the fights over strategy and tactics, and how this all affected the individuals involved, is worth reading in and of itself. I only wish it had been longer, as its evident MB has a lot of experience to relate.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Endorsing Steven Reisner for APA President

The only problem with resigning from the American Psychological Association is that I don't get to vote for important referendums -- like the one that changed APA's interrogation policy -- or for APA offices. Usually I never cared, because those running typically were careerists or bureaucratic lackeys, ever mindful of currying favor with government grant sources, tying APA closer and closer to the clutches of the burgeoning U.S. national security state.

But the candidacy of psychologist Steven Reisner is different. I've already written about his program, and about the other psychologists running against him. I simply want to make it clear that I endorse his candidacy, and wish to reproduce here a letter Dr. Reisner recently sent to the membership.
In the coming weeks, association members will vote on new leadership, and one candidate for president wants psychologists banned from participating in interrogations at US detention centers that violate human rights and do not adhere to the Geneva Conventions…Psychologists should leave no doubt they are opponents, and not enablers, of these methods.
Boston Globe Editorial, August 30, 2008
Dear Colleagues,

The ballots for APA President should be arriving today by email and in mailboxes in the next few days. Once again, I am asking you to put my name, ‘Steven J. Reisner,’ first when you receive your ballot.

In recent weeks, those of us who have been struggling to change APA’s policy on psychologists’ role in national security interrogations were heartened by the vote in APA’s first-ever referendum. As a result of our efforts, the membership voted overwhelmingly to prohibit psychologists from working in ‘national security’ settings where detainees are held in violation of the Geneva Conventions or international law.

The authors of the referendum, Dan Aalbers, Ruth Fallenbaum, and Brad Olson, deserve our gratitude for their moral courage and perseverance. And, lest anyone wonder whether this referendum has any ‘teeth,’ last week, APA President Alan Kazdin wrote to President George W. Bush: "The effect of this new policy is to prohibit psychologists from any involvement in interrogations or any other procedures at detention sites that are in violation of the U.S. Constitution or international law (e.g., the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against torture." President Kazdin, too, deserves our thanks for acting quickly, decisively, and courageously in communicating the policy change to our government.

The effects of these efforts have been profound. For the first time in the ‘global war on terror,’ a professional organization has refused to participate in our nation’s intelligence operations unless international standards of human rights and due process are upheld! The American Psychological Association now has the obligation to work with the administration, the CIA and Department of Defense to institutionalize the new APA policy.

When the referendum passed, many of us -- and I include myself -- wanted to be able to put this issue behind us so we can turn to other pressing issues. From my point of view, the three most important issues facing psychologists (and all Americans) are ethics, economics, and ecology. Problems in each of these areas derive, in part, from the widespread, government supported, but irresponsible belief in American exceptionalism. I am referring to (a) the belief that ethical principles that apply to others do not apply to us, (b) the belief that consumerism and debt provide the pathway to happiness, and c) the belief that we can take from the earth without being responsible either to manage or replenish what we use. We psychologists have a unique opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to help facilitate a psychological paradigm shift in our nation, and restore the core value of responsible stewardship of our ethics, our finances, and our planet.

But let’s not fool ourselves. The issues of abusive interrogations, illegal detention conditions, and the shame both have brought to our profession are not yet resolved. The APA leadership has only acted now because of the extraordinary pressure and dedication of the membership. There is more to be done, and it will only be done if the voice of the membership continues to be heard. That is why I continue to ask for your support for my campaign for President of the APA.

Our goals have always been clear, both for our nation and for our profession.

For our nation, we want to see a stop to torture and abuse, we want to see the illegal detention centers shut down, and we want to restore our nation’s unflagging support for human rights and civil liberties.

As a profession, we psychologists have more specific goals:

  • We want to see our profession out of the business of consulting on individual national security interrogations.
  • We want psychologists to stop developing abusive behavior management plans as part of intelligence gathering.
  • We want a full, public investigation into the roles of psychologists in detainee abuse.
  • We want psychologists who were part of our nation’s program of systematic abuse and torture held to account.
  • We want to understand how the APA colluded in keeping psychologists engaged in these abuses, including how the Task Force formed to investigate the role of psychologists in detention abuses, the PENS Task Force, was put into the hands of psychologists from the very commands implicated in those abuses.
  • We want the ethics code reviewed and changed so that ethical standards that now permit following law, overriding informed consent, and undermining deceptive research standards when ordered to by government, are restored to their higher, pre-2002 levels.
  • Finally, we want transparency in APA dealings with government, military, or intelligence organizations, including full disclosure of government ties or contracts of any member who is involved in setting APA policies with regard to these agencies.

    I am asking for your support so that, together, we may ensure that the APA takes the necessary steps to reform the policies, practices, and organizational culture that made the referendum necessary in the first place. Together, we can reform the ethics code to reinstate the primacy of ‘do no harm’; we can join the other health professions in prohibiting our members from involvement in individual national security interrogations; we can call for full transparency in APA’s relations with the military and the intelligence agencies.

    Together, we can fulfill the mandate of the referendum and turn the APA back to its proper role as advocate for human welfare and international standards of human rights.

    Please put ‘Steven J. Reisnerfirst, when you receive your ballot for APA President. If you are committed to another candidate, please give me your #2 vote. If you would like to help my presidential campaign, please sign onto my website at and register as a volunteer. And please, pass this message on to other members, discussion groups, and listservs where such communications are permitted.

    Thanks for your support. Together we can restore consistent, progressive values and transparency to the APA. And please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Best regards,
    Steven J. Reisner, PhD
  • Here's a link to Dr. Reisner's website.

    New Details on BSCT-led Torture of Mohammed Jawad

    Newsweek has a new article out giving more information on the role of a Guantanamo military psychologist working for the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) that interrogated "child prisoner" Mohammed Jawad. U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Diane M. Zierhoffer refused to testify in Jawad's military tribunal hearing last August, pleading the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. (Jawad's case is currently on appeal before the Convening Authority at Guantanamo, and the prosecutor in the case has resigned, citing government misconduct in the case.)

    Dan Ephron's article begins with a profile of APA presidential candidate Steven Reisner, who is running as an opponent of APA's interrogations policy.
    If he wins, Reisner says he will use his authority to expose the precise role individual APA psychologists have played in the interrogations, not only at Guantánamo but at the CIA's "black" sites around the world. He says wrongdoers will be brought before an ethics board; like doctors and other caregivers, psychologists are bound by a do-no-harm principle. But for Reisner the main point is to air the details publicly, in a kind of truth-and-reconciliation process. "The discussions … need to have a public venue so that we can learn the lessons and not let it happen again," he says.
    Later in the same article, Ephron cites the Jawad interrogation as an example of how BSCT psychologists really do their work.
    "Based on the BSCT recommendation, Mr. Jawad was moved into isolation..."

    The full assessment penned by the psychologist after the interrogation is redacted from the [Jawad] court filing. But NEWSWEEK discovered through two independent sources familiar with the report (who could not be named discussing sensitive material) that the psychologist not only eased interrogators' worries, but also encouraged them to continue to dial up the emotional pressure on Jawad: "He appears to be rather frightened, and it looks as if he could break easily if he were isolated from his support network and made to rely solely on the interrogator," according to an excerpt of the report read to NEWSWEEK. The psychologist recommended that Jawad be moved to a section of the prison where he would be the only Pashto speaker, and be moved again if he somehow began to socialize in his new block. The psychologist also suggested that interrogators emphasize to Jawad that his family appeared to have forgotten him: "Make him as uncomfortable as possible. Work him as hard as possible."

    The psychologist's name can be gleaned from a court witness list, but multiple e-mails sent by NEWSWEEK asking for a reaction went unanswered. The court filing goes on to say that two weeks after the start of his isolation, Jawad gave his interrogators a detailed account of the events surrounding the grenade attack (that did not implicate himself). But his mental condition deteriorated further and in late December 2003 he tried to commit suicide. "If the goal was to break him, the psychologist succeeded," says Maj. David Frakt, Jawad's military defense attorney.
    It is a sad but true reality that medical doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists have been used by the U.S. government (and governments of many other countries as well, I might add) to help government and military/intelligence agencies research, implement, and operate abusive programs of interrogation and torture. They have done this, more or less, since the end of World War II. It must end now.

    The APA presidential election is being conducted by mail ballot right now. I urge all APA members to vote for Dr. Reisner!

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Secret Memos Show White House Approved CIA Torture

    Joby Warrick at The Washington Post has an article today confirming what many of us have suspected for some time: the CIA asked for and received written approval for its "enhanced interrogation" program, which notoriously includes the use of techniques like waterboarding. Condoleezza Rice confirmed in hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that she and other White House "Principals" had been briefed on the CIA's torture program in early 2002. (ABC News had broken the story first, last spring.)

    According to Washington Post article today, CIA director George Tenet pushed for the written confirmations of support, wary of legal entanglements for CIA personnel involved in the abusive interrogation program. He first asked and received the CIA's get-out-of-jail card in June 2003, and then again after the Abu Ghraib story broke in mid-2004.

    Warrick writes:
    Administration officials confirmed the existence of the memos, but neither they nor former intelligence officers would describe their contents in detail because they remain classified. The sources all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss the events....

    "The CIA believed then, and now, that the program was useful and helped save lives," said a former senior intelligence official knowledgeable about the events. "But in the agency's view, it was like this: 'We don't want to continue unless you tell us in writing that it's not only legal but is the policy of the administration.' "

    One administration official familiar with the meetings said the CIA made such a convincing case that no one questioned whether the methods were necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks.

    "The CIA had the White House boxed in," said the official. "They were saying, 'It's the only way to get the information we needed, and -- by the way -- we think there's another attack coming up.' It left the principals in an extremely difficult position and put the decision-making on a very fast track."

    But others who were present said Tenet seemed more interested in protecting his subordinates than in selling the administration on a policy that administration lawyers had already authorized.
    Whether or not the CIA blackmailed or just plain scared the White House into coughing up written "top cover" secret memos, lawyers from Bush's Office of Legal Counsel had already approved the use of torture on so-called "enemy combatant" detainees. In fact, as has been recently documented, the Bush Administration's interest in the use of torture in interrogations began as early as December 2001, when "senior Department of Defense officials, including from General Counsel William J. 'Jim' Haynes’s office, sought out information from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD agency responsible for overseeing SERE training." (SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and is a program originally developed to train U.S. military personnel to withstand harsh interrogation.) The information sought? How to "exploit" prisoners by reverse-engineering SERE's torture inoculation program to "break" detainees.

    The solicitation of SERE by DoD officials out of Secretary Rumsfeld's office is not necessarily separate from the CIA story, as key SERE figures, such as psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, were also contract employees of the CIA, as far back as the Spring 2002 interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Other CIA behavioral scientists have been known to work on research regarding biological markers of stress utilizing subjects from the SERE program.

    As the real story behind the use of torture by the United States emerges it will throw a light upon the interpenetration of CIA, Special Forces, and regular military personnel and command. Only by understanding that the latter is a regular, if unmonitored occurrence, going back some decades now, can one begin to piece together the byzantine workings of the black op program that was/is "enhanced interrogation."

    It's nice to know that smoking gun memos authorizing interrogation techniques forbidden by U.S. and international law actually exist, as they will be key exhibits in future war crimes trials against officials of the Bush Administration. But the use of torture by the United States is not just a post-9/11 phenomenon. The Kubark document, which was the CIA's counterintelligence interrogation manual from the early 1960s, specifically lists many techniques of psychological torture. The same is true for of the 1983 Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, utilized by the CIA to train foreign agents. As a matter of side interest, Dick Cheney himself was involved in the cover-up of U.S. torture when the latter document was made public in 1993.

    Bush's use of torture, as egregious as it has been, is not the first, and I fear, not the last such use in U.S. history. In fact, since at least the early 1950s, when millions were spent by the government to research psychological torture, torture itself has been a crucial if inhumane and illegal weapon in the U.S. arsenal. The tentacles of its use, from research involving hundreds of scientists and academic institutions to the lies and cover-ups perpetuated by the establishment media, are impossibly long and entangled. The research and implementation of torture has directly caused the evisceration of ethical standards in U.S. institutions across the board.

    Some call for a truth commission to get to the bottom of this mess. Others would rather see trials, to put those responsible for crimes against humanity before the bar of justice. As a society, we'd better do something quick, because the trend of history is working against us, and nothing yet has stopped the U.S. state from engaging in the worst kinds of abuse, not resolutions, not judicial decisions, not public protest, not even, up until now, changes of administrations.

    Hat-tips on this posting to Candace Gorman and The Talking Dog.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Free Troy Davis! Stop the Barbaric Death Penalty

    The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order yesterday denying the cert appeal from Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis for a new trial. Convicted of killing a Savannah policeman in 1989, since his trial seven of the nine eyewitnesses who testified in his trial have recanted their testimony. There was no physical evidence connecting Davis to the shooting, so the eyewitness testimony was key.

    According to the CNN report:
    The human rights group Amnesty International USA, however, condemned the court's decision.

    "The Supreme Court's decision is truly shocking, given that significant evidence of Davis' innocence will never have a chance to be examined," said Larry Cox, the organization's executive director....

    Prominent figures ranging from the pope to the musical group Indigo Girls have asked Georgia to grant Davis a new trial. Other supporters include celebrities Susan Sarandon and Harry Belafonte; world leaders such as former President Jimmy Carter and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and former and current U.S. lawmakers Bob Barr, Carol Moseley Braun and John Lewis.
    Jeralyn quotes more from Amnesty's Cox:
    “Faulty eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, and the hallmark of Davis’ case. This was an opportunity for the Court to clarify the constitutionality of putting the innocent to death – and in Davis’ case, his innocence could only be determined with a new hearing or trial."
    As in the highly controversial case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Davis was found guilty of killing a policeman. Cops, prosecutors and courts close ranks when it comes to this kind of crime, and the innocence of the accused is not as important as the fact that someone must pay, and pay in blood, for the death of an agent of the state.

    Just like their buddy allies in Saudi Arabia, which "executes an average of more than two people a week - almost half... foreign nationals from poor and developing countries," the U.S. leadership in its majority protects its machinery of legal death, as a way of terrorizing the population, and to legitimate its rule by brute force. Born in the racist privilege of the slaveholder to torture and execute his "property," and in the brutal, public spectacles of the execution of the poor for petty crimes that entertained Victorian England, the death penalty is a barbaric legacy of the past.

    I ask that my readers support Amnesty International's call for a moratorium on the death penalty, as a bare minimum of action against this sick practice. For more information on Troy Davis's case and how to support him, see and On the Mumia case, see and

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Major New Torture Archive Gives 1st Peek at SERE SOP

    The National Security Archive and Washington Media Associates have introduced a major new research resource, as part of their new website, The Torture Archive, which appears at the site along with timelines related to torture, a discussion guide, various interviews, and the documentary, "Torturing Democracy" itself, is described as "the online institutional memory for essential evidence on torture."

    Drawing upon work already done by the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and various journalists, the Archive intends to "bring together all these materials in digital formats, organize and catalog them for maximum utility and access, and publish them online in multiple packages including a comprehensive searchable database." NSA/WMA describe their intentions thusly:
    The idea is to present the documents online in a way that is fully searchable and also includes brief commentary of certain highlighted documents as well as background information in each topic area (such as in the Archive’s series of online “electronic briefing books”). The Web site will ultimately allow a user to browse chronologies of events and related documents, and search the entire body of documents or a limited group of documents for information related to a particular individual, location, or government body. By combining released executive branch policy memoranda, legal documents from U.S. and foreign courts, and on-the-ground information about actual practices by the U.S. military and intelligence personnel, we hope to present a comprehensive view of the war on terrorism, its foundations and its implications....

    The initial catalog of torture-related documents cited in the documentary film is published here together with PDF images of the documents themselves. Subsequent postings will build the Torture Archive and ultimately include more than 7,000 original documents totaling more than 100,000 pages.
    SERE SOP Posted for First Time

    The first real gem to be uncovered by the TD archive is the previously classified Standard Operating Procedure at Guantanamo introduced by personnel from the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, program. The SOP introduced torture techniques to Guantanamo that were specifically meant to "break" prisoners. How do we know this? From the December 2002 memo that accompanied the SERE SOP, which was released by the SASC last June. The memo's author was quite specific (emphasis added):

    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.
    At the time of this initial release of the memo, the SOP itself was classified. But now, thanks to TD, we have the full SOP for the first time, reproduced here to facilitate discussion and understanding of the issues. The SOP's author is Chief of Interrogation Control Element (ICE) at Guantanamo, Lt. Col. Ted Moss. The text below, based upon the PDF of the document, is taken from Stephen Soldz's transcription at his blog, and includes his editorial preface (and thanks to you, Stephen, for taking this trouble for all of us). I will only add that I have quietly corrected some of Dr. Soldz's typos, by comparison with the original document, and added some formatting to match emphases in the original, e.g. underlinings, bolded text.
    Here is the document. It is also available in pdf. [as this was a draft, the formatting was inconsistent. I have corrected some formatting. I have not corrected any typos. Thus, presumably, the word "NOT" is missing after "DO" from the sentence "IT IS CRITICAL THAT INTERROGATORS DO "CROSS THE LINE" WHEN UTILIZING THE TACTICS DESCRIBED BELOW.." Obviously, despite my best efforts at accuracy, this text should be checked against the pdf before citing.]


    10 DECEMBER 2002



    1. Purpose. This SOP document promulgates procedures to be followed by JTF-GTMO personnel engaged in interrogation operations on detained persons. 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 be used to break real detainees during interrogation operations.

    The basis for this document is the SOP used at the U.S. Navy SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school in Brunswick, Maine and is defined by reference (a).

    Note that all tactics are strictly non-lethal.


    2. Training. All interrogators will undergo training by certified SERE instructors prior to being approved for use of any of the techniques described in this document.

    3. Scope. Applicable to military and civilian interrogators assigned to JTF-GTMO, Cuba.

    LtCol, USAF



    a. This document describes in detail the interrogation tactics authorized for use in detainee interrogation operations at JTF_GTMO and the safety precautions that must be used to prevent injuries. The tactics are the same as those used in U.S. military SERE schools.




    a. Approved interrogation tactics are found in Sections 3-6.

    b. Additional safeguards are as follows:

    1. Detainee behavior and reactions are continuously observed and evaluated by the interrogator.

    2. Both the detainee’s and the interrogators behavior are monitored by the Watch Officer.

    3. IT IS CRITICAL THAT INTERROGATORS DO “CROSS THE LINE” WHEN UTILIZING THE TACTICS DESCRIBED BELOW. Therefore, verbal coded messages or nonverbal signals will be used by the Watch Officer (or other interrogators) when giving instructions to adjust interrogation procedure. For example, two kicks on the door indicated the interrogator should discontinue the current approach and move on to another approach. The statement, “Stop wasting time with this pig,” means to discontinue the current training tactic and take a break.


    a. SHOULDER SLAP. The shoulder slap is a moderate to hard, glancing blow to the back of the shoulder with an open hand. It is used as an irritant.

    b. INSULT SLAP. *****

    (1) The insult slap is used to shock and intimidate the detainee. The slap is aimed at the detainee’s cheek only. Contact will be made only with the fingers in the open hand position and the fingers will be slightly spread and relaxed. The slap will be initiated no more than 12-14 inches (or one shoulder width) from the detainee’s face.

    To ensure this distance is not exceeded and to preclude any tendency to wind up or uppercut, the slap will be initiated with the slap hand contacting the detainee’s body on the top of the shoulder. The target area is slightly below the cheekbone, away from the eyes and ears. Extreme care must be taken not to strike the lower jaw. Slaps aimed at the ears, mouth, nose eyes or throat are prohibited.

    (2) Uninterrupted or consecutive slaps are prohibited because the detainee will duck or dodge the slap, creating possibility for an injury. Experience has shown that after a second slap, the effectiveness of the slap tactic is significantly reduced. Interrogators will cease using the slap if detainee begins ducking. At this point, a threatened slap with the hand will achieve the same purpose as a slap. Blows with the back of the hand, fists, elbows, feet and knees are prohibited. Insult slaps are only to be used by those interrogators designated in writing by the ICE CHIEF.

    C. STOMACH SLAP. ******

    (1) As with the insult slap, the stomach slap is used to shock and intimidate the detainee. The tactic is delivered with the back of the bare hand. The slap will be directed towards the center of the abdomen. The detainee will not be struck in the solar plexus, ribs, sides, and kidneys or below the navel. The slap will not be performed against the bare skin. Slaps will be initiated with the interrogator’s upper arm parallel to his/her body, extending the striking hand in a swinging motion to the target area. Detainees will be either facing or to the side of the interrogator when the slap is administered.

    (2) Uninterrupted or consecutive slaps are prohibited. Blows to the stomach with the palm of the hand fist, knees, or elbows are prohibited.


    (1) Stripping consists of forceful removal of detainees’ clothing. In addition to degradation of the detainee, shipping can be used to demonstrate the omnipotence of the captor or to debilitate the detainee. Interrogator personnel tear clothing from detainees by firmly pulling downward against buttoned buttons and seams. Tearing motions shall be downward to prevent pulling the detainee off balance.


    a. STRESS POSITIONS. Stress positions are used to punish detainees. ALL STRESS POSITIONS ARE RESTRICTED TO A MAXIMUM TIME OF TEN MINUTES AND A LOGBOOK ENTRY IS REQURED [sic]. An interrogator/guard will remain with detainees during use of stress positions. The authorized positions are:

    (1) Head Rest/Index Finger position - Detainee is placed with forehead or fingers against the wall, then the detainee’s legs are backed out to the point that the detainee’s leaning weight is brought to bear on fingers or head.

    (2) Kneeling position - Administered by placing detainee on knees and having him lean backward on heels and hold hands extended to the sides or front, palms upward. Light weights such as small rocks, may be placed in the detainee’s upturned palms. The detainee will not be placed in a position facing the sun or floodlights.

    (3) Worship-the-Gods - The detainee is placed on knees with head and torso arched back, with arms either folded across the chest or extended to the side or front. The detainee will not be placed in a position facing the sun or floodlights.

    (4) Sitting Position - the detainee is placed with his back against a wall, tree or post; thighs are horizontal, lower legs are vertical with feet flat on floor or ground as though sitting in a chair. Arms may be extended to sides horizontally, palms up and boots on.

    (5) Standing position - While standing, the detainee is required to extend arms either to the sides or front with palms up. Light weights such as small rocks may be placed in upturned palms.


    a. HOODING

    (1) Hoods are lightweight fabric sacks large enough to fit loosely over a detainee’s head and permit unrestricted breathing.

    (2) Hooding us [sic] used to isolate detainees. Individually hooded detainees may be moved provided an interrogator/guard leads the detainee. Detainees may not be left standing alone with the hood on. They must be placed either on their stomachs, kneeling, or sitting. Detainee medical limitations must be considered.


    a. MANHANDLING. Manhandling consists of pulling or pushing a detainee. It is used as an irritant and to direct the detainee to specific locations. Detainees must be handcuffed and must grasp their trousers near mid-thigh with both hands. The interrogator firmly grasps detainee’s clothing and then moves the detainee at a walking pace. The interrogator must maintain positive control of the detainee. The detainee is not released until the interrogator is positive the detainee has regained balance.

    b. WALLING. ***** Walling consists of placing a detainee forcibly against a specially constructed wall. Walling will only be performed in designated areas where specially constructed walls have been built. Walling is used to physically intimidate a detainee. The interrogator must ensure the wall is smooth, firm, and free of any projections. If conducted outside, footing area must be solid and free of objects that could cause detainee or interrogator to lose their balance. A detainee can be taken to the wall a maximum of three times per shift. Walling is done by firmly grasping the front of the detainee’s clothing high on each side of the collar ensuring the top of the clothing is open. Care should be taken to ensure detainees with long hair do not get their hair tangled into the folds of clothes being grasped by the interrogator. To avoid bruising the detainee, roll hands under folds of clothing material and ensure only the backs of the hands contact detainee’s chest. Maintain this grip throughout, never allowing the detainee to be propelled uncontrollably. Ensure only the broad part of the shoulders contact the surface of the wall. Grip the detainee’s clothing firmly enough so the collar acts as a restrictive constraint to preclude the detainee’s head from contacting the wall does this. If the detainee’s head inadvertently touches the wall, walling will be ceased immediately. Walling is to be used by those interrogators designated in writing by the ICE CHIEF.

    "Stop wasting time with this pig"

    The brutality and inhumanity of the U.S. military's torture program is mind-boggling. The tender mercies of SERE instructions indicating that certain damage or harm should not come to prisoners when utilizing certain techniques is not an example of humanitarianism, but a blatant attempt to cover-up the physical marks of torture, or to avoid the embarrassment and evidence of tortured corpses.

    Readers should compare the above SOP with the use of Albert Biderman's "Chart of Coercion," which SERE instructors used to teach Guantanamo interrogators, including behavioral "scientists" in the "BSCT" teams, i.e., psychologists, psychiatrists, and others, how to torture.

    The Biderman chart adds some other techniques which are implicit in the Guantanamo terms of incarceration, and therefore didn't need to be part of the SERE SOP. Such techniques of psychological torture, as practiced in conjunction with the SERE SOP brutality include use of isolation, beyond the practice of hooding, as explained in the Camp Delta Guantanamo camp-wide SOP, declassified some months ago. Here, isolation is described as a tactic meant "to enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee" by isolating him or her in a Maximum Security cell, without even access to Red Cross or religious personnel, for at least the first four weeks upon arrival. Such isolation is meant, via Biderman/SERE's rational to deprive the prisoner of all social support and "ability to resist."

    The other primary technique, only partly addressed in the SERE SOP, is degradation, which is meant to damage prisoner self esteem, via prevention of personal hygiene, insults, taunts, "demeaning punishments" and "denial of privacy," which "reduces the prisoner to 'animal level' concerns". "Stripping" detainees of all clothing is described in the SERE document. But degradation of prisoners permeates the entire Guantanamo regime. Camp Delta SOP's "behavioral management" program for detainees makes even toilet paper a "privilege" for detainees.

    Make no mistake, we are living in a totally lawless world, where there is no accountability for great crimes, whether those crimes be the torture of countless thousands, the aggressive bombing and devastation of non-attacking countries, violations of privacy against ordinary citizens, or the rape and pillage of the economies of the world for the benefit of a privileged few.

    The website Torturing Democracy, with its attempts to bring vital information forward, and other such efforts by civil society to reign in the excesses of the U.S. military, will go for naught if the state apparatus remains in the hands of the clique who has ruled this country for decades now. The current economic crisis has shaken their confidence, and they certainly understand that if the genie of engaged popular dissent and action is let out of the bottle, they can quickly lose everything they have built their apparatus of oppression to contain.

    Even the accession of a mere liberal like Barack Obama to the presidency frightens them, as they believe that in this world, the "dream" and "hope" Obama has inspired in millions can not be achieved under their class rule, and they fret over what might happen if the disappointment runs too deep. The desperation of the masses has played a crucial role in history, and not always for the good. But when it is let loose, it carves out new terrain in the body politic like a flash flood running through a naked arroyo. History is littered with the names of forgotten royal families, political parties, and common wisdom homilies to the status quo.

    This rotten regime deserves to go the way of all flesh, and it will, sooner or later.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Debut Today: New Website Streams Torture Documentary

    From the press release from the people who are bringing us the new documentary, Torturing Democracy:
    Award-winning producer Sherry Jones presents a comprehensive documentary - more than 18 months in the making - that examines America's detention and interrogation practices in the "war on terror" in Torturing Democracy, premiering Thursday, October 16 at 9 p.m. on Thirteen/WNET.

    The film examines how coercive interrogation methods were used by the CIA and migrated to the United States military at Guantanamo Bay and other locations as well as the charges that these interrogations became "at a minimum, cruel and inhuman treatment and, at worst, torture," in the words of the former General Counsel of the United States Navy, Alberto Mora. It carefully presents the evidence that the Bush administration promoted these methods and developed legal justification for the practice. The film features in-depth interviews with senior military and government officials who fought the policy and former Guantanamo detainees who experienced it, uncovers the origins of the tactics the White House calls "enhanced interrogation techniques."

    Senior Bush administration insiders describe the internal debate over whether the U.S. government should opt out of the Geneva Conventions in order to avoid future prosecution for war crimes. Among the film's notable senior military and diplomatic officials is Richard Armitage, former United States Deputy Secretary of State, who describes - for the first time on camera - being waterboarded during his military training. "There is no question in my mind," says Armitage, "that this is torture. I'm ashamed that we're even having this discussion."

    The 90-minute documentary will be followed by a half-hour panel discussion moderated by Wide Angle anchor Aaron Brown that updates and expands the documentary with an in-depth conversation on recent Congressional hearings and legal decisions, as well as what the methods used to combat terrorism may mean for America's standing in the world and how U.S. military personnel may be affected.

    Bill Moyers has called Torturing Democracy "profoundly journalistic and profoundly affecting. This one will go into the record books for historians and teachers and others who look back to ask, 'What did we do?'"

    The documentary details how the secret U.S. military interrogation program - "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape" - or SERE - became the basis for many of the harshest methods used in interrogating prisoners in U.S custody. The simulated captivity is supposed to expose students to "a totalitarian evil nation with a complete disregard for human rights and the Geneva Convention," says SERE trainer Malcolm Nance in the film. Methods used include slapping, hooding, sleep disruption, stripping, exposure to temperature extremes, sexual humiliation, and the practice now known as "waterboarding." Nance adds, "We have recreated our enemies' methods in Guantanamo... It will hurt us for decades to come."

    The film's website,, is scheduled to launch Friday, October 10. The site, a collaboration with the National Security Archive at George Washington University, will feature the entire film available for streaming; a timeline of key events; extended interviews; and the memos, legal opinions and other documents featured in the film.

    Other government and military interviewees include Major General Thomas Romig, Judge Advocate General for the U.S. Army, who reveals the inside story of a Pentagon task force set up by the Secretary of Defense in early 2003; retired Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora; veteran Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman; military prosecutor Colonel Stuart Couch; former Pentagon lawyer Richard Shiffrin; and Martin Lederman, senior advisor in the Justice Department.

    Former detainees interviewed include Moazzam Begg (Detainee #558), Shafiq Rasul (Detainee #083), and Bisher Al-Rawi (Detainee #906).

    Torturing Democracy was produced by Washington Media Associates in association with the National Security Archive. It was written and produced by Sherry Jones. Carey Murphy is the co-producer. Peter Coyote is the narrator. It was edited by Penny Trams and Foster Wiley. The 30-minute discussion following the film will be produced by Erin Chapman for Thirteen.
    Here's a YouTube clip showing the film's promo:

    Bill Moyers has called Torturing Democracy “profoundly journalistic and profoundly affecting. This one will go into the record books for historians and teachers and others who look back to ask, ‘What did we do?’”

    For more clips, check out the filmmakers' YouTube channel.

    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    They ARE Listening to You

    Glenn Greenwald dissects an ABC interview with two National Security Agency whistleblowers, Adrienne Kinne and David Murfee Faulk. ABC's Brian Ross reports that the NSA eavesdropped on "hundreds of Americans simply calling their families."
    “US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and ‘collected on’ as they called their offices or homes in the United States.” He also said his co-workers “were ordered to transcribe these calls.” Faulk told Ross: ”when one of my co-workers went to a supervisor and said: ’but sir, there are personal calls,’ the supervisor said: ‘my orders were to transcribe everything’.” He said that the intercepted calls included highly personal and intimate conversations and even phone sex.
    As Captain Renault (from Casablanca) might have said it: "I'm shocked, shocked to find illegal activities going on here." It is clear that when President Bush assured the nation that the NSA was only spying upon "phone calls of known Al Qaeda suspects making a phone call into the United States," he was presenting a criminal lie to the American people. To say we -- the political cognoscenti -- already knew that is one thing; to hear it validated by former government snoops is another.

    As Greenwald put it:
    ...these disclosures are from only two relatively low-level individual NSA linguists at one NSA facility in Georgia. If just these two individuals are aware of this level of abuse, just imagine what the true extent of the abuses is — both quantitatively (how many innocent Americans had their conversations eavesdropped on?) and qualitatively (who, beyond journalists and aid workers, were listened to?).
    Millions of Americans are hoping a newly elected Obama administration will end such practices. But history shows that once you give a spy agency like the NSA such powers, they are very difficult to reign in. In the famous words of the Roman poet Juvenal, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" -- who will watch the watchers?

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