Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CIA to Release Videotape Docs to Senate Committee

Originally posted at Daily Kos

In a turnabout, the CIA said "it would begin handing over documents to Congress about the destruction of videotapings showing the harsh interrogation of two terror suspects after the House Intelligence Committee threatened to subpoena two agency officials," according to a breaking story from Associated Press.

This comes after the bombshell revelations earlier yesterday that at least four administration officials, including David Addington, Harriet Myers and Alberto Gonzales, were involved in discussions about what to do with these incriminating videotapes. dday had an excellent diary on this earlier.

The turnabout also comes after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) said he was going to subpoena former and current CIA officials and attorneys if they didn't agree to appear before the committee. The agreement by CIA apparently also includes agreement on the testimony of CIA general counsel John Rizzo, the official who is said to have ordered the destruction of the tapes, though CIA won't commit him to a specific date.

According to the AP story:

The committee's announcement is another sign of increasing tensions between Congress, the judiciary and the White House over the interrogation tapes. Congressional overseers are angry they were not fully informed of the tapes and their destruction, and want to know what else they have not been told. A federal judge has summoned Justice Department lawyers to his courtroom Friday to determine whether the destruction of the tapes violated a court order to preserve evidence about detainees.

Reyes also wants the CIA to make available CIA attorneys Steve Hermes, Robert Eatinger, Elizabeth Vogt and John McPherson to testify before the committee. Former CIA directors Porter Goss and George Tenet, former deputy director of operations James. L Pavitt, and former general counsel Scott Muller are also on his list.

Reyes also denounced the Justice Department for trying to interfere with Congressional investigation into the matter, when the CIA inspector general sent a letter to his committee last Friday, telling Congress to suspend its investigation, arguing (speciously) that such an investigation would interfere with the joint Justice Department/CIA internal (bullshit) investigation into the matter.

It would be folly to believe that victory here is total. It's not clear Reyes will get all the participants the Committee wants to agree to testify. Also, it would be hard to believe that the CIA will not turn over highly redacted "documents", much less all the relevant documents.

Still, the speed of this about-face speaks to the intense heat flaring around this scandal, with its tentacles so obviously extended up into the Oval Office itself. Today's story comes on the heels of the announcement by U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy that he would order a hearing into whether the Bush administration violated a court order, breaking a great many laws thereby, by destroying in November 2005 the interrogation videos of suspected Al Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Judge Kennedy, too, had to confront Justice Department warnings to back off. Vyan had a good diary on this aspect of the scandal yesterday.

The AP story ends with an amusing (to us) bit about Dana Perino's pique on the New York Times article that pointed to the White House.

White House press secretary Dana Perino called the Times story "pernicious and troubling." In a tense back-and-forth with reporters, Perino was adamant her opposition to one of the headlines on the story that said: "White House role was wider than it said"....

She said the headline made it appear that the White House had been misleading the public.

"The White House has not commented on anybody's involvement or knowledge, save for me telling everybody that the president had no recollection of being briefed on the existence or the destruction of the tapes before he was briefed by (CIA Director Michael) Hayden," Perino said. "After that, I did not comment on anybody's knowledge or involvement. So if somebody has information that contradicts the one thing that I've said, then this would be true — but it's not. And that is why I asked for a correction and The New York Times is going to correct it."

Update: Scott Shane at the New York Times has an article up now covering this new aspect of the tapes story (Tapes-gate?). He emphasizes that the appearance of "Jose A. Rodriguez, who as chief of the agency’s clandestine service ordered the tapes destroyed in 2005" is not a done deal. There might have to be "complex negotiations over legal immunity", due to that dubious DoJ/CIA internal review. Reading between the lines, it seems Bush/CIA are hoping this will cool things between the Administration and Congress, i.e., keep this out of the headlines.

The agreement marked at least a partial resolution of a standoff between the Bush administration and Congress....

In a conciliatory statement Wednesday night, Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said the department has “no desire to block any Congressional investigation” and has not advised the C.I.A. against cooperating with the committee.....

A C.I.A. spokesman, Mark Mansfield, said the agency’s director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, was eager to accommodate the committee as it performed its oversight role.....

An intelligence official, offering more details on condition of anonymity, said the top-secret documents would be made available either on Capitol Hill or at the agency, as soon as the logistics could be worked out, as early as Thursday afternoon.

In a final show of just how incapable, though, the administration is of talking straight on both torture, and now this latest cover-up of its crimes, Judge Mark Filip, Bush's nominee for deputy attorney general, apparently told his Congressional interviewers yesterday that "he might have counseled the C.I.A. not to destroy the tapes."

“It might be the better practice to keep those in any event, given the interest in the subject matter that was on the tapes,” Mr. Filip told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Nothing like principle to make one give a strong statement of right and wrong.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Out of the Depths: CIA Torture Victim Speaks

Blogger Deep Harm over at Daily Kos did a nice job of writing up a review on Mark Benjamin's recent article at, Inside the CIA's notorious "black sites". Benjamin's article details the case of CIA Yemeni prisoner (now released), Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah.

Mr. Bashmilah was held for 19 months in a succession of prisons, trapped inside the CIA's secret worldwide gulag. Now the one-time CIA torture victim has filed a declaration as part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing Company, and implicated in secret CIA rendition flights.

According to Mark Benjamin, Mr. Bashmilah -- a businessman who had travelled from his home in Indonesia to Jordan to help arrange a surgery for his mother -- was subjected to extreme psychological torture and physical maltreatment, first by the Jordanians:

After his arrest, the Jordanians brutally beat him, peppering him with questions about al-Qaida. He was forced to jog around in a yard until he collapsed. Officers hung him upside down with a leather strap and his hands tied. They beat the soles of his feet and his sides. They threatened to electrocute him with wires. They told him they would rape his wife and mother.

It was too much. Bashmilah signed a confession multiple pages long, but he was disoriented and afraid even to read it.

Psychological Torture in Action

Apparently the confession wasn't enough for the Americans, and the Jordanian interrogators dumped Bashmilah into the CIA gulag in October 2003. And, it was not waterboarding that the CIA in its black sites practiced upon their new prisoner, but, as I've been warning, severe psychological torture:

Flight records show Bashmilah was flown to Kabul....

He was then placed in a windowless, freezing-cold cell, roughly 6.5 feet by 10 feet. There was a foam mattress, one blanket, and a bucket for a toilet that was emptied once a day. A bare light bulb stayed on constantly. A camera was mounted above a solid metal door. For the first month, loud rap and Arabic music was piped into his cell, 24 hours a day, through a hole opposite the door. His leg shackles were chained to the wall. The guards would not let him sleep, forcing Bashmilah to raise his hand every half hour to prove he was still awake....

"During the entire period of my detention there, I was held in solitary confinement and saw no one other than my guards, interrogators and other prison personnel," he wrote in his declaration.

The loud music, the isolation, the temperature extremes... all these are hallmarks of CIA psychological torture, and meant to break down prisoners' will and psyche. At some point Mr. Bashmilah was moved to another cell. This time there were two video cameras, another stock staple of CIA torture, as photography of prisoners was mentioned as far back as the early 1960s in CIA interrogation manuals. Think of that while you follow the ongoing controversy over CIA destruction of videos of interrogations of two of their more famous prisoners. No congressional committee to my knowledge is calling for the release of Mr. Bashmilah's tapes.

At the new prison, it was more of the same:

It was another tiny cell, new or refurbished with a stainless steel sink and toilet. Until clothes arrived several days later, Bashmilah huddled in a blanket. In this cell there were two video cameras, one mounted above the door and the other in a wall. Also above the door was a speaker. White noise, like static, was pumped in constantly, day and night. He spent the first month in handcuffs. In this cell his ankle was attached to a 110-link chain attached to a bolt on the floor.

The door had a small opening in the bottom through which food would appear: boiled rice, sliced meat and bread, triangles of cheese, boiled potato, slices of tomato and olives, served on a plastic plate.

Guards wore black pants with pockets, long-sleeved black shirts, rubber gloves or black gloves, and masks that covered the head and neck. The masks had tinted yellow plastic over the eyes. "I never heard the guards speak to each other and they never spoke to me," Bashmilah wrote in his declaration.

One of the more revealing aspects of the Bashmilah case is the appearance of mental health professionals, either psychologists or psychiatrists, or both, in the CIA prisons. Their job appeared to be one of patching up the psyche/emotional state of the prisoner so they didn't break down too much. Or conversely, it was part of a perverse good cop/bad cop regime that contributed to the prisoner's despair and confusion.

Here's what Benjamin reports:

It may seem bizarre for the agency to provide counseling to a prisoner while simultaneously cracking him mentally -- as if revealing a humanitarian aspect to a program otherwise calibrated to exploit systematic psychological abuse. But it could also be that mental healthcare professionals were enlisted to help bring back from the edge prisoners who seemed precariously damaged, whose frayed minds were no longer as pliable for interrogation. "My understanding is that the purpose of having psychiatrists there is that if the prisoner feels better, then he would be able to talk more to the interrogators," said Bashmilah....

He said the doctors told him to "hope that one day you will prove your innocence or that you will one day return to your family." The psychiatrists also gave him some pills, likely tranquilizers. They analyzed his dreams. But there wasn't much else they could do. "They also gave me a Rubik's Cube so I could pass the time, and some jigsaw puzzles," Bashmilah recalled.

PHR Noodges APA

Stephen Soldz reports that Physicians for Human Rights has recently circulated an email highlighting a renewed call for the American Psychological Association to call for a moratorium of psychologists working at national security interrogation sites like Guantanamo's Camp Delta, or CIA "black sites". Signed by Frank Donaghue, PHR's new Chief Executive Officer, it reads in part:

You have probably seen recent news reports about the CIA’s destruction of video recordings of interrogations allegedly showing the use of waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques. Last week, PHR released a statement, calling on the Attorney General and Congress to immediately launch independent investigations into both the alleged destruction of evidence of torture and the “enhanced” interrogation program itself. As PHR noted in our report Leave No Marks, waterboarding and other techniques can constitute war crimes.

Recent statements on ABC News and the Today Show by former CIA operative John Kiriakou allege that doctors were present during the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, which involved the use of sleep deprivation and waterboarding. PHR is calling for the Department of Justice, Congress and major health professional associations to conduct legal and ethical investigations. Those investigations must determine how physicians and psychologists participated in harsh interrogations as monitors and interrogators.

We continue to urge the American Psychological Association (APA) to place a moratorium on the participation of its members in all national security interrogations. Though PHR applauded the APA’s passage of a resolution this August stating that the tactics used by the CIA are unethical, the APA can take more steps to protect detainees from harm and US personnel from engaging in illegal abuse. PHR is asking the APA to follow the examples of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association in refusing to allow its members to engage in abusive interrogations.

Finally, the House yesterday passed a bill which would make the Army Field Manual the unified standard for detainee treatment, prohibiting the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation program. Now it must go before the full Senate.

Reformism and Nihilism in the Fight Against Torture

Well, the House bill passed, but then was blocked on a procedural motion by GOP representatives. But, I've been leery about the whole House bill, and any "reform" that outlaws waterboarding and other atrocities, but leaves intact the kind of psychological torture performed on Mr. Bashmilah -- like sensory deprivation and sensory overload, sleep deprivation, and solitary confinement, not to mention other kinds of psychological manipulations. The Army Field Manual allows manipulation of fear in prisoners, along with isolation, sleep deprivation, and forms of sensory deprivation. And that's what's "legal".

Additionallly, it is a truism by now that all actors and organizations involved in these by now multitudinous stories on torture deny they torture. While the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association have enacted their own kind of moratorium of doctor participation in interrogations, it's not clear this ever really stopped. The situation with the American Psycological Association is, if anything, even murkier.

What's left for us critics of U.S. use of torture amounts to a kind of activist nihilism. It's not clear to me that anything has changed in U.S. prisons and GWOT interrogation centers. The recent revelations over the Standard Operation Procedure manuals for Guantanamo got a little play in the press, before dropping like a stone out of sight into the dark pond that is U.S. media coverage (and that includes the bloggers).

Fifty years or more of torture, human rights abuses, covert wars, and hidden histories, have amounted to very little change. There was the UN Convention Against Torture. But then, there was were the Geneva Conventions, too. And the Magna Carta. And this country has chosen to abrogate them all.

It seems to me that only serious political change will bring about an end to the practice of torture. Lawyers will not do it. Doctors and psychologists will not do it. Even Congress will not do it. Only when humanity seizes the reins of history again and steers it back onto the road of progress will we see again appreciable movement against the evils that confront us in the form of torture, repression, and inequality.

This doesn't mean it's not worth fighting. The ACLU, PHR, Amnesty International, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Human Rights First, etc., all are holding the line against the barbarism of untrammelled militarism and political repression. All of them deserve your support.

Monday, December 10, 2007

No Moral Compass: Pelosi, Democrats, & the WP Revelations

Notoriously (depending upon your point of view), this past weekend the Washington Post published an article revealing that a number of top Democrats and Republicans were briefed in September 2002 on CIA interrogation methods. They were "given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk." The reported techniques are said to have included waterboarding.

Yesterday, Pelosi released a statement clarifying what happened from her perspective. This must have shocked even a little those Democratic Party stalwarts, but no, as we'll see, their Nancy can make no mistake. She was, you see... helpless.

All of this comes in the wake of recent revelations on the machinations of the Bush/Cheney clique and how they have cozened their favorite torture techniques over the years. There was the revelation of secret memos authorizing torture in 2005. There was last weeks report on the destruction of video tapes of the torture of al-Queda suspect Abu Zubaydah. Before all that, there have been years of exposes on waterboarding, sensory deprivation, secret renditions to foreign torture chambers, training of foreign torturers, a CIA handbook of torture and the history of its development... it goes on and on.

Pelosi Releases a Statement

Now, Spencer Ackerman over at TPMmuckraker has published Pelosi's latest statement on her CIA 2002 briefing. Is it meant to stanch the growing controversy, or a someday prosecution?

"On one occasion, in the fall of 2002, I was briefed on interrogation techniques the Administration was considering using in the future. The Administration advised that legal counsel for the both the CIA and the Department of Justice had concluded that the techniques were legal.

"I had no further briefings on the techniques. Several months later, my successor as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, was briefed more extensively and advised the techniques had in fact been employed. It was my understanding at that time that Congresswoman Harman filed a letter in early 2003 to the CIA to protest the use of such techniques, a protest with which I concurred."

Let's summarize: Pelosi admits she was briefed in 2002 on CIA "interrogation techniques" (she doesn't elaborate), and that both CIA and DoJ had concluded they were "legal". Pelosi says nothing about the Washington Post reporting about briefings concerning CIA overseas detention sites -- were these the "secret prisons" not exposed publically until November 2005 by Dana Priest at the (now reviled by Pelosi defenders) Washington Post? (The story first came out via Amnesty International.)

"No further briefings on the techniques"... but what about the program in general, Nancy? Then there is the revelation that it was Harman that was advised the techniques were "employed". Harman's (classified) letter of protest was something with which Pelosi "concurred." How, why, or when Pelosi concurred she saw not fit to elbow into her two paragraph explanation.

The Powerlessness of Power

Meanwhile, the standard apologia for Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller, and other Democrats made privy to CIA crimes is that they were powerless to protest because their actions were stifled by national security secrecy provisions. This is the thesis of MediaFreeze at Daily Kos, who sees it all as a clever GOP trap, now sprung five years later:

Back in 2002 around the one year anniversary of 9/11, when the nation was being whipped up in a froth of warmongering and hatred, a very very short list of Democrats where given a super secret briefing on the Thug's plans to torture some people. Since it was classified they couldn't tell anyone else about it. Who knows what they were told, but it was enough to make them complicit. That was the intent of the briefing. It was a torture trap. (emphasis in original)
Here's a different take from Phoenix Woman, also at Daily Kos on the general powerlessness of the minority party, which tied Nancy's hands:

Again, this was 2003....

There wasn't much else she could do, especially under the House rules that were in effect then, which essentially stripped the minority party of any power. (The Democrats, either generously or foolishly, undid those rules when they took over this January, which is one reason why the Republicans currently have such blocking power even in the minority.)

Glenn Greenwald, whose blog sits on Kos's own blogroll, questions much of this CHA (cover her ass) bloviating:

I continue to be amazed and disturbed by the number of people willing to defend the actions of Rockefeller and his comrades by claiming that these poor, victimized Congressional members just have no ability to do anything when they learn about outright lawbreaking by the administration. As I asked yesterday, why would they even bother to attend briefings if they believed that they were "powerless" to act even upon learning of serious illegalities? Here is the central purpose of the Select Committee on Intelligence -- the primary reason it exists, as stated by the resolution which created the Committee:

It is further the purpose of this resolution to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The Intelligence Committees were created as a response to the discovery in the 1970s of illegal conduct by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The core function is to monitor what the intelligence community does and to "assure that such activities" are legal. It is a complete travesty for the senior Democrats on those Committees (and their apologists) to claim that they are powerless to act when learning of lawbreaking.

Reformism and Torture, With a Nod to to the APA

It has not gone unnoticed in some quarters that the Democrats, with some GOP allies (like Chuck Hagel), have a bill currently in Congressional Conference Committee that seeks to ban all "harsh interrogation techniques" in favor of adherence by all U.S. entities, such as the CIA, to the current practices of the Army Field Manual.

When Sharon Brehm, current president of the American Psychological Association wrote a letter to the New York Times supporting the current Congressional bill, some at APA felt that organization had finally made a turn toward seriously opposing U.S. torture policy. I have no link, but my copy shows President Brehm writing:

I applaud this week’s vote of the House and Senate conference committee on the intelligence authorization bill to outlaw harsh interrogation tactics and to require all U.S. interrogators to abide by the Army Field Manual when questioning suspected high-level terrorists (The New York Times, Dec. 6). This requirement would make clear once and for all that “waterboarding” and several other “enhanced” interrogation techniques are illegal.

It is deplorable that the White House is already threatening to veto this measure, should it pass the full House and Senate. Harsh interrogation techniques are not only illegal they are ineffective. Effective interrogations are based on establishing trust and building rapport with the subject, whose human dignity is preserved. As one World War II interrogator recently told the Washington Post, "We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture."

The position of the American Psychological Association is that any and all harsh interrogation tactics, including so-called “no-touch torture” and “torture light,” constitute torture and are always unethical. It is our fervent hope that the conference committee’s proposed prohibition will soon be extended to all interrogators acting on behalf of the United States, whether military or CIA.

But as I wrote to a member of an APA listserv:

In the latest letter, APA says nothing about indefinite detention (and neither does the new bill). Indefinite detention, of course, feed right into the Army Field Manual (AFM) technique of "futility". It is good that APA says that it opposes "torture-lite", but it does so while politically supporting a resolution that would enshrine torture-lite, via the AFM. It is this kind of obfuscation that is precisely why one has learned not to trust practically anything that comes out of Washington these days, whether Congress, or APA HQ.

The problem with attacking so-called "harsh" techniques before stopping psychological types of torture is that it misinforms the public, and feeds into the idea that "torture-lite" kinds of coercive treatment, such as sensory and sleep deprivation, and isolation, are in fact not as bad as the "harsh" kind. The political manifestation of this is the kind of bill now in conference committee, a bill, by the way, certain to face a Bush veto, and, surviving that, the kinds of signing statements Bush has made the hallmark of his regime.

Those complicit in earlier forms of torture and coercive interrogation, e.g., the Democrats and the APA, are trying to insulate themselves against the growing scandal that is U.S. torture, while also preserving CIA-approved forms of earlier coercive interrogation that centers around the old isolation and sensory deprivation paradigm of the KUBARK manual. (Harsher methods can be obtained via secret extraordinary renditions to foreign prisons, which apparently still go on unabated.)

The Compass Points to Moral and Political Degradation

The issue of covering up complicity brings me back to where this article began: the gyrations by Pelosi, Rockefeller, and much of the rest of the Democratic leadership and their supporters around the country, especially among the pro-Democratic "netroots".

I ask the latter: where is your moral compass? If Bush didn't care who he tortured, as long as he maintains power for his administration and the corporations and contractors that prosper from the hogfeed that is the "war on terror", then how are the Democrats any different if in the name of electoral success evidence of complicity in inhumane forms of behavior is ignored. The saliency is only enhanced when one realizes I'm talking about the leader of the Democratic Party, second in line to the Presidency, and the leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee, among others.

Pelosi's admissions over the weekend show that her participation in briefings on torture are not a "CIA smear", or the lies of CIA old-time hack Porter Goss. But not all Democrats are sleeping on this -- though I've heard no outrage from Congressional members themselves, as yet. For instance, there was this excellent piece by Deep Harm over at Daily Kos. And a hat tip to shpilk, also at Daily Kos, for his referencing of Jonathan Turley on the concatenation of scandals around torture, executive power, and Congressional capitulation that have surrounded the revelations around waterboarding (the Mukasey nomination), destruction of CIA torture tapes, and the briefings to Congressional leaders:

The news would serve to explain why the Democrats have repeatedly act to protect the White House from a showdown on torture. The most obvious and distressing example was when Sens. Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein saved Attorney General Michael Mukasey from having to admit that waterboarding is torture. The Democrats clearly do not want to have such a moment, which would trigger an investigation (and possible impeachment proceeding) where they own knowledge would be revealed.

Voters are likely to look harshly on the fact that their leaders knew of a criminal act and failed to reveal it — while professing disgust at the notion of torture....

If true, the knowledge of Democratic leaders shows a deep disconnect and possible dishonesty between our representatives and the voters. In many ways, this will be the test of our political system. If the public returns to its prior slumber after this story, there is little hope for a system that seems to replicate this type of conduct.

Over the weekend, I saw the movie The Golden Compass with my young daughter. In the movie, the evil Marisa Coulter (played by Nicole Kidman) explains to her daughter that some of the evil she does to others -- brainwashing and even killing young children -- is defensible because it's done in the name of some (peculiarly defined) good. This is the morality of the Bush Administration, and it appears to be the morality, too, of much of the leadership of their opponents in the Democratic Party. If one crime is one of commission, the other is one of ommission.

Pelosi and Rockefeller Should Step Down

Let not those who profess progressive politics and really want to change this country sit back in silence or disbelief and let this kind of betryal stand. Now is the time to change things. Not tommorrow. Not in November 2008. Not in some other lifetime. If we fail to speak out now, our acquiescence weakens the entire progressive cause, and all the elections in the world will not make such a stain any cleaner, or go away.

We could start by asking for the resignation from the Speakership of Nancy Pelosi, and the resignation from the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairmanship of John D. Rockefeller.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Iran NIE and the Hall of Mirrors

More than one author has described writing about the intelligence world as akin to walking into a hall of mirrors. It's difficult to know what's what, who to believe, or even know where you stand. Truths are fungible. Lies are opaque versions of tomorrow's news.

When the U.S. released its limited version of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, the revelation that Iran does not have a working nuclear arms program landed with a thud upon the collective heads of the D.C. pundits. Bush's pugnacious news conference which followed, wherein he repeated ad nauseaum his intention that Iran never get the "knowledge" to construct a nuclear weapon, signalled no real change in direction from the administration that was only weeks before dangling World War III before the glazed eyes of a fearful electorate.

In discussions with colleagues, I was struck by the fact that the authorship of the new NIE was from the same man who wrote the previous NIE, and the same man who assured the administration that there was a nuclear weapons program in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, CIA stalwart, Robert Walpole, who was (if he in fact is still), according to the Washington Post, "chief CIA officer for nuclear programs". In other words, I smelled a rat. But how to make sense of the CIA's role, the timing of the release, even what the NIE was intending to say? Was it a fusillade unleashed upon Cheney's minions? Or was it a clever way to install the "fact" that Iran had conducted covert nuclear weapons research, laying the groundwork for further U.S. interventionist policies? Or yet again, was it a plea for diplomacy over war?

I don't know the answer to these questions. And they may be the wrong questions.

Arthur Silber wrote a magnificent piece the other day on his blog, Once Upon a Time. It's worth quoting in some detail, as I believe it provides a set of bearings upon which we can steer through some very confused waters. You may not agree with his assessment of the Democratic Party, but his grip on history is firm and accurate.

It deserves emphasis that this latest NIE tells us nothing -- let me repeat that, nothing -- that was not entirely obvious to a reasonably intelligent layperson who followed mainstream media reports about Iran for the last several years. As just one example, see my post, "Iran: The Growing Threat that Isn't," from close to a year ago. It is true that "official" government recognition of the non-threatening status of Iran, but only in this one respect, is of marginal importance, but it is only that: marginal. It simply means that the warmongers -- whether of the Republican or Democratic variety (and please let us not forget the Democratic warmongers, who have been far more resolute and consistent in the pursuit of the glories of war over the last century than the Republicans, with the hugely notable exception of the criminal gang in charge of the executive branch at present) -- cannot easily avail themselves of this particular bogeyman for the moment. For those who seek to begin the next phase of this neverending war, there are many other bogeymen available for use to the identical end, as we shall see in a moment.

Let us start with the most crucial point. The reaction from all quarters to the NIE relies on several interrelated central assumptions, ones that are regarded as so unquestionably true that no one thinks they need to be stated: that major policy decisions, including decisions of war and peace, are based on intelligence in the first place; that a decision to go to war is one made only after cool and careful rational deliberation; and that nations go to war for the reasons they announce to the world.


What Silber is saying strikes me as absolutely true. The history of modern warfare, from the assassination of the Austrian Archduke, bringing on the slaughter of World War I, through the "missed" communications about a Japanese raid on the U.S. (stimulated by a U.S. oil boycott), through the Nazi stunt of dressing soldiers in Polish uniforms to prove an "invasion" of Germany by Poland, through the fake Gulf of Tonkin "attack" the U.S. manufactured, all the way to the WMD in Iraq, governments don't use their intelligence to start or stop wars, they go to war because they want to, and for reasons that have very little to do with purely military considerations.

More Silber:

To repeat: the decision to go to war is one of policy, and the intelligence -- whatever it is alleged to show -- is irrelevant. Don't argue in terms of intelligence at all. If you do, you'll lose. The administration knows that; many of its opponents still haven't figured it out, even now.

....may it be duly noted that the leading Democrats are just as "hawkish" and "nuts" on this issue: Hillary Clinton, who speaks of our inalienable "right" to take "offensive military action against Iran" ; Barack Obama ("In today's globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people," which is license to intervene anywhere and everywhere, on any pretext whatsoever, real or imagined); and all the other prominent Democrats, with their endless trash talk of keeping "all options on the table."

Note how Digby {I've added the link so readers can judge for themselves -- V.} implicitly relies on the erroneous notion that if the intelligence had been correct on Iraq, a reasonable conclusion might have been reached, and thus the invasion of Iraq might have been forestalled. That is the meaning of, "how the CIA supposedly screwed up the Iraq WMD assessment..." If only the CIA had been allowed to tell the "truth" without political interference, there might have been a better chance that all would have been well. But that only makes sense if one assumes that policy decisions are based on intelligence. Again: they are not....

In the most critical sense, I don't care about this latest assessment, just as I did not care about the earlier ones, about Iran or on any other subject at all -- for in addition to the rather important fact that such assessments are invariably wrong, I recognize that policy decisions are made on different grounds altogether. Moreover, in terms of U.S. foreign policy, I don't care if Iran does get nuclear weapons. As I have noted before, I do not view it as a remotely good thing that any nation has nuclear weapons, including the U.S. -- and I remind you once again that it is only the U.S. that has used them, when it did not have any legitimate reason for doing so and when it lied about every aspect of its actions and their consequences. But in terms of an Iran with nuclear weapons five or ten years in the future: "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?" But the bipartisan commitment to American world hegemony has not altered in the slightest degree. The criminal catastrophe of Iraq is irrelevant to our ruling class, and it has not caused them to alter any of their most crucial goals.

As I said above, this latest NIE makes it considerably more difficult for the administration to use this particular argument to justify a criminal act of aggression against a non-existent threat. But if the administration is determined to attack Iran, they have plenty of other arguments to use, and many of those arguments have the full and enthusiastic support of the Democrats.

But where does this lead us? Down a hall of mirrors of our own making, of hope and fear, of misplaced faith, and an attachment to a political wilderness that promises nothing good. Silber doesn't say, at least in this article, what is needed.

But in a world led by a militaristic empire who sees it as their destiny to control the power of states internationally, what's needed is nothing less than an overturn of power, of political and economic relations. I don't wish for such a cataclysm of world events, but they come in the train of failed empires. The leaders of the U.S., no less than the varied leaderships of Europe, China, Russia and the Third World and of the assorted insurgencies, including all sorts of liberal and conservative nationalists, revanchists, and religious fundamentalists, will unleash a real World War III unless humanity can find a way to rise to the consciousness of the seriousness of the situation. And then act upon it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Real Mensch Leaves APA

Uwe Jacobs is the clinical director of Survivors International in San Francisco, California. SI is regional torture treatment center, and one of the best in the country. A typical non-profit struggling to survive itself in a hostile political and economic environment, Dr. Jacobs work and dedication is one of the main reasons it still exists and thrives.

Dr. Jacobs is a clinical psychologist, and an eminent member of the profession. He has been prominent in the struggle against torture, and in particular against participation by medical and mental health professionals in U.S. coercive interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

He's done more than speak. Dr. Jacobs assisted in the preparation of the currently existing international guidelines for the examination of torture, the "Istanbul Protocol," published by the UN High Commissioner. He also took a major role in helping write the handbook on assessment of asylum seekers for Physicians for Human Rights. He has spoken on the torture issue from both a political and a treatment perspective. A really unique individual.

You would think any psychological organization worth its salt would be proud to have him as an exemplary member. But the tawdry organizational and political activities of the American Psychological Association around the torture issue have driven many to withhold their dues from that organization, or to quit. Now Dr. Jacobs joins those who have left the organization.

What follows is his letter of resignation to APA, posted here with permission, as originally posted at Psyche, Science and Society.

Farewell to the APA

After a couple of years of struggling with the leadership of the American Psychological Association over the issue of its complicity with the governments torture politics, I have decided to leave the APA for now. As the latest resolution against torture was passed by the APA Council this summer, there was on one side the appearance of a compromise between different factions within the organization and an outcome that received sufficient praise for it to pass as an honest human rights effort in public opinion. On the other side, there was my private sense of resignation and queasiness over the dirty pool that had been played. Much could be said about all that but suffice it to summarize the deciding moment, which came when I learned from an article in Salon that Dr. Stephen Behnke, the Director of the Ethics Office, ”insisted on Saturday that Physicians for Human Rights had suggested some qualifying language with respect to sleep and sensory deprivation.”

Since those of us who were involved in the process knew that Len Rubenstein of PHR had, in fact, pleaded with Behnke in a series of letters to drop the language in question, not to retain it, I asked for clarification. Rather than making a claim of misunderstanding, Dr. Behnke did not even deny having made that statement to Salon. However, nobody missed a beat in the aftermath and everyone prepared for their next statement or press release. The show, or as Robin Williams would have it, the hoe, must go on.

I conclude, at least for now, that the APA (and yes, I still think we ought to use an article in front of saying or writing "APA") is not a club I care to belong to, not because any majority of it, or even some of its obnoxious leadership, would actively push the use of torture but because its essential character as a careerist, corporate structure does not seem to promote telling the truth and carrying forward an upright posture. I have never shared the belief of some members that APA leaders had a primary interest in promulgating either torture or lesser forms of prisoner oppression. Being blissfully ignorant of how many APA functionaries are involved with the CIA and how many psychologists actively implement and support a regime of sensory deprivation and other forms of cruelty, I have felt that the primary motivation has been to appear as stalwart supporters of the military apparatus, as long as it would curry favor with the regime that might or might not trade a good horse for it. I am allowing for the possibility that it may be worse than that but I simply do not know.

Be that as it may, the APA's alignment with Washington politics is quite likely preparing for the end of the Bush era and getting ready to become more pleasing to its liberal wing before long. The many excellent people I had the privilege of working with during this time certainly deserve that and I salute them all, as it were, for staying on and keeping the faith. I am not excluding the possibility of re-joining them if things change more than I expect they will. I could withhold my APA dues, along with others, but I do not honestly see the precise conditions under which I would subsequently release them. I simply will not let the APA have any more of my money. In the interest of full disclosure, I might not even care quite that much if the dues weren’t so high and if top APA employees weren’t being paid corporate-style salaries. Given that fact, however, I am past due in firing them for their performance. For this year, I will donate the amount of my APA dues to PHR, an organization I have been proudly associated with for long time (but, unlike SI, does not issue my paycheck), and I will do that with pleasure, rather than regrets.

Uwe Jacobs, Ph.D.
San Francisco, December 4, 2007

Uwe, whom I consider both a friend and a colleague, will go on, I know, continuing to do his important work, and fighting against the attitudes and institutions that support or try to minimize the use of torture and inhumane treatment. That he will do so from the outside of an organization like APA is no loss to him, but only to APA, and a reflection on its moral and political bankruptcy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Another Major Guantanamo Document Leaked

Also posted at Daily Kos

First it was the leak of the 2003 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Manual for Guantanamo. The SOP included procedures for psychological torture and abusive conditions of detention, including long-term isolation to foster dependence upon interrogators and "enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process". Also, prisoners were hidden from the International Red Cross.

The military assured critics that "SOPs by definition, undergo periodic review and change as situations warrant. Detention operations at JTF-GTMO have evolved significantly since 2003..."

Now Wikileaks has released a copy of the 2004 SOP, and guess what? Nothing changed, unless (mostly) for the worse! As the Washington Post notes, since the Supreme Court "prepares to hear arguments this week on the rights of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the public is getting another peek at how detainees have been treated there."

Wikileaks has analyzed the changes from the 2003 to 2004 Guantanamo SOP, even placing copies of the relevant passages changed in a side-by-side fashion.

Nothing has changed regarding the conditions of confinement. Detainees are still placed in a minimum of 30 days total isolation upon transfer to Guantanamo. Such isolation can be extended, if approved.

Use of Isolation in Interrogations

How bad is isolation? Bad enough that Donald Rumsfeld himself felt it warranted a "caution" in his April 16, 2003 memo authorizing certain aggressive forms of interrogation, i.e., torture.

Caution: the use of isolation as an interrogation technique requires detailed implementation instructions, including specific guidelines regarding the length of isolation, medical and psychological review, and approvals for extension of the length of by the appropriate level in the chain of command. This technique is not know to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days. Those nations that believe that detainees are subject to POW protections may view use of this technique as inconsistent with the requirements of Geneva III, Article 13 which provides that POWs must be protected against acts of intimidation; Article 14 which provides that POWs are entitled to respect for their person; Article 34 which prohibits coercion and Article 126 which ensures access and basic standards of treatment. Although the provisions of Geneva are not applicable to the interrogation of unlawful combatants, consideration should be given to these views prior to application of this technique.

Rumsfeld -- bureaucrat that he is -- concentrates on the legal obstacles to the use of isolation. But the psychological components have been well studied for decades. The following is from a 1961 article on use of isolation for interrogations written by Lawrence Hinkle, then a psychiatrist at Cornell Medical Center, and a CIA consultant (link to quote can be found here, emphasis in quote is mine):

It is well known that prisoners, especially if they have not been isolated before, may develop a syndrome similar in most of its features to the “brain syndrome”.... They become dull, apathetic, and in due time they become disoriented and confused; their memories become defective and they experience hallucinations and delusions.... their ability to impart accurate information may be as much impaired as their capacity to resist an interrogator....

From the interrogator’s viewpoint it has seemed to be the ideal way of “breaking down” a prisoner, because, to the unsophisticated, it seems to create precisely the state that the interrogator desires: malleability and the desire to talk, with the added advantage that one can delude himself that he is using no force or coercion.... However, the effect of isolation on the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved, or deprived of sleep.

What's Changed in 2004 SOP?

Please reference both documents (2003 and 2004) and Wikileaks analysis page for specifics. But let me summarize as best I can.

First, though, what hasn’t changed.

1. Continuation of prolonged isolation of prisoners.
2. Continuation of use of “Military Working Dogs” for “Psychological deterrence”
3. Hiding of prisoners from the International Committee of the Red Cross
4. Toilet paper is still considered a luxury or “comfort item” that can be utilized as a reward.
5. Restrictions of access to a chaplain.

Both manuals assert that detainees will be treated in accordance with the "spirit" of the Geneva conventions "to the degree consistent with military needs", but never assert that the conventions are actually being followed at Guantanamo. Put into practice, neither manual complies with the Geneva conventions.

Changes from 2003 to 2004

1. The term “Maximum Security Unit” is changed to “Special Housing Unit” (SHU).
2. A Koran is now allowed in SHU, though not prayer bead or prayer cap.
3. New details on use of pepper spray on inmates
4. The right to read camp rules in detainees native language is eliminated.
5. SOP procedures are to be reviewed every 30 vs. 120 days
6. Access and authority of chaplains is further reduced. (The folks at Wikileaks write that this is “probably in response to the actions of James Yee, the prison chaplain who spoke out about conditions at Guantanamo Bay.”)
7. New procedures regarding release of detainees, which are to be orchestrated in part by PSY OPS (psychological operations team).
8. Soldiers are no longer required to carry a “US SOUTHCOM Human Rights Standing Orders” card on their persons at all times.
9. No dictionaries, magazines or books about English or geography.
10. Orwellian changes in language – for instance, references to suicide now called “self-harm”. Also, “hunger strikes” are now “voluntary total fasting”!

More Leaks, But One Conclusion

Wikileaks has also published today a “sensitive US military manual entitled "Detainee Operations in a Joint Environment", which is a defense-wide instruction manual for detainee operations including rendition flights, which has yet to be been analyzed”. A quick look by this author shows that the use of psychologists and psychiatrists in Behavioral Consultant Teams (BSCTs) were endemic across the entire theater of the Global War on Terror (GWOT, as they like to call it). These BSCTs were an integral part of interrogation teams, and their use has engendered their own controversy in medical and psychology circles.

The conclusion to this brief look at another major look at U.S. government secret detention operations is simple and clear. The Pentagon’s denials around mistreatment are false. Their claims that things have changed and revelations are out of date are false. A major gulag has sprung up in our midst over the last five years, and the lack of rights attendant upon this in such centers, and an attack on rights here in the “homeland” continues unabated.

All readers should link out of this article and read Linda Greenhouse’s excellent analysis over at the New York Times on Boumediene v. Bush, which looks at the rights of “enemy combatants,” the suppression of habeas corpus, and the bogus military commissions (really kangaroo courts) set up by Bush and the Pentagon (and approved in advance by Congress) under the 2006 Military Commissions Act. I’ll let Ms. Greenhouse get the final words, so you can savor what is at stake:

Each of the three branches of government has made a series of judgments on how to strike the balance between individual liberty and national security in the post-9/11 era. This latest Supreme Court confrontation, round three of the justices’ encounter with the detainee question, reflects an extraordinary interbranch drama, played out as a series of actions and reactions that has now cycled back to where it began: the role of the federal courts.

This third round is potentially the most momentous, because at stake is whether the Supreme Court itself will continue to have a role in defining the balance or whether, as the administration first argued four years ago, the executive branch is to have the final word.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Soldz Answers APA President on Interrogation Whitewash

Stephen Soldz responded to the news report of American Psychological Association President Sharon Brehm's remarks at an Indiana University forum on November 30 sponsored by the Progressive Faculty Coalition there. Brehm is a psychology professor at IU, and a former chancellor there. She also, as current president of the APA, helped defeat the drive to place a moratorium on psychologist participation in national security interrogations of so-called "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo, CIA "black sites", and elsewhere. In addition, she was co-author of a series of letters to George W. Bush and administration officials recently, describing APA's position on coercive interrogations, while remaining studiously (and shamefully) quiet on the use of psychological torture, which APA contingently supports -- no matter what APA says -- at U.S. sites.

It is worth noting that President Brehm was instrumental in torpedoing the original moratorium resolution at APA, and bureaucratically forwarding the placement of an alternate resolution, which would allow for the contingent use of sensory deprivation, isolation, sleep deprivation, etc. See my story on Moment of Truth Arrives: APA & Participation in U.S. Torture, especially the section titled "Brehm the Decider".

The following was posted at Stephen Soldz's site, Psyche, Science and Society:

The Facts be Damned!:
Psychologists' President Defends Psychologist Participation in Detainee Interrogations

Stephen Soldz

Last Friday American Psychological Association President, and Indiana University professor, Sharon Brehm discussed the APA's policies supporting psychologist participation in national security interrogations with faculty and students at her university. The Indiana Daily Student has an account of the meeting.

While the entire article is well worth reading, a few of Dr. Brehm's comments as cited there are especially worth commenting upon. Either they reflect an unacceptable level of ignorance of the basic facts about psychologists' roles in American torture or they are simply willful falsehoods. For example, Dr. Brehm stated:

"Brehm said psychologists only acted in an advisory role during questionings, working with interrogators to develop effective strategies that will elicit “accurate information.”"

There is now overwhelming evidence from reporters and government documents that this statement is not simply false, but almost the exact opposite of the truth. Thus, three major journalists (Jane Mayer at the New Yorker, Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair, and Mark Benjamin at Salon) have reported that the basic torture techniques used by the CIA in its black sites were initially developed and implemented by psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. This role is far from Brehm's "…psychologists only acted in an advisory role during questionings, working with interrogators to develop effective strategies that will elicit 'accurate information.' " On the contrary, as Eban reported In Vanity Fair:

"psychologists weren't merely complicit in America's aggressive new interrogation regime. Psychologists, working in secrecy, had actually designed the tactics and trained interrogators in them while on contract to the C.I.A..”
Thus, Dr. Brehm's "effective strategies" include months of total isolation with nothing to do and no one to talk to, freezing, being chained up in painful positions for hours and days on end, and it seems, waterboarding.

The Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (OIG), in a report declassified last May, documented the central role of psychologists, including those from the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program in the development of what the OIG itself saw as abusive. [See our summary of the OIG report and in pdf format.] The OIG report documents how SERE psychologists trained Guantanamo psychologists in the use of SERE-based torture techniques. The OIG report also documents how SERE and Guantanamo staff went to Iraq to train US soldiers there in abusive SERE-based "counter-resistance" techniques. The OIG report made clear that these techniques were, in the OIG's opinion, abusive.

Just last month the Guantanamo Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures manual was leaked. As I wrote, this document details the systematic use of a month of isolation on all new detainees "to foster dependence on interrogators and `enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process.' " The decision about how long a detainee would be held in isolation, the SOP states, was to be made by the GTMO Joint Intelligence Group (JIG). The Chief Psychologist for the JIG at the time the SOP was issued was Col. Larry James. The APA appointed Col. James, along with five others with military or intelligence ties (including the head SERE psychologist), to its Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security to formulate "ethics" to decide if it was "ethical" for psychologists to participate in national security interrogations. Further, the APA selected Col. James to present its "anti-torture" policy to the 2007 Convention.

To this extensive record that psychologists were active and central participants in some of the worst of the Bush administration's abuses, Dr. Brehm contrasts her faith:

"“We have great confidence that at least most of our members are really good people and that they would not do bad things,” Brehm said, adding her belief that psychologists had the ability to be heroes in fighting against torture."

Given the historical record, Dr. Brehm's belief only makes sense if the words "heroes," "against," and "torture" no longer mean what they used to mean.

Another of Dr. Brehm's statements is similarly astounding, given that she is a social psychologist:

"“All of our ethical policies are based on individual responsibility,” Brehm said. “If you violate the behaviors that are prescribed then, if it is a serious violation, we’ll kick you out of the association and you may not be able to make a living anymore. It is that basic.”"

Social psychologists are taught from the first day that the social environment often overrules individual behavioral tendencies. Those in abuse-generating situations are likely to participate in abuse. Social psychologists routinely study why "good" people do "bad" things. There is no evidence that psychologists are uniquely able to resist these pressures Indeed, at the APA Convention last August, Craig Haney, a social psychologist who studies the US criminal justice system, stated that in 30 years of research in prisons, he knew of not a single instance in which a psychologist stopped existing abuse.

Dr. Brehm, like the rest of the APA leadership, ignores that we live in a country which, at this time, is committed to detainee abuse as national policy. Those aiding interrogations in that system are, at best, complicit in the numerous abuses we know are occurring, the kidnapping of detainees from around the world, the purchase of detainees, the lack of any legal rights, the removal of the centuries-old right to habeas corpus, not to mention the abusive interrogations. Rather than denouncing this organized regime, the APA talks obsessively about "influencing policy" through engagement, but has precious little to show for it. The CIA still tortures, using the techniques that were designed by psychologists. We all know it. The press reports on it. But the APA has yet to utter a word condemning these misuses of psychological knowledge and expertise.

Jane Mayer, in an august 8, 2007 Democracy Now! interview pointed out that not only the knowledge and expertise but the prestige of psychology was central to the Bush administration's torture regime. The administration figures ordering torture hoped psychologist participation would prove to be a "get out of jail free" card, in the event of future investigation of and trial for their crimes:

"if you take a look at the so-called torture memos, the forty pages or so of memos that were written by Jay Bybee and John Yoo way back right after 9/11, and you take a look at how they -- they're busy looking at the Convention Against Torture, basically, it seems, trying to figure a way around it. One of the things they argued, these lawyers from the Justice Department, is that if you don't intend to torture someone, if your intention is not just to inflict terrible pain on them but to get information, then you really can't be necessarily convicted of torture.

So how do you prove that your intent is pure? Well, one of the things they suggest is if you consult with experts who will say that what you're doing is just interrogation, then that might also be a good legal defense. And so, one of the roles that these SERE psychologists played was a legal role. They were the experts who were consulted in order to argue that the program was not a program of torture. They are to say, “We've got PhDs, and this is standard psychology, and this is a legitimate way to question people.”"

We have written Dr. Brehm directly documenting in detail reports that psychologists were central in creating, implementing, standardizing as policy, and disseminating the abusive interrogation techniques used by American military and the CIA. We sent Dr. Brehm an Open Letter signed by over 700 psychologists. We sent her our summary of the OIG report. She never responded. I sent her my article on the systematic use of isolation at Guantanamo. Again, no response. So, if Dr. Brehm is truly ignorant of the central role of psychologists in US abusive interrogations, it was not for lack of opportunity to inform herself.

Or do APA leaders know the facts, but simply not care? After all, the military and intelligence agencies hire hundreds, or even thousands of psychologists and provided many tens of millions in grant funding for psychological research. Further, psychologists have a preferred position over their long-time rivals, the psychiatrists, aiding interrogations in US detention centers. A little willful ignorance is, perhaps, a small price to pay for the APA leadership when millions of dollars and preferential treatment for psychologists are at stake.

But whether ignorance or willful avoidance, Dr. Brehm's lack of responsiveness to the legitimate concerns of so many of the APA's membership comes at a high price. The issue is increasingly dividing the organization, and threatens its hegemony as the primary representative of organized psychology at a time when rival psychological organizations are gaining membership and energy.

Only the APA's members can decide that closing one's eyes to abuse is too high a price to pay for government funding and other favors from the powerful.

Distribute as you see fit.

Stephen Soldz
Director, Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development
Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
1581 Beacon St.
Brookline, MA 02446

I thank Dr. Soldz for all his labor in answering so quickly and so well the oh-so-placid obfuscations and falsifications of Brehm. I also am grateful for his integrity, as demonstrated by all the work he's done on this issue over the many, many months.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

APA on the Road to Damascus?

Also posted at OpEdNews

There's nothing like defeat to demoralize the vanquished and embolden the victorious. But such clearcut victories or defeats, while they may happen in warfare, rarely happen in political battle. Due to repeated charges of torture of detainees, and the lack of elementary rights of prisoners in U.S. detention centers like Guantanamo, supporters and opponents of a proposed ban on U.S. psychologist participation in national security interrogations disputed their varying platforms at last August's convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).

The resulting resolution was a mixed affair. The document was touted as a "reaffirmation" of a 2006 APA resolution on psychology and national security, and was purportedly aimed "Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Its Application to Individuals Defined in the United States Code as 'Enemy Combatants'". Its text specifically banned psychologist participation in interrogations that included "water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation, sexual humiliation, rape, cultural or religious humiliation, exploitation of phobias or psychopathology, [and] induced hypothermia..."

The resolution also listed a number of contingently rejected coercive techniques, which centered around forms of psychological torture, such as use of psychotropic drugs, isolation, sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation. The contingency? These techniques were not supposed to be used for information-gathering purposes. Some, like sleep and sensory deprivation were not to be employed if they caused "significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm."

Why distinguish between techniques this way, a number of people wanted to know. I've previously explained that the latter techniques constitute a form of psychological softening-up preparatory to interrogation, which itself can then be conducted in traditional, "rapport-building" ways.

An Epistolary Intervention

Subsequent to the passing of the resolution at the Council meeting of the APA, and the rejection of amendments meant to limit psychologist participation, APA President Sharon Brehm and Chief Executive Officer Norman Anderson wrote letters to President Bush, General Michael Hayden (Director of the CIA), and Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Spector of the Senate Judiciary Committee "calling on U.S. leaders to safeguard the physical and psychological welfare and human rights of individuals incarcerated by the U.S. government in foreign detention centers." (For full text of letters, click here.)

"The ongoing U.S. Senate confirmation process involving Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey provides a timely opportunity," they write, "to expand the July 2007 Executive Order to clarify that "enhanced" interrogation techniques, such as forced nudity, waterboarding, and mock executions, which are defined as torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture, shall not be used or condoned by the U.S. government."

In reply, psychologist-activist Stephen Soldz praised the APA statements for taking a stand against certain methods of CIA-style "enhanced interrogation", and for contending that "the government to disallow any testimony resulting from the use of these techniques." However, he also noticed "severe weaknesses" in these statements:

First, they ignore the core of the CIA's torture program, which, despite all the media attention now, is not waterboarding, but is, rather, prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, that mind-numbing emptiness that removes all sense of humanity. While the APA's 2007 Resolution took an ambiguous and carefully nuanced and parsed position on isolation and sensory deprivation and many other techniques, the APA unfortunately chose to raise in these letters only techniques that are likely not in current use, despite the controversy about their legality.... the APA has chosen yet again to trail the numerous critics in the press and the Democrats in Congress, who also condemn waterboarding but fail to mention the techniques believed currently in use at the CIA's black sites....

Further, the letters, while implicitly criticizing the legality of the detention centers, expresses a rather odd approach to the role of psychologists serving there in abetting the human rights violations at the core of these facility's existence. The APA refuses to state that aiding these illegal institutions is unethical. Rather, it leaves tht decision up to each individual psychologist....

These letters show that the APA has gone far from its early hear no evil defense at all costs of maintaining psychologists in interrogations. The organization's leadership finally acknowledges, albeit timidly and largely implicitly, that abuses are occurring. But it still refuses to come to terms with the systemic nature of that abuse, or with the crucial role that psychologists played in creating that system of abuse and maintains the fiction that psychologists' primary concern was the safety of the detainees. And the APA still refuses to acknowledge that psychologists serving as interrogation consultants in illegal prisons are abettors of that illegality.

An Accusation, A Clarification, and... An Apostasy?

And so the controversy settled down into the usual hubbub of blog entries, listserv interchanges, and spikes of e-mail traffic. Then like a blast of cold winter air, on November 18 an article by Scott Horton over at Harper's set APA brass back on their heels. The impetus for Horton's column was the leak of the Guantanamo Standard Operating Procedures manual, which showed that use of isolation, sensory deprivation, guard dogs, and other forms of coercive detention were in full play, despite all claims otherwise, at the U.S. facility in Cuba. It couldn't have soothed APA nerves to find Mr. Horton quoting yet another Soldz article, and agreeing that it was more than coincidence that the contingently banned interrogation techniques described above were the same sort that were practiced at Guantanamo. The Harper's article continues:

As Soldz notes, it is now apparent that from the outset of the debate the APA leadership pursued a strategy of protecting the actual techniques of abuse which were being used in Guantánamo. And we have specific reason to believe that some in the APA leadership had actual knowledge of those techniques. The leadership pursued its plan by involving a key military officer who was probably an author of these processes as its voice in presenting the matter.

Scott Horton's article was followed two days later by a letter to Harper's from Stephen Behnke, APA's Director of Ethics. The key section of his letter follows:

With the recent posting on the Internet of what has been identified as the U.S. military’s 2003 operating manual for the Guantanamo detention center, attention has been directed to the use of isolation and sensory deprivation as interrogation procedures. APA policy specifically prohibits using any such technique, alone or in combination with other techniques for the purpose of breaking down a detainee. In a recent, public exchange (found at with an author of APA’s 2007 resolution, I directly addressed this issue: “Given the concerns that have been expressed let me state clearly and unequivocally the 2007 Resolution should never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a detainee in order to elicit information.” This position builds upon a 2006 APA resolution, which stated that psychologists must act in accordance with human rights instruments relevant to their roles. (emphasis mine)

Furthermore, Dr. Behnke promised that APA's Ethics Committee, "with input from our members", would produce an interrogations casebook and commentary, complete with vignettes, that would clarify APA's position that "that 'enhanced' interrogation techniques (also known as 'no-touch torture' and 'torture light') are unethical and prohibited."

This strongly worded statement followed another attempt at clarification by Dr. Behnke, this time in reply to questions from the Council representative for APA's Division 39 (Psychoanalysis). In this letter, preceding his reply to Scott Horton by a little under two weeks, the Director of Ethics wandered a bit, noting that temporary isolation or sleep disruption may happen as part of normal security operations in a detention center like Guantanamo. He then said (no link):

I want to identify and highlight an issue that I realize is of great concern to many members, that the 2007 Resolution creates a "loophole" that allows psychologists to participate in some "enhanced" interrogation techniques. As I mentioned earlier, I fully recognize that the language of the Resolution regarding these behaviors was not as clear as the authors hoped it would be and as many of our members closely following this issue believe is necessary. I want to say emphatically, however, that the intention of the Resolution is to prohibit participation in interrogations that involve abuse, torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment through the use of isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation and sleep deprivation. At no point was there any discussion of, or intention to create, a "loophole" that would allow psychologists to participate in abusive interrogations.

Given the concerns that have been expressed let me state clearly and unequivocally the 2007 Resolution should never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a detainee in order to elicit information as described in [Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First booklet] Leave No Marks. My strong sense is that the Ethics Committee, with input from our members, will be able to find language that makes clear the intent of this language in the 2007 Resolution, that these "enhanced" interrogation techniques, all other abusive techniques and techniques of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited. Again, the Committee may well decide to adopt the language from Leave No Marks in relation to these terms. If members believe this or any other language in the Resolution is unclear or insufficient, I encourage them to communicate their concerns to the Ethics Committee as the Committee works on the casebook and commentary.

Whither the APA?

There is some debate within circles that have opposed APA policy on interrogations in the past whether Dr. Behnke's letters represent a real change of heart from APA, or more obfuscation, delay, and parsing of language. Certainly, there is no nascent call from APA leadership to withdraw psychologists from Guantanamo or CIA "black site" secret prisons and interrogation centers. There is also nothing about working in conditions where detainees are held in indefinite detention.

One noteworthy critic wrote to his listserv:

It doesn't address the APA's systemic problems and stalling and just absurd behavior for the last few years. It doesn't fix those problems and they just are not going to go away that easily. They have complied to some of our requests and points, but I'm confident that nothing has really been internalized in the minds of the leadership or in the organizational structure....

The letter does not address the seemingly more subtle but ultimately critical harm related issues that are intrinsic to the techniques in the Army Field Manual (fear up harsh, ego down)....

The letter promises the handling of redefinitions and clarifications in a casebook that we have long sought and which has never appeared. External commentary for the casebook is not due until February. The ethics committee is on a good timeline to run out the clock on the Bush administration with the final release of this casebook. And as others have said, this letter is just a letter, and not a revision of the resolution itself.

My own contribution to the internal politicking follows below, quoting from my own posting at a private listserv:

I also agree Behnke's letter represents... well, something positive, or at least indicative of the pressure they are feeling. I think that Stephen Soldz's point about changes in Washington may have something to do with it (if not upcoming hearings).

I sent Behnke a letter today asking for some further clarification.... What follows is not the whole letter, just the substantive queries:

1) Does the term "eliciting information" including instances in which the determination of deception by an interrogatee is the primary task? In other words, do the proscribed techniques, qualified or not, also refer to the assessment of deception?

2) In your letter, you suggest that the second category of techniques, i.e., those "that cannot be 'used in an interrogation process for the purpose of eliciting information'", may be used "when these techniques are used for administrative or security purposes in a detention facility". You use "hooding" as an example, or "nakedness". Now the other techniques in this category, according to the 2007 Resolution, include "stress positions, the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate, physical assault including slapping or shaking, exposure to extreme heat or cold, threats of harm or death". I cannot see how these latter techniques could ever be used "for administrative or security purposes in a detention facility". Therefore, I find your reasoning on this point to be problematic.

3) I am bothered by the reliance on terms like "prolonged" or "extended" when applied to conditions or techniques such as isolation, sensory deprivation, or sleep deprivation, at least when it comes to instances of making policy or providing guidelines. As you must know, and as I discussed in my presentation at the convention, even small amounts of sensory deprivation can have deleterious effects upon an individual, and this is especially true in conditions of detention, following upon the "shock of capture". These effects are amplified further when an individual has no control over the situation, or has no indication over how long such deprivation will occur. There is ample empirical evidence on this score, with over fifty years of psychological research to back me up, some of it by some of the most celebrated scientists in our field.

On the issue of sleep deprivation, the current Army Field Manual on interrogation currently allows, in special circumstances, the limitation of sleep to four hours nightly for up to 30 days. However, empirical research shows that this amounts to injurious treatment, and would represent extended or prolonged sleep deprivation by any medical or psychological criterion.

Perhaps you mean to take up these matters in the casebook. However, since that casebook likely remains some months or even a year or more from completion, I would like to know the thinking of yourself and others on what quantitatively constitutes "extended" or "prolonged" deprivation. Are we even on the same page when it comes to this?

.... Finally, all the above will mean little if psychologists pursue collaboration with governmental agencies in settings where fundamental human rights are abridged, e.g., the right of habeas corpus, settings where "ghost prisoners" are maintained, or in settings or working for institutions were inmates are rendered to foreign countries where torture and abuse of prisoners is practiced.

(For the record, in reply Dr. Behnke assured me that my concerns would be transmitted to the APA Ethics Committee.)

Others debating the issue of how to approach APA given their "new" tack are more resolute and terse in their responses. "This level of dissemblance and double-speak boils my blood", writes one. Another member, who has a lot of experience with police and interrogations, and has been very critical of APA's policies, writes of Behnke and his letters:

He will commiserate, debate, parse sentences, and even change a few terrible details. But the one thing he and the APA will not do is withdraw their support for psychologist involvement in interrogations. We must push for an APA referendum on this.

Proverbially, only time will tell if the latest gyrations of APA on the interrogations matter represents real movement in that organization, or the latest in a series of political maneuvers.

In my opinion, the real power at APA, at least so far as this issue goes, does not really lie in its executive board, nor in its elected Council. It emanates from the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, and most specifically from the Department of Defense and the CIA. On defense/interrogation issues, the APA acts as a subsidiary branch of the military and intelligence agencies.

If APA has differences now with Bush and some in DoD over use of certain coercive interrogation techniques, such differences are no greater than those already found within those governmental agencies, and are, in fact, reflective of intra-governmental and both intra- and inter-agency disputes. It seems likely, as the Bush Administration heads into its final lame-duck year, the exacerbation of tensions will make for a slightly more fluid situation politically. But whatever openings there may be are likely to be frozen by the emphasis on two-party electoralism in the United States.

Is the APA headed towards a confrontation with the inherent contradictions between its humanist mandate and a history of subordination to the Pentagon, CIA, and national security priorities? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Tyger, tyger, burning bright"

Happy 250th birthday to the English poet and champion of human liberty, William Blake!

From his America, A Prophecy, 1793:

Fiery the Angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll'd
Around their shores, indignant burning with the fires of Orc;
And Boston's Angel cried aloud as they flew thro' the dark night.

He cried: `Why trembles honesty; and, like a murderer,
Why seeks he refuge from the frowns of his immortal station?
Must the generous tremble, and leave his joy to the idle, to the pestilence
That mock him? Who commanded this? What God? What Angel?
To keep the gen'rous from experience till the ungenerous
Are unrestrain'd performers of the energies of nature;
Till pity is become a trade, and generosity a science
That men get rich by; and the sandy desert is giv'n to the strong?
What God is he writes laws of peace, and clothes him in a tempest?
What pitying Angel lusts for tears, and fans himself with sighs?
What crawling villain preaches abstinence and wraps himself
In fat of lambs? No more I follow, no more obedience pay!'

So cried he, rending off his robe and throwing down his sceptre
In sight of Albion's Guardian; and all the Thirteen Angels
Rent off their robes to the hungry wind, and threw their golden sceptres
Down on the land of America; indignant they descended

Headlong from out their heav'nly heights, descending swift as fires
Over the land; naked and flaming are their lineaments seen
In the deep gloom; by Washington and Paine and Warren they stood;
And the flame folded, roaring fierce within the pitchy night...

Blake was a rebel, a mystic, an engraver, and an amazing poet. He was arrested in 1803 for "high treason" for uttering "Damn the King, damn all his subjects..." Luckily, he was acquitted.

Blake's critique of the Industrial Revolution's brutal materialism, and his search for a poetic and religious freedom that would break the chains of human bondage mark him as one of the most important writers giving birth to the modern age. He protested slavery, and believed in racial and sexual equality: "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)".

Generations of poets and writers have found great inspriation in the massive, if often obscure, poetry of his "Prophetic Books." His Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience were lyrical portraits of childlike innocence and terror, and a protest against a world that would swallow up human souls in the "demonic mills" of rising capitalism.

Oh, that we could use the spirit of Blake to walk among us today!

"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

UN Labels Taser Use a Form of Torture

In a follow-up on an article I wrote last September on the notorious tasering of a speaker at a John Kerry forum by University of Florida police, there's this from the UK Daily Telegraph today:

TASER electronic stun guns are a form of torture that can kill, a UN committee has declared after several recent deaths in North America.

"The use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture,'' the UN's Committee against Torture said.

"In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events,'' the committee of 10 experts said....

The UN committee made its comments in recommendations to Portugal, which has bought the newest Taser X26 stun gun for use by police.

Portugal "should consider giving up the use of the Taser X26,'' as its use can have a grave physical and mental impact on those targeted, which violates the UN's Convention against Torture, the experts said.

Here is the relevant section from the UN Convention Against Torture press release on November 23, from one of two sessions the UNCAT holds each year:

The Committee regretted that Portugal used detention for identification purposes, that could sometime lead to collective arrests. The Committee was also worried by information it had received on the persistent violence between prisoners in places of detentions, including sexual violence, and by the high number of deaths in places of detention, due in great part to HIV/AIDS and suicide. The Committee was worried that the use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use.

I could not find the section in the UN document where experts recommend giving up tasers, but will rely for now on DT reporting (echoed in other periodicals).

Bravo to the UN experts for noticing that this grave form of electric shock to disable police targets is both dangerous and extremely painful. The bar has been lowered so far for police departments around the world, that routine use of chokeholds, tasering, firing rubber bullets, and other forms of so-called "non-lethal" forms of force has become epidemic around the world. This decision helps in the fight against the worst forms of misuse of force by state powers.

Inside a Mercenary Compound in Iraq

Jared Polis has written up a fascinating look at his stay inside a contractor's (mercenary) compound in Iraq. Polis, by the way, is a Democratic Party candidate of the 2nd district Congressional seat in Colorado. I'm not offering any unqualified endorsements at this time (although I like people like Polis and Jerry Northington in Delaware, and Kucinich in the presidential race). So this posting is not an endorsement. The article by Polis is just a very, very interesting read (emphases below are by the author):

The facts and observations below are all true but I am changing and switching a few details so that the particular compound and individuals are not readily identifiable. I do this because (only somewhat tongue-in-cheek) these are not people that I want to be on the wrong side of, but more importantly because whatever you think of the way contractors operate and the fact that we hire mercenaries, the individuals and particular company I visited are not at fault nor would I want to single them out just because they happened to be hospitable to me. Insofar as you agree with me that there is a problem, the fault lies with the system and the America’s utilization of private for-profit armed militias.

The guards throughout this compound are Angolan, and their commanding officers (or "managers") are South African. The senior staff they protect are a variety of nationalities including American, Western European, Egyptian, and Romanian, and stateless. The company that employs them, like most (all?) of them, is American. Mercenaries have always existed and have participated on all sides of major wars, but the corporatization of mercenaries is a startling spectacle to behold and Iraq is ground zero.

Concrete bunkers form a maze throughout the compound, and walking around the compound staring into the eyes of armed Angolans, images flash in my head of the movies Blood Diamonds and Lord of War and I wonder what kind of life stories these men have. The hardened and sometimes battle-scarred faces stare back as they check to see that I’m wearing the correct company badge to let me pass by. One time they spotted me with my camera and they called over their supervisor who "reminded" me not to take pictures and then thankfully let me on my way....

The senior ranks of contractors providing technical expertise to the Iraqi government are nearly all over fifty. There are a few in their forties and I think I met only one under age thirty. They are a hardened lot. Some have worked oil rigs, some have worked other wars, some are just out of the military, and some just don’t say (and I’m not about to press them). The armed mercenaries themselves from South Africa, Angola, Uganda, Peru, and Chile among other nations are perhaps in their late 20s, 30s, and 40s but it is hard to tell because they are so battle-hardened and old for their chronological age....

The first question here is always "who are you with?" rather than "where are you from?" The contractors hold their corporate identity above their national identity. Indeed, they come from many nations and the common corporate culture bonds them and allows them to work together for their mutual benefit. It is eerily reminiscent of the post-nation state futures depicted in dystopian corporatocracy science fiction or anime. To a person, the contractors we talked to were confused by us because we were with an NGO and not a corporation.

Some of the contractors are American (at this compound, perhaps a quarter are). They are typically social eccentrics over age fifty.

It's worth reading the whole thing.

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