Wednesday, June 22, 2016

DHS Behavioral Research Group proposed "use of Guantanamo Bay subjects as data"

Overlooked in a report released last year that documented collusion with top members of the American Psychological Association with U.S. government agencies in activities that involved torture or abuse of detainees was a section that documented interest in using Guantanamo Bay detainees for experimental purposes or objects of study by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

According to the minutes of a May 7, 2003 "unclassified advisory group" for the DHS Science and Technology Behavioral Research Program, which documented the inaugural meeting of the group, topics that might be included in DHS "social and behavioral research" included "autonomic specificity in reactions to stress; use of electro-encephalograms for determination of intent and for detection of deception; and use of Guantanamo Bay subjects as data."

Involved in such discussions, led by National Science Foundation, were Geoffrey Mumford; the Director of Science Policy at the American Psychological Association (APA), and Susan Brandon, then-Program Chief, Affect & Biobehavioral Regulation in Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science, NIMH, and also a Senior Scientist at APA.

Currently Brandon is Chief of Research for the Obama Administration's High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG.

Others present at the 2003 meeting were Norman Bradburn, Assistant Director for the Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF); Phil Rubin, Division Director of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, NSF; Ken Whang, Program Manager for Collaborative Research on Computational Neurosciences, NSF; and Gary Strong, the Director of Behavioral Research, DHS. Strong kept the minutes for the event, which was held at NSF offices.

"Effectiveness Research" or "Program Evaluation"?

The report released last year (PDF) by Sidley Austin, "Independent Review Relating to APA Ethics Guidelines, National Security Interrogations, and Torture," authored by Chicago-based attorney David Hoffman and other Sidley associates, indicated that both Mumford and Brandon were queried about the interest in research on Guantanamo detainees.

Mumford, who Hoffman's report indicated was a central leader in getting APA involved with Department of Defense and CIA collaborative efforts, told Sidley investigators he couldn't recall any such discussion about detainees. Brandon's reply was more revealing. From Hoffman's report, p. 171-172:
Brandon likewise stated that she did not know what this comment referred to, and assumed that any discussions on this topic would have related to attempts to discover what people were doing with research subjects when there was very little oversight. However, she stated that she recalled people wanting to observe detainees to understand the effectiveness of the interrogation program. Brandon said she would characterize this kind of observation as program evaluation rather than research.
"Program evaluation" is precisely the term Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, a psychologist with Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, United States Joint Forces Command, used before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on June 17, 2008, when the committee was investigating detainee abuse and torture at Guantanamo (bold added for emphasis):
Mr. Chairman, with regards to my July 2002 communications with then Lt Col Dan Baumgartner, the then Chief of Staff of JPRA, my recollection is that Lt Col Baumgartner called me directly, probably on the same day that I generated my 24 July 2002 memorandum that I referenced earlier. He indicated that he was getting asked “from above” about the psychological effects of resistance training. I had no idea who was asking Lt Col Baumgartner “from above” and did not ask him to clarify who was asking. I recall reminding Lt Col Baumgartner in general terms about program evaluation data I’d presented in May of 2002 at the SERE Psychology Conference. These data, which were collected on Air Force survival students at different points of time during training, indicated that training significantly improves students confidence in their ability to adhere to the Code of Conduct.
The "training" Ogrisseg referred to consisted of mock prison camps and use of graduated forms of torture as a form of "stress inoculation" on troops or other U.S. agents to make them more resistant to torture, or so goes their rationale. Is it possible that similar forms of "program evaluation" -- though it's hard to see this as anything but illegal research -- was also used on real torture victims, such as at Guantanamo? It is noteworthy that the DHS behavioral group referred to using Guantanamo detainees for research in nearly the same breath as studying "autonomic specificity in reactions to stress."

"Autonomic specificity in reactions to stress" is precisely a form of research previously conducted on SERE mock torture "detainees." Research by CIA psychiatrist Charles Morgan III showed powerful changes in endrocrine and nervous system functioning in mock-torture SERE students studied. Is it really so far-fetched to think such experiments were extended by CIA or the Department of Defense, or other government agency (such as DHS) to the detainees captured in the "war on terror"?

Apparently not. A National Research Council (NRC) 2008 report on a conference on Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies examined briefly what it characterized as a “contemporary problem,” the possibility of doing research on “war on terror” detainees, removed by the U.S. government from Geneva protections against experiments done on prisoners of war. (This report was earlier examined in an article I wrote back in February 2011.)

In a section of the report that looked at the “Cultural and Ethical Underpinnings of Social Neuroscience,” the report’s authors examined the “Ethical Implications” of these new technologies. The section explored the birth of the new field of bioethics, in response to the scandalous revelations of the Tuskegee experiments. The report noted that “On the whole, however, the system of protections for human research subjects is not well designed to capture instances of intentional wrongdoing,” providing “rather… guidance for well-motivated investigators who wish to be in compliance with regulatory requirements and practice standards.”

Another interesting, and even more ominous issue was discussed the NSC panel (emphasis added):
A contemporary problem is the status of detainees at military installations who are suspects in the war on terrorism. Presumably, the ethical standards that apply to all human research subjects should apply to them as well. But if they are not protected by the provisions of the Geneva protocols for prisoners of war, the question would be whether as potential research subjects they are nonetheless protected by other international conventions, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948). Those technical questions of international law are beyond the scope of this report.
Why should the question of research on detainees arise in this discussion at all?

Christian Meissner, currently a lead researcher for the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, back in 2010 spoke to National Academy of Science participants attending a workshop, "Field Evaluation in the Intelligence and Counterintelligence Context," on the putative difference between research and "program evaluation." According to the report of the meeting, "Christian Meissner commented that, from his experience as chair of an institutional review board, he knows that there is a significant gray area between program evaluation and research. Indeed, he said, it is quite possible to field test things under the guise of program evaluation. But once one begins manipulating factors and having control groups, the studies clearly amount to research." (pg. 68-69)

Commenting on the same issue at the workshop, Jonathan Moreno, well-known science ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "It’s not an easy line to draw,” he said, “but I think you can intuit those lines."

"Beyond the scope"

So for the NSC panelists, the issue of whether or not detainees, removed from normal Geneva protections (as at Guantanamo), are protected by international covenants, like the Nuremberg protocols, are "beyond the scope" of their inquiries. Not for the last time was the issue of research on detainees at Guantanamo deemed "beyond the scope" of investigators. In the Sidley report quoted above, Hoffman (and his co-authors) explained why they never followed up the trail of evidence on possible research abuse. "... we considered it beyond the scope of this investigation to draw conclusions regarding whether the CIA, DoD, or any other executive agency was conducting research on detainees because we found no evidence that APA had coordinated with the government to facilitate such research," they wrote (p. 172).

Maybe not APA as an institution, but certainly top APA officials collaborated with the government based on their standing as leaders of the field of psychology, as demonstrated by their leadership at APA. This aspect of the Sidley investigation has been ignored by the press, by APA critics, and by critics of the Hoffman report (who mostly are DoD apologists). Hoffman and his allies carefully determined who the scapegoats would be for their report, while letting a number of others -- and not only psychologists -- off the hook. Still, I am grateful for their work in documenting a good deal we didn't know about this collaboration.

The issue of studies on detainees also surfaced as part of a September 2003 "after-action" report by a SERE consultant, Terrence Russell, sent to Iraq to assist special forces Task Force 20 in interrogation of detainees. (This TF was later named Task Force 121.) But the report, and another by Russell's putative superior, Col. Steven Kleinman, showed that abuse of detainees was taking place. When Kleinman intervened to stop such actions, his life was threatened by TF personnel. Russell was a civilian manager for the Research and Development division of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which was then the parent command for SERE.

“In regards to the recent study on effectiveness at GTMO, of which there is plenty of room to debate whether or not that have had [sic] much success..." Russell wrote in passing, trying to counter criticisms by Kleinman in the latter's own version of events written in his own after-action report. Kleinman later told me he thought Russell was referring to many different kinds of studies on interrogation going back to the Cold War years. He didn’t believe Russell had any “study on effectiveness at GTMO” that he could actually refer to. But perhaps such "effectiveness" research was hidden as "program evaluation."

The minutes for the DHS meeting where conducting research on Guantanamo detainees was released by the APA itself, as one of a number of "binders" of documentary material gathered by Sidley for its research. The minutes were on page 1355 of Binder 2 in the APA release (see PDF), but I am reproducing them here for the benefit of the public. Click on image to see larger, more readable version.

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