Monday, June 4, 2007

Sec. Gates: Stop SERE-type Torture! Drop Appendix M from Army Field Manual

Also posted at NION

On May 18, the Office of the Inspectory General (OIG) of the Defense Department declassified a report on detainee abuse. This report verified and amplified earlier stories about the reverse engineering of torture techniques by some psychologists who work in the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, programs. Stephen Soldz wrote a great article on this, which is posted at Never In Our (NION).

Now, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has written a letter to Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates demanding the following:

1. Fully implement the OIG’s recommendation to “preclude the use of Survival, Evasion, esistance, and Escape physical and psychological coercion techniques” in all interrogations. (Id, p. 29-30.) This includes rescission of Appendix M of the new Army Field Manual and specific prohibition, by name, of each of the known SERE-based methods and their equivalents.

2. Abolish the BSCTs and rescind the June 6, 2006 Department of Defense Instruction(Medical program Support for Detainee Operations), which established guidelines for the BSCTs and other health personnel. Establish new unambigious guidelines holding all health care professionals, regardless of their designated role or assignment, to the well-established health professional principle to prevent, avoid and minimize harm.

3. In the interest of transparency reflected in the declassification of the OIG Report, declassify and release all other documents shedding light on US interrogation policy and practices, including but not limited to SERE-based methods. [Emphases mine]

Pardon me if I can't restrain a yelp of satisfaction. The Pentagon is finally beginning to feel some of the heat it so richly deserves to feel for all the illegal and immoral practices that have passed under its purview these last six years (and really longer).

I take some personal satisfaction as practically alone in the blogosphere, and surely alone against the larger mainstream press, I took on the lies about the cleansing of torture in the 2006 revised Army Field Manual. You can read my original article from last October, with some correspondence I had with PHR at the time on the matter, at this NION link:

New Army Interrogation Manual Promotes Torture/PHR Responds

Besides NION, I also posted versions of this article at Progressive Historians and Daily Kos. I kept up a correspondence on the issue with PHR, and made my political points to others where and when I could. Now PHR has added the need to change the AFM to their campaign against torture, as it has become clearer that the military and intelligence agencies have made a determined effort to spread coercive interrogation techniques throughout all theatres of U.S. military activities.

When interviewed in Time magazine recently, PHR Executive Director Rubenstein reiterated his organization's position. This is from a story at Stephen Soldz's blog, but the original quote can also be found at Time's website:

In response to fallout over the well-documented cases of prisoner abuse — which included prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation (visual and auditory), forced removal of clothing, exploiting prisoners phobias (notably fear of dogs), and threats against family members — the Pentagon began scaling back the use of SERE tactics in 2002 and eventually banned them altogether. The Army Field Manual, which serves as a primary guide for U.S. military interrogation, now specifically rules out the use of a variety of SERE-founded techniques including water-boarding, a form of simulated drowning, as well as the use of dogs.

But critics remain concerned that the Pentagon’s clean-up has not gone far enough. In the letter to Secretary Gates, dated May 31, 2007, the non-profit Physicians for Human Rights cites an appendix of the current Army Field Manual that “explicitly permits what amounts to isolation, along with sleep and sensory deprivation.” The letter, signed by retired Army General Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and former senior medical commander, and Leonard Rubenstein, the organization’s executive director, also points out that the current Field Manual remains “silent on a number of other SERE-based methods (including sensory overload and deprivation) creating ambiguity and doubt over their place in interrogation doctrine.”

Onward to the Senate Investigation

As PHR and others politically pressure the government, Senator Carl Levin (D), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee is preparing for hearings into the use of torture, and more specifically, the utilization of SERE and military psychologists to spread torture from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib to Afghanistan and secret U.S. prisons around the world. It's evident, from this selection of an interview with Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo, a psychologist who worked with an American Pscyhological Association (APA) commission last year into the ethical practice of psychologists in interrogations -- a commission that whitewashed psychologist collaboration with the military and intelligence agencies -- that Sen. Levin has been looking into this issue for some times. Dr. Arrigo, along with others, have gone on record as calling for overturning the recommendations of the APA commission, known by its acronym PENS (the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security), and for a moratorium against psychologist participation in national security interrogations. She is a social psychologist, who founded the Intelligence Ethics Collection at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; she's also a founder of the International Intelligence Ethics Association.

When the PENS committee met, APA bigwigs, pushed by military psycholgogy protests, made the procedings confidential. This was extraordinary in and of itself. Notes were also forbidden to be taken. Dr. Arrigo fought to get out the truth about the procedings. From her interview at Democracy Now!:

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo, did you archive the entire listserv of the task force and send it to the Senate Armed Services Committee?

DR. JEAN MARIA ARRIGO: Yes, I did. I archived the listserv, my notes and other materials at Stanford in July 2006, and I want to add that I am not a Stanford faculty member. I simply have a relation with the archive. And on April 4th, 2007, I sent the entire listserv and my notes to the Senate Armed Service Committee.

So, Senate oversight has been building since at least early Spring. The APA officially responded to the Democracy Now! interview, which also included psychologist and PENS board member Dr. Nina Thomas, Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of PHR, and Dr. Eric Anders, a psychoanalyst who formerly underwent SERE training. (Obviously the entire interview is a great read and/or listen.)

Renewal of a Call to Action

I have made a call to action to influence the leadership at APA to change course and support that part of the membership that is calling for a moratorium on participation in national security interrogations, which have too often taken place in the torture chamber of SERE and Kubark-style abuse.

As I wrote then, anti-torture psychologists need our help. Moreover, the campaign to stop psychologist invovlement in Bush's interrogations will be a blow against their legitimacy, and hamper the use of coercive interrogations, given the special place behavioral health personnel serve in that process.

How you can help

Write or call the APA:

American Psychological Association, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242

(800) 374-2721 or (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 the anti-torture moratorium".

Together, we can prevail.

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