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.

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