Friday, March 30, 2007

NEW Documents Show U.S. Torture Was Planned Long Ago

Crossposted at Daily Kos and NION

This diary is meant as an adjunct to Buckeye Hamburger's excellent [Daily Kos] diary, Interrogator Confesses Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners on WaPo. That story concerns the revelations of Eric Fair, a former Army contractor in Iraq, who admits that he engaged in torture and cruel and unusual punishments while working as an interrogator in Iraq. He sounds like the classic "I was following orders" type, except he is now haunted by the abuse he helped perpetrate.

I wish to make public for the first time documents I recently obtained that show that mental health professionals who were researching torture in the 1950s knew very well that they were contributing to something sinister, even if some of them hoped that the psychological knowledge of human weaknesses they obtained would be used to help people, rather than hurt them. Still, others were not so sure, as you will see.

I have been examining publications documenting two psychiatric symposia held in the 1950s. The first was entitled "Factors Used to Increase the Susceptiblity of Individuals to Forceful Indoctrination: Observations and Experiments"; the second is titled "Methods of Forceful Indoctrination: Observations and Interviews". I'm sorry, you cannot find the text for these on the Internet. I suppose the copyright is still held by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP), which both sponsored and published the results of these symposia. Any quotes used herein are amply within the criteria of fair use, and will be kept to a minimum.

I have written extensively at Daily Kos on the history of torture (here's a recent link). My plan is to use the material from this and other stories for a more comprehensively written history in the near future, to be published in an academic journal.

For many, the revelations of Eric Fair are news. But I can tell you that it is very old hat to me, and I want to show you that it is not an anomaly. If we are to fight these kinds of crimes and change the course of our country's direction, then we must know this history.

I will start with this quote from "Methods of Forceful Indoctrination". It's from a summary by Dr. Lawrence Hinkle, Jr., a "discussant" at the psychiatric symposium (held the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry at the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel, Asbury Park, NJ, Nov. 11, 1956). He is discussing what has been learned about torture and indoctrination from a study of Russian, Chinese, and East European Secret Police systems, as well as from observations and experiments done by U.S. psychiatrists, psychologists and social scientists.
The essential feature of these methods is isolation and repetitive interrogation, the use of much personal history material; all of this carried out in an atmosphere productive of fatigue, sleep loss, and the various forms of physiological disturbance which can be produced by hunger, cold, unusual positions and the like. Prominent features of the reactions of the prisoner are anxiety, uncertainty, and intolerable discomfort. If this regimen is carried forward long enough it usually leads to mental dulling, confusion, loss of discrimination and despondency, associated with an intense desire to escape from the situation; and the ultimate result of this type of pressure is a state of delirium, associated with hallucinatory and delusional experiences.
Some of those present at the GAP symposia that day had some concerns. Dr. John C. Lilly, from the National Institute of Mental Health, was moderator that day. (Yes, this is the same Dr. Lilly who inspired the movies Altered States and Day of the Dolphin, who experimented with hallucinogens and sensory deprivation tanks.) He reflected, ominously, after Hinkle finished:
I hope this material does not help those who use the methods to sharpen up their technique to make them more effective.
Lilly knew personally of what he warned, as he had already been approached by the CIA to use his research in the mind control program the U.S. government was conducting. From the classic book by John Marks, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate:
In 1953 Lilly worked at the National Institutes of Health, outside Washington, doing experimental studies in an effort to "map" the body functions controlled from various locations in the brain....

As Lilly refined his brain "maps," officials of the CIA and other agencies descended upon him with a request for a briefing. Having a phobia against secrecy, Lilly agreed to the briefing only under the condition that it and his work remain unclassified, completely open to outsiders. The intelligence officials submitted to the conditions most reluctantly, since they knew that Lilly's openness would not only ruin the spy value of anything they learned but could also reveal the identities and the interests of the intelligence officials to enemy agents. They considered Lilly annoying, uncooperative -- possibly even suspicious....

Lilly's security clearance was withdrawn for review, then tangled up and misplaced -- all of which he took as pressure to cooperate with the CIA....

Lilly realized that the intelligence agencies were not interested in sensory deprivation because of its positive benefits, and he finally concluded that it was impossible for him to work at the National Institutes of Health without compromising his principles. He quit in 1958.
But the psychiatric symposia whose reports have come into my hands were conducted two years before Lilly left NIMH. In 1956 and 1957, he was still with NIMH, and he was moderating these presentations, whose subjects were:

1956 conference
Physical and Social Isolation
Solitary Confinement
Sleep Deprivation
Brain Injury (Confabulation)

1957 conference
Psychiatric Aspects of Chinese Communist Thought Reform (where Dr. Robert J. Lifton was the presenter)
Patterns of Reactions to Severe Chronic Stress in American Army Prisoners of War of the Chinese
United States Air Force Prisoners of the Chinese Communists

The concentration of the latter symposia on the experience of U.S. prisoners of war, and on Chinese "thought reform" techniques was due to the shock with which the Pentagon greeted the "confessions" of many American prisoners of war held by the North Koreans and Chinese during the Korean War. It was believed that the captured airmen and soldiers must have been horribly tortured to have capitulated and slandered their country and its armed forces.

But there was not always physical evidence of torture. No racks, no Iron Maidens, no sustained beatings (though the latter occurred from time to time). It soon became apparent that another force was at work, and the Americans wanted to understand it, to prepare future American armed forces for procedures to counter interrogation by foreign enemies.

At the same time, psychological researchers, such as Donald Hebb, and psychiatric researchers like Robert Lifton and Lawrence Hinkle, were discovering facts about human neurology and psychology that would contribute to a new paradigm of American counterintelligence interrogation. This new model relied heavily on the practical discoveries of the Soviet NKVD/KGB, the Chinese Red Army and Communist Party, and the North Korean experience. It also relied on experiments, studies and theories worked out in U.S. universities and laboratories, funded by the Pentagon and the CIA.

Lessons from the Korean War and the American POW Experience

How well the U.S. learned from the captors of U.S. airmen is described by Dr. Louis West at the GAP 1957 symposium. (Think of what you've read of Gitmo or Abu Ghraib as you peruse the following.)
The Chinese Communists had initiated a "world-wide germ warfare propaganda campaign" in early 1952, and placed the blame directly on U.S. pilots "who presumably were the instruments by which bacteriological weapons were delivered". 235 Air Force returnees were studied "in considerable detail". There were atrocities, e.g., using prisoners as hostages, force marching them, etc. But the psychiatrists at Asbury Park were concerned with "the second type of exploitation... systematic control and pressure":
... the enemy had a considerable degree of success in obtaining intelligence information and in forcing prisoners to engage in propaganda activities....

There was no time when the prisoner could be sure that he was through with a particular ordeal....

They would be held in solitary confinement, and they would discuss their alleged crimes with the interrogators until they were ready to confess them....

A number of other techniques were also employed in an effort to elicit compliance, but the use of isolation was one technique that appears to have been employed in virtually every case.... Clearly the Communists regarded isolation as a valuable means of increasing the influenceability of individuals in their control.
And Isolation would thus come to stand at the center of the new U.S. paradigm of interrogation and torture. It is still authorized to be used in the new, highly-touted, supposedly torture-free Army interrogation manual.

Dr. West continues:
The captors constantly attempted to focus the attention of the prisoner on what they defined as his predicament, his case, or his problem. He was constantly reminded of his complete dependence on his captors. In addition, there was a clear-cut restriction of all types of sensory experience. There was also a systematic debility produced by a limited diet, prolonged interrogation under extreme tension, sleep deprivation, etc. There were constant attempts to induce anxiety and despair. The pattern of debility, dependency and dread has been tagged "DDD"....

A particularly effective means of inducing pain and fatigue was to subject a prisoner to prolonged interrogation while forcing him to maintain a standing position.... It was very rare that a prisoner was able to perceive that the enemy was in effect making him torture himself.
Anyone thinking here of the forced positions we saw prisoners forced to assume in the pictures from Abu Ghraib? I would think so. And I would hope you are starting to see how the procedures used by Eric Fair and others were not accidental. They were planned. They were studied. They were meant to achieve a particular effect.

Some of the material in the GAP symposia, necessarily borders on the macabre. Dr. Josef Brozek, of "the famous Minnesota Starvation Study" (see here for alternate link), gives a contribution on the effects of semi-starvation that sounds like Dr. Strangelove at his strangest:
A situation in which food would be offered on certain occasions and would be withdrawn on other occasions would constitute a more intensive psychological stress than food restriction alone. It would result in severe frustration, and would more readily break a man's moral fiber. By combining such a treatment with other forms of deprivation and insult, one could expect eventually to induce a "breakdown" in the the majority of human beings. [My emphasis]
The contribution of Dr. Lawrence Hinkle, described by Marks in his book as one of the chief "brainwasher" researchers for the U.S. government, is particularly notable as to the question of what these medical men knew as regards the use of their product. This last quote brings us full circle back to the Hinkle speech with which I began this analysis.
I cannot tell you too much about our sources, except to say that we did have access to information from sources available to the government.... direct observation of persons recently released from Communist prisons ... continued for weeks, or even months... These included, in many cases, complete physical, neurological and psychiatric examinations, and psychological testing....

In general, it is our conclusion that the evidence from all these sources is quite consistent, and that it provides a basis for confidence in the statements we have made.

I want to give special credit to some of the men whose work you have heard presented there today. I think they have added significantly to our knowledge in an area where we constantly need more knowledge.
An area where we constantly need more knowledge! I hope I have presented enough to give you a taste of the dark history of the U.S. research into brainwashing, "forceful indoctrination", interrogation, and torture. The "knowledge" gained was put to use in torture manuals like the CIA's mid-1960s KUBARK document, and in the torture and interrogation activities of Bush's imperial army in Bagram, Fallujah, Guantanamo Bay, and assorted secret prisons run by the CIA throughout Europe.

Appendix on Korean War "Atrocities"

Whether the U.S. actually conducted such activities in Korea is a source of very hot dispute, and I will not enter it. For those interested, you can start with the Amazon page discussing a book on the subject published a few years back by University of Indiana Press. -- Note, however, that new evidence of U.S. war atrocities in Korea are surfacing even recently. See the Washington Post article from last year on the U.S. "Army's mass killing of South Korean refugees at No Gun Ri in 1950".


Sedalia said...

That Abu Graib was no aberration but a carefully crafted event is beyond belief. The shame grows day by day.

Sedalia said...

Thanks, valtin, for one more fine posting and for maintaining such a fine site. Now I see how the comment section works around here. Keep up all the good work.


Valtin said...

Thanks possum, especially for noting the point about Abu Ghraib. Many fine commenters have missed this.

For instance, Philip Zimbardo, past APA president, the originator of the Stanford Prison Experiment and current opponent of torture, and supporter of the proposed APA moratorium -- Dr. Zimbardo is currently touring for his new book. But while he recognizes the planning component at Abu Ghraib, he underplays it to concentrate on the culpability of those underlings who got caught. He describes how his research helps us understand why seemingly ordinary people would torture.

But when this is highlighted at Abu Ghraib, it masks the significance of the architecture of the torture program, one that has been researched and implemented for decades now.

The American people barely understand this. They must be informed.

Sedalia said...

Like you say, obfuscation is the name of the game. Blame the lowest echelon for the affair and the coverup just continues. There is so much hidden at Abu Graib and other places I fear we can never find all the truth. And how much of today is ongoing experimentation and refinement of technique?


Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

This site can contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.