Monday, March 26, 2007

A Moral Nothingness: Red Cross Blows Whistle on U.S. Torture [Updated]

AP is reporting today [3/20/2007] that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is saying that "high-profile" terror detainees held in CIA secret prisons and later transferred to last September to Guantanamo "were kept and questioned under highly abusive conditions."

Follow me through this diary, from this major report, to the issues of psychologist participation in torture, to a meditation on the soul of our times.

The Red Cross said the techniques reported by the 14 prisoners, including sleep deprivation and the use of forced standing and other so-called "stress positions," were particularly harsh when used together....

The CIA's detention methods were designed to soften detainees and make them more likely to talk during interrogation. Human rights organizations say the CIA's extreme conditions of detention and the coercive questioning techniques constitute torture.

Apparently the ICRC report was leaked, because IRC has a policy of not reporting on the results of their prisoner visits, the better to allow them access to these otherwise inaccessible victims of the war on terror.

"The price of this is a policy of confidentiality, taking up the problems only with the people directly concerned," according to a policy statement on its Web site. The ICRC says it will only break its silence in extreme cases, such as when the condition of prisoners hasn't improved.

Update (March 22, 2004):

Stephen Soldz notes in comments that the ICRC did leak earlier on this, in 2004. He is correct, and here is the link and a quote from that news source:
Online News Hour: Charge of Abuse, Nov. 30, 2004

Terence Smith speaks with Neil Lewis, the New York Times reporter who broke the story about alleged prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay....

Abuses the ICRC uncovered in their investigation TERENCE SMITH: What were some of the abuses cited?

NEIL LEWIS: Well, on the psychological side, which again was most of what the Red Cross team had asserted was part of the stuff that was tantamount to torture, long-term isolation, various psychological techniques to make detainees as dependent as possible on the interrogators, a system of punishments and rewards. On the physical side, it said some beatings.

It also described certain practices that military interrogators used regularly, it said, such as having inmates strip to their underwear, sat down in a chair, exposed to cold temperatures for a long time, loud music, lights, the kind of things to disorient people, all in the service of getting information out of them supposedly.

End Update

What's in the Report? or Torture as Usual

We don't know who leaked the report (supposedly "U.S. officials"), but conditions certainly have not improved since news of torture in U.S. prisons overseas was first broached over three years ago. House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes says the charges of 14 detainees that they were tortured -- including a classified statement by Khalid Sheik Muhammad -- are strongly contested by the CIA. Senator Levin said the CIA Inspector General's offer to investigate the Muhammad claim in insufficient, and he will be looking into it himself.

Of course, U.S. practice of torture has a long pedigree, and I have tried repeatedly to bring this to the attention of the Daily Kos readership. I have tried to show how the CIA model of psychological torture, codified in their KUBARK counterintelligence interrogation manual over forty years ago, has been put into modified, if enhanced, practice in Bush's so-called war on terror.

The ICRC report makes clear that the same abuse is going on. The same kind of torture that began in the Eisenhower administration (or possibly the Truman administration), and continued through the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and now Bush II, either through the CIA, or their proxies, trained by the U.S. government.

In its latest incarnation, the CIA is using what it euphemistically calls EIDs: "enhanced interrogation techniques":

Those widely reported practices include openhanded slapping, induced hypothermia, sleep deprivation and — perhaps most controversially — waterboarding. In that technique, a detainee is made to believe he is drowning.

Buttressed by at least one classified legal opinion from the Justice Department, the CIA believed it was operating lawfully in detaining and interrogating roughly 100 suspected terrorists at locations from Southeast Asia to Europe.

"The (interrogation) procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary," President Bush said...

Asked last month if the prisons were still empty, a CIA official declined to comment.

As with the US Attorney scandal, you can't really believe anything the government says. The government says you can't believe the detainees.

But the massive preponderence of the evidence on torture over the years demonstrates that the ICRC report is probably more true than not.

And the truth is sickening.

Psychologists Sputter on Torture

One piece of evidence of abusive interrogation (violent torture) comes from Michael Gelles, who was the chief psychologist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, stationed at Guantanamo. He blew the whistle on the unlawful interrogations at that U.S. prison. The information almost went nowhere: read Jane Mayer's excellent piece on that episode in the New Yorker, How an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted.

As a result of efforts such as his, and many others in the American Psychological Association (APA), there has been an effort to halt the participation of psychologists in "enemy combatant" interrogations. But this campaign has been stymied by APA leadership and the opposition of military psychologists within APA. Now, the current effort to stop psychologist participation in U.S. torture from within the organization has received a blow from the self-same Michael Gelles.

Gelles has written a letter opposing the ban to the chief sponsor of the proposed APA Resolution calling for a Moratorium on psychologist involvement in national security “enemy combatant” interrogations. This letter was distributed by APA leadership to its Council of Representatives, while a letter answering Gelles's remarks was outrageously refused similar distribution.

Dr. Stephen Soldz, who has been one of the leaders in the fight against psychologist participation in torture has written his own excellent reply to Gelles, while also reprinting the replies of Dr. Altman and Dr. Steven Miles, author of Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror. Read these able psychologists and doctors in their own words, as they give a powerful refutation of the latest military collaborationist line.

The history of participation by psychologists and psychiatrists in national security researches into interrogation, mind control and torture, continues apace. What is so striking is the vast scope of the program and the involvement of prominent behavioral scientists and clinicians over the years. Some have participated out of naivete and ignorance. Others out of greed and careerism. Some, perhaps, shared the goals of their government masters.

But I fear the main reason is a moral rot, an emptiness that has taken root in the society and spread throughout the body politic.

It strikes me that many of my colleagues are morally dead. Psychologists are supposed to seek knowledge and enlightenment, and to share that knowledge for the benefit of all humanity. But something terrrible happened. And then, what was worst, a silence grew. In secret, terrible things happen.

There is a justifiable uproar over the secrecy Bush and Gonzales are maintaining over Executive Branch plots to usurp the machinery of the Justice Department. I wrote only yesterday on the behind the scenes push to bring the Unitary Executive into complete power, using the Patriot Act to stymie the judiciary and Congress.

But there is another secrecy, one that comes to the surface, one that we are afraid to look at because it is so awful. It explains why diaries on torture regularly only get a few dozen recommendations, or why this explosive report by the ICRC -- "the first independent accounting of the detainees' allegations against the CIA since its detention and interrogation program began in 2002" -- will be forgotten by almost everyone by tomorrow.

The secret is this: there is a moral nothingness at the heart of this society. A black hole. And like a black hole it threatens to suck everything into its obliterating maw.

The time is almost too late. The clock is ticking backwards. The hours are being swallowed up.

Are we even alive?

I would far rather be an outcast
upon the bosom of the great world
than be an accomplice to
a moral nothingness
From N 126 in [Edvard] Munch in His Own Words by Paul Erik Tojner, Prestel Publishing, 2001

Crossposted at Daily Kos

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