Monday, April 30, 2007

(Round 2) Stop Torture Campaign -- Netroots Can Play Special Role

Yesterday I launched a campaign to send letters, faxes, emails, and phone messages to the leadership, public affairs and ethics office of the American Psychological Association (APA). As my diary then indicated:

By a unique confluence of events, and the way the CIA and military organized their methods of interrogation, a serious weakness in their ability to conduct torture has been discovered. If we strike now -- with letters, faxes, emails, etc. -- we can put a great deal of pressure on a particular vulnerable group who has the ability to greatly hamper the ability of the U.S. government to torture.

The APA is "vulnerable" because they are the only health organization that is allowing their members to participate in the psychological torture teams organized to function in Gitmo, Baghram, and such places. -- And now this campaign has gotten off to a roaring start! And we need your help to make it even better!

Key figures within the American Psychological Association are fighting to bring about a moratorium to end psychologist participation in the torture-linked interrogations run at Guantanamo, and other U.S. run foreign prisons. But they are meeting great resistance from military psychologists and from the APA leadership as a whole.

Readers are already responding to the call to pressure the APA and support the internal dissidents call for a moratorium. I want to quote from a few letters that have already been sent. If you want to get into the action, too, scroll down a little bit to the latter part of the diary.

Gary L. Norton, who diaries here at Daily Kos, sent a wonderful letter, which he has given me permission to reproduce:

Dear Dr. Brehm,

I urge you to support the pending APA Moratorium Against Psychologists Participating in Torture Interrogations.

I am a retired attorney who spent a career in the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government. I understand well the pressure that the government can assert to coerce a desired result. The APA must resist that pressure as did you sister organization of psychiatrists.

We are nearing the end of a shameful period in our history. Soon, people will be held to account for what they did or allowed to be done. Our treatment of detainees will be universally seen as a stain on our reputation here at home as it already is overseas. It will be viewed with the same infamy as our internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WW II.

Your organization is better than this. It's members are better than this. Moral courage in these times is difficult but essential. The reputation and standing of our country is at stake. You now have a special burden to participate in the process of righting our National ship of state. I urge you to undertake that burden and lead the APA in a direction that all of your members will look back on with pride.

Thank you for your consideration.

Gary L. Norton

Another well-known and thoughtful activist, possom at Never In Our Names (NION), also posted a letter, of which this excellent snippet:

Dr. Brehm,

I am an allied medical professional seriously concerned at the lack of a firm stance by APA in opposition to torture. I most strongly urge you to support the pending moratorium againsts psychologist's participation in any interrogation in which any measure of "torture" or "alternative interrogation" may be used....

Even a remote suggestion that a national organization of psychologists allows or condones such cooperation is not acceptable.

The national association of psychiatrists has already passed a measure forbidding their members from any measure of participation in these interrogations. The APA should follow without delay lest the organization be left with a dark stain on its reputation....

Our country is in danger of losing its moral standing and will only lose more if we, the people, fail to find the courage to stand for what is right against what is clearly wrong. Your members deserve leadership toward a clear and unequivocable stance against alternative interrogation or any other name given these days to torture.

These letters written to Dr. Sharon Stephens Brehm, the current president of APA (see the link to her "Ask the President" webpage below) are amazing examples of the kinds of communication that are needed.

The original diary in this series makes the full case as to why, strategically, the time is ripe to attack the government's torture policy through their reliance upon mental health professionals.

This is NOT a parochial "psychology" issue. This is a well-considered political attempt to completely frustrate the government's abilty to use its sensory deprivation/isolation/fear and stress/humiliation torture paradigm, which heavily relies on psychological assessment, planning, monitoring and implementation.

Internet readers... are you up to it? WE can make a difference, and even make history. In my mind, this is the most important task that this site has ever been called upon to perform.

I also want this campaign to spread far and wide, and, honestly, that is our primary function: to publicize, to pressure, to make this an integral part of the political picture RIGHT NOW.


Action Section


It is time to bring the struggle against torture to the leadership of the APA. They must hear the voices of the society as a whole, shouting NO to torture, and NO to psychologist participation in coercive interrogations.

Here's How...

Write or call the APA:

American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
(800) 374-2721
(202) 336-5500

Write and call, now. Let them know how upset you are.

Send an email to the Public Affairs Office of the APA, expressing your outrage:

Phone the Ethics Office directly at (202) 336-5930 or use APA's toll free number (800) 374-2721, extension 5930, and give them a piece of your mind.

And finally, write to the President of the APA, Dr. Sharon Stephens Brehm. Be nice, be polite, but be firm (this is true for ALL communications).

Dr. Brehm has a web page, Ask the President. Follow the link to leave an email message directly for her.

If we apply enough pressure, it might make the APA stand up and take notice. If you are a Daily Kos diarist or front pager, you might want to help and make this fight yours, too. And, don't forget to write your congressman/congresswoman and senator, too!


We don't have to be powerless. We aren't helpless. Write, call, email today. Copy this diary's URL and send it to your friends.

I want to see APA inundated with thousands of messages saying "Stop torture. Stop psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. Support Dr. Altman's moratorium".

Together, we can prevail.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Action Diary! Your help needed RIGHT NOW to stop torture

Politics is about timing and tactics. By a unique confluence of events, and the way the CIA and military organized their methods of interrogation, a serious weakness in their ability to conduct torture has been discovered. If we strike now -- with letters, faxes, emails, etc. -- we can put a great deal of pressure on a particular vulnerable group who has the ability to greatly hamper the ability of the U.S. government to torture.

When the government researched coercive interrogation in the 1950s and 1960s, they put a great deal of emphasis on the psychological means of understanding human beings, and then using this knowledge to break human beings down. Now, psychologists at the American Psychological Association are trying to stop members from participating in this criminal process, just as members of other health organizations have so prohibited their members.

The psychologists are fighting what seems like a losing battle. But the struggle isn't finished. It is time to reach out to the public to exert their influence on the insular APA leadership. What follows is a brief description of the situation, followed by a direct action call for messages to be sent to key figures at APA.

A Moratorium Against Psychologist Participation in Torture

Stephen Soldz has a good diary up right now at Daily Kos that explains how the American Psychological Association is trying to deep-six a resolution that calls for a moratorium on psychologist participation in torture interrogations at places like Guantanamo Bay prison.

One year ago (!), Neil Altman, an APA psychologist, presented a resolution that was non-binding, but called for APA to take a stand against psychologist participation in foreign intelligence interrogations, after the passing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 made clear that cruel and unusual methods of interrogation, if not outright torture, would be allowed, and that Bush would decide what met Geneva treaty norms and what didn't.

APA leadership could have fast-tracked this resolution, but they sunk it under a thousand tons of bureaucratic verbiage and the full weight of the serpentine process that is approval of a proposal at APA. Here's a snippet of the response to Dr. Altman's resolution by the Ethics Chair of APA, Dr. Stephen Behnke, dated 11/1/06:

In reviewing the item, the Ethics Committee had several points of observation that it offers for your consideration and on which it requests your feedback.

First, the Committee noted the phrase “U.S. detention centers.” The Committee was uncertain as to the intended scope of this term, which interpreted broadly could include any facility where individuals are detained, for example psychiatric hospitals, jails and prisons, or INS centers....

Second, the Committee noted the term “foreign detainees” and was unclear what group of individuals you wished to identify. Do you, for example, mean individuals who are not
citizens of the United States?

Uh, well, what's the definition of a "detention center"? What's a "foreign detainee"? -- Behnke and the APA leadership seek to bury the resolution the way a high priced lawyer destroys a poor litigant by filing multiple motions. They would make a simple statement of honest integrity, a statement easily made, for instance by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, into a case as dense and eternal as Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce.

We have been through all this before with APA. Avila wrote a great diary back in 2006 explaining how APA reversed an earlier stand on torture to make their membership available for Guantanamo and similary interrogations. I followed up with an explanation of how phony legal arguments inserted into an anti-torture resolution at an APA conference rescued the use of torture for the CIA and Pentagon.

According to the U.S. Declaration to the UN Convention on Torture, psychological harm or suffering is defined as NOT COMING from psychological forms of torture. -- Of course, it doesn't SAY this outright, but that's what IT'S MEANT to allow, by art of legal definition.

I don't want to rehash the entire controversy here. Suffice it to say -- and please go read more, following the links -- both the U.S. government and the American Psychogical Association leadership have consprired to keep the legal and organizational justifications in place to allow psychological forms of torture to continue.

By psychological torture, I mean sensory deprivation and sensory overload, sleep deprivation, isolation, manipulation of time and temperature, inducement of phobic fears and humiliation, forced stress positioning, and the propagation of psychological futility. There is a wealth of evidence that shows such techniques break down the nervous constitution of human beings, inducing psychosis and long-term psychological damage, primarily PTSD.

The Strategic Place of Mental Health Professionals in CIA-style Torture

When the American Psychiatric Association saw fit to forbid its members from participating in Bush's torture interrogations, the Pentagon made it clear it would turn elsewhere -- and by that, they meant psychologists!

Of course, the American Psychological Association was quick to not that its psychiatric sister organization was not proposing a total moratorium, allowing "training to military or civilian investigative or law enforcement personnel... on the possible medical and psychological effects of particular techniques and conditions of interrogation".

That wasn't good enough for the Pentagon, who announced on June 7, 2006:

Pentagon officials said Tuesday that they would try to use only psychologists, and not psychiatrists, to help interrogators devise strategies to get information from detainees at places like Guantánamo Bay, Cuba....

Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told reporters that the new policy favoring the use of psychologists over psychiatrists was a recognition of differing positions taken by their respective professional groups.

(Yes, this is the same Winkenwerder who had to resign over the Walter Reed scandal.)

As far back as 1963, in the text of its infamous KUBARK counterintelligence interrogation manual, the CIA made clear its need for psychological expertise in interrogations. What follows is from the CIA's "Interrogator's Check List":

The questions that follow are intended as reminders for the interrogator and his superiors....

6. Does the interrogators selected for the task meet the four criteria of (a) adequate training and experience, (b) genuine familiarity with the language to be used, (c) knowledge of the geographical/cultural area concerned, and (d) psychological comprehension of the interrogatee?

7. Has the prospective interrogatee been screened? What are his major psychological characteristics? Does he belong to one of the nine major categories listed in pp. 19-28? Which?...

42. Is solitary confinement to be used? Why? Does the place of confinement permit the practical elimination of sensory stimuli?...

44. If hypnosis or drugs are thought necessary, has Headquarters been given enough advance notice? Has adequate allowance been made for travel time and other preliminaries?

45. Is the interrogatee suspected of malingering? If the interrogator is uncertain, are the services of an expert available?

By the early 21st century, the use of psychological personnel was bureaucratically soldified via the formation of Behavioral Consultant Teams or BSCTs ("biscuits"). As described by Arthur Levine at Washington Monthly:

[Guantanamo Commander] Major General Geoffrey Miller believed strongly in breaking detainees down, and that psychologists were crucial to this effort. (Miller would later be dispatched to Abu Ghraib to “Gitmo-ize” the prison by giving advice on detainee treatment, where, according to one general, he told subordinates that detainees should be “treated like dogs.”)

Miller approved the creation of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs), which would include psychologists and other medical professionals. In theory, these “biscuit teams” would advise interrogators on how to develop a rapport with detainees, but in practice, things were less Dale Carnegie-esque. When one army psychologist and APA member helped interrogate Mohammed al-Khatani, the supposed “20th hijacker,” some of the techniques used included stripping Khatani naked, giving him intravenous fluids to force him to urinate on himself, exercising him to exhaustion, and making him roll over and perform other dog tricks. The interrogation log includes such psychological observations as “detainee seemed too comfortable.”

Anti-torture Psychologists Need Our Help!

Very few psychologists I speak to think they can really get the APA to back down from their pro-government position. And they may be right, if the fight is limited to only a dispute within APA!

We need to broaden this struggle. The blogosphere has responded to other crises with letters, faxes, phone calls and other forms of legitimate political protest when the issue has called for it.

It is time to bring the struggle against torture to the leadership of the APA. They must hear the voices of the society as a whole, shouting NO to torture, and NO to psychologist participation in coercive interrogations.

Here's How

Write or call the APA:

American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
(800) 374-2721
(202) 336-5500

Write and call, now. Let them know how upset you are.

Send an email to the Public Affairs Office of the APA, expressing your outrage:

Phone the Ethics Office directly at (202) 336-5930 or use APA's toll free number (800) 374-2721, extension 5930, and give them a piece of your mind.

And finally, write to the President of the APA, Dr. Sharon Stephens Brehm. Be nice, be polite, but be firm (this is true for ALL communications).

Dr. Brehm has a web page, Ask the President. Follow the link to leave an email message directly for her.

If we apply enough pressure, it might make the APA stand up and take notice. Don't forget to write your congressman/congresswoman and senator, too!


We don't have to be powerless. We aren't helpless. Write, call, email today. Copy this diary's URL and send it to your friends.

I want to see APA inundated with thousands of messages saying "Stop torture. Stop psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. Support Dr. Altman's moratorium".

Together, we can prevail.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Historian Alfred McCoy Speaks on U.S. Torture Program

Alfred McCoy, a professor of history at University of Wisconsin, Madison, and author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, spoke on the history of torture at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA on March 10, 2007. The event was co-sponsored by Survivors International, a torture treatment center in San Francisco.

Also invited to the event, and formally participating in the discussion in the second half, was Stephen Behnke, Director of the Ethics Office for the American Psychological Association (APA). Behnke has garnered a reputation as an apologist-defender of the official APA position on psychologist participation in national security interrogations. As I've written elsewhere, the APA defends using psychologists in "war on terror" torture interrogations (of course, they deny the "torture" part), which include the use of sensory deprivation, isolation, induction of fear, humiliation, sleep deprivation, and manipulation of temperature, time, light, etc., among other abusive practices.

In his presentation, Professor Mc Coy concentrated on research he has conducted that implicates major figures in the history of medicine and psychology in the research program undertaken by British, Canadian, and U.S. militaries and secret services on mind control and torture interrogation. He also discussed the development of so-called ethics policies as they intersect this history. His entire lecture, as well as much of the discussion, has been posted via YouTube on a webpage at Survivors Internation. It is comprehensive in scope and riveting to watch. I highly recommend viewing the entire thing.

According to Stephen Soldz, an APA opponent of torture collaboration who is helping lead the fight against the APA leadership on this question, Dr. Behnke has refused to allow any video of his participation to be posted. This is in line with the secrecy with which the APA has generally opposed openness on questions of APA decision-making, choosing to make certain things public, and hide others as it sees fit.

Along these lines, during the discussion period, I asked Dr. Behnke if he would support a call for the U.S. to declassify all materials related to research on interrogations and torture that was conducted during the 1950s and 1960s. I emphasized that psychological knowledge itself is eviscerated by withholding the results of research into coercive interrogations, making it difficult to ascertain just what effects various forms of interrogation have on individuals. It also hides the history of a major project in American medicine, psychiatry and psychology from the American people, not to mention non-military researchers. -- Dr. Behnke never addressed my question.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of Professor McCoy's presentation. This is the history that we must know, that we need to know. The leadership of American medicine and psychology, and a good portion of academia, was purchased, and mostly willingly collaborated, for a period of 20 years or more in a scientific program aimed at destroying human minds and controlling human behavior -- even to the point of inducing individuals to betray their beliefs, their friends, their countries, even to commit murder. We don't know how many thousands of people were destroyed by this inhuman, Nazi-like program. We do know that the technques developed are being used today in the U.S.-run prisons holding "enemy combatants" in Iraq, at the Guantanamo Naval Base, in "black prisons" in secret locations, and even in the U.S. -- most recently at the the Naval Consoldidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, where Jose Padilla was tortured.

The fight against torture is a litmus test for progressive forces that would fight the reactionary slide into barbarism and aggressive war, as prosecuted by the Bush Administration, and only mildly opposed by their Democratic opponents. We are failing to meet this litmus test, as the issue is blanketed by others that do not challenge the central entitlements granted to itself by the military-industrial state, that do not challenge its power to destroy any individual it wants. Even the tools whereby they do this are to be kept secret.

After you've watched McCoy's presentation, you might want to donate some money to those who work with the tortured, like Survivors International, those who fight U.S. torture policies, like Physicians for Human Rights, and those who bring the issues around torture to the Internet on a daily basis, like

For those who would rather read, don't miss McCoy's excellent 2004 essay, The Long Shadow of CIA Torture Research.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Is there no hope? (a threnody on Korea and Mosul)

It is enough to point out that even though there is an overwhelming amount of public information that Bush started an aggressive war based on lies and blatant propaganda, nothing is done to bring this criminal to the bar. Or that his administration countenances torture, openly, and is treated with deference by all mainstream authorities.

I have given this much thought, but we are finished as a civilization, and certainly as any progressive force in history. Humanity itself is very unlikely to survive the coming world war. This war is guaranteed due to the irrational insistence on nation-state production and competition for international markets and raw materials (including competition over labor as a production input).

It could be a chicken-or-egg dilemma, but the other side of this is the epidemic of narcissistic self-indulgence and self-reference that ridicules knowledge and stubbornly refuses to learn from humanity's mistakes. In this sense, America has gotten the president it deserves in George W. Bush, a narcissistic, sociopath-type, who sees the end of his party's rule (or his class's rule) as coterminous with an apocalyptic end of days.

The anti-intellectualism of U.S. society has poisoned any reasoned discourse, drenched as it is in anti-Marxist, triumphalist ideologies that are shallow in the extreme, and ridiculous in the concrete.

Mistake after mistake, crime after bloody crime, mass murder after mass murder, from Korea and Vietnam to the sectarian killing fields of Iraq, the U.S. and its impressionistic train of pundits, media stars, would-be critical bloggers, and brainless idiots full of the certainty of their own mentalistic creations, pontificate, bluster or excuse the disaster that has been U.S. foreign policy. They have nothing to replace it with. Liberals wash their hands of Iraq, crying crocodile tears over civil war, leaving moral posturing about democracy and a better life to the vicious GOP, who have no intention of helping anyone, unless it means lining their own pockets and bringing billions into the coffers of American corporations.

Meanwhile, revelations come out, about torture, about U.S. mass murder of civilians in Korea, about sectarian killings, and the response is inured neglect. A collective shrug of the shoulders. What outrage is possible is displaced onto meaningful but lesser atrocities, like the firings of the U.S. attorneys. (And I've written on the latter myself, so this is not aimed at anyone in particular).

The Korean revelations, as written up [at Daily Kos] by OneCrankyDom (see link above), or by Stephen Soldz at his blog, can be read in more detail at the AP story, "Declassified documents confirms U.S. killed civilians during 'Korean War'".


A declassified U.S. Navy document confirms that on Sept. 1, 1950, the destroyer USS DeHaven, at the Army's request, opened fire on a refugee encampment on a beach near the southern South Korean port of Pohang. Survivors say 100 to 200 refugees — mostly women and children — were killed.


... 83 were killed, including many children. Declassified documents show that commanders of the U.S. 25th Infantry Division, operating in that area, had issued orders two weeks earlier to shoot civilians found in the war zone.


As many as 300 refugees were killed, many suffocated, on Jan. 20, 1951, when U.S. warplanes dropped apparent napalm firebombs at the entrance to a cavern where the South Koreans were sheltering 90 miles southeast of Seoul, survivors say....


Also in January 1951, south of Seoul, U.S. warplanes killed 300 South Korean refugees as they jammed into a storehouse at the village of Doon-po, survivors say....


In another napalm attack that month, U.S. warplanes struck Sansong village, 125 miles southeast of Seoul, killing 34 villagers, a declassified U.S. military document said. It quoted U.S. officials saying Sansong villagers had helped North Korean troops, who kept supplies there, but it also reported "no enemy casualties" in the strike. Survivors denied they had aided the enemy and said they had no warning to evacuate.

And then there's the 21 Yazidis pulled off a bus near Mosul and lined up and shot. It was a reprisal killing by Muslims for an earlier barbaric death by stoning of a Yazidi woman, whose crime was falling in love with a Muslim and converting to Islam. The stoning death was reportedly put onto the Internet. Here's one of many press stories covering this tragedy.

Finally, there's the insanity of nation-states fighting each other over the world's finite markets and resources. Some diaries at Daily Kos went mano a mano over this issue, while missing the main point: capitalist production and an insistence on holding world productive capacities to an organization by nation state or regional alliance is certain to lead, as it did previously in 1914 and 1939 to a new and massively horrific world war.

People who know absolutely nothing about history, but love the sound of their own voices and worship their own thoughts, sneer at the promise of socialism. The corpses of the millions killed by Stalin and Mao fertilize their well-meaning sermonizing (giving them the benefit of the doubt), while their consciences seem not to blanch at the millions killed by imperialist conquest and rivalry in World War I and II (and numerous other wars, or by the sectarian and nationalist conflicts of which Iraq and Bosnia are only two well-known recent examples). The shadow of Hiroshima seeps ominously into what's left of our souls.

No, there is no hope. Humanity is inexecrably stupid and cruel. This does not, irrationally enough, mean that I will abandon all hope myself. It is nobler to act as if the universe were moral, that good can triumph, that reason will achieve a revolution in human manners and civilization, that the very being of humankind will evolve into something higher and finer.

How calmly does the olive branch
observe the sky begin to blanch,
without a cry, without a prayer,
with no betrayal of despair!

Poem link

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Padilla Trial Begins

The trial of Jose Padilla has begun with jury selection at a U.S. District Court in Miami, presided over by Judge Marcia Cooke. Gary L. Norton over at NION has an important analysis of how Bush's long-time threat-mongering about terrorism has influenced the potential jury pool.

One can get a taste of how the mainstream media is going to publicize this case reading the inane commentary of Andrew Cohen over at, who calls the Padilla trial, "the first true-blue American terror trial since the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001". And the Moonie-owned Washington Times reports that "Prosecutors in the trial of terror suspect Jose Padilla can make references to the September 11 attacks, but they cannot assert that Padilla and two co-defendants were involved in planning or executing them, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ruled yesterday before beginning jury selection in the case."

After a somewhat heated exchange between Judge Cooke and prosecutor John Shipley, the judge stressed that "any idea, through inference or otherwise, that these defendants are connected to 9/11 is not available to the government."

The various legal and leftie blogs have barely begun to report on the beginning of the trial, as the country is enthalled by the Gonzales-U.S. Attorney scandal and the hideous mass killings at Virginia Tech. But make no mistake, this is a very important trial, with major implications about justice and the use of torture in America.

I've written before on the Padilla case, and will do my best to cover it here, albeit from the distance of a continent away. Meanwhile, read my past articles to catch up -- Federal Judge: Torture No Reason to Stop Padilla Trial; and Government admits interrogation tapes "missing" in Padilla case.

One blogger who has written on the opening phase of the trial is rangeragainstwar.

Does Padilla have a snowball's chance in hell? The prosecutor and former Attorney General Ashcroft have already judged him in the press before the trial (''Jury Selection Begins for Padilla Trial.'')

"They [Padilla and other Gitmo defendants] certainly supported al-Qaida, there's no question about that," Shipley said. "We're not going to try them for their specific involvement in 9/11."

So much for the concept of innocent until proven guilty for the federal courts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Supreme Court Screws Women

By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court has today upheld the reactionary Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, signed by President Bush back in 2003. Justice Kennedy appears to have been the swing vote giving the conservatives their first major anti-abortion victory in years.

Scott Lemieux over at The American Prospect writes that Justice Stevens in Stenberg v Carhart (2000) said "everything that needs to be said about the constitutionality of these laws". (Tip of the hat to mcjoan at Daily Kos for noting Scott's posting.) From Justice Stevens' concurrence in that decision:

The rhetoric is almost, but not quite, loud enough to obscure the quiet fact that during the past 27 years, the central holding of Roe v. Wade, has been endorsed by all but 4 of the 17 Justices who have addressed the issue. That holding -- that the word "liberty" in the Fourteenth Amendment includes a woman's right to make this difficult and extremely personal decision -- makes it impossible for me to understand how a State has any legitimate interest in requiring a doctor to follow any procedure other than the one that he or she reasonably believes will best protect the woman in her exercise of this constitutional liberty.

Eugene over at Daily Kos has a diary that argues the Democratic Party should immediately initiate an overturn of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. I most heartily concur.

Major call for Congress to investigate CIA/Pentagon Torture

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which has been in the forefront of mobilizing medical professionals and citizens in general against torture, has released a major new call for full Congressional investigations into U.S. interrogation policies and their implementation by the CIA and the Department of Defense. Calling for "No More Abu Ghraibs" (the third anniversary of the Abu Ghraib revelations is on April 28), PHR states in its press release:

Over the last three years there has been a continuous outcry against the Administration's interrogation policies, including among the military and intelligence communities. The Department of Defense (DoD) has developed clearer guidelines prohibiting most abusive practices but it still continues to involve mental health professionals in the interrogation of detainees, making them active members of the "Behavioral Science Consultation Teams" (BSCTs). Ambiguities in the DoD guidelines and weaker standards for the CIA leave room for continued abuse and not enough accountability.

PHR has done stellar work in battling the inhumane and illegal coercive interrogation policies implemented by Bush and his unlamented former Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld.

Though Rumsfeld is gone, the torture continues. Amnesty International released a report on April 5, 2007, "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA -- Cruel and Inhuman: Conditions of isolation for detainees at Guantánamo Bay", which describes the ongoing torture regime the U.S. conducts at the Gitmo Naval Base.

As of 1 April 2007, approximately 385 men of around 30 nationalities were detained without trial in the US military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Designated by the US authorities as “"unlawful enemy combatants”", many have been held for more than five years without knowing if or when they will be released or brought to any form of judicial process. None of those currently held has had the lawfulness of his detention reviewed by a court. A few face the prospect of trials by military commission under procedures that violate international fair trial standards....

Built to accommodate around 178 detainees, the compound known as Camp 6 is surrounded by high concrete walls with no windows visible on the façade. Inside, detainees are confined for a minimum of 22 hours a day in individual steel cells with no windows to the outside.... There are no opening windows and detainees are completely cut-off from human contact while inside their cells....

Contrary to international standards, the cells have no access to natural light or air, and are lit by fluorescent lighting which is on 24 hours a day and controlled by guards....

As of March 2007, dozens of detainees are reported to have continued or resumed a hunger strike in protest at their conditions as well as indefinite detention.... A number of them were being force-fed through nasal tubes, some while strapped into restraint chairs. In recently declassified accounts, detainees have described being subjected to considerable pain as the tubes are inserted into their nostrils. One detainee reported how, three times, the tube had been inserted the wrong way so that it went into his lungs; he said he frequently vomited after being force-fed and was not given clean clothes. Guards have allegedly subjected hunger-striking detainees in one block to further punitive treatment, such as pepper spraying them or turning the air-conditioning up high.

The PHR call for action explains how psychologists at the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) military training program at Fort Bragg, North Carolina were "instrumental in creating the techniques that have been used at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere." In addition, military psychologists have been instrumental, through their organization, the Society for Military Psychology (itself a recognized division within the American Psychological Association (APA)) in maintaining APA support for psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. I discussed this recently in my diary, Military Psychologists Oppose Torture Moratorium.

The word is that Senate committees already have gathered information preparatory to making a full-scale investigation of Bush's torture policies, including the use of medical and psychological personnel. But it may take a public outcry to make such investigations a reality.

Please join PHR in their call for a Congressional investigation. Go their action website, which automates the sending of your letter to the appropriate representatives. Or copy the letter below and send it to your Congressperson and to your Senators.

Congress Must Fully Investigate CIA and DoD Interrogation Methods

I am writing to request that you push for a full Congressional investigation into CIA and Department of Defense interrogations. Specifically, I would like Congress to investigate:

* the role of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) military training program techniques in CIA and DoD interrogations

* the involvement of psychologists and other health professionals in CIA and DoD interrogations

I have been deeply disturbed by the evidence brought forward by writers, such as Steven Miles, MD, Jane Mayer and Mark Benjamin, that harmful interrogation techniques, such as the use of dogs, prolonged sleep deprivation, humiliation, forcible restraint, hypothermia and compulsory intravenous infusions, may have been adapted from the SERE military training program. I am likewise alarmed that health professionals have played pivotal roles in interrogations by treating patients to prolong harsh interrogations and by using their training as behavioral scientists to break prisoners down psychologically.

Physicians for Human Rights has documented the severe physical and psychological harm caused by the current interrogation practices. Please help launch a full Congressional investigation as soon as possible, so we can learn the extent of the abuses in interrogations, how and why they occurred and put an end to these travesties.

Edit this letter as you wish. But do it today.

Please join PHR’s Campaign Against Torture in urging Congress to fully investigate the techniques used in CIA and Department of Defense interrogations, those who authorized them, and the involvement of health professional in these abusive practices.


Steven Miles, MD, “Medical Ethics and the Interrogation of Guantanamo 063”

Mark Benjamin, “Psychological warfare”

Jane Mayer, “The Experiment”

Monday, April 16, 2007

Stephen Soldz on "Psychology and Coercive Interrogations in Historical Perspective"

Stephen Soldz, a psychologist-researcher-activist, who has been at the forefront for the fight to change the policy toward psychologist participation in coercive interrogations, has an important new article out: Aid and Comfort for Torturers: Psychology and Coercive Interrogations in Historical Perspective (which you can also find, with comments thread, over at Daily Kos).

Based on a talk he gave on March 17, 2007 at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (PINC) conference, "UNFREE ASSOCIATION: The Politics and Psychology of Torture in a Time of Terror", the article summarizes the history of psychological torture conducted by the United States, and the struggle in the American Psychological Association to change a policy of collaboration with the CIA and Pentagon in national security interrogations. -- It's worth clicking on the link and reading his entire article. Below is a snippet:

On January 24, 2003, National Guardsman Sean Baker, stationed as a military policeman at Guantánamo detention center, volunteered to be a mock prisoner, donning an orange suit and refusing to leave his cell as part of a training exercise. As planned, an Immediate Reaction Force team of MPs attempted to extract him from the cell. When he uttered the code word, "red," indicating that this was a drill and that he'd had enough, one of the MPs "forced my head down against the steel floor and was sort of just grinding it into the floor. The individual then, when I picked up my head and said, ‘Red,’ slammed my head down against the floor," says Baker. "I was so afraid, I groaned out, ‘I’m a U.S. soldier.' And when I said that, he slammed my head again, one more time against the floor. And I groaned out one more time, I said, ‘I’m a U.S. soldier.’ And I heard them say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,' ". Even though, unlike if Baker had been a real prisoner, the "extraction" was called off part-way through, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and was left with permanent injuries, including frequent epileptic-style seizures.

When asked what would have happened if he had been a real detainee, Baker told CBS's 60 Minutes: "I think they would have busted him up. I've seen detainees come outta there with blood on 'em. ...If there wasn't someone to say, 'I'm a U.S. soldier,' if you were speaking Arabic or Pashto or Urdu or some other language in the camp, we may never know what would have happened to that individual."

This detention facility is one of the environments in which psychologists serve as consultants to interrogations. The American Psychological Association sees no ethical problems with psychologists serving there.

We psychoanalysts know that understanding requires a historical perspective. The abuses being perpetrated on America's detainees in the War of Terror, and psychologists' roles in those abuses have a long history.

About 60 years ago, as the Cold War shifted into high gear, people in the American government, most notably the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), became concerned that the Communist enemies had developed specialized techniques for mind control. They observed senior Soviet officials and others confessing to crimes they likely had not committed. They were shocked by the number of American Korean War soldiers who collaborated with their captors and denounced the United States. At first defensively, and then as an offensive tool, the CIA undertook what became a 25-year program of research into mind control techniques under a variety of names, including, most notoriously MKULTRA.

It's an important article and a fascinating read by an involved and knowledgeable author. Don't miss reading the entire thing.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Wonderful World of the "Democracies"

Crossposted at NION
It's almost remarkably easy to concentrate on only the U.S. government's crimes and ineptitude, its jingoism and racism. Now, there comes along a reminder that the Pentagon has no monopoly on racist insensitivity and imperialistic hauteur. This time, it involves one of our Afghanistan War "coalition" partners. Now, which one could it be?

BERLIN - A German army instructor ordered a soldier to envision himself in New York City facing hostile blacks while firing his machine gun, a video that aired Saturday on national television showed.

The president of the Bronx, the New York City borough that the army instructor referred to in his directions to the soldier, demanded an apology from the German military and said the clip "indicates that bias and assumptions and racism is alive and well around the world."

Coming after scandals involving photos of German soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan and the abuse of recruits by instructors, the video seemed likely to raise more questions about training practices in Germany's conscript army.

And, not to have forgotten about the good old U.S. of A., take a gander at a very moving column by former Army Sargeant Sam Provance over at AlterNet. Provance was "the only uniformed military intelligence officer at the Iraqi prison to testify about the abuses during the internal Army investigation" at Abu Ghraib. Recently, he went to see a screening of the HBO documentary, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib", which documents the torture at that U.S.-run prison, and how it was planned.

For those of you who have not heard of me, I am Sam Provance. My career as an Army sergeant came to a premature end at age 32 after eight years of decorated service, because I refused to remain silent about Abu Ghraib, where I served for five months in 2004 at the height of the abuses. Share this article

A noncommissioned officer specializing in intelligence analysis, my job at Abu Ghraib was systems administrator ("the computer guy"). But I had the misfortune of being on the night shift, saw detainees dragged in for interrogation, heard the screams, and saw many of them dragged out. I was sent back to my parent unit in Germany shortly after the Army began the first of its many self-investigations.

In Germany, I had the surreal experience of being interrogated by one of the Army-General-Grand-Inquisitors, Major General George Fay, who showed himself singularly uninterested in what went on at Abu Ghraib.

I had to insist that he listen to my eyewitness account, whereupon he threatened punitive actions against me for not coming forward sooner and even tried to hold me personally responsible for the scandal itself.

The Army then demoted me, suspended my Top Secret clearance, and threatened me with ten years in a military prison if I asked for a court martial. I was even given a gag order, the only one I know to have been issued to those whom Gen. Fay interviewed....

Walking into the fancy government building to see the documentary proved to be a bizarre experience. Hardly in the door, I saw a one of the guests shaking his head, saying in some wonderment, "The young woman at the front desk greeted me with a cheerful smile; Abu Ghraib? she said. Right this way, please."

The atmosphere did seem more appropriate for an art show than a documentary on torture. People were dressed to the nines, heartily laughing, and servers with white gloves were walking about with wine and hors d'oeuvres....

When the lights dimmed and the documentary started, I began to be affected more emotionally than I had expected.

It was the words of the other soldiers that touched me most deeply, because I could relate to them; I knew those soldiers on one level or another. I got worried I might not make it through the screening, that I would break down right there.

Ironically, it was my anger at their plight that kept me composed. Everything in the film was all too familiar to me. The soldiers explaining they were just following the orders of their supervisors; the higher-ups vigorously shifting blame from themselves onto soldiers of lesser rank -- the whole nine yards.

And to see those Iraqi faces again -- the broken hearts and ruined lives of innocent Iraqi citizens detained, abused, tortured. And the systematic cover-up, with the Army investigating itself over and over again, giving the appearance of a "thorough" investigation....

Anyone who knows much about Abu Ghraib knows that all kinds of Army brass lived and worked there, and that it was host to visits by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. pro-consul Paul Bremer, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Gen. Geoffrey Miller (in charge of "Gitmo-izing Abu Ghraib), Gen. Barbara Fast, and even National Security Council functionary Frances Townsend.

They were all there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bagdad Carved Up for Vietnam-like Counterinsurgency

Stephen Soldz over at Psyche, Science and Society, has an important post up on U.S. plans for the "pacification" of Bagdad. He relies heavily on an important story by Robert Fisk, over at the UK Independent: "Divide and Rule -- America's Plan for Baghdad", who calls the U.S. operation "the most ambitious counter-insurgency programme yet mounted by the U.S. in Iraq."

Soldz writes that "the plan [is to] to turn half of Baghdad into a series of immense prisons."

From the Fisk article:

US forces in the city are now planning a massive and highly controversial counter-insurgency operation that will seal off vast areas of the city, enclosing whole neighbourhoods with barricades and allowing only Iraqis with newly issued ID cards to enter.

The campaign of “gated communities” - whose genesis was in the Vietnam War - will involve up to 30 of the city’s 89 official districts and will be the most ambitious counter-insurgency programme yet mounted by the US in Iraq....

S-Iraqi forces will supposedly clear militias from civilian streets which will then be walled off and the occupants issued with ID cards. Only the occupants will be allowed into these “gated communities” and there will be continuous patrolling by US-Iraqi forces. There are likely to be pass systems, “visitor” registration and restrictions on movement outside the “gated communities”. Civilians may find themselves inside a “controlled population” prison.

But the plan, godfathered by Gen. David Petraeus, apparently is also meant to display a show of force to Iran:

But the campaign has far wider military ambitions than the pacification of Baghdad. It now appears that the US military intends to place as many as five mechanised brigades - comprising about 40,000 men - south and east of Baghdad, at least three of them positioned between the capital and the Iranian border. This would present Iran with a powerful - and potentially aggressive - American military force close to its border in the event of a US or Israeli military strike against its nuclear facilities later this year.

That Petraeus's proposal is akin to Israeli attempts to control the Gaza strip or portions of the West Bank has not gone unnoticed. Fran Shor wrote an interesting piece at Counterpunch a few years back that has lost none of its saliency.

This policy of counterinsurgency, while consonant with Israeli military occupation, is also reminiscent of Vietnam pacification programs. Such programs were intended to dry up the guerrilla sources of support when, in fact, they often led to civilian massacres and the creation of more insurgency. Part of the reason for the failure of US counterinsurgency in Vietnam "was to treat indigenous political culture as a nullity" (Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation, 590)

Go read one or all of these postings, and get ready to write your editor, your Congressman, or join your favorite antiwar organization!

Federal Judge: Torture No Reason to Stop Padilla Trial

Crossposted at Daily Kos and NION

Curt Anderson at AP (accessed via Chicago Tribune website) reports on the latest in the Jose Padilla case, and it's a shocker:

A federal judge refused to dismiss terrorism charges against a suspected Al Qaeda operative over claims he was tortured in U.S. military custody, but the possibility that the allegations could resurface at his trial was left open.

The legal matters rest on questions of admission of evidence and Fourth Amendment issues, but the political matter rests on the use of torture on an American citizen in a blockbuster case that could come to trial next week.

US District Court Judge Marcia Cooke, of the U.S. District Court, Southern District, Miami, in an ruling last Monday (made without a hearing) rejected Padilla's attorneys' motion for dismissal of Padilla's case due to "outrageous government conduct". Padilla has been held since June 2002 at the Naval Consoldidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina as an "enemy combatant". Original charges of constructing a "dirty bomb" have been dropped.

From Judge Cooke's ruling:

In his motion, Mr. Padilla argues that the conditions of his military detention and interrogation while at the Naval Brig "shock[]the conscience" in violation of his due process rights. Padilla claims that the mistreatment he allegedly suffered while at the Naval Brig divests the government of its jurisdiction to prosecute him for the crimes charged in the indictment.

The charges of mistreatment include (as summarized by a local paper covering the case -- emphases are mine):

... isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, exposure to extremely cold temperatures and shackling in "stress positions" for prolonged periods of time, Padilla's lawyers said.

The lawyers also alleged he was threatened with execution and forced to consume LSD or some other mind-altering drug "to act as a sort of truth serum" during repeated interrogations.

Judge Cooke then made a startling admission in preparation of dismissal of the case. She took Padilla's statements to be true! From the decision:

In its Response to Mr. Padilla's Motion to Dismiss [the Indictment] for Outrageous Government Conduct the government argues that the "motion fails as a matter of law." Gov. Resp. p. 5. In order to assess whether Padilla's motion is legally insufficient, this Court must accept its allegations as true, and determine whether he has stated a cognizable claim. Thus, while this Court has not held a hearing, nor made any findings with regard to Padilla's claims of abuse and torture at the Naval Brig, for the sake of this Order, this Court will accept Padilla's allegations as true.

But then, Judge Cooke denies that this abuse rises to sufficient outrageous conduct to throw the case out of court. Why? Because the government claims it will not use any evidence obtained from interrogations while Padilla was in the brig, i.e., from the time when he was tortured. Therefore, legally, Padilla supposedly has no "remedy" against the government. (His habeas petition was rejected almost three years ago.)

Michael Froomkin, Professor at University of Miami School of Law, has an interesting take on the decision, insisting that a basis for appeal has been laid.

In summary, as I understand it, the Judge isn't exactly saying whether the government's conduct here was or was not outrageous, but rather that even assuming the truth of the allegations that it was, the only relief to which Padilla is entitled in his criminal defense is exclusion (or, amazingly, a hearing on exclusion!) of any evidence gathered while he was being held and tortured....

That said, I think that to the extent Judge Cooke is relying on her reading of Toscanino for the proposition that exclusion of evidence obtained by torture is a sufficient remedy for the most outrageous government conduct, that is neither an obviously correct reading of that decision nor an obviously correct decision on first principles either.... At least in my quick reading of that case, what the relief should be is left pretty wide open, especially in light of this passage:

...the Supreme Court's expansion of the concept of due process... now protects the accused against pretrial illegality by denying to the government the fruits of its exploitation of any deliberate and unnecessary lawlessness on its part. Although the issue in most of the cases forming part of this evolutionary process was whether evidence should have been excluded (e.g., Mapp, Miranda, Wong Sun, Silverman), it was unnecessary in those cases to invoke any other sanction to insure that an ultimate conviction would not rest on governmental illegality. Where suppression of evidence will not suffice, however, we must be guided by the underlying principle that the government should be denied the right to exploit its own illegal conduct, Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963), and when an accused is kidnapped and forcibly brought within the jurisdiction, the court's acquisition of power over his person represents the fruits of the government's exploitation of its own misconduct. Having unlawfully seized the defendant in violation of the Fourth Amendment, [FN4] which guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons... against unreasonable... seizures," the government should as a matter of fundamental fairness be obligated to return him to his status quo ante.

... we view due process as now requiring a court to divest itself of jurisdiction over the person of a defendant where it has been acquired as the result of the government's deliberate, unnecessary and unreasonable invasion of the accused's constitutional rights. This conclusion represents but an extension of the well-recognized power of federal courts in the civil context to decline to exercise jurisdiction over a defendant whose presence has been secured by force or fraud.

Of course, Padilla was not kidnapped, he was only arrested, placed in solitary confinement for years, drugged, tortured, made insane, and set up for dubious prosecution. At the close of Judge Cooke's analysis, she sets up the final Orwellian conclusion:

Mr. Padilla fails to present a cognizable claim of outrageous government conduct entitling him to dismissal of the indictment. The objectionable conduct Padilla claims violated his due process rights occurred during his military detainment in isolation of the crimes charged. Padilla also fails to adequately explain why excluding any unlawfully obtained evidence would not be an appropriate remedy in this case. Applying the exclusionary rule to bar inclusion of any illegally obtained evidence would sufficiently satisfy due process concerns. This may ultimately be a moot point since the government has averred not to utilize any Naval Brig evidence in its case. However, should the government decide to make use of any such evidence, an appropriate hearing will be scheduled to determine to what extent it is admissible.

In other words, the government can now arrest you, Mr. and Ms. U.S. Citizen, and torture you terribly, and the torture victim has no remedy as long as the government doesn't use any evidence gathered during the torture period against you. (And by "torture" I mean any cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment that "shocks the conscience" of any individual that suffers it, which is the current standard in U.S. law.)

This isn't Judge Cooke's first outrageous decision in this case, as the recent Washington Post article on the case makes clear:

In a ruling with broad implications for the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens in their homeland, Cooke found last month that Padilla's right to a speedy trial did not begin until he was charged in the civilian court. The time spent without being charged in the military brig did not count.

Forget the arguments about who would or would not support torture. The legal arguments to allow U.S. torture domestically are already being put into place. The "war on terror" abroad is coming home with a vengeance, and we must do all we can do to stop its horrifying attack on all our civil liberties.

Jose Padilla should be freed, and torture made "outrageous government conduct" sanctioning freedom of the accused.

Update: [4:35pm PDT] Some commenters [over at Daily Kos] have correctly pointed out that Mr. Padilla has recourse to a civil remedy against his persecutors at some date in the future, and Judge Cooke also points this out. As I noted below in the comments:

You can guess that I don't think very much about Padilla's "right" to have a civil remedy. In my eyes it's a de jure right that makes very little difference given the precedents set for the government in its prosecution of "terrorism" cases.

Even if Padilla should ever press and win a civil case, his life is destroyed. How many without his notoriety would ever have the resources to press a civil case?

In other words, why ever try to change or reform government abuse if there is always a civil "remedy"?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco"

The quote in Latin in the title of this post comes from Virgil's Aeneid, Book I, line 630. Roughly translated, it means: "No stranger to misfortune myself, I have learned to relieve the sufferings of others."

The Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was taken by the motto, and gave prominence to it in his book, Emile. The book is worth reading, viewed, as it is, through the prism of 250 years of civilized progress and decay, through terrible wars, revolutions, genocides, the war against slavery, nationalist struggle, and renewed religious wars. It resonates for one, such as myself, who fights against the absolutely human, the profoundly evil practice of torture. The Virgil quote resonates, as I am a psychologist who has had opportunity to treat the traumatized and the tortured.


Man's weakness makes him sociable.... Every affection is a sign of insufficiency; if each of us had no need of others, we should hardly think of associating with them. So our frail happiness has its roots in our weakness....

We never pity another's woes unless we know we may suffer in like manner ourselves.

'Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco.' -- Virgil.

I know of nothing so fine, so full of meaning, so touching, so true as these words.

Why have kings no pity on their people? Because they never expect to be ordinary men. Why are the rich so hard on the poor? Because they have no fear of becoming poor. Why do the nobles look down upon the people? Because a nobleman will never be one of the lower classes....

The pity we feel for others is proportionate, not to the amount of the evil, but to the feelings we attribute to the sufferers....

Man is the same in every station of life; if that be so, those ranks to which most men belong deserve most honour. All distinctions of rank fade away before the eyes of a thoughtful person; he sees the same passions, the same feelings in the noble and the guttersnipe....

Have respect then for your species; remember that it consists essentially of the people, that if all the kings and all the philosophers were removed they would scarcely be missed, and things would go on none the worse....You are a man; do not dishonor mankind.

You are a man; do not dishonor mankind. This should be emblazoned on the hearts and souls of the rising generation, as the world has been terribly dishonored by leaders who wage illegal wars, murder thousands, lie, cheat, steal, torture, promote the benefit of the few through the exploitation and violation of the many.

This is something to remember; something to measure and judge those who would seek to lead us. The quoted material above was only written in 1762. Could the spirit of it be so soon forgotten?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Deconstructing Gelles: A Documentary Record of a Torture Apologist

Crossposted at Daily Kos and NION

In my March 25 [Daily Kos] diary, Just in: Military Psychologists Oppose Torture Moratorium, I noted:

The battle over the use of torture by U.S. forces is being fought within the psychological profession. Because of the importance of psychologists in the development and implementation of interrogation plans, and of torture techniques, the use of psychologists in interrogation has direct bearing on the ability of the United States to implement torture worldwide.

That diary also looked at former Navy CIS psychologist Michael Gelles support for the military's opposition to a moratorium on psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. This diary looks at Gelles's reply to his critics, contrasting Gelles's assertions with a look at the documentary record.

The following letter has been published online now in a number of places. I took the text from Stephen Soldz's Daily Kos diary, Michael Gelles condescends to APA critics. The APA referred to is the American Psychological Association, and as readers should know, or can follow through links throughout, a massive and important political battle around Bush's "war on terror" assault on political liberties, and especially on the use of torture, is taking place in this large and influential organization.

All bolded text is my own, and made for editorial emphasis. The post is longish, and I hope readers will forebear. I felt in the spirit of fairness, Dr. Gelles's letter should be printed in toto.

Michael G. Gelles, Psy.D., ABPP
4 Professional Drive
Suite 120
Gaithersburg, MD 20879
301 346 5177

April 5, 2007

Dr. Neil Altman, PhD Dr. Uwe Jacobs, PhD Dr. Steven Miles, MD

Dear Drs. Altman, Jacobs, and Miles,

Thank you for your correspondence, in response to my letter to Drs. Altman and Moorehead-Slaughter. I appreciate your commitment to this issue and hope that we can find common ground in our approach. It is clear to me that we all seek the same goal: An ethical means of eliciting accurate and reliable information in order to prevent acts of violence and loss of life.

I will switch back and forth from the Gelles letter to appropriate commentary, quotes, and documentary evidence, which will serve as a gloss on Gelles's text. In that spirit, let's hear from social psychologist and CIA contract interrogation specialist, Albert Biderman, from the book of essays by psychologists and psychiatrists he helped edit, The Manipulation of Human Behavior:

There is no question that it is possible for men to alter, impair, or even to destroy the effective psychological functioning of others over whom they exercise power....

In assuming the attitude of the "hard-headed" scientist toward the problem, there is a danger in falling into an equivalent misuse of science....

The conclusions reached do in fact show that many developments can compound tremendously the already almost insuperable difficulties confronting the individual who seeks to resist an interrogator unrestrained by moral or legal scuples....

Several scientists have reported on the possible applications of scientific knowledge that might be made by the most callous interrogator or power. The results of their thinking are available here for anyone to use, including the unscrupulous.

And again, Gelles:

I must say, however, that based upon my extensive work in consulting to law enforcement, police and military around the world, including in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan, the position you set forth in your letters and the questions you pose rest upon substantial misconceptions about the nature of interrogations, the role of psychologists in national security settings, and the likely impact of APA disengaging from this critical debate and of APA members withdrawing from the practice of interrogations.

Please allow me to begin by emphasizing: Psychologists should not defer to lawyers on the question of what constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

The CIA manual of interrogation, code-named KUBARK:

A brief summary... may help to pull the major concepts of coercive interrogation together:

1. The principal coercive techniques are arrest, detention, the deprivation of sensory stimuli, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, and drugs.

2. If a coercive technique is to be used, or if two or more are to be employed jointly, they should be chosen for their effect upon the individual and carefully selected to match his personality.

3. The usual effect of coercion is regression. The interrogatee's mature defenses crumbles as he becomes more childlike. During the process of regression the subject may experience feelings of guilt, and it is usually useful to intensify these.

4. When regression has proceeded far enough so that the subject's desire to yield begins to overbalance his resistance, the interrogator should supply a face-saving rationalization. Like the coercive technique, the rationalization must be carefully chosen to fit the subject's personality.

5. The pressures of duress should be slackened or lifted after compliance has been obtained, so that the interrogatee's voluntary cooperation will not be impeded.

.... In the Western view the goal of the questioning is information; once a sufficient degree of cooperation has been obtained to permit the interrogator access to the information he seeks, he is not ordinarily concerned with the attitudes of the source.


I believe Dr. Altman's resolution is considerably off the mark on this score. I took action when I learned of abusive behaviors. I didn't go through a legal analysis, nor did I consult with attorneys even though many were present and, like me, troubled by what was occurring. I became involved because behaviors that were wrong came to my attention, not because an attorney intervened or a definition in a legal text had been violated. APA should focus on specific behaviors, not on legal definitions.

Moreover, nothing in my experience supports your concern that psychologists will be forced to engage in behaviors they believe to be unethical. I am not aware of any psychologist who has been ordered to support a coercive interrogation or to train interrogators in abusive processes, nor am I aware of any psychologist who has been disciplined for communicating concerns or refusing to participate in a consultation.

From Stephen Miles' article, "Medical Ethics and the Interrogation of Guantanamo 063", in The American Journal of Bioethics, 7(4): 1–7, 2007.

Major L., a psychologist who chaired the BSCT at Guantanamo, was noted to be present at the start of the interrogation log. On November 27, he suggested putting the prisoner in a swivel chair to prevent him from fixing his eyes on one spot and thereby avoiding the guards....

Other degrading techniques were logged. His head and beard were shaved to show the dominance of the interrogators. He was made to stand for the United States national anthem. His situation was compared unfavorably to that of banana rats in the camp. He was leashed (a detail omitted in the log but recorded by investigators) and made to “stay, come, and bark to elevate his social status up to a dog.” He was told to bark like a happy dog at photographs of 9/11 victims and growl at pictures of terrorists. Some psychological routines referred to the 9/11 attacks. He was shown pictures of the attacks, and photographs of victims were affixed to his body. The interrogators held one exorcism (and threatened another) to purge evil Jinns that the disoriented, sleep deprived prisoner claimed were controlling his emotions.

Back to Gelles:

In the time since I reported concerns to my chain of command -- an action that was followed by a promotion -- ethics has become a focus for psychologists being trained for this role. Current Department of Defense policy makes explicit reference to APA's PENS report and includes the actual report itself. The community of military psychologists, together with civilians who consult to national security and law enforcement, have formed a tight network where didactic seminars and peer consultation on ethics are frequent. Through the PENS Task Force and subsequent Council of Representative actions, APA is playing a critical role in bringing moral clarity to the debate over what constitutes an ethical consultation to an interrogation, as well as science to the practice of interrogations. Removing psychology and psychologists would stop the steady and measurable progress we have made and are making. From my perspective, a moratorium would be to abdicate rather than to embrace our ethical responsibilities.

From an earlier, if recent, diary of mine:

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"....

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.

More Gelles:

In his thoughtful letter, Dr. Jacobs states that "our professional organization has to protect our own." I wholeheartedly agree. We are a professional association whose members have extensive experience and expertise in a broad range of practice areas-an aspect of APA that is to our decided advantage. If we want to protect psychologists working in detention facilities, let's ask our colleagues who are most familiar with operations in these settings: military psychologists, police psychologists and correctional psychologists. What protection do our colleagues working in these settings and in these areas of practice believe they need? What steps do they think APA can take that will best offer that protection? Does a moratorium offer the protection that military psychologists seek? Let's begin our discussions by respecting the experience and expertise that resides within these communities-in the same manner we would proceed with a complex treatment intervention only after having consulted at length with the psychologist who knows the patient best.

Dr. Jacobs quotes Alberto Mora and asks whether I agree with his statement, "To my mind, there's no moral or practical distinction between cruelty and torture ... cruelty ... destroys the whole notion of individual rights." I have an enormous admiration and respect for Alberto Mora. This quotation captures the essence of what we are talking about: Torture, cruelty and abuse have no role in interrogations. They are wrong. They violate human rights. They increase-not decrease-the long-term likelihood of violence. This is Alberto Mora's position. This is my position. This is APA's position. Let us assert and emphasize that position at every opportunity, in every venue possible, especially where interrogations are taking place.

Michael Gelles

From Dr. Jacob's original letter to Dr. Gelles:

I know that I write on behalf of many colleagues who also do not know what precisely your involvement with the interrogation process was at Guantanamo Bay but who salute you for having honorably reported the human rights abuses you had become aware of. However, we remain unclear about the following:

1. Do you believe that the detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay has been a productive practice and that this practice has been preferable to their detention on American soil, with all the relevant legal and constitutional protections?

2. Did you have any sense of unease about following an order to assist with the interrogation of these detainees under the circumstances? Conversely, were you not ordered to but eager to be of help and do you continue to think that aiding these interrogations was useful?

3. At what point precisely did you find it necessary to report abuses? What were the techniques used that you found objectionable? This is critical to understand.

4. More importantly, what were the techniques used that you did not find objectionable? To cite a few examples, did you believe it was ethical to transport prisoners to Guantanamo under conditions of sensory deprivation, i.e. wearing hoods, goggles, earmuffs, and other devices designed to create sensory deprivation and isolation, along with very restrictive shackling? Did you believe it was ethical to keep prisoners in solitary confinement for very long periods of time? Is it ethical to deprive prisoners of sleep? Is it ethical to subject them to severe heat and cold, constant noises or lights, stress positions, short shackling, screaming abuse etc.? You know the list I am referring to. Do you agree that these techniques have long been proven to produce severe nervous system dysregulation and often lasting psychological damage? Do these techniques not by definition constitute torture, just as stated by the UN?

As Dr. Jacobs noted in a follow-up answer to Michael Gelles's letter herein, Dr. Gelles never answered any of Dr. Jacobs's questions.
In a stinging rebuke to Gelles, psychologist-activist Stephen Soldz answered Gelles's letter himself in a diary at Daily Kos:

...there is not one mention of the terrible human rights violations that have occurred, and are still occurring, at Guantanamo, not to mention the role of psychologists in those abuses. He ignores the evidence that it is precisely his pals, "the community of military psychologists, together with civilians who consult to national security and law enforcement," who are reported by virtually every reporter who has looked into the matter -- Jane Mayer (New Yorker), Mark Benjamin (Salon), Art Levine (Washington Monthly) -- to be one ones who were sent to Guantanamo to develop torture techniques, not to prevent them. Evidently Dr. Gelles considers himself to be one of a tight-knit community with these people, not to mention those psychologists who helped developed the special technique used at the CIA black sites.

I easily could have made this posting much longer. Members of the APA should have no illusion that their association is under danger of becoming completely subordinate to the Pentagon and CIA. It is surely confusing to members when personnel thought to be highly ethical, such as Gelles, turn out to be otherwise. It spreads demoralization and a sense of defeat. This was the case in the Stalinist show trials of the 30s, the McCarthyite investigations of the 50s, and now, in a much lesser but no less sinister episode, in the turn of "moral" psychologists into apologists for torture.

Gelles and his ilk condemn torture out of one side of their mouths, while spinning like crazy a story out of the other side that will hide the truth of what the U.S. is doing in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Gov't Should Commute John Lindh Sentence

Earlier today, Jesselyn Radack asked, in a recommended diary, that Daily Kos readers "keep the heat up concerning the [John Walker] Lindh case, especially now that so many more people know (and can get the specifics from her book) and can start pushing the media on this."

Lindh's parents' hometown paper tells the story of their petition to George W. Bush to commute their son's sentence, in the wake of the David Hicks verdict.

Lindh, now 26, joined the Taliban in Afghanistan in the summer of 2001 after converting to Islam and was captured there and turned over to the U.S. military in late 2001.

He was the first person to be charged in a U.S. court in the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism.

Lindh, who grew up in Marin, was initially charged with 10 counts but in a plea bargain pleaded guilty in federal court in Virginia in 2002 to two lesser counts of serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons while doing so. Under the agreement, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

What the Marin Independent Journal story doesn't mention is that Lindh, who never fought any American troops and was never convicted of a terrorism charge, was tortured by his U.S. captors.
From Radack's book:

Lindh was found barely alive, shot in the leg, and suffering from dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite. Although Lindh was seriously wounded, starving, freezing, and exhausted, U.S. soldiers blindfolded and handcuffed him naked, scrawled “shithead” across the blindfold, duct-taped him to a stretcher for days in an unheated and unlit shipping container, threatened him with death, and posed with him for pictures. Parts of his ordeal were captured on videotape. Sound familiar?

At issue in the petition for commutation of the sentence is the issue of proportionality. Two other individuals were convicted on essentially the same charges -- and also treated with methods of torture and coercive interrogation -- David Hicks and Yaser Hamdi. Hicks received nine months in prison (on a 70-year suspended sentence). Hamdi renounced U.S. citizenship and was allowed to leave the country; he moved to Saudi Arabia.
From the Marin IJ article:

Brosnahan said the new petition has "updated information," but said he could not reveal the details.

Lindh is now being held in a maximum security prison in Florence, Colo., and is not allowed to communicate with the media. Brosnahan said Lindh is a "model prisoner" but said he could give no further information.

Lindh's mother, Marilyn Walker, said, "John has been in prison more than five years and it's time for him to come home."

The Justice Department, thus far, is said to have no comment.
President Bush should commute the sentence of John Walker Lindh.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

"The Waste Land: Poems from Guantánamo"

Jill at Never In Our Names has written an extraordinary piece, reviewing an upcoming book from University of Iowa Press, Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, to be published this fall.
Just as the heart beats in the darkness of the body,
so I, despite this cage, continue to beat with life.
Those who have no courage or honor consider themselves free,
but they are slaves.
I am flying on the wings of thought, and so,
even in this cage, I know a greater freedom.

Written - well, actually scratched into a styrofoam cup using his fingernails, by Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost. Mr. Dost is an Afghani national who was released from Guantánamo in April 2006, after three years of illegal imprisonment.

According to Jill (who also posted a diary on this at Daily Kos), the poems were collected by Northern Illinois University law professor, Marc Falkoff. He is currently representing 17 of the Guantánamo detainees. Cageprisoners has an interview with Professor Falkoff, who previously had served as Habeas Corpus Special Master in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, that is worth reading.

In her sensitively written diary, Jill emphasizes the psychic importance writing poetry had for a number of the detainees:

"Poetry was our support and psychological uplift," said his brother and fellow Guantanamo inmate, Badruzamman Badr, in an interview at the family home in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, where they have lived as expatriates since 1975. "Many people have lost their minds there. I know 40 or 50 prisoners who are mad. But we took refuge in our minds."

Please go read Jill's diary, and dwell for a moment on the awful suffering these individuals have endured at the hands of our government. It does not matter in the end if these individuals are innocent or guilty of any crimes -- and many have been found totally innocent and released after years in prison, subjected to extremely cruel abuse, isolation, and torture -- because no individual must suffer the terror and inhumanity of torture. This Englightenment principle was written into our Constitution, which has been shredded by this and previous administrations.

A last selection:

From The Wasteland: The Death Poem by Jumah al-Dossari

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.
Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.
And let them bear the guilty burden, before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden, before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the "protectors of peace."

Monday, April 2, 2007

Supreme Court Rejects Guantanamo Prisoners in Habeas Case

Linda Greenhouse at the New York Times reports today that the Supreme Court turned down an appeal, 6-3, from attorneys representing two groups of Guantanamo prisoners. The two cases are Al Odah v. Bush and Boumediene v. Bush. The men involved comprise 45 individuals who have never been charged with any crime, and yet have been imprisoned by the United States for over 5 years.

At issue at this point are challenges to proceedings known as Combatant Status Review Tribunals that decide whether a detainee should be labeled an enemy combatant. Under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has sole jurisdiction to hear appeals from the tribunal’s determination. The detainees’ lawyers argue that both the tribunals and the limited form of review in the appeals court are fatally flawed.

The court's decision, which is much more political than the split vote indicates, means that the detainees must first appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. But organizations, such as Human Rights First, found a silver lining in that 5 of the 9 justices made clear that they were concerned about the pace of justice in this case.

“The delay is disappointing," said Shamsi, "Still, in a separate statement and a dissent, a total of five justices sent the message that they will be watching to see how and with what speed the government proceeds in the detainees’ challenges to their imprisonment"....
“The administration’s Guantanamo detention and trial policy is irretrievably broken,” said Shamsi, who has just returned from monitoring military commission hearings at the U.S. military’s naval base in Cuba. She added, “The Supreme Court’s decision to punt review of the detainees’ cases increases pressure on Congress to restore habeas corpus, which is the Constitution’s safeguard against arbitrary and indefinite detention.”

How did a 6-3 decision get parsed as a 5-4 decision? Greenhouse explains in the Times article:

In this instance, the court offered an unusual degree of transparency, with two separate opinions accompanying the one-sentence order denying the two petitions.

One was a dissenting opinion from three justices, Stephen G. Breyer, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who voted to hear the cases as “significant ones warranting our review,” as Justice Breyer said in an opinion that spoke for the three.

The separate opinion was a statement “respecting the denial,” signed jointly by Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony M. Kennedy. They explained why they voted against hearing the cases. They said the court should follow its usual practice for ordinary prison inmates and require “the exhaustion of available remedies as a precondition to accepting jurisdiction over applications for the writ of habeas corpus.”

Greenhouse reasons that the unusual splits and votes on this decision are related to internal court politics. For one thing, the liberal wing appears uncertain whether Justice Kennedy will vote with them on this issue. So Justice Stevens, the putative leader of the liberal wing, voted with Kennedy, as he did not feel the time was right for bringing this case before the full court. Only four votes are needed to hear a case.
Meanwhile, detainee lawyers will certainly try other avenues, as suggested by Stevens and Kennedy, such as the appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court. But the case could easily go to the fall, if not next year. According to the Times, Justices Souter and Breyer were the only justices to argue for expedited appeal. Justice Ginsberg, for reasons I can't fathom, did not join her two colleagues on that portion of their decision.

It seems as if court politics mirrors U.S. politics, and the guinea pigs that are the Guantanamo prisoners must wait longer yet.

Soon, I will be writing on how the suspension of habeas and the indefinite nature of the detainees detention is an integral part of the U.S. torture program, as research has long shown that the effects of isolation and sensory deprivation are accentuated when the victim has no idea when they will stop.

The U.S. has gone so far down this sick and dangerous road, I can't predict how any of this will end.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Kos/Obama Souffle: Dems Knew About Bad Iraq Intel in 2002!

Crossposted at Daily Kos

The tiff that is the [Daily Kos] controversy over whether Obama "caved" to Bush over Iraq War funding, or whether he did not, pales next to the truth over what the Democrats knew about bad intelligence in autumn 2002.

A bad case of historical amnesia has developed, and this diary looks back at op-eds from Senators Graham and Edwards in Nov. 2005 in order to set the record straight.
Senator Bob Graham was Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee when Tenet came to that body to make the case for war against Saddam Hussein in September-October 2002. He described what happened in an op-ed in the Washington Post, What I Knew Before the Invasion:
In February 2002, after a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan, the commanding officer, Gen. Tommy Franks, told me the war was being compromised as specialized personnel and equipment were being shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for the war in Iraq -- a war more than a year away. Even at this early date, the White House was signaling that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was of such urgency that it had priority over the crushing of al Qaeda....

At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in Iraq.... I was stunned when Tenet said that no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been prepared. Invoking our rarely used senatorial authority, I directed the completion of an NIE.
Tenet objected, saying that his people were too committed to other assignments to analyze Saddam Hussein's capabilities and will to use chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. We insisted, and three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE.

"We insisted," Sen. Graham tells us. "We." The Senate Intelligence Committee. And it is difficult to believe that others on this committee, if not most in the Senate, did not know about this situation, given the gravity of the pending war vote all knew was coming, sooner or later.
Graham looked at this new NIE, and was troubled:

While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein's will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.
Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States' removing Hussein, by force if necessary.
The American people needed to know these reservations, and I requested that an unclassified, public version of the NIE be prepared. On Oct. 4, Tenet presented a 25-page document titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs." It represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed them, avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version.

It's almost humorous, in a dark way, to see Graham still unable to utter the L word: they lied!!

Its conclusions, such as "If Baghdad acquired sufficient weapons-grade fissile material from abroad, it could make a nuclear weapon within a year," underscored the White House's claim that exactly such material was being provided from Africa to Iraq....
Now I had come to question whether the White House was telling the truth -- or even had an interest in knowing the truth.

Now it is evident that others on the intelligence committee had access to this situation, how things were presented and how it developed. Of these, Democratic Senators Levin, Durbin, Wyden, and Mikulski voted againt the war resolution, while Senators Bayh, Daschle, Edwards, Feinstein and Rockefeller voted for it (as did all the GOP Senators on the committee).
But John Edwards, in his own Washington Post op-ed in Nov. 2005, said:

The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that we now know was inaccurate. The information the American people were hearing from the president -- and that I was being given by our intelligence community -- wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.

But how could he not have known? He was on the same intelligence committee and getting the same dubious and manipulated intelligence as Graham.
Sen. Obama doesn't escape blame here, too, in the present, despite his honorable stand opposing the war in 2002. In the USA Today interview that Kos referenced in his piece, Obama repeats the lie that the Democrats were innocent because they got bad information (while the article points out Sen. Clinton purports the same misinformation):

"There are a number of senators who have acknowledged they got bad information or might have made a different decision. What I've tried to suggest is the speech I gave five months before we went to war shows how I think about the problem," he said.
Clinton has refused to repudiate her vote but has criticized the conduct of the war, saying "if we knew then what we know now" she never would have voted as she did.

We need leaders who will tell the complete truth, who are capable of breaking from the war party that rules this country and threatens to take us into World War III. This will now happen until the truth is spoken about how we got where we are.
As the Downing Street Memo told us when it was leaked a few years ago, being a memo from Blair's Foreign Policy Advisor David Manning to key British officials, including the British Defense and Foreign Secretaries, and Attorney-General:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

Let's swift-boat the lie that the Democrats had bad intelligence, once and for all.

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